Pentagon Consulting Social Scientists on Security

This seems like a good idea:

Eager to embrace eggheads and ideas, the Pentagon has started an ambitious and unusual program to recruit social scientists and direct the nation’s brainpower to combating security threats like the Chinese military, Iraq, terrorism and religious fundamentalism.

The article talks a lot about potential conflicts of interest and such, and less on what sorts of insights the social scientists can offer. I think there is a lot of potential value here.

Posted on June 30, 2008 at 12:13 PM18 Comments


Anonymous June 30, 2008 12:28 PM

They will hire them, then ignore anything they have to offer, as egghead nonsense.

bob June 30, 2008 1:05 PM

“…I don’t think the Pentagon is the way to go…” Right! – they should contract with the United States Bankruptcy Court for combating threats to the national security…

Davi Ottenheimer June 30, 2008 1:09 PM

Yes, they reported on the Human Terrain Team last year too:

A better article was in the Army Times:

“One of the tenets of the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine, produced last year at Fort Leavenworth, is that success hinges on the government achieving the consent of the people. By gaining an understanding of the culture, the people’s basic needs and beliefs, the military can effectively neutralize insurgents who seek to render the government illegitimate, that doctrine says.”

Alternatively, the Army could have listened more to the original expeditionary and special forces on the ground when they first arrived.

Not many people remember that the “work through the people” strategy that was initially working in Afghanistan was completely wiped out and replaced by a technology-happy brass.

This is not a lot different from executives failing to listen to their own staff about security issues and then hiring consultants from the outside to tell them what internal security specialists already know.

On the one hand it shows a willingness to take a new approach, but on the other it reflects serious information mis-management issues.

Davi Ottenheimer June 30, 2008 1:23 PM

The article also reminds me of the debate about whether the Peace Corps was a front for American intelligence operations.

Obviously the transfer of risk can become a big problem in this arena. As a government starts deploying people who are fluent in foreign languages with deep knowledge of foreign culture and who try to earn the trust of communities…the effect may increase dangerous suspicion of coercion or intelligence gathering even for those innocent of any Pentagon funding.

b June 30, 2008 2:58 PM

Why please is it accepted that the Chinese military is a “threat”? China spends less than 10% of the U.S. military budget on defense.

And will those researchers tackle evangelical “religious fundamentalism” at the Air Force Academy?

Nomen Publicus June 30, 2008 3:34 PM

There is far too much concentration on people and motives. Trying to identify terrorists ahead of time is never going to prevent all, or even most, terrorist acts. The terrorist only has to succeed once, the good guys have to succeed 100% of the time.

So, instead of wasting money on trivial and pointless theatre, why not spend the money on a useful activity — educating the public so they understand the real risks involved. This may reflect badly on some parts of the government security industry but only because they are failing to do their jobs properly.

Davi Ottenheimer June 30, 2008 3:44 PM

“Why please is it accepted that the Chinese military is a “threat”?”

Maybe this will help:

“Pre-9/11, Cheney’s hardline views focused mainly on countries like China. According to the Atlantic’s James Fallows, while Cheney served on the Hart-Rudman Commission on National Security in the 21st Century, she repeatedly insisted that a military showdown with the Chinese was unavoidable (“Gary Hart, Lynne Cheney, and War with China,”, July 5, 2007).”

Here is the text from The Atlantic:

“At the first meeting, one Republican woman on the commission said that the overwhelming threat was from China. Sooner or later the U.S. would end up in a military showdown with the Chinese Communists. There was no avoiding it, and we would only make ourselves weaker by waiting. No one else spoke up in support.

The same thing happened at the second meeting — discussion from other commissioners about terrorism, nuclear proliferation, anarchy of failed states, etc, and then this one woman warning about the looming Chinese menace. And the third meeting too. Perhaps more.

Finally, in frustration, this woman left the commission.

“Her name was Lynne Cheney,” Hart said. “I am convinced that if it had not been for 9/11, we would be in a military showdown with China today.” Not because of what China was doing, threatening, or intending, he made clear, but because of the assumptions the Administration brought with it when taking office.”

Hope that helps explain.

Anonymous1 June 30, 2008 3:56 PM

The use of academia to translate docs found in remote locations makes sense as does analysis of the polical/cultural mores of various countries. However, I think the view from academia needs to be taken with a grain of salt given the apparent acceptance of frauds like Ward Churchill or PhDs who claim the US invented slavery or an anthropologist who is so anti-Pentagon that he doesn’t even want the money unless it comes through some leftist non-profit organization.

Saxon June 30, 2008 4:28 PM

@b: Google the book “Unrestricted Warfare”. The Chinese acknowledge that they cannot compete directly with us militarily, and therefore are looking to various forms of asymmetric warfare.

John Campbell June 30, 2008 6:15 PM

I liked the line about “religious fundamentalists”…

Perhaps we can start… here in the USA. First… start with the Scientologists…

Davi Ottenheimer June 30, 2008 6:26 PM

“they cannot compete directly with us militarily, and therefore are looking to various forms of asymmetric warfare”

Therefore? You make it sound like asymmetric or efficient tactics are some kind of lesser option. What benefit comes from a direct approach instead of focusing on weakness? Prosperity of a congressional-military-industrial complex?

Jared Lessl June 30, 2008 9:53 PM

Perhaps we can start… here in the USA. First… start with the Scientologists…

I was thinking more along the lines of “how about we stop putting them in the White House and Congress”.

Erin July 1, 2008 8:22 AM

Bruce, I’m a social scientist, and I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on what kind of social science research would be most helpful.

social science July 18, 2008 10:30 AM

So maybe you have not heard of the anthropologists and psychologists and journalists used for torture and propaganda? Militarization
of a discipline will be used for bad things by an actor that is an aggressor (think of some country that has invaded other countries, bombed countries, sponsored military uprisings, etc.)

Now, what country did that already?

Anonymouse September 30, 2008 4:32 PM


Why please is it accepted that the Chinese military is a “threat”? China spends less than 10% of the U.S. military budget on defense.

Let’s see, some possible reasons:
1. Practically no-one believes those official PRC figures which show their military expenditure so low. Even nonpartisan organisations like SIPRI believe that those figures are understated by a substantial margin. That’s what you might call a lie. Pretending that your military expenditure is much lower than it really is, well, that makes people uneasy. They are inclined to wonder who you’re trying to fool, and why…

  1. That of course leaves the ground open for everyone else to make their own guesstimates, and of course no two of them agree. However, most of them put China somewhere between 4th and 2nd highest military budget in the world.

(A related issue is “purchasing power parity.” That is, many things are much cheaper to buy with yuan in PRC, than with dollars in USA.)

  1. More interestingly, PRC has the fastest growing military budget in the world, by a long shot. In the late ’90s through to about 2002 growth was hovering around 17 ~ 18% p.a., slowed down to about 7 ~ 10% p.a. (still well above CPI) in 2003 through to 2006, and has now surged again to 17.8% last year. The announcement of the latest increase seems to imply that they intend to sustain it. This growth has been sustained for more than a decade so far. If it continues at this pace, it will surpass the US within about 9 years (depending on which estimate of current expenditure you use.)

In comparison, most other major powers have been restraining or even dramatically cutting defence spending from the late 1980s up until 2003, from when it has in some cases risen, but much slower than China’s. For example, US defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP fell nearly every year from 1985 through to 2003, from when it has risen again, but only recovered to 1997 levels. In absolute dollar terms rather than %age, it has risen in some years, fallen in others, but not kept pace with inflation. In 2001, for example, it was only 1% higher in absolute dollars than it was in 1989.

  1. China claims that its rapidly growing military expenditure is defensive, but much of it blatantly is not. While much of their funding surge has been spent on modernisation (both of the PLA, and of defense industrial capability), increasingly they have been investing in power projection systems that have never previously been a large component of PLA capabilities. These include both traditional power projection systems (such as converting the PLAN from a coastal navy to a cruising, blue water navy with a burgeoning number of SSBNs; expanding amphibious assault capabilities; and experimentation with aircraft carriers), but also a heavy emphasis on “asymmetric capabilities”.
  2. During the 1990s, PRC was the only member of the NPT’s “five nuclear states” that expanded its nuclear arsenal, while the others were making deep cuts.
  3. PRC maintains an openly aggressive, extremely hostile stance towards a nearby US ally, Taiwan. This extends so far as to firing missiles into Taiwanese waters, and maintaining at least one military units whose sole raison d’etre is the invasion of Taiwan. However, such an aggressive stance towards its neighbours is not restricted only to Taiwan; several nations dispute sovereignty of the Spratly islands, but so far only PRC has sunk and killed rival claimants.
  4. PRC is an ideologically led state whose aggressively expansionistic views of communist doctrine have in the past led directly to war with western nations, or substantial military support to nations at war with western nations. Until the late 1980s PRC had essentially unconstrained exports of arms to many “rogue states”, that seem to have been permitted on no better grounds than that they might make more trouble for everyone else than for PRC. PRC was the world’s leading exporter of landmines. While relations with the west are at least superficially much more genial today, these policies have never been renounced. Arms exports have declined, but PRC was shipping missile guidance equipment to Iraq right up to the US led invasion and today continues to export arms to very dubious buyers, including, for example, Sudan.
  5. I could go on, but I have work to do…

In the long run, Chinese foreign policy is far more of a concern than terrorism.

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