Instrumental Partners: An Imperial Science of Agency

For an empire whose imperialism is still denied by many, a striking number of terms and concepts have been generated by US leaders that nonetheless are premised on the root idea of “force” in achieving or securing US “global leadership”. These terms command the language of US military, political, and corporate spokespersons, and they have been influential enough to be institutionalized in formal military doctrine. However, in order to acquire a varnish of respectability and credibility, and to project the image of likely success, these force-based terms are presented as scientific. In rendering domination in neutral scientistic terms, the processes involved are naturalized and thus depoliticized; or at least the undertone is that of mastery over nature, rather than the subjugation of others or their instrumentalization as “partners”. Partners, as in coalitions and alliances, are presented as “force multipliers” in numerous documents produced by the State and Defense Departments. The amorphous concept of force multipliers is our focus, both for what it reveals as for what it obscures.

Limited resources occasioned by another reality that is stated in physics-like terms—overstretch—is a recurring concern for US strategists, as is the consequent demand for operating indirectly through chains of allied operatives, or force multipliers. Major David S. Powell, in a paper for the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, stated that, “the concept of force multipliers is a key element of U.S. doctrine that asserts we can fight with limited resources and win” (Powell, 1990, p. 1). In addition, “there are several categories of force multipliers which include human, environmental, and organizational” (Powell, 1990, p. 2). The force multiplier concept is rooted in doctrines of “low-intensity conflict,” the scientistic term for the US-directed counterinsurgencies in Central America in the 1980s (Powell, 1990, p. 3). In explaining the slippery concept of force multipliers, Powell (1990) makes reference to Honduras, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the US invasion of Panama in 1989, Costa Rica, and the US invasion of Dominican Republic in 1965—primarily Latin American and Caribbean cases, that is, the old laboratory of US imperialism. But what is, and what is not, a force multiplier? For Powell, “a force multiplier is a tangible or intangible variable that increases the combat value and overall capability of a military force” (1990, p. 5)—which could be anything. Indeed, since then the concept—if we can call it that—has expanded dramatically, to include virtually any thing and anyone, anywhere, who might advance US interests in any measure. Far from dispelling “conspiracy theory,” US military and diplomatic strategists have in fact proceeded to fashion their plans in the most conspiratorial (even if unrealistic) terms.

US Admits Creating Failed States: Force Multipliers to the Rescue?


In 2014 there was a surprising yet widely ignored admission from the White House that the use of force by the US had created “failed states”: “We know from hard-learned experience that it is better to encourage and support reform than to impose policies that will render a country a failed state” (White House, 2014). This has not stopped the US from either using force or imposing policies. The recognition that force has its limits was preceded by the policy to lessen US costs by spreading the burden to other actors. As then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, “the problems we face today will not be solved by governments alone. It will be in partnerships—partnerships with philanthropy, with global business, partnerships with civil society” (Clinton, 2009). Adding to this, she spoke of “the three Ds of our foreign policy—defense, diplomacy and development” (Clinton, 2009). Clinton also spoke in terms of force multipliers: “by combining our strengths, governments and philanthropies can more than double our impact. And the multiplier effect continues if we add businesses, NGOs, universities, unions, faith communities, and individuals. That’s the power of partnership at its best—allowing us to achieve so much more together than we could apart” (Clinton, 2009). There would be a “new generation of public-private partnerships” coordinated by the State Department, which Clinton hailed as “smart power”—the emphasis being on “collaboration” and the deployment of “the full range of tools available” (Clinton, 2009), with tools underscoring the degree to which the US government instrumentalizes the agency of others. The purpose of such tools is to advance US interests, to ensure “American leadership” in the euphemistic though nonetheless imperial language of government spokespersons. As Obama argued, “no nation should be better positioned to lead in an era of globalization than America—the Nation that helped bring globalization about,” which he stated even as he denied any intent to build an empire (White House, 2010, pp. ii, iii).

Globalization and US Military Designs and Anxieties

US military strategists are keen to maximize the potential for US dominance in the context of “globalization,” with some apprehension but also with a rising interest in working through the agency of others. The US Army’s Field Manual for Stability Operations (FM 3-07), states these concerns in the following terms:

“As the Nation continues into this era of uncertainty and persistent conflict, the lines separating war and peace, enemy and friend, have blurred and no longer conform to the clear delineations we once knew. At the same time, emerging drivers of conflict and instability are combining with rapid cultural, social, and technological change to further complicate our understanding of the global security environment. Military success alone will not be sufficient to prevail in this environment. To confront the challenges before us, we must strengthen the capacity of the other elements of national power, leveraging the full potential of our interagency partners”. (US Army, 2008b, p. ii)

The level of apprehension has recently come into clearer public view, with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff exclaiming in what is meant to be a staid document, “today’s global security environment is the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service” (DoD, 2015, p. i). The “complications,” “challenges,” and “opportunities” of globalization, have recently tended to be replaced by reference to “global disorder” which has “significantly increased,” with the prediction being that, “future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield” (DoD, 2015, p. i).

“today’s global security environment is the most unpredictable I have seen in 40 years of service” ~ Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Acknowledging that military success alone is insufficient, the US Army speaks of “leverage,” “partners”, and continues in the same document to endorse “soft power,” and different kinds of intervention operating through international agencies—indeed, even the production of the manual itself was heralded as symbolic of this turn: “the first doctrine of any type to undergo a comprehensive joint, service, interagency, intergovernmental, and nongovernmental review” (Caldwell & Leonard, 2008, p. 6). Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell, the author of FM 3-07, co-authored an article with Lieutenant Colonel Steven M. Leonard, the head of the Combined Arms Center, in which they proclaimed the arrival of a “Brave New World” that would require different modes of operation:

“The forces of globalization and the emergence of regional economic and political powers are fundamentally reshaping the world we thought we understood. Future cultural and ethnocentric conflicts are likely to be exacerbated by increased global competition for shrinking natural resources, teeming urban populations with rising expectations, unrestrained technological diffusion, and rapidly accelerating climate change. The future is not one of major battles and engagements fought by armies on battlefields devoid of population; instead, the course of conflict will be decided by forces operating among the people of the world. Here, the margin of victory will be measured in far different terms than the wars of our past. The allegiance, trust, and confidence of populations will be the final arbiters of success”. (Caldwell & Leonard, 2008, p. 6)

Here we see another articulation of the force multipliers idea: “Forces operating among the people of the world,” whose “allegiance, trust, and confidence” are critical in the new battlefield of this brave new world brought on by globalization.

Given these prevailing winds, the US Army announced in 2014 that its doctrine would “change dramatically in the near future” as military leaders developed the operational concept of “Strategic Landpower”. General Robert W. Cone, who commands the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), also announced that a new warfare function would be added, called “engagement”: “the new warfighting function would involve skills used to influence foreign governments and militaries” (Sheftick, 2014/1/16). Along with “engagement,” Gen. Cone emphasized the need for a “Human Domain” program which would take the place of the Human Terrain System (for more on HTS, see past volumes in this series). Keeping up the appearance of science, a recent military article on the “Human Domain” opens with a quote from a 19th-century economist: “Man, the molecule of society, is the subject of social science” (Henry Charles Carey quoted in Herbert, 2014, p. 81).

As with the concept of force multipliers, which Powell above identified as originating from US participation in the Central American counterinsurgencies and invasions of Grenada and Panama, so do Caldwell and Leonard find precedents for their planning not only in the US war against Vietnam but even further back when they link the colonial history of the US, the wars against Indians, Mexico, and the civil war with current formulations of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. This is rare and frank historicization. What Caldwell and Leonard are advocating is a renewal of the Civil Operations and Revolutionary Development Support (CORDS) program, from the Vietnam war, as the basis for “whole-of-government” thinking in counterinsurgency, where stability equals pacification. As they state, “effective interagency integration—a true whole-of-government approach—offered the best solution to insurgency and best hope for lasting success” and is “fundamental to full-spectrum operations” (Caldwell & Leonard, 2008, pp. 8-9). FM 3-07 was thus explicitly intended to provide information that the branches of the armed forces, “interagency and intergovernmental partners, nongovernmental community, and even the private sector can refer to and put to use” (Caldwell & Leonard, 2008, p. 10). What they mask, however, is the extreme lethality of CORDS, and the fact that ultimately it failed to achieve US objectives. Suddenly, their attempt to historicize failed them. What is useful, on the other hand, is the fact that in the understanding of military strategists, force multipliers, whole-of-government, and full-spectrum, are always ultimately and intimately tied to violence. Indeed, once the US commits itself by seeking out force multipliers in other societies, it is committing itself to a slippery slope of increasingly direct intervention when those “multipliers” (local politicians, local armies, journalists, NGOs, etc.) fail to secure the desired gains, leaving the US with stark choices: more direct intervention (as in Libya) or humiliating defeat (the Bay of Pigs, Cuba).

Collaboration, partners, and coalitions underline the force multiplication sought by the US in avoiding what Obama calls overextension, and what historians similarly call overstretch, which is the classic contradiction of imperialism as much as Obama may publicly gainsay this fact. The emphasis on coalitions, though not invented by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, was certainly present in Bush’s 2002 National Security Strategy, and then largely repeated by Obama. In 2002, Bush maintained that the US was “guided by the conviction that no nation can build a safer, better world alone,” adding in significant language that, “alliances and multilateral institutions can multiply the strength of freedom-loving nations,” listing the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States, and NATO along with “coalitions of the willing” as the preferred multipliers of US policy (Bush, 2002, p. v).

While NATO is an obvious choice, the influence of the US in the OAS has declined considerably. Some might not be prepared to recognize the WTO and UN as arms of US policy, but this is due to a significant amount of misdirection and misrecognition. The WTO has been an excellent vehicle for the US to push its liberalizing trade agenda, which would see US corporations forced into sectors of national economies where they are currently barred or impeded, while pressuring other societies to commodify education and open local media to even greater US penetration, not to mention the privatization and deregulation of other public goods and social services (see Germann, 2005; Scherrer, 2005). The UN, popular misconceptions in the US notwithstanding, has become an imposer and enforcer of liberal capitalist norms of governance (see Cammack, 2006). “Good governance,” as Parthasarathy (2005, p. 192) convincingly demonstrates, has become “one of the direct instruments of capitalist production,” by imposing commodified Western law and ethics that open nations to foreign capital. In a grand display of Western ethnocentrism, various UN agencies, particularly the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), have even gone as far as equating the absence of multi-party elections with “human rights abuse” (e.g. UNHRC, 2015). The UNHRC, and its supportive NGOs such as the US-staffed and Soros-funded Human Rights Watch, impose a singular, Eurocentric definition of democracy whose implementation has not only blocked popular and direct forms of democracy, but also directly contributed to the generation of inter-ethnic strife in many post-colonies of the periphery. Meanwhile, most US anthropologists have remained silent on the issue of enforced impositions of Western-style democracy, while some actively participate as consultants to the State Department, or involve themselves in various “pro-democracy” campaigns that aim at regime change.1

Having already identified “America” with the “cause of freedom,” Bush added: “America will implement its strategies by organizing coalitions—as broad as practicable—of states able and willing to promote a balance of power that favors freedom” (Bush, 2002, p. 24). Obama then essentially repeated the same theme in his 2010 National Security Strategy:

“The burdens of a young century cannot fall on American shoulders alone—indeed, our adversaries would like to see America sap our strength by overextending our power. In the past, we have had the foresight to act judiciously and to avoid acting alone. We were part of the most powerful wartime coalition in human history through World War II, and stitched together a community of free nations and institutions to endure a Cold War….we will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well….As influence extends to more countries and capitals, we will build new and deeper partnerships in every region”. (White House, 2010, p. ii)

The emphasis on coalitions finds its way into military doctrine. FM 3-07 discussed above lists the following goals:

“Encouraging partner nations to assume lead roles in areas that represent the common interests of the United States and the host nation. Encouraging partner nations to increase their capability and willingness to participate in a coalition with U.S. forces. Facilitating cooperation with partner militaries and ministries of defense. Spurring the military transformation of allied partner nations by developing multinational command and control, training and education, concept development and experimentation, and security assessment framework”. (US Army, 2008b, p. 1-12)


Former NATO commander, General Wesley Clark, maintained that “having allied support” makes a military power stronger, calling an alliance a “force multiplier” (Green, 2003, p. 38). Obama repeated this recently, using the “force multiplier” phrase with reference to Libya and NATO: “We’re going to continue investing in our critical partnerships and alliances, including NATO, which has demonstrated time and again—most recently in Libya—that it’s a force multiplier” (Obama, 2012). Also on Libya, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that, “building a multilateral coalition to deal with foreign conflicts actually strengthens the hand of the United States. The support of the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League for the NATO mission in Libya was a ‘force multiplier’,” and she advised using the “responsibility to protect” principles essentially for propaganda to build military coalitions, thus lessening US military and political expense (however nominally) (Landler, 2013/7/23).


1    The involvement of US anthropologists in initiatives that support US foreign policy is still a very much neglected subject, apart from the narrower focus on militarization which has tended to obscure and defer discussion of this relationship. The focus on militarization, shorn of any concept of imperialism, also allows for some US academics to disingenuously shift the critique of militarization to nations that are trying to defend themselves against imperial aggression. Some of the few who claim to study imperialism, only do so with regard to topics and histories that either bolster US foreign policy (by focusing on China and Tibet, for example), or stay silent (by writing about other empires in the past). Whether serving as consultants to the State Department on the Central African Republic, writing journal articles on Ukraine that tend to back anti-Russian narratives, or supporting sanctions against Eritrea, the support of academics for liberal imperialist projects of “democracy-promotion,” “empowering civil society,” “LGBT rights,” or “stabilization,” represents their joining an earlier wave of anthropologists who consulted on Western “development” projects funded by the World Bank and USAID. Indeed, the American Anthropological Association has recently gone as far as officially celebrating the memory of President Obama’s mother, an anthropologist who worked for USAID, an agency correctly interpreted as an arm of US intervention and destabilization around the world.


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Powell, D.S. (1990). Understanding Force Multipliers: The Key to Optimizing Force Capabilities in Peacetime Contingency Operations. Fort Leavenworth: School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College.

Scherrer, C. (2005). The Role of GATS in the Commodification of Education. In Bernd Hamm & Russell Smandych (Eds.), Cultural Imperialism: Essays on the Political Economy of Cultural Domination (pp. 167-190). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Sheftick, G. (2014/1/16). TRADOC: Strategic Landpower Concept to Change Doctrine. Official Homepage of the United States Army, January 16.

UNHRC. (2015). Human Rights Council Discusses the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus and Eritrea, June 23. Geneva: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations.

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————— . (2014). Fact Sheet: Charting a New Course on Cuba, December 17. Washington, DC: Office of the Press Secretary, The White House.

zaniv5smExtracted from:
Force Multipliers: The Instrumentalities of Imperialism
Edited by
Maximilian C. Forte
Montreal, Alert Press, 2015
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