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Culture Catches - February 2014

Culture Catches is a monthly compilation of news and articles related to the intersection of MILES (Military, Intelligence, Law Enforcement, and Security) issues and the behavioral and social sciences. It was inspired by the U.S. Army Research Institute’s periodic ‘Library Catches’ compiled by ARI’s librarian Dorothy Young. The purpose of Culture Catches is to help both MILES personnel and supporting R&D communities stay informed about events, trends, and developments of mutual interest.

Culture Catches  - February 2014

Some Recent Approaches to Cultural Intelligence Gathering

Cultural Intelligence (CULINT) has once again become a much sought after commodity in the wake of the September 11th attacks and its ensuing wars. This paper readily agrees that cultural intelligence is a useful resource in fighting wars amongst people, however it is the cost-benefit analysis that is the primary source of friction amongst many writers and analysts of this topic. To date, various parties in the civilian and military establishment have deemed the financial cost, loss of life, and ethical ‘harm’ caused by several CULINT gathering programmes during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as much too high. This paper does purport to be a comprehensive review of all CULINT gathering operations neither will it tread the well-trodden path of cultural anecdotes, replete with tales of just how different Iraqi and Afghani societies are and how service members adapted to them merely for the sake of an interesting yarn. Instead, this paper will examine a number of approaches taken during these two counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns, reviewing ‘quick-‘fix’ solutions, long term programmes and suggestions put in place in the hope of providing the US with CULINT capabilities for any future COIN operations.

A Strategy for Dealing with the Islamic Jihad

Al Qaeda and its partner franchises believe that are carrying on in the tradition of Moslem holy warriors begun by Mohammed in the Sixth Century. Mohammed did not command the army of a modern nation-state; he led an armed movement, and his would-be successors in Al Qaeda see themselves in that role. Al Qaeda is leading a 4GW Jihad, but its leaders believe that they will achieve a kingdom that combines both secular and religious governance in a way that transcends mere nation-states such our American republic. We need to understand that if we are to thwart their ambitions and marginalize them before they can do similar damage to that which they wrought on September 11th 2001. To trivialize them as mere terrorists or criminals is to underestimate them and their vision; we do so at great risk to ourselves.

Train Afghans, Corral Al Qaeda: America’s Enduring Mission in Afghanistan

During his State of the Union address last month, President Obama reiterated his commitment to withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan by year’s end and, with that, he said, “America’s longest war will finally be over.” But when most American boots leave Afghan soil in December, the U.S. mission there does not end. But the overarching mission of preventing al Qaeda from threatening the United States is an enduring one that will require a long-term commitment not just to counterterrorism, but to training, advising and assisting Afghan forces so that they are better able to prosecute their own campaign against the terrorists in their midst.

Running the Pentagon Right: How to Get the Troops What They Need

War inevitably presents unexpected challenges. From Germany’s use of mustard gas during World War I to North Vietnam’s surprisingly effective use of its air defense system during the Vietnam War, the United States has always faced unanticipated threats in combat that have required agile responses. U.S. troops on the ground continually adjust to changing enemy tactics with the capabilities they have at hand. Yet the part of the Defense Department that trains and equips those troops has rarely been as flexible.

Do We Really Need a Large Army?

Armies are like newspapers. They have become 21st-century anachronisms. To survive, they must adapt. For the press, that means accommodating the demands of the Internet. For the United States Army, it means adjusting to a changing security environment. Nostalgia about a hallowed past is a luxury that neither armies nor newspapers can afford to indulge. So the hand-wringing triggered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s plan to reduce the Army’s size, while predictable, is beside the point.

Kilcullen Speaks

It's natural for people to ask "What comes after Afghanistan?" and "Was it all worth it?" There's a legitimate questioning of whether the right decisions were made in orienting the military to COIN in 2005-6. Also, people are looking at Iraq these days and wondering whether we lost friends and colleagues in vain. I've argued, ever since the first paper I wrote for the U.S. government back in 2003, that COIN is a last resort that we should only undertake when some very onerous preconditions have been met -- to do with the host government's willingness to reform, and its political viability, and political will at home.

Why the Army Should Fire Some Generals

As Army leadership ponders who and what to cut from its budget, the first groups in the crosshairs are the junior and mid-level officers. This is a logical step: To wage counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army expanded its fighting force, and now it’s time to draw down. What isn’t logical is that other ranks will largely get a free pass. The Army, and the military overall, would be better served by retiring some of the generals, colonels and senior lieutenant colonels, and promoting the best captains, majors and junior lieutenant colonels into those roles.

You Know Who Else Collected Metadata? The Stasi

The East German secret police, known as the Stasi, were an infamously intrusive secret police force. They amassed dossiers on about one quarter of the population of the country during the Communist regime. But their spycraft — while incredibly invasive — was also technologically primitive by today’s standards.

What Does It Really Take to Think Globally?

“Think globally, act locally” advises a popular bumper sticker. The second part is easy enough to understand, but what does it mean to “think globally?” It is a truism to say that globalization is one of the megatrends affecting business today. Despite this, many organizations are having difficulty moving to a truly global orientation.  

Cultural Relativity in Perceiving Emotion from Vocalizations

A central question in the study of human behavior is whether certain emotions, such as anger, fear, and sadness, are recognized in nonverbal cues across cultures. We predicted and found that in a concept-free experimental task, participants from an isolated cultural context (the Himba ethnic group from northwestern Namibia) did not freely label Western vocalizations with expected emotion terms. Responses indicate that Himba participants perceived more basic affective properties of valence (positivity or negativity) and to some extent arousal (high or low activation). In a second, concept-embedded task, we manipulated whether the target and foil on a given trial matched in both valence and arousal, neither valence nor arousal, valence only, or arousal only. Himba participants achieved above-chance accuracy only when foils differed from targets in valence only. Our results indicate that the voice can reliably convey affective meaning across cultures, but that perceptions of emotion from the voice are culturally variable.

Upcoming Events

18-22 Mar 2014                 Society for Applied Anthropology

                                                Albuquerque, NM



28 Mar 2014               Afghanistan 2014 & Beyond: Economic Growth and Stability Summit

Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies

22-25 May 2014 Association for Psychological Science

                                                San Francisco, CA


9-11 Jul 2014                       7th Annual International Spatial Socio-Cultural Knowledge Workshop

                                                UK Defence Academy

Shrivenham, UK



15-19 Jul 2014                    International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology

                                                Reims, France



27-31 Jul 2014                    International Police Executive Symposium

                                                Sofia, Bulgaria



28-31 Aug 2014                  American Political Science Association Annual Conference

                                                Washington, DC



‘Culture Catches’ is compiled monthly by Allison Abbe: to be added to the distribution list, contact

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