The Cultural Imperative for Professional Military Education and Leader Development

There is emerging agreement within the military services that culture is an important factor in irregular warfare and stability, support, transition, and reconstruction operations. Sociocultural factors affect every level of engagement in irregular warfare, from the interpersonal interactions while negotiating with local leaders, military advisers training their counterparts, to group and societal engagements during strategic communication and influence operations. The impact of these factors has been widely recognized at every level of defense leadership, and some of the more frequently cited wartime leadership challenges have an intercultural component. The top challenges for Army company commanders listed in a 2007 article included interacting or working with indigenous leaders, security forces, and members of the population. Cultural considerations are a pervasive factor throughout full-spectrum operations, as then-Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli noted regarding Operation Iraqi Freedom: “Understanding the effect of operations as seen through the lens of the Iraqi culture and psyche is a foremost planning consideration for every operation.” These considerations are an integral component of the “indirect approach” and “small wars capabilities” that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has cited as necessities for current and future conflicts.