Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency: Paper Abstracts

Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency is the title of a very interesting conference that is about to take place at the University of Chicago. It will be extremely disappointing if the conference organizers and/or participants decide not to make their papers available on the Web, given both the timeliness of the conference and the fact that papers published in locked down (closed access) sources will likely have a marginal impact on what has become a very public debate. This conference comes on the heels of a recent prominent speech by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates inviting and applauding the role of anthropology in counterinsurgency, as discussed in a previous post, The Military-Academic Complex in the U.S.: “The Minerva Consortia”.

In the short term, knowing how some sites can expire, and in keeping with the scrapbooking function of this blog, I am copying and pasting some of the paper abstracts that I think are the most directly relevant to current debates on anthropological embedding in American counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Rochelle Davis
Cultural Sensitivity in a Military Occupation: US Military in Iraq

US Military personnel serving in the invasion and occupation of Iraq since 2003 have been asked not only to overthrow the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein, but also to rebuild the country they destroyed and re-train the military and police forces that were disbanded. Interviews with these US military personnel reveal the contradictions of receiving training to be culturally aware and sensitive while at the same time militarily occupying a country. The US servicemen and women’s encounters with Iraqi army, police, insurgents, and civilians reveal their own expectations about how Iraqis should behave and feel and how and why they believe some Iraqis defy while others live up to those expectations.

Roberto J. González
“Human Terrain” and Indirect Rule: Theoretical, Practical, and Ethical Concerns

Since 2006, the Pentagon has recruited anthropologists and other social scientists for counterinsurgency work in Iraq and Afghanistan under the auspices of the $60 million “Human Terrain System” program (HTS). HTS relies upon the expertise of social scientists embedded with US Army brigades. Military commanders and news reports portray the program as part of a “hearts and minds” strategy, but some social scientists are armed. The Executive Board of the AAA expressed disapproval of HTS last year, but the program grows apace, with approximately 25 Human Terrain Teams (HTTs) scheduled for deployment in 2008. Former team members report gross mismanagement by HTS directors and employees of BAE Systems (a private military contractor responsible for recruiting and training HTT members), raising questions about the safety of HTT data about Iraqis and Afghans. They also report a lack of ethics training in a program routinely placing social scientists into contact with civilians in perilous environments. HTS and “new” counterinsurgency approaches raise a series of questions: What are the origins of the contemporary “human terrain” concept? What are the goals of HTS, and how is its data being used? What models or theories of culture are used by program participants, and why? What are the similarities and differences between such forms and early 20th century anthropological efforts to promote indirect rule in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East? What conflicts of interest or ethical dilemmas might anthropologists face when they are employed by a military occupation force.

Hugh Gusterson
The Cultural Turn in the War on Terror

Clausewitz theorized “friction” as the major impediment to rational, predictable, controllable war. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the military has belatedly realized that “culture” is a source of such friction. Now, as military contractors rush to hire anthropologists and other social scientists, the military is experimenting with “ethnographic intelligence,” “human terrain teams,” “smart culture cards” and so on. Military culture initiatives have repressive and facilitative modalities. We see the repressive modalities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, where cultural knowledge has been used to enhance torture. Facilitative initiatives have sought to deploy cultural knowledge to smooth away cultural misunderstanding and friction. Both kinds of initiatives are based on the misrecognition of opposition to occupation as reaction to cultural insensitivity.

James L. Hevia
Small Wars and Counter-Insurgency

This paper addresses the emergence in the late nineteenth century of the notion of “small wars” and the tactics and strategies related to them. Inevitably these wars were either within or on the frontiers of European empires or were interventions into weak states that posed problems to the expansive activities of imperial powers. Special attention will be given to the relations between intelligence and ethnology in sources on small wars and comparisons made to the phenomenon of Human Terrain Systems in contemporary discussions of counter-insurgency.

John D. Kelly
The Moral Economy of War: Galula Fetishism and its Consequences for Pax Americana

The new joint handbook for counter-insurgency is noted for its cultural and anthropological turn. But its embrace of the counterinsurgency theory of David Galula, a 1960s French military theorist, is more significant for the framing given to global counterinsurgency by the handbook. Galula categorizes insurgency and counterinsurgency as asymmetric sides of “revolutionary war,” and uses Mao as both theorist and paradigm of revolutionary war and insurgency generally. Portraying the planet as beset by insurgencies, the handbook calls for ethnographic modes of intelligence to help with particular conflicts, and this is the major theme of the anthropological turn. However anthropology has little input on the bigger picture: what the Bush administration in general, and one of the handbook’s lead authors, Colonel John Nagl now call “the long war” against terrorists and insurgencies. Nagl and others use the theories of Galula to find Maoist-style campaign programs behind every local military conflict that they identify as “insurgency.” The Long War as Cold War nostalgia is devastatingly alive in this larger framing. Galula’s theory was built upon utter failure in practice in Algeria, a fact that motivates a new military generation to call for greater resolve. Meanwhile, basic questions about war powers and democracy worry American citizens, and others, every time US military power is used. The nostrum that “no democracy has ever gone to war with another democracy” is clearly false, but the logic whereby it should be true is felt as much as reasoned in disquieted public cultures. At stake is nothing less than the moral economy of war in the new world order. Anthropology can provide better service to the US and other militaries by clear analysis of the causes and consequences of military interventions, than by building tools for intelligence gathering where boots are already on the ground, especially because they are.

David Price (Plenary Address)
Soft Power, Hard Power and the Anthropological “Leveraging” of Cultural “Assets”: Distilling the Politics and Ethics of Anthropological Counterinsurgency

This paper draws upon specific historical instances of anthropological contributions to insurgency and counterinsurgency campaigns to consider theoretical, political and ethical dimensions of anthropological contributions to counterinsurgency. Distinctions between political and ethical elements of specific uses of counterinsurgency are made to delineate differences between the fundamental ethical problems that arise in any research settings from the political issues raised by using anthropology for specific political ends. Both ethics-based, and political-based arguments against using anthropology for “soft” or “hard” forms of counterinsurgency in the current context are considered in light of anthropology’s disciplinary history and our understanding of the uses of anthropological knowledge by state powers striving for control in global economic power struggles.

Presumptions that culture can be willfully played as an instrument of control are considered in the context of larger theoretical questions about the nature of culture. Chief among the fundamental questions raised are: Under what conditions can counterinsurgency work? Do “hard” or “soft” counterinsurgency campaigns stand better chances of “success?” When militaries turn to counterinsurgency, it is too late?

While military-linked “hard power” episodes of anthropologically informed counterinsurgency have drawn wide-ranging criticisms, many anthropologists are reluctant to view various “soft power” aid programs as counterinsurgent in nature, though past architects including Rostow, Millikan and Lansdale, conceptualized such programs in this way. Recent developments in Iraq and Afghanistan indicate that anthropologists and anthropological knowledge will be increasingly called upon in coming “hard” and “soft” counterinsurgency campaigns around the globe.

Problems with harnessing anthropology for counterinsurgency go far beyond the uses of anthropology in armed “hard” counterinsurgency settings; there are fundamental ethical and political problems raised by using anthropology not for the representation of studied populations, but for manipulation. I examine specific historical instances of anthropological contributions to counterinsurgency campaigns during the Second World War and the Cold War to illustrate how anthropological knowledge has been harnessed in the past. I argue that using anthropology for manipulation towards ends of conquest and subjugation necessarily raises serious ethical problems regardless of whether these programs are “hard” or “soft” forms of counterinsurgency.

Dustin Wax
The Uses of Anthropology in the Insurgent Age

Much of anthropology’s history has been essentially counter-insurgency–providing information conquering forces have needed to establish and maintain control in the face of organized cultural, political, and military opposition. Most of the postmodern and postcolonial critique has been aimed at highlighting the biases, interests, and just plain errors that anthropology’s counter-insurgent history has introduced into the discipline and its work. After briefly exploring anthropology’s history, with special attention to the work of anthropologists in the Japanese internment camps of WWII, I examine five fundamental and, I think, irreconcilable oppositions between anthropological practice and military practice.

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In line with my last post on The Calculus of Fear, what we will also need is ethnographic investigation on what so many of us believe to be “terror”, what they consider a “threat” and why, and why there is a “war on terror”. I offered only speculative “answers”.