A Wicked Cultural Problem: Options for Combating New Tribalism in 2035

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Editor’s Note:  This article is part of our Civil Affairs Association and Divergent Options Writing Contest which took place from April 7, 2020 to July 7, 2020.  More information about the contest can be found by clicking here.


Captain Matthew Hughes, U.S. Army, is a Western Hemisphere Foreign Area Officer. He is currently assigned to the Military Liaison Office of the U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil while he conducts in-region training. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone and do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  It is 2035 and a new form of tribalism has taken root throughout the world. This New Tribalism is a threat to U.S. interests.

Date Originally Written:  April 23, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  July 6, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the United States in 2035 towards New Tribalism adherent groups imposing dangerous cultures on others.

Background:  Culture overrides ideological, political, or economic distinctions among peoples, driving global conflict in 2035[1]. While tremors of conventional conflict occur along fault lines between civilizations, localized conflicts erupt within civilizations as ethnicities and tribes seek to impose their ways of life upon others[2]. Governments struggle to meet societies’ demands for political and economic stability, leading them to turn inward and adopt protectionist policies, which erodes international coalitions that historically managed localized conflicts through small wars[3]. Cultural conflicts and weak multilateral cooperation accelerate the transition of predominant terrorism ideologies from a religious wave (1979 – late 2020s) to a wave known as New Tribalism, characterized by terrorist groups promulgating violent cultures based on ethnic, racial, or tribal mysticism[4]. Children are the vanguard of New Tribalism; child soldiers and child brides are cultural norms[5]. Rape and ethnic cleansing are integral in establishing a new human race[6]. New Tribalism thus “disrupts traditional cultures [by violating] even the most traditional elements of a society” by imposing its apocalyptic vision of how society should function[7]. In 2035, the U.S. faces the wicked problem of combating dangerous cultures of New Tribalism adherents before they topple governments, beget genocide, prompt mass migrations, and trigger regional instability.

Significance:  Although New Tribalism movements face inward as adherents seek to purify their homelands, their harmful cultures threaten regional political and economic stability. These groups seek to unify and consolidate adherents of their cultures, often across international boundaries. The scope of effects as these violent cultures spread includes genocide, massive volumes of displaced persons, ousting national-level political figures, and geographic impacts. The U.S. response will establish a precedent on how to combat New Tribalism’s dangerous cultures in a global dynamic where isolationism has become the norm.

Option #1:  The U.S. intervenes through armed conflict.

The U.S. deploys forces to countries where New Tribalism erupts in order to defeat adherent groups and mitigate the effects of their violent cultures. The U.S. threatens sanctions against countries providing external support to these groups to degrade their operations. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) focuses on economic development projects and refugee relief efforts. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) engage in deradicalization efforts with former New Tribalism communities. Military information support operations emphasize legitimacy of friendly operations and incompatibility of New Tribalism with traditional norms.

Risk:  Numerous small wars with prolonged U.S. troop presence, significant casualties, and heavy financial costs, weaken the U.S. military’s ability to fight major regional contingencies. Weak international coalitions increase this likelihood and associated costs. U.S. Forces may receive domestic and international criticism for collateral deaths of children during kinetic military actions, given New Tribalism cultural norms of using child soldiers and holding child prisoners.

Gain:  Armed conflict with New Tribalism adherents delays the spread of their dangerous cultures; additional efforts by NGOs and soft power instruments will help to exterminate them. This option can degrade adherent groups’ capabilities, disrupt their operations, and ultimately defeat them. U.S. intervention may halt an insurgency and preserve national institutions, salvaging Defense Institution Building (DIB) efforts spanning decades. Intervention decreases the likelihood of genocide and can mitigate the extent and severity of mass migration. The protected government and populace develop greater trust in the U.S. as a partner, positively influencing future relations.

Option #2:  The U.S. assists groups battling the New Tribalists below the level of armed conflict.

U.S. regionally-aligned forces and / or special operations forces train, advise, and assist rivals of New Tribalism adherent groups (e.g., armed forces of conflict country and neighboring countries) to manage the effects of adherent groups and their dangerous cultures[8]. U.S. intelligence assets find and fix adherent group targets and share information with allies and partners to finish targets. The U.S. leverages soft power tools to enhance partner nation governance and its national security apparatus and delay the spread of New Tribalism cultures.

Risk:  This option relies on successful security assistance activities and multinational cooperation. Due to persistent political and security challenges in New Tribalism conflict areas, Leahy vetting will identify units and leaders among potential allies which committed human rights violations when quelling rebellions or amassing power for strongmen in recent decades, limiting possibilities for security assistance.

Gain:  This option enhances the capabilities of adherent groups’ rivals (i.e., tactical training; targeting efforts; equipment). Financial costs and U.S. troop loss are significantly lower than in armed conflict. This option affords the U.S. time to assess the developing situation and act prudently, escalating to armed conflict through decision points, if deemed necessary. The proximity of U.S. troops grants the U.S. flexibility to respond to dynamic security conditions and execute contingency operations.

Option #3:  The U.S. contains New Tribalism.

In this option the U.S. does not intervene directly via troops in combat. Instead, it prevents the territorial spread of dangerous cultural norms and practices by deploying forces to New Tribalism peripheries. The U.S. leads multilateral efforts to secure national borders surrounding conflict areas. USAID coordinates relief efforts for refugees and NGOs conduct deradicalization efforts with captured combatants and liberated slaves.

Risk:  This option puts the onus for intervention through armed conflict on the United Nations Security Council and neighboring countries, risking either a delayed response to genocide or no intervention if there is insufficient multinational cooperation. Hence, there is inherent risk for domestic and international criticism for U.S. inaction, catastrophic political ramifications (including sunk costs for DIB), and a regional refugee crisis. The victimized population feels abandoned by the U.S., negatively impacting relations for decades.

Gain:  By securing national borders and improving economic conditions, this option enhances the host country’s ability to defeat violent groups and exterminate their harmful cultures[9]. Containment offers a sustainable strategy with likely domestic and international support. The U.S. avoids financial costs and troop loss associated with military intervention and prolonged engagement. This option grants the U.S. flexibility to commit troops and resources to other conflicts.

Other Comments:  All options reflect the need for a whole-of-government approach to counter dangerous cultures.

Recommendation:  None.


This article appeared originally at Divergent Options.

Endnotes:

[1] Huntington, S. P. (2011). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[2] Huntington, S. P. (2011). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

[3] National Intelligence Council. (2017). Global Trends: Paradox of Progress (p. v). Retrieved from https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/nic/GT-Full-Report.pdf.

[4] Kaplan, J. (2007). The Fifth Wave: The New Tribalism? Terrorism and Political Violence, 19, 545-570. doi: 10.1080/09546550701606564.

[5] Kaplan, J. (2007). The Fifth Wave: The New Tribalism? Terrorism and Political Violence, 19, 545-570. doi: 10.1080/09546550701606564.

[6] Kaplan, J. (2007). The Fifth Wave: The New Tribalism? Terrorism and Political Violence, 19, 545-570. doi: 10.1080/09546550701606564.

[7] Kaplan, J. (2007). The Fifth Wave: The New Tribalism? Terrorism and Political Violence, 19, 545-570. doi: 10.1080/09546550701606564.

[8] I-VEO Knowledge Matrix. (2011, June). Retrieved April 15, 2020, from http://start.foxtrotdev.com/. See hypothesis for Literary Reviews 157 and 175.

[9] I-VEO Knowledge Matrix. (2011, June). Retrieved April 15, 2020, from http://start.foxtrotdev.com/. See hypothesis for Literary Review 136.



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