Dr. Montgomery McFate, a noted anthropologist and Pentagon consultant currently based at the U.S. Institute for Peace, has pointed out an historical military role of her academic field in understanding the local populace during the Colonial period. Despite this intermingled history of anthropology and the military, however, modern-day defense policymakers and academic researchers rarely play well together in the proverbial sandbox. In general, a Cold War-era preoccupation with technological superiority, combined with the negative aftereffects of poor cultural understanding of opposing forces in the Vietnam War, left the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) unprepared to integrate cultural knowledge into a comprehensive intellectual infrastructure. In the current “Global War on Terror” or “Long War” era, it needs such tradecraft now more than ever.
A recent news article from within the scientific community discussed a new DOD initiative called Human Social Culture Behavior (HSCB) Modeling, which has been outlined in testimony to Congress by the Director of Defense Research and Engineering, John J. Young, Jr. The HSCB Modeling program is designed for advanced anthropological analyses of cultures that the U.S. military might encounter during overseas operations. This relatively inexpensive defense transformation – largely a shift in thinking – could have benefits beyond active counterinsurgency warfare and counterterrorism. This is increasingly important given the recent DOD emphasis on stability operations throughout the world – proactively preventing failed states and discouraging formation of terrorist havens.
HSCB Models may have further applications to one of the most pressing environmental problems of our time – global climate change. Diverging from some catastrophic predictions seen in media, recent reputable and reasonable projections suggest that future changes in climate will increase the frequency and severity of food and water shortages, heat-related illnesses, and infectious disease epidemics. These outcomes may exacerbate local tensions, act as a “threat multiplier” in some unstable regions, and significantly increase the risk of state failure in regions of strategic importance.
If HSBC models can be expanded to incorporate environmental knowledge, they might be used effectively to prevent or mitigate environmentally induced conflict. Conversely, climate change will also have local positive effects, and knowledge of the environmental terrain will have benefits in those situations as well. Ultimately, in a climate of subtle change, cultural and environmental knowledge could be integrated into a global early warning system, detecting the sorts of changes that might signal instability and a need for intervention.
Anticipating future subtle changes in the environment, rather than catastrophic and perhaps unlikely climate shifts, Congress has been debating the usefulness of a formal and thorough National Intelligence Estimate that would anticipate the global geopolitical effects of climate change and subsequent effects on U.S. national security. Arguments have been raised, mainly by Republicans, against the notion of focusing spy satellites on polar bears rather than terror cells, a take on the issue which might seem reasonable on the surface. After all, aren’t there others in the government working on climate change anyway?
However, in line with the use of anthropology in national security, our human intelligence (HUMINT) assets should be focused on this problem in an overt manner. Unlike satellite or other electronic intelligence methods, civilian assets working with the military can work with indigenous peoples to obtain information that will be useful for strategic national security planning – international aid programs, diplomatic initiatives, realignment of armed forces. It is possible that such data collection and analysis could be performed by the Civilian Reserve Corps – a “War Corps” if you will – that President Bush outlined in his 2007 State of the Union Address.
This new emphasis on cultural knowledge within the defense and intelligence communities – call it the “Green Hawk” worldview – could have wide-ranging benefits around the world. As it has with many other advances in science and technology – global communications (WWW), location finding (GPS), navigation (SONAR), to name a few – the defense and intelligence communities might also lead the charge to develop new technologies to monitor and predict the effects of a changing climate.
Posted by DR. MARK D. DRAPEAU on May 24, 2007. Dr. Drapeau is currently a 2006-2008 AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellow at the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, National Defense University, Fort Lesley J. McNair, U.S. Department of Defense, Washington, DC.
Disclaimer: These views are those of the author, and not the official views of the Center for Technology and National Security Policy, the National Defense University, the U.S. Defense Department or the U.S. Government.