Sun Tzu’s ancient admonition to “know your enemy” is axiomatic in military history, but the Pentagon has not always heeded that advice, says the Defense Science Board.
The DSB is a committee of civilian experts appointed to advise the secretary of defense on scientific and technical matters.
Often, military leaders have interpreted the “know your enemy” mantra narrowly to mean that they should have detailed intelligence about enemy fighting forces, but not necessarily a thorough understanding of the cultural characteristics of the adversary, notes the DSB in a March 2009 study.
The Iraq war made it clear that the U.S. military had neglected to study that country’s culture before it deployed forces there. The U.S. military “belatedly increased its human dynamics awareness within the current Iraq and Afghanistan theaters,” the study says. The Pentagon has also made recent progress in training and sensitizing deployed U.S. forces to the importance of understanding “human dynamics” in dealing with individuals, groups and societies.
But the Pentagon still lacks a coherent strategy for how to make cultural awareness a mainstream component of military training and education. Current efforts are mostly uncoordinated, says the DSB. “To a large extent, these efforts recapitulate ‘lessons learned and since forgotten’ from prior engagements,” the study says. “Substantial improvements by the Defense Department are needed in understanding human dynamics. In particular, the Defense Department must take a longer-term view and build upon increased capability achieved in Iraq and Afghanistan. It must institutionalize the best of current programs and processes.” The report also recommends that Defense Secretary Robert Gates address this issue in the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review.
The complete study, titled, “Understanding Human Dynamics,” can be found online at http://www.acq.osd.mil/dsb/reports.htm