Amy Zegart on North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

I’ve followed Stanford’s Amy Zegart since discovering her insightful research on analytical misperception in the United States intelligence community.

 

Zegart writes in The Atlantic:

 

Is Kim Jong Un crazy or hyper-rational? Is he bent on destroying America or deterring America? Is his model Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who averted nuclear war by building a large arsenal and threatening to use it? Or is Kim looking at the cautionary tales of Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein—two men who lost their power and their lives because American presidents either didn’t believe or didn’t care that they had given up their nuclear weapons programs?

Nobody knows.

 

Answering these kinds of questions is in part what Jack Snyder‘s original policy work on strategic culture sought to do. It’s also what Jeffrey Lantis and colleagues have done in their policy formulation advice for the Defense Threat Reducation Agency. Finally, Jerrold M. Post has published several political psychology books on individual leaders and how they interact with strategic culture.

 

Zegart’s insight gives the so-called fourth generation of strategic culture a new relevance: (1) the proliferation of nuclear weapons to nation-states outside the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons; and (2) the crisis decision-making of foreign political leaders who are driven by different ideational factors: beliefs, norms, values, and worldviews.

 

This will inform post-PhD research.

Monash SPS Symposium: Aum Shinrikyo’s Failed Strategic Subculture

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 (alex@alexburns.net)

 

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

Degree: PhD

Supervisor: Luke Howie

Australia’s Strategic Culture

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.