Kilcullen, counterinsurgency and the cultural turn

David Kilcullen‘s role in the development and implementation of US counterinsurgency will be familiar to many readers, and I’ve already noted his subsequent project to drive ‘military humanism’ still deeper into the ‘humanitarian present’.   Here he is at Columbia University’s Hertog Global Strategy Initiative in May 2012 on “The future of conflict and everything else”:

“Everything else” turns out to be a grab-bag geography.   Kilcullen starts by rehearsing Obama’s determination not to embark on major counterinsurgency or large-scale, prolonged ‘stability operations’ [which is how Obama characterises Afghanistan and Iraq], but insists that the sort of ‘overseas contingencies’ in which the US involves itself cannot be reduced to presidential will and that they have, historically, involved regular interlacings of military and civilian intervention.  (In fact, Kilcullen’s Caerus Associates joined with the Center for a New American Security to map US civilian intervention in crises and disasters since the end of the Cold War).

Then he turns to the environment in which the US ‘is likely to be operating’ in the near future. Kilcullen emphasizes the importance of urbanization, ‘littoralization’ (‘a fancy geographer’s term’, apparently) and networking in shaping future conflicts [Olivier Kramsch at Nijmegen takes a bow at 18.04 for – unless I’m mis-hearing – predicting in 2006 the geography of the Arab uprisings].  It’s an extraordinarily schematic and impressionistic set of mappings that recalls the Models in Geography diagrams of the mid-60s.  The master-diagram is copyright (wait until you see it), but you can download the Powerpoint slide here: just scroll down to NIC Blog – Kilcullen.

Now fast forward to 1.03.25: During the Q&A Kilcullen concedes that the criticisms of COIN and in particular the Human Terrain System made by the American Anthropology Association “have been quite justified in a lot of cases”, and that “There’s a clear role for the academy in making sure that people in the military don’t do stupid shit…” (1.04.12).

Perhaps they (we) might start by reminding them of the follies of 1960s spatial science.  As Oliver Belcher knows better than me, the US military have become ever more interested in that style of modelling and its successors – if you want a taste, purse your lips and check out the Cultural Geography Model, which is derived from Kilcullen’s earlier construction of a ‘conflict ecosystem’ thus:

The Cultural Geography Model (from Jonathan K. Alt, Leroy Jackson and Stephen Lieberman, ‘The Cultural Geography Model: an agent-based model for analysis of the impact of culture in irregular warfare’

One thought on “Kilcullen, counterinsurgency and the cultural turn

  1. Pingback: geographical imaginations

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