Monday, March 5, 2012

Military and Human Geography – A Cross-Examination of Essential Knowledge

Everything happens for a reason.  At least that is what a mentor told me years ago when I was just walking into the real world for the first time.  Culture is the basis behind every action throughout the world.  All people do things for a reason and this has a lot to do where one is raised or lives.  In the anthropology field, this is called a person’s “Worldview” – A person’s worldview ties into their geography greatly.  In addition, this carries over not only in our everyday lives, but for the militaries across the world.  Moreover, Military Geography is not only used by the military, but also by academics and politicians in order to understand the geopolitical sphere through a militaristic lens.

Knowledge and expertise of military geography is a critical factor in analyzing the enemy.  Military geography of a specific region is the discipline regarding geographic aspects that affect military planning and the execution of operations.  In addition, this discipline is divided into several sub-classes of study: cultural, economic, political, and physical geography.  Each one of the areas of study establishes the base for knowledge of a region or area.  The more expertise of a geographic region, the better suited an analyst will be in order to analyze raw intelligence and apply it to an analysis.  Outcomes regarding past U.S. conflicts have been determined by regional knowledge of military geography and have ultimately formulated standards of knowledge for today’s intelligence to be successful. 

Regional, area, and cultural expertise is vital knowledge required for understanding an enemy’s intentions and vulnerabilities.  Also, this knowledge can result in improved battle tactics by understanding the terrain, weather, soil, and lines of communication that are prominent in an area which may ultimately effect enemy movement.  Expertise in these areas allows for a commander, decision-maker, or analyst to establish an overall picture for planning and executing operations.  Understanding culture is becoming a more important factor for military operations across the world.  Unlike the days of the Cold War, enemies of the United States are now integrating into civilian societies.  These enemies may use certain key locations to take cover that are not allowed to be bombed or attacked to their advantage such as hospitals, schools, and mosques.  Therefore, the U.S. military needs to be cognizant of cultural and social norms within a region in order to identify any anomalies or something that is just not normal within a foreign society. 

Regarding military geography, cultural friction is one of the more significant causes of surprise in enemy action.  When in conflict with an opposing force, enemy intentions may be unpredictable, but it may be the culture of the enemy that is most often misunderstood in this sense.  This causes confusion among the friendly force because they are unfamiliar with the norms of their enemy’s society.  The expertise acquired in studying a certain region, area, or culture will overall determine the course that an operation must take in order to be successful, but at the same time limit civilian causalities.  In my opinion, regional expertise is more beneficial for strategic planning than tactical planning.  Understanding the military geography of an area is essential prior to executing enemy forces in a battle.  Knowing when, where, and how to attack an enemy is also influenced by this expertise and has a major effect on the planning stages of a military operation.

There have been several examples of this type of expertise not being utilized that have occurred throughout history.  A somewhat recent example of this took place in the 1990’s in the country of Somalia.  Somalia is a very unstable region that is in a constant state of conflict.  U.S. military forces where not very familiar with certain aspects of the area of Somalia where they were in conflict, in addition to not having basic knowledge of Somali society.  These aspects included the lack of decent geospatial intelligence.  Based on my overall knowledge of this conflict, I believe our forces attacked our enemy as ordered, but did not do their research prior to the battles in ensuring a successful outcome.  This opinion is based on the continuous failures during the conflict in the streets of Mogadishu that U.S. forces endured.  Overall, this was probably due to a lack of expertise in the region known as the Horn of Africa.  However, the United States has been in many other battles that have resulted in similar consequences that have forced U.S. troops to disband and leave the area of conflict.

In order for military forces to act successfully in a foreign land, they must be mindful of where they are located.  Furthermore, they must be reliant on intelligence analysts to supply them with accurate intelligence.  This ties into the that the United States continues to be involved more with asymmetric conflicts across the world, and fewer conflicts against political or organized entities similar to the past.  Military geography also allows for knowledge of an area to be applied to certain operations.  Tactical, operational, and strategic planning rely on this knowledge to avoid any uncertainties and create a successful battle plan.

Overtime, regional and cultural subject matter expertise continues to become a more substantial key component for intelligence operations.  Education, cultural appreciation, and regional experience of analysts are often insufficient for providing insight for an understanding of the enemy.  Also, there is little knowledge of any historical aspects that create social norms different than in the United States or even the language of the local population which can purely affect an overall analysis of a network’s true intentions.  Overall, this is unsatisfactory and proves why knowledge of military geography of a specified area is vital in understanding and analyzing the enemy.  This seems to be a common issue across the world and probably has led to initiatives such as human terrain analysis also known as human geography and other elements that cater more towards regional studies in academia.

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