8th March 2011: PhD 1-Page Project Summary

Drafted 5th March 2011.

This project is an analytical, evaluative study of how strategic culture—the norms, ideas, symbols and patterns of behaviour which shape identity, preferences and choices—has been used as a theoretical construct in the international security sub-field of counterterrorism studies. Figure 1 in Appendix 1 summarises Stampnitzky’s (2008) conceptualization of key events and theories in the problematic development of counterterrorism studies.

Different views exist on what strategic culture is, how it is defined, and its utility for defence planning and national security analysis. The emerging consensus is that strategic culture may help to explain the preferences and thinking of a national security community. More recently, strategic culture has been applied to understand the Bush Administration’s ‘Global War on Terror’; variations in the defence policies of European Union member states; the long-term goals of terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda; and Hezbollah’s effective use of psychological operations against Israel’s Defence Force. Thus, it can be applied both to terrorist groups to understand them, and to the national security communities which must deal with them. Appendix 1 lists some relevant hypotheses from the scholarly literature, and some initial, specific hypotheses and postulates that the project will investigate and test.

Strategic culture has several implications for counterterrorism studies which this project will explore. The project’s key research questions include: How can theories originally developed for nation-states and national security institutions be applied to non-state actors? Why have scholars used strategic culture differently, and are these views reconcilable? Who are the ‘keepers’ of strategic culture in counterterrorism? How is the same strategic culture viewed by scholars across the civil-military spectrum and different institutions? How does strategic culture contribute to theory-building, and in particular to cycles of terrorist innovation and decisions to use aspects of strategic culture?

The project is presently organised around six chapters. Chapter 1 (‘Origins and Visions of Counterterrorism Studies’) examines the subfield, its history and controversies as the problem context. Chapter 2 (‘Counterterrorism Studies and Strategic Culture’) considers the recent, sporadic debates about conceptualising strategic culture, and how these frameworks could be applied to counterterrorism. The aim here is to strengthen the sub-field links between counterterrorism studies and strategic studies. Chapter 3 (‘Research Methodology’) outlines the conceptual models, specific hypotheses and inclusion criterion for comparative case studies. Chapter 4 (‘Evolutionary Pathways’) considers how strategic culture contributes to theory-building cycles in counterterrorism studies and the reasons for variation. Chapter 5 (‘Weaponising Cultural Knowledge’) considers how different terrorist individuals and groups have used aspects of strategic culture, why, and to what ends. Chapter 6 (‘Conclusions’) summarises the project, considers the implications for national security policymakers and intelligence analysts, and suggests future research opportunities.