In 2014, I co-wrote an article with Deakin University’s Dr Ben Eltham for Contemporary Security Policy Journal: ‘Australia’s Strategic Culture: Constraints and Opportunities in Security Policymaking.’
CSP and their publisher Taylor & Francis have now made the article available for free here.
My thanks to CSP, Taylor & Francis, and special issue editor Professor Jeffrey S. Lantis for their help in making the article available to a wider readership.
A summary of my in-progress thesis from my mid-candidature review documentation:
Terrorist organisations such as Al Qaeda and Islamic State pose a national security threat to Australia. Terrorist organisations that are able to grow in members and resources, and consolidate their power over a longer period of time require different policymaking responses from counterterrorism, defence, and national security experts. This thesis contributes to: (i) a new understanding of how such terrorist organisations formulate their strategies, allocate resources, and engage in decision-making to plan and conduct terrorist operations; and (b) the development of a new strategic cultures framework using case studies of Islamic State and Japan’ s Aum Shinrikyo.
On 26th October 2015, I will present my in-progress PhD research on strategic subcultures in terrorist organisations to a Mid-Candidature Review Panel at Australia’s Monash University. The MCR presentation slides are here.
My thanks to MCR Review Panel members Professor Jude McCulloch (coauthor of Pre-Crime: Pre-emption, Precaution and the Future), Associate Professor Pete Lentini (author of Neojihadism: Towards a New Understanding of Terrorism and Extremism?), and Dr Narelle Miragliotta (coeditor of Contemporary Australian Political Party Organisations).
For several months I’ve been thinking about how Jack Snyder’s original research on strategic culture might be applied to Putin era Russia. John Ehrman’s review of two books from 2012 on Putin suggests: (1) the existence of several organisational subcultures in the KGB; and (2) the existence of folklore and glamour in Russia in the 1960s which may have influenced Putin’s socialisation as a KGB officer in the Andropov era. I see a possible integration of Snyder’s area studies with Jerrold M. Post’s work on the psychological profiling of political and terrorist leaders. Noted for future research.
Today’s PhD writing time focused on the Human Terrain System (HTS): the controversial United States military program to embed anthropologists and sociologists with counterinsurgency specialists in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s been a clear evolution of the sub-literature on HTS from initial advocacy of so-called cultural intelligence to critical post-mortems of the HTS program’s impact, results, and effectiveness.
Amongst the recent and new books on HTS is Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence’s edited collection Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan (London: Hurst & Company, 2015). I’ll be adding it to my PhD reading list – as HTS can be understood as one possible politico-military application of area studies and anthropological knowledge that also underpins the strategic culture framework I am using to examine terrorist organisations.
Some personal goals for 2015:
1. Complete a full PhD draft (two chapters plus rewrites). Model the rewrites on the chapter / structure / paragraph format used for the Princeton Studies in International History and Politics and using the methodology insights of the Cambridge Series in Political Science Research Methods. Submit PhD-related presentation proposals to International Studies Association for possible inclusion in the 2016 annual convention.
2. Develop an Academic Moneyball framework (one page) for business development / contract management / research management activities. Draw on asset management, hedge fund, private equity, and value creation domains – for active management – in order to develop the Academic Moneyball framework. Note relevant insights in one paragraph (the Aramchek model) from Russia’s Putin regime on leadership and value appropriation in bureaucracies that also face volatility from international capital markets (some potential background reading: Putin vs. Putin; Putin’s Kleptocracy; How Russia Really Works; The Social Construction of Russia’s Resurgence; The Man Without A Face, and Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible). Distill into a rolling 100-day action plan (one page) and work breakdown structure (Work Breakdown Structures: The Foundation for Project Management Excellence).
3. Continue to keep a reflective diary on trading systems development. Develop one-page algorithm pseudo-code for momentum, trend-following, and value-based strategies – decomposed from the relevant academic research and practitioner literature – with awareness of stream-based processing methods (Fundamentals of Stream Processing).
4. Complete a personal program of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and attend a Mindfulness meditation group.
I have a new Academic CV and Publications track record (PDF).
The document integrates for the first time my academic research; PhD and Masters studies; Disinformation website work (mainly from my first editorial and writing tenure in 1998-2003); journalism; and subculture research. There are some known gaps in the publications history – notably the Black Box magazine project in 2002, two small REVelation excerpts in 1996-97, and many more Rabelais student journalism articles / reviews from 1994. It’s as near complete a list that I’m likely to get – unless I do further archival work. Many of the Disinformation articles in 1998-2003 are available at Archive.org. Much of the academic research is available from this website or in the specific academic journals.
A personal reflection:
I spent much of my first decade of public writing as a freelance journalist, subcultural researcher, website editor / writer during the end of the dotcom speculative bubble, and then in the Swinburne University Masters program in strategic foresight. This period covered several phases: (1) a 1994-95 period of primarily New Journalism experimentation; (2) a 1996-97 period of immersive subculture research and magazine articles which largely ended in March 1998; (3) a 19998-2003 period of my first Disinformation editorial tenure; and (4) my 2002-04 Masters studies which were largely a reflection cycle on the prior periods and the lessons I had learned. This period transitioned when I joined the Smart Internet Technology CRC research consortium in December 2003.
I spent my second decade as a researcher; pivoted into research management; did Masters and early PhD work on counterterrorism and political science; and then collaborated with others on academic research. This period covered several phases: (1) a 2003-2007 period of Smart Internet Technology CRC research in which I also pivoted out of doing magazine research due to employment contract restrictions; (2) a 2007-09 pivot period of moving into research management and transitioning my academic research career into political science; (3) a 2010-14 period of collaborative research articles; and (4) a 2009-present period of focus on PhD research about pattern languages and strategic culture, and applied research on hedge funds / terrorist organisations as strategic subcultures.
Collectively, I put in 10,000 hours of deliberate practice over the 20-year period in journalism and research. The 1994-95 period of New Journalism was skills acquisition and experimentation. The 1996-97 period of subculture research benefited from close work with several talented magazine editors, and led to new insights during the 2003-07 period at the Smart Internet Technology CRC. This was a period in which I enjoyed a brief publicly visible profile as an editor and writer. The 1998-2003 period at Disinformation led to a renewed focus in 2009 on event arbitrage and understanding hedge fund strategies. I experienced personal crises in 1997 and in 2006-07 over financial and ‘decision to publish’ issues that led to life-changing pivots. The 2002-04 and 2007-09 periods were active reflection cycles on these pivots. In Spiral Dynamics terms, the 20-year timeframe of writing involved several sequences of skills cultivation (Alpha new state), rapid growth (Delta surge), life crisis (Gamma Trap problems), and pivot to new opportunities (alternation of Beta questioning and new Delta surge).
This 20-year writing arc has led to a current personal synthesis: (1) PhD and recent academic publications as a new phase of skills building; (2) applied research as a strategy to address the life circumstances of the 1997 and 2006-07 crises; and (3) this blog as a way to capture and communicate some of these ideas to a public audience. My writing is more focused and often more private. I publish more slowly in academic journals than in past internet and magazine work. I work with a smaller group of collaborators. I have a more sustainable daily routine.
I’m grateful for the past experiences. I’m looking forward to sharing new writings in the future with you.
Each year I do a 20-minute presentation to the SPS Symposium in Monash University’s School of Political and Social Inquiry on my in-progress PhD research. Below is the outline for this year’s proposed presentation due to occur in October:
Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture
Alex Burns (email@example.com)
Key Words: Aum Shinrikyo; strategic culture; terrorist groups
In 1977, RAND’s Jack Snyder proposed strategic subcultures as a unit of analysis to understand distinct beliefs, analytical traditions, institutions, and socialisation norms in a strategic community. Recently, the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture scholarship has – via Alan Bloomfield, David Haglund, Jeffrey Lantis, and others – applied Snyder’s unit of analysis to examine new foreign policy actors. This presentation applies Snyder’s strategic subcultures to advance a new understanding of the militant Japanese religious sect Aum Shinrikyo, and its 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway system. I use narrative analysis and qualitative thematic coding to re-examine two theory-building explanations about Aum Shinrikyo’s decision-making: Robert Jay Lifton’s psychohistory (Destroying the World to Save It) and Haruki Murakami’s oral history interviews (Underground). I also develop a new strategic subculture explanation of Aum Shinrikyo’s failure that builds on Frederick M. Smith’s research into South Asian deity and spirit possession experiences (The Self Possessed).
Paper Type: Full Paper
Working Title: Terrorist Groups as Strategic Subcultures
Supervisor: Luke Howie
In 2011, my PhD supervisors asked me about a planned case study on Al Qaeda’s strategic culture. Now, there are two books out that address this issue:
- Michael W.S. Ryan’s Decoding Al Qaeda’s Strategy: The Deep Battle Against America (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013).
- Donald Holbrook’s The Al-Qaeda Doctrine: The Framing and Evolution of the Leadership’s Public Discourse (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2014).
There are now some case studies and further analysis to answer this initial query.
Alastair Iain Johnston’s third generation of strategic culture focused on organisational studies. A relevant book that may link this third generation to the study of terrorist organisations is Vahid Brown and Don Rassler’s Fountainhead of Jihad: The Haqqani Nexus, 1973-2012 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
I’m also looking at Peter Bergen’s reportage on Al Qaeda – so his forthcoming book United States of Jihad: The Untold Story of Al-Qaeda in America (New York: Crown, 2015) may also be relevant.
Deakin University’s Ben Eltham and I have a new paper out in Contemporary Security Policy journal that draws on my PhD research. Taylor & Francis has the electronic copy available online now to journal and institutional subscribers; the print version is due out 23rd July.
Here’s the article’s abstract:
This article draws on fourth generation strategic culture debates to show the gap between the rhetoric of Australian defence and the more modest reality. Our analysis shows that these limits derive from tensions between national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures. There are serious debates in the nation regarding the preferred course of the Australian military and security policy. This article frames these debates by examining the ‘keepers’ of Australia’s national strategic culture, the existence of several competing strategic subcultures, and the importance of norm entrepreneurs in changing defence and national security thinking. Strategic subcultures foster compartmentalization, constraints, and bureaucratic silos that narrow national conceptions of security threats and opportunities, and impinge on the formation of coherent foreign and defence policy in relation to the Asia-Pacific region. This analysis shows that a distinct national strategic culture and organizational strategic subcultures endure beyond individual governments, placing potential limits on Australia’s interface with other Asia-Pacific strategic cultures in the future.
My thanks to Wooster College’s Jeffrey Lantis for organising the CSP special issue on strategic culture; the three anonymous and extremely helpful reviewers; and CSP‘s editorial and production staff.