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Project Minerva

August 13, 2008

A couple of months ago, foreign policy analyst Frida Berrigan argued “the Pentagon’s expansion will be Bush’s lasting legacy.” What does this mean? During the Bush Administration’s tenure, the Pentagon’s authorities and funding have been grossly expanded. For instance, the U.S. now boasts a military budget greater than all the world’s militaries’ combined, and a Pentagon which controls roughly 25% of U.S. development and humanitarian assistance.

Stewart Patrick, an expert at the Center for Global Development, recently quipped that what the Pentagon calls “phase zero” (pre-conflict foreign assistance), the State Department and US Agency for International Development calls foreign policy. The Pentagon’s expansion of authorities and funds are part of a trend towards the militarization of foreign assistance, and in fact U.S. foreign policy. There are many reasons for the Pentagon not too be involved in providing development and humanitarian assistance. It’s extremely costly, and the Pentagon is not trained for providing sustainable development assistance. They are trained to fight and win wars.

Given this backdrop, I read about “Project Minerva” — a new Pentagon proposal — with skepticism. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has announced that the Pentagon will allocate $50 million for academics to study: the connections between religion and terrorism; Chinese military doctrine; and proposals for new paradigms for 21st century challenges and conflicts (i.e. like Game theory during the Cold War) among other important issues.

This is not an inherently bad idea. We need sociologists, evolutionary biologists and anthropologists to consider questions posited by anthropologist Hugh Gusteron:

Is Middle Eastern terrorism somehow inherent to Islamic theology? Is it an inevitable Islamic response to globalization and Westernization? Is it, instead, really a response to poverty and underdevelopment that happens to draw on the language of religion? Or, as Osama bin Laden himself has suggested, is it a response to U.S. military intervention in the region? If the United States draws down its interventionist presence in the Middle East, will al Qaeda leave Americans alone, or will it be emboldened to pursue them to their own shores? Are Middle Eastern countries readily capable of Western democracy, or is this a dangerously ethnocentric neoconservative fantasy?

Yet, why is the Pentagon funding this research. The answer boils down to four words which goes back to Frida Berrigan’s article: the Pentagon has the money. This is not a sufficient reason. Pentagon funding for such research will inevitably taint the findings. For instance, as Gusteron notes “The Pentagon will have the false comfort of believing that it has harnessed the best and the brightest minds, when in fact it will have only received a very limited slice of what the ivory tower has to offer—academics who have no problem taking Pentagon funds. Social scientists call this “selection bias,” and it can lead to dangerous analytical errors.”

In short, yes to funding for social science research. No to Pentagon control over such funding.

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