5th April 2011: PhD Research Questions

1. How can theories originally developed for nation-states and national security institutions be applied to non-state actors?

Snyder (1977) originally conceptualised strategic culture for the comparative analysis of decision-makers and policymakers in different nation-states. Booth (1979), Gray (1984), Kier (1992) and Johnston (1998) have each applied Snyder’s insights to nation-states, and the doctrine development process of national security institutions.

Recently, analysts and scholars have begun to apply strategic culture as a framework to non-state actors such as terrorist organisations. This is a ‘levels of analysis’ issue. Cronin (2003) and Rasmussen (2003) note globalisation and reactive changes to US politico-military policy as enabling factors. Long (2006) suggest that Al Qaeda had developed a strategic culture because of its covert attempts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Porter’s Reciprocity of War thesis (2007 and 2009) challenged earlier models in arguing that non-state actors could use combat experiences to improvise and adapt to new conditions.

This study suggests that theories originally developed for nation-states might be applicable to terrorist organisations under the following conditions:

1. Nation-State Emulation: Berman (2009) note that Hamas and Hezbollah have each developed quasi-state infrastructures to support members, including civil society services. Coll (2004) and Wright (2007) observe that Al Qaeda made infrastructure investments in Sudan and Afghanistan to support the governments of ‘failed’ nation-states. FARC established an autonomous zone in Colombia. These examples suggest that strategic culture frameworks originally developed for nation-states can be applied to terrorist organisations who emulate aspects of nation-states. A variant on direct emulation of nation-state functions may be the ‘institutional capture’ of a group or its main adherents as part of a political party process.

2. ‘Borrowed’ Cultures: ‘Lone wolf’ terrorists may ‘borrow’ parts of their ideology from nation-states and other actors. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (Hewitt 1995) was shaped by Gulf War combat experience, rejection from Green Berets training, the Michigan Militia movement, and ‘new world order’ conspiracy theories on shortwave radio stations. Chase (2003) and Dammbeck (2003) suggest that Ted Kaczynski’s experiences with Cold War psychological experiments at Harvard University shaped the Unabomber’s hatred of technology. Lifton (2000) notes that Aum Shinrikyo developed a syncretic worldview which reflected Japan’s fears of resurgent militarism, biological warfare experimentation, and new spirituality. These examples suggest that aspects of a strategic culture may be ‘borrowed’ from other sources and refashioned by terrorist organisations.

The result may not be a functioning strategic culture as Snyder (1997) or Johnston (1998) envisioned, but rather a hybrid. Importantly, ‘borrowed’ cultures situate terrorist organisations within a range of other influences and may explain aspects of their subjective worldviews which some analysts and scholars have previously dismissed. The same process can occur in civilian art movements which adopt aesthetics and symbolism for antinomian shock value (Ford 2000).

3. Organisational Strategy: Strategic culture frameworks may be applied to terrorist organisations which meet the following criteria: (i) Longitudinal survival of a group, organisation or campaign, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA) or Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) in Ireland and Spain, respectively. (ii)  Conceptualisation of a grand strategy in available doctrines and propaganda, such as the Vietnam War oppositional tactics of the Weather Underground (Green and Siegel 2002; Varon 2004); and Al Qaeda’s propaganda messages (Bin Laden, Lawrence and Howarth 2005; Kepel and Milleli 2008). This differs from yet may anticipate and respond to the nation-state’s formulation of grand strategy to defeat terrorism (Cronin and Ludes 2004; Cronin 2009; Hill 2010). (iii) Pursuit of a strategic agenda that requires significant resources, such as chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons acquisition. This is the criterion that Long (2006) uses to suggest that Al Qaeda has a strategic culture. Lifton (2000) also applies it to Aum Shinrikyo, which Hudson (1999) notes attempted to develop its own nascent government structure.

These three criteria sets can inform the selection of specific terrorist organisations for case studies and data coding, and theory-testing procedures using strategic culture frameworks. Furthermore, it may provide new perspectives on the organisational level of analysis conducted by Martha Crenshaw, David Rapoport, and others in counter-terrorism studies. It promises to advance the analysis of terrorist organisations beyond typology-based frameworks (Rosenthal 2006).

2. Why have scholars used strategic culture differently, and are these views reconcilable?

Johnston (1998 and 1995) conceived an influential ‘generational’ framework to explain the conceptual evolution of strategic culture theories. These are: (i) early 1980s security specialists and Sovietologists; (ii) Gramscian security specialists and institutional studies; and (iii) empirical, falsifiable theorists and constructivists. Howlett (2006) posits an emerging, fourth generation that develops policy-relevant theories in nuclear proliferation.

However, Johnston’s framework has faced criticism. Katzenstein (1995) and Lantis (2002) adopted constructivist and national security policy stances, respectively. Gray (1999) contended that all strategists are ‘encultured’: they are influenced by cultural patterns of assumptions which may be independent of immediate, situational constraints. Poore (2002) felt the context of the Gray-Johnston exchange was missing, whilst Lock (2010) looked to earlier, overlooked theorists for guidance. Johnston’s ‘generational’ framework has unresolved issues, such as his selection and coding of theorists. For instance, Kier (1992) rejected involvement in the subsequent Gray-Johnston debate because her ‘program of research’ focussed on institutional analysis of doctrinal development. There also may be alternative ways to examine theorists rather than Johnston’s ‘generational’ approach.

For strategic culture to become a robust, analytical framework, several issues must be clarified. The variation in scope, level of and units of analysis, stance, and object of analysis must be mapped — the existing literature does so in an ‘ad hoc’ manner. Issues of scholarly use, differences, and reconcilable views need also to be clarified. This study seeks to provide this clarity, and to test the parsimony of strategic culture frameworks within a counter-terrorism studies context.