I cannot think of any books about warfare’s future that come across as hard-hitting, full of actionable pragmatism, and deeply humane all at the same time. But Behavioral Conflict: Why Understanding People and their Motivations will Prove Decisive in Future Conflict is all three. The authors, both career members of the British military, Major General Andres Mackey (Ret) and Royal Navy Commander Steve Tatham (who I count as a friend, having met him in Ankara a few years ago), make their case by drawing on a combination of their own experience, case studies and close analysis of how communication actually factors in war.
Earlier this year, the British Council co-hosted an event in Brussels with Security Defence Agenda and NATO to discuss how “cultural” projects facilitate dialogue between groups, play a part in preventing conflict, healing post-conflict wounds, and potentially avoid conflicts based on misunderstand or mistrust. The video below are the highlights from this conference that I attended. It includes a post-event interview with British Council Chief Executive Martin Davidson.
I strongly recommend it to those interested in creating and supporting culture-based engagement pathways that to some may be “alternative” but are ultimately fundamental. One cannot hope to successfully engage in a struggle of minds and wills if one does not understand or empower the actors or their solutions to their circumstances.
In a July 2010 issue of Layalina Productions’ Perspectives, British Council officer Martin Rose argues for the West, particularly Europe, to be more “culturally literate” and refurbish its approach to cultural relations. Rose discusses the social and cultural marginalization of immigrant minorities in Europe, who recently have been lumped into the category of “Muslims” to the detriment of their national identities. He argues the need for Europe to be more open-minded and accepting of the “huge multiplicity of rivers that flow into our sea.” Urging non-Muslim Europeans to break the “Us vs. Them” mentality when approaching cultural differences, Rose advocates building trust, understanding and personal relationships to “live well in the 21st century and beyond.”
Rose also says:
To focus myopically on our own story as we are used to hearing it told is childish, a yearning for the warm security of the nursery.
Our inability to construct a larger Us is damaging and deforming: by its very nature it renders impossible a subtle, nuanced and relatively objective understanding of human culture and human society.
What role does culture have in conflict prevention and resolution? Recently, the British Council organized an interesting and enlightened discussion on this very question. What made this even more interesting was the British Council’s partners in the venture: NATO and Security Defence Agenda, a European security and defense think tank.
At a time when public diplomats to psychological operators are coming to terms with their lack specific cultural capacities to understand and properly engage audiences, this was a timely discussion.
In his latest book, Drugs and Contemporary Warfare, Paul Rexton Kan attempts to understand the relationship between drugs and armed conflict. Kan is not the first to connect the two topics, such as Gretchen Peters’ book on poppies in Afghanistan. However, Kan’s book is exceptional for developing an overarching theory on drugs and armed conflict in modern history. Kan knows what he is talking about. An associate professor at the U.S. Army War College, Kan’s previous monograph explores the implications of drug intoxicated irregular soldiers on the battlefield (available for download free).
Drugs and Contemporary Warfare is organized into six chapters: Hazy Shades of War, Drugging the Battlefield, High at War, Narcotics and Nation-Building, Sober Lessons for the Future, and Shaky Paths Forward. Kan’s first chapter summarizes the history of the drug trade’s influence on warfare, with emphasis on conflicts after the Cold War. With insightful anecdotes, Kan both introduces readers to the topic and lays the groundwork for concepts presented later.