Documento creado: 1 de octubre de 2009
Air & Space Power Journal - Español  Tercer  Trimestre 2009

Cultural Dimensions of Strategy and Policy
Colonel (USA) Jiyul Kim

Cultural DimensionsINTRODUCTION

Two sets of factors determine human thoughts, decisions, behavior, actions, and reactions: biological and cultural. Biological factors are more prominent in determining individual thoughts and behavior than it would be with human collectivities. At the collective level, the level that strategy and policy are concerned with (e.g., a nation-state), cultural factors are dominant. It is thus an imperative that strategy and policy formulation, the way they are implemented, and the outcome to be expected, must consider the cultural dimensions.

Policymakers and strategists tend to view situations through their own cultural and strategic “lens” with insufficient consideration and calculation of the “Other’s” perspective and interests. The Analytical Cultural Framework for Strategy and Policy (ACFSP) is one systematic and analytical approach to the vital task of viewing the world through many lenses. The national security community is interested in cultural features or dimensions that drive political and strategic action and behavior. The ACFSP identifies basic cultural dimensions that seem to be of fundamental importance in determining such behavior and thus are of importance in policy and strategy formulation and outcomes. These cultural dimensions are: Identity, Political Culture and Resilience. Identity is the most important, because it ultimately determines values and interests that form the foundation for policy and strategy to attain or preserve those interests. The ACFSP may not be a definitive approach, and no such claim is made, but the framework provides a specific way to get at the complex issue of how culture figures into strategic and political behavior.

The key points to take away are these: first, that strategy and policy are driven by Ends; second, that these Ends are determined by interests; third, that interests are derived from the sense of purpose and core values that a particular collectivity considers to be the foundation of who they are; fourth, that the sense of purpose and core values arise from the elements that constitute the collectivity’s Identity; fifth, that Identity is the foundation for collective mobilization; sixth, that such a mobilized collectivity can be put into action for political purposes through its peculiar form of political culture that provides the Ways and the Means; and finally, that the resilience of the group’s culture, grounded on the strength of a common Identity with a shared sense of purpose and values, can determine how flexible the collectivity is to either resisting, succumbing or adapting to forces that challenge the shared purpose and values.


We face a world today without the simple and comforting dichotomy of the Cold War. It is a world made increasingly more complex by the forces of nationalism and globalization released by the end of the Cold War. Since the early 1990s, the post-Cold War era, there has been a growing recognition among scholars that culture has increasingly become a factor in determining the course of today’s complex and interconnected world.

Although scholars may have recognized this, practitioners at first did not. One criticism that can be leveled against U.S. national security and foreign policy of the 1990s is that it failed to recognize and address the immense potentially destabilizing and conflict generating cultural and political changes unleashed by the end of the Cold War. Much of this force had to do with the release of pent up demands for self-determination by a variety of cultural groups determined by ethnicity, religion, and language. Suppressed groups found space to emerge and quickly turned into political forces and movements in the pursuit of formerly unattainable interests (separation, independence, domination) defined by previously unviable identities (ethno-religious nationalism).

The reemergence of counterinsurgency as a major task, has alerted the practitioners of policy and strategy to the importance of culture at the tactical and operational levels. One might call this the Department of Defense’s “cultural turn,” therefore the emphasis placed on culture as an important if not a decisive factor in countering insurgencies.1

There is also a growing recognition by the national security community that culture is an important factor at the policy and strategic levels although most of the current effort and resources for the “cultural turn” are devoted to the tactical and operational fight. Consideration of how culture affects our political and strategic actions and behavior and the actions and behavior of others has become a vital strategic task.


It is too easy to think of the role of culture in the world of national security strategy and military operations as a single dimensional phenomenon. That is to say, consideration of culture is too often conflated to one comprehensive set that is conceived and perceived as widely applicable across the length, breadth, and depth of the space we call national security and military operations.

One approach to get a better resolution of the role of culture is to consider three distinct dimensions of culture’s intersection with national security and military operations: cultural considerations at the individual level; cultural considerations in tactical and operational level military operations; and cultural considerations at the political and strategic levels. This is not to imply that these dimensions are separate and distinct, because there are significant areas of overlap and mutually supporting as well as hierarchical relationships among them, but the distinction is useful.

Cultural considerations at the individual level encompass the cultural dimensions of leadership, management, and interpersonal communications and relations. Languages, cultural do’s and don’ts, and negotiation skills are examples of what this dimension would consider. Current emphasis on “cultural understanding,” “cultural awareness,” and languages in the U.S. military is designed largely to address this dimension.

Cultural considerations in tactical and operational level military operations examine cultural factors that can influence the success or failure of tactical actions and campaigns. At the tactical level tactics, training, small unit leadership traits, weapons design, and such are some aspects of the tactical battlefield that have cultural components. At the operational level, to design campaigns with the greatest chance for success, one must consider the interplay and harmonization of cultural factors such as service and agency organizational cultures and the cultures of allies in forming a capable joint, interagency, and multinational force operating in a foreign land. In addition, military leaders must consider the cultural dimension of the opponent such as civil-military relations (political control), military-societal ties (popular support), and military force (senior leadership style, operational level doctrine and training philosophy, and military culture) among other factors.2

Cultural considerations at the political and strategic levels deal with the impact of cultural factors in the formulation, implementation, and outcome of policy and strategy. It is concerned with cultural factors that can affect political and strategic decisions, actions, and behaviors. This is the dimension that we are most concerned with, and the ACFSP provides one approach for considering this dimension in a systematic manner.3


Culture is fundamental, although not the only factor, for defining and understanding the human condition.4 Culture affects how people think and act. It can be considered as the way humans and societies assign meaning to the world around them and define their place in that world. It is manifested in many ways including languages and words; ideas and ideologies; customs and traditions; beliefs and religions; rituals and ceremonies; settlement patterns; art and music; architecture and furniture; dress and fashion; games; images; in short, anything that is symbolic or representative of the values, norms, perceptions, interests, and biases of a culture.5

The German political economist and sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) saw man as an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun. The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1926-2007) extended this notion by equating culture with Weber’s “webs of significance.”6 In Weber and Geertz’s conception, man was like a spider in the middle of his web except that the strands were not made of silk, but of those values, perceptions, and norms that were significant and meaningful to him. Thus, the main task in analyzing culture is to understand the specifics of what are significant and meaningful, the meanings represented by the strands of the “webs of significance.” Conducting this task requires interpretation of the symbolic forms and systems to tease out the meanings they contain.

It is important to recognize that human beings are not born with a particular culture (the “webs of significance”), but culture is constructed through a process of conscious and unconscious socialization and acculturation (human interactions) within the particular situation that an individual was born into. This “particular situation” can encompass a wide range of factors from the individualistic and biological, such as gender and race, to an ever-widening circle of social, political, economic, religious, organizational, and ethnic levels of human organization (family, community, ethnic community, religious order, economic class, village/town/city, state/province, nation, region, the world). Therefore, in trying to come to grips with how culture operates, we must recognize that it varies enormously through space and time. Variability over space is reflected by the variety of cultures in the world at a given moment in time. Variability over time is best seen in history. History is thus, in part, a record of cultural change over time.

Culture operates at different levels ranging from the individual to various levels of collectivities. Culture at each level is rarely the sum of the cultures of the lower levels. At the individual level, culture affects interpersonal communications and relations, while at the collective level it affects inter-collective (e.g., inter-clan, inter-town, interstate) communications and relations. There is clearly an overlap between culture at the individual level and at the collective level, especially if we consider decision makers. But a framework that distinguishes between the two could help with the study of the cultural dimension of policy and strategy.


Policymakers and strategists tend to view situations through their own cultural and strategic “lens” with insufficient consideration and calculation of the “other’s” perspective and interests. How should we approach the task of appreciating and understanding the different lenses through which other people, groups, societies, nations, and regions view themselves and the world? The ACFSP is one approach to the vital task of viewing the world through many lenses. The national security community is most interested in cultural features or dimensions that drive political and strategic action and behavior. The ACFSP identifies basic cultural dimensions that seem to be of fundamental importance in determining political and strategic action and behavior and thus are of importance in policy and strategy formulation and outcomes. These dimensions are,

Identity: the basis for defining identity and its linkage to interests.

Political Culture: the structure of power and decision making.

Resilience: the capacity or ability to resist, adapt, or succumb to external forces.

Let us examine these dimensions in an American context to understand how they affect American values and interests and therefore American policy and strategy. Consider first the revolutionary circumstances of America’s national origin and the founding documents (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers). The United States has a unique revolutionary origin that redefined how society should be organized. Democracy and republicanism, freedom and liberty, equality, Manifest Destiny, and other fundamental conceptions of man and society, combined with a pioneering spirit, individualism, and entrepreneurialism that early established a unique and enduring American identity.

Protestantism combined with capitalism to fan a tremendous appetite for innovation, adaptation, and progress.8 America became a synonym and a symbol for a land of innovative and adaptive people. Along with growing prosperity came the dominance of middle class livelihood, values, and practices that formed the backbone of American society. These ideas and values interacted with history, resulting in a richer, and some would say a more “positive,” development of American society and identity.

What does all this mean in terms of American identity, political culture, and resilience? First, American citizenship and identity are based on place and, more importantly, on the idea of being an American rather than blood. This forms the foundation of the American identity and differentiates American citizens from those of most of the world who predominantly privilege bloodline. Second, American political culture evolved from a revolutionary distrust of strong central authority (kings and tyrants) and thus emphasizes the protection of individual and local rights and privileges and the principle of checks and balances over the efficient functioning of the government. This has resulted in a political culture that is particularly complex. Finally, one test of American resilience is America’s relationship with globalization. Perhaps more than any other society, the United States has been able to innovate and adapt to the forces of globalization. Indeed, America has been and remains one of the engines of globalization. Another test of resilience is how America approaches its integration with transnational institutions (e.g., the UN or the WTO). It does so with the determination to protect individual and national prerogatives while remaining open to institutions that support its ideas of liberal democracy, economic openness, and universal human rights.

These cultural considerations affect American policy and strategy. Most Americans have a distinct worldview and beliefs about America’s place in that world. That view is very much founded on the legacy of 18th century enlightenment that also animated America’s founding revolution. A democratic world with a capitalist economic system based on free trade is America’s idealized utopia, and Americans see America as destined to have a leading role in bringing about such a world.

Other societies may share aspects of what constitutes American identity, political culture, and resilience, but not identically. In the same manner, every other society reflects a unique combination of identity, political culture, and resilience.


Modernity and Nationalism form the first common theme. They are two aspects of the modern world that play key roles in all the dimensions. Modernity has both material (e.g., industrialization, scientific and technological developments, and the information revolution) and ideational aspects (e.g., different ideas about political and economic organization such as democracy, autocracy, and socialism). Nationalism has taken many variant forms rooted in the traditional past as well as in the new political and geographical arrangements of the modern era (ethnic, religious, and nation-state political).9

Another common theme is that culture is a subjective and emotional entity and process and thus inherently unpredictable. This contrasts with rationalism or rational choice theory that has been prized in social sciences, because it seems to provide a way to predict. The predictive shortcomings of rational choice theory as the basis for human thought and action can be seen everywhere in daily life from the unpredictability of the performance of the stock market to the uncertainties of international relations.10 In the world of policy and strategy, it is prediction that is the prize of analysis. Human beings, individually or collectively, do not always think and behave in rational ways. The concept of rationality itself is relative and is subject to differing conceptions and definitions based on culture. The best that may be possible is to gain some insight into what might be most probable. It is precisely because we are creatures of emotions and passions that the only way to more fully comprehend our thoughts and actions is through cultural understanding that can provide predictive insights to the seemingly irrational patterns of thought and behavior.

The criticality of history is another common theme. History makes man and his society, and its principal contemporary expression is culture. Without history, there is no culture. But history is an interpretive field, more subjective than objective. Thus, each dimension of the framework must be appreciated as the product of both the accumulation of actual historical experience as well as the revisionism brought by memory and interpretation of that history. In doing so, one must also consider that memory and interpretation of history are often incomplete, selective, or distorted.

History, therefore, serves two important functions: as agent and process that determines specific tangible and intangible cultural forms; and as an instrument of culture, usually purposefully distorted or adapted for contemporary and, most often, political purposes. For many modern nation-states, the distortion often takes the form of inventing or exaggerating a heroic past that serves to legitimize the regime while inspiring and helping to mobilize the populace for national projects. Examples abound throughout the world and in history: Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Saddam’s Iraq, and Kim Il Sung’s North Korea. There is probably no place in the world where one cannot find evidence of manipulation of history for political purposes. Deliberate distortions, exaggerations, omissions, and even inventions become readily apparent when one digs a little deeper into the historiography of a particular society.


One aspect of culture that seems to matter greatly at the political and strategic levels is those cultural factors that determine “identity.” Identity is perhaps the most important of the ACFSP dimensions, because it ultimately determines values and interests that form the foundation for policy and strategy to attain or preserve those interests.

Identity is a fundamental trait that is essential to man and societies. “Identity” can very well stand as another way to say “culture.”11 It defines existence, purpose, destiny, and, sometimes, fate. It provides a sense of self worth, dignity, and community. Man exists both as an individual and as a member of a group, a collective, and thus an examination of identity must also recognize the existence of differing individual and collective identities. At the individual level, identity begins with a base of biologically inherited features on which is built a superstructure of cultural or acquired elements. Race, gender, and family are clearly the most obvious and consequential biologically inherited identity traits. Superimposed on these are socially inherited features such as ethnicity, religion, clan, class, and tribe. The boundary between biological and social inheritances is often blurred. Ultimately, however, social inheritances are changeable, while biological inheritances are not.

While individual identity is important for the individual, it may not necessarily be of equal or similar importance at the collective level. Collective identity almost always consists of fewer traits than reflected by the sum of the individual identities of its members, because, by necessity, collective identity is based on features that are shared by all or most members of the collective. However, in terms of political and social power, collective identity is almost always far more than the sum of the individuals, because it has the potential to mobilize the collective and thus political power. For example, at the nation-state level, leaders who can fuse individual with national identity can inspire the people of the nation to sacrifice for national survival and glory. The ability to mobilize a nation is essential in strategy, in the conduct of foreign and domestic policy, and is absolutely paramount for the enterprise of war. In as much as policy and strategy are oriented toward a particular collectivity rather than an individual, be it a sub-national, national, regional, or trans-national entity, it is collective identity that we are most concerned with in considerations of policy and strategy.

As with individual identity, collective identity is composed of both biologically and socially inherited traits, but often the biological or “blood” traits are more fictional and mythical than real. Ultimately, it is the collective social agreement on what commonality binds the collective that is most important. Even if every member shared exactly the same features of individual identities, biological and social, they could not form a collective identity unless they agreed on the basis for their coming together.

Collective identity also exists in widely ranging forms creating intricate layers of overlap and hierarchy. Indeed, it would be the rare society that exhibited only one collective identity, and thus we must consider the existence of a multiplicity of collective identities. These identities also provide indications of social and political fault lines containing the potential for future divisions. While the collective identities exist simultaneously, they can usually be defined hierarchically. Some are more important than others. Each individual and collective sorts and prioritizes, often consciously, but sometimes not. The identity that occupies the top of the hierarchy provides the greatest potential for significant and powerful political force, often with implications for peace and conflict. For most of the modern age (i.e., since the late 18th century) nation-state political nationalism has been the most important and powerful collective identity and one that has had direct war and peace implications. Although suppressed by the confrontation between capitalism and communism during the Cold War, the post-Cold War period has witnessed a resurgence of nationalism. But the form of nationalism that became prominent in the post-Cold War era has been more of the ethnic and religious variety rather than nation-state political nationalism. The post-9/11 era has added to the increasingly complex situation by highlighting the potency of religious and ethnic extremism.

When considering more specifically the sources of collective identity, especially those that result in political power (and, therefore, the power to mobilize the collective toward a common purpose), we cannot escape considering history. Culture is history’s principal contemporary expression. The thought that there is no culture without history, that culture is a historical product, can be extended to the notion that there can be no identity without history. History is based on interpretation and subject to constant revision and reinterpretation. But what is the basis of the revisions and reinterpretations? Here we are considering not academic history, but the popular mass view of history. It is usually a simplified and reduced version of history. New evidence plays a part, but even more so is the collective “memory” of that history, memory that may be real, but is more likely to be selective, subjective, or manufactured. That history can never be definitive points to an important aspect of identity, that it is dynamic and changeable. It need not be permanent.

Politically, the most potent collective identity in the modern era has been the nation-state. Nation itself is an old concept and in the traditional sense, membership in a nation is determined by a common identity based on one or more of a number of physical and cultural factors such as origin, ancestry, location, religion, language, and shared history. In the modern era, a powerful new foundation for nationhood was introduced with the concept of the nation-state that combined national fervor with political organization. Modern forms of national identity can thus serve as the basis for powerful collective actions, especially in the political, social, economic, cultural, and strategic arenas. The sources of national identity of modern nation-states are often based on a shifting amalgamation of the old and traditional (ancestry, location, religion) with the new (recent history). Thus, nation-state identity is usually artificially or deliberately created rather than deriving as the natural and spontaneous consequences of a nation’s history. Every nation glorifies what it is and what it represents, and thus tends toward glossing over history that does not fit that story (narrative). This becomes all the more evident in nations whose boundaries were arbitrarily created rather than historically evolved. Nations created by colonial powers, especially in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, are good examples of this phenomenon. Thus it is not uncommon for national leaders to evoke and use history deliberately as an instrument of unity and mobilization. In such usage, history is often distorted or even falsified.12

Nationalism is not the only basis for collective identity with consequential political power. Transnational identities have also proven to create potent political power. Some, such as extremism (religious, ethnic, political) and criminal activity, can be destructive and threatening to order. Others are potentially constructive, such as collective identities that, for example, advocate worldwide human rights, seek to preserve and promote labor rights in the context of a globalizing society, promote open and tolerant society for the free exchange of ideas and information, build global consensus over climate change as a common global problem, encourage religious expressions of universal brotherhood, and advance international efforts for peaceful conflict resolution. Sub-national collective identities such as tribe or sect have also proven to possess increasingly potent political force in those parts of the world where the nation-state is weak or where the state is seen as remote from individual or group concerns.

Political Culture

Aristotle famously once said that “Man is by nature a political animal.” What does this mean in terms of thoughts, decisions, and actions? What we are most interested in is how being political is translated into real world outcomes. Identity provides a foundation for collective unity and mobilization, but politics provide the instrument and the means to mobilize the collective leading to actions and results.

Political culture can be defined as the set of values, beliefs, traditions, perceptions, expectations, attitudes, practices, and institutions that a particular society harbors about how the political system and processes should operate and what sort of governmental and economic life should be pursued. Political culture is dynamic and changeable because it is a historical product. Some factors that contribute to the formation of a particular political culture include historical experience, religious tradition, collective values, founding principles, geographical location and configuration, strategic environment (for example, relative vulnerability or security), economic capacity, and demographics.

A most important factor of political culture is the philosophical attitude taken toward the meaning of progress and development. If one accepts the notion that modernity and modernization originated and have been defined by the West, one must also consider the problems of western bias in the modernization scenario. The essential question in this debate is whether there is only one correct path to modernization (“civilization”) and its implied sense of progress or a multiplicity of paths (e.g., a “Confucian way” that could explain the successful developmental paths taken by East Asian nations). This is an important issue because of its profound effect on the kind of political culture that develops.

An increasingly important factor in the construction of political culture has been faith and religion. This has been especially true in the post-Cold War era and especially so in societies with significant non-secular political traditions. The role of religion in political culture is not difficult to understand if we recognize the role of religion in identity formation. A key issue in political culture is the extent to which those whose identity is primarily religious or ethnically based will also show allegiance to the nation-state and/or transnational institutions.

Political culture also forms two key supporting instruments of its expression that are of interest for policy and strategy: political system and strategic culture. Political system refers to how political power is organized, with particular emphasis on identifying and understanding the basis for power, its distribution, and hierarchy. Consideration of political system includes examination of the role of history, class, religion, race, ethnicity, gender, geography (physical, social, and cultural), demography, and power fault lines that determine power centers, connections, and operations. The world has a spectrum of political systems varying from failed states and diffuse power structures to centralized systems such as autocracy. In between these extremes are various gradations of systems such as democracy. Within each of these systems is a spectrum of players and institutions that have political power and influence. These players and institutions usually have differential access to tangible and intangible resources (e.g., material, financial, influencial, moral). Within all political systems are rules of the game about how power is obtained, used, and transferred.

Strategic culture is a relatively new concept that arose in the post-Cold War era. It arose in reaction to two developments. First was the shock of the failure of the social scientific approach in predicting the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union and European communism. This led to a search for one or more missing factors that could have led to a more accurate predictive analysis.13 The second development was the realization that each nation had a unique perspective that affected the way it perceived, interpreted, analyzed, and reacted to events and developments. It was a realization that no single universal “law” governed how all nations behaved. These two developments led to considerations of culture as an important factor in collective behavior (including that of the nation-state) and thus policy and strategy, and out of it emerged the idea of strategic culture.14 Strategic culture can thus be defined as the concept that considers how cultural factors affect strategic behavior. Strategic culture both enables and constrains actions and reactions regarding strategic choices, priorities, security, diplomacy, and the use of force.


Resilience refers to the capacity or ability of a culture to resist, adapt, or succumb to external forces. It is a test of the culture’s stability and coherence and a measure of the endurance of its identity and political culture. Thus, it can help us understand either the permanence or changeability of the values and interests that determine a particular culture’s strategy and policy.

Probably the greatest external force affecting cultures around the world and testing cultural resilience is globalization. While the specific focus of globalization is often on the economic and the informational, from a historical perspective, globalization should be considered as the current phase of modernity that encompasses both material and non-material dimensions. There have been other periods of globalization,15 but the globalization that we are facing today may be of such enormity that we do not yet have the historical basis to inform us of its potential impact.

Although globalization is a term most often associated with economics and information, we consider it in its broadest terms to include economic, social, technological, political, informational, and ideational factors. A key notion to consider is interdependence and a dynamic that is more involuntary than voluntary. Thus there is a sense that globalization is a force that cannot be controlled, but can only be accommodated or mitigated.

An important component of globalization is to understand the linkage between globalization and anti-West-ism and anti-Americanism. Many people in the world consider globalization synonymous with Americanization or Westernization. Much of the world also considers America as the primary source of globalization, especially those aspects of globalization that are seen to undermine traditional society and values.

Another important test of resilience is how a culture approaches its integration with transnational institutions such as the UN or the WTO. A culture may take a parochial position focused on the preservation of its own interest at the cost of the larger interest for which the institution was created. Alternatively, it may be willing to sacrifice parochial interest for the good of the larger community. Why that is and the viability of the positions taken provide insight into each culture’s resilience.


The theoretical principles of considering cultural dimensions in the formulation, implementation and outcome of strategy and policy seem simple enough, but to actually apply them to a specific nation or a group, sub-national or transnational, requires intense study and analysis of the history of that collectivity. There will be no one right answer, but if we hope to formulate more effective strategies and policies then we must make the effort to make them more answerable to cultural factors. The very lack of a definitive cultural analysis requires a multiplicity of efforts. Different approaches will emphasize different factors. A historically oriented analysis is likely to emphasize different factors than those taking a political scientific approach, and yet other factors will be emphasized by anthropological, sociological, economic, psychological, or military approaches. Their sum, however, can provide the sort of comprehensive analysis that can get us closer to the truth even if we can never get to the final truth. This is the difficult challenge for strategic leaders involved in strategy and policy. Identity, Political Culture, and Resilience provide a starting point for that cultural analytical journey.


 1. “The cultural turn describes developments in the humanities and the social sciences brought about by various developments across the disciplines. Most noted amongst these was the emergence of cultural studies and the dominance of the sociology of culture within the discipline of Sociology. . . . It describes a shift in emphasis towards meaning and on culture rather than politics or economics. This shift of emphasis occurred over a prolonged time, but particularly since the 1960s.” Available at

2. The Army’s Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM) 3-24 (December 2006), and Operations FM 3-0 (February 2008), represent examples of how cultural factors have now become prominent aspects of the tactical and operational level fights. Barak A. Salmoni and Paula Holmes-Eber’s Operational Culture for the Warfighter: Principles and Applications (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2008) provides a 5-dimensional approach (Physical environment, Economy, Social Structure, Political Structure, Belief System) to the issue of culture and military operations. This cultural framework for operations is an excellent complement to the ACFSP’s 3 dimensional framework for strategy and policy. The book is available at

3. Sheila Miyoshi Jager, Visiting Professor of National Security Studies at the Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, 2006-08, wrote of the need for appreciating how the three different levels of political-military operations, strategic, operational, and tactical, require different kinds of cultural knowledge. Sheila Miyoshi Jager, On the Uses of Cultural Knowledge, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, November 2007, Although Jager’s levels (strategic, operational, tactical) are different from the U.S. Army War College’s consideration of three dimensions—policy/strategy, operational, leadership/management—the more important point is that the two frameworks agree on the notion that a differentiation must be made on how cultural factors work in different areas; that culture cannot and should not be conflated into a “one size fits all.”

4. Two other features that define the human condition are man’s biology and the physical environment.

5. Culture is defined in the draft TRADOC Army Culture and Foreign Language Strategy as the set of distinctive features of a society or group, including but not limited to values, beliefs, and norms, that ties together members of that society or group and that drives action and behavior. Additional aspects or characteristics of culture are: (1) Culture is shared; there is no “culture of one”; (2) Culture is patterned, meaning that people in a group or society live and think in ways forming definitive, repeating patterns; (3) Culture is changeable, through social interactions between people and groups; (4) Culture is internalized in the sense that it is habitual, taken for granted, and perceived as “natural” by people within the group or society; (5) Culture is learned; (6) The distinctive features that describe a particular culture include its myths and legends.

Culture is expressed in the real world through symbols and symbolic systems that represent, reflect or contain the meanings inherent in cultural features, therefore values, beliefs and norms. Learning to identify these symbols and symbolic systems and “read” the meanings they reflect, represent or contain is thus a crucial skill to understanding a particular society and the culture it contains.

6. Geertz is the founder of the field of Interpretive Anthropology, the dominant variant of cultural anthropology that approaches culture as a symbolic system. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, New York: Basic Books, 1973, p. 5.

7. Protestantism and capitalism’s complementarity was examined in detail by Max Weber in his famous 1904 treatise, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

8. Ethnicity is a cultural construct usually based on race, religion, language, and way-of-life traditions. It may be possible to conceive of a distinctive American ethnicity that transcends the usual determinants by embracing an ethnic identity based on the American idea.

9. The beginning of the modern era is most commonly defined by the advent of the enlightenment and industrialization in the 18th century. The enlightenment created a rational secular world where man dominated the ideational domain, while industrialization created a material world where man dominated the physical domain. Divorced from the constraining and limiting pre-modern fixation on the divine, the modern era increasingly promised a future of unlimited possibilities. See Appendix A, “A Commentary on Modernity and Nationalism,” for a fuller discussion on the subject. For a closer examination of the role and place of liberty and freedom as overarching conceptions that define what America means, see Appendix B, “A Commentary on Liberty and Freedom as Dimensions of Modernity and Nationalism.” See Appendix C, “A Commentary on Language as a Dimension of Modernity and Nationalism,” for a discussion of how language is an important factor of modernity, but perhaps not a determinative factor in nationalism.

10. The most prominent example was the failure to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union. Two important criticisms of rational choice theory came from the Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis and political scientist Ian Shapiro. Gaddis’ criticism of the social sciences and their focus on the quest for the independent variable appeared in Chapter 3, “The Interdependence of Variables,” Landscapes of History, London, England: Oxford University Press, 2002. Shapiro indicted the social sciences and the humanities as being driven more by concern over methods, most importantly rational choice theory, than by actual real world problems in his The Flight from Reality in the Human Sciences, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

11. Thus the study of identity involves the exploration of the same parameters that were mentioned earlier for the study of culture: formation, agency, process, boundary, variability, stability, coherence, and effect on thinking and decisionmaking.

12. Two important and powerful studies have had an enormous impact on how we view the formation of coherent and stable modern nation-states. Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1983, provided startling studies of how nation-states deliberately invented traditions to provide legitimacy by tying the nation-state to its long traditional past and by consolidating its power through invented symbols and rituals. Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, London, England: Verso, 1983, examined how printed words played a key role in virtually linking all parts of the modern nation-state. Widespread and cheap printing, “print capitalism” in Anderson’s term, is a modern phenomenon. Its ubiquity was an essential mechanism and instrument for rapidly binding citizens of a nation-state by helping them imagine their membership in that national community. For example, print capitalism helped spread the sort of invented traditions that Hobsbawm and Ranger considered. For some nations, such as Indonesia, that had never existed as a single coherent community prior to its formation in modern times, the concept of a national community in itself was an invention made possible to imagine through print capitalism.

13. John Lewis Gaddis, perhaps the world’s foremost historian of the Cold War, wrote, the efforts theorists have made to create a “science” of politics that would forecast the future course of world events have produced strikingly unimpressive results: none of the . . . approaches to theory . . . that have evolved since 1945 came anywhere close to anticipating how the Cold War would end. . . . If their forecasts failed so completely to anticipate so large an event as that conflict’s termination, then one has to wonder about the theories upon which they were based.

John Lewis Gaddis, “International Relations Theory and the End of the Cold War,” International Security, Vol. 17, No. 3, Winter 1992–93, p. 3. Quoted by Kenneth B. Pyle in “Reading the New Era in Asia: The Use of History and Culture in the Making of Foreign Policy,” Asia Policy, Vol. 3, January 2007, p. 3.

14. Important works on strategic culture include Peter J. Katzenstein, ed., The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics, New York: Columbia University Press, 1996; Alastair Iain Johnston, "Thinking about Strategic Culture," International Security, Vol. 19, No. 4, 1995, pp. 32-64; Stephen Peter Rosen, "Military Effectiveness: Why Society Matters," International Security, Vol. 19, No. 4, 1995, pp. 5-31; Elizabeth Kier, "Culture and Military Doctrine: France between the Wars," International Security, Vol. 19, No. 4, 1995, pp. 65-93; Robert D. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993; Judith Goldstein and Robert O. Keohane, eds., Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993; Richard J. Ellis and Michael Thompson, eds., Culture Matters: Essays in Honor of Aaron Wildavsky, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1997; Ronald Inglehart, Modernization and Postmodernization: Cultural, Economic, and Political Change in Forty-Three Societies, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997; Yosef Lapid, “Culture’s Shop: Returns and Departures in International Relations Theory,” in Yosef Lapid and Friedrich Kratochwil, eds., The Return of Culture and Identity in IR Theory, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996.

15. For example, the globalization based on expansion of European trade between the 16th and 18th centuries or the opening of the Silk Road in the 13th century.


Colonel Jiyul Kim

Colonel Jiyul Kim is the Director of Asian Studies and the Coordinator forRegional Studies at the U.S. Army War College.  He was formerly an intelligence officer and then, for the past 20 years, a Japan and Korea Foreign Area Officer serving in a variety of field and policy assignments. He has published on Asian policy issues, history and archaeology. He holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania in Anthropology and Biology, MA from Harvard University in East Asian Regional Study and is currently completing doctoral work in History and East Asian Languages at Harvard.

Disclaimer : The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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