Strategic Culture: An Exploration of Terms
“Words are chameleons, which reflect the colour of their environment.” Learned Hand 1872-
1961: In Commissioner v. National Carbide Corp. (1948)
Words, by necessity, are the building blocks of definition. A definition, according to the Gage Canadian Dictionary, is a “statement that makes clear the meaning of a word or
1group of words.” A description, on the other hand is “the act of giving a picture or account in
2words.” In either case, success in crafting a description or a definition depends on the use of words. All the more important, then, before setting out to revisit a definition, to be clear on the words and phrases being put to use to that end. It would be unfortunate to present a definition that was limited in relevance simply because of a misunderstanding or erroneous assumption of word usage. To borrow from Professor Peter Stoett in „Human and Global Security: An Exploration of Terms:‟
“Defining words is a fundamental act, for us as individuals and as members of collectives. When definitions are constructed in a closed and limited fashion, alternative thinking can be stifled and 3orthodoxy reinforced.”
Given that a conceptual definition is one based on the use and application of other concepts to provide understanding, it is particularly important to be clear on what is meant by those concepts in a more comprehensive manner than what is offered in dictionary terms. It is necessary to also show how the separate parts of language being used work together to lay a framework for the final definition.
First there is the distinction referenced above between a definition and a description. To define something is to state precisely what it means, to describe it‟s nature,
properties or essential qualities. Put simply, to define something requires a degree of
1 Neufeld, Victoria E. Editor, “Gage Canadian Dictionary” Gage Publishing Ltd. 1983 Canada Pg. 310 2 Ibid Pg 319 3 Annan, K. (2000). “Secretary-General Salutes International Workshop on Human Security in Mongolia.”.
understanding of both what it is and why it is. To describe something, on the other hand is to give a picture or account of it, what it looks, tastes, sounds, smells, and/ or feels like, in words. An understanding would benefit the describing but is not essential.
In using the term strategic I refer to the adjective that derives from the noun strategy as a particular long-term plan for success, especially in politics, business, or conflict,
4suggesting a pre-positioning or preparing for strategic advantage.
Culture is used as a noun and refers to the total of the inherited ideas, beliefs,
5values and knowledge, which constitute the shared basis of social action. It has been argued that
culture is a difficult term to use as it is so broad and inclined to multiple application. Taken in conjunction with the qualifying adjective strategic, however, it is given a more specific context. In this instance of particular relevance is the last phrase of the definition for culture which specifies that of a shared basis for social action. From a language usage perspective the concept of Strategic Culture indicate a peoples‟ shared basis for collectively pre-positioning or
organizing themselves for strategic advantage.
Geography, or the study of the natural features of the earth‟s surface and man‟s
6response to them, when qualified by strategic, indicates a peoples‟ response to the
predominating physical elements of their environment such as topography, climate, soil, and vegetation. The physical elements represent the available resources that will shape the means of production necessary to sustain the society. The physical environment also shapes security challenges in terms of the availability of natural barriers such as mountains and oceans and
4 (2005). Collins English Dictionary. Glasgow, UK, Harper Collins
transportation conduits such as rivers and open plains. The relationship between a society and the physical environment is of particular relevance as it will shape how a people chooses to organize themselves and order their values and priorities in anticipation of potential threats and opportunities that are based on histoical successes in their strategic geography.
The research on Strategic Culture also includes frequent reference to dependent and independent variables. A variable is something that has a range of possible values. When it is a dependent variable its value depends on that taken on by an independent variable. Conversely an independent variable has a value that determines that of the dependent variable. “Variables that are thought to change in response to changes in the value of other variables are referred to as dependent variables. Their value depends on the value of other variables. Variables that influence the value of other variables through changes in their own values are referred to as 7independent variables.”
Strategic Culture is a societys‟ inherited ideas, beliefs, values and knowledge,
which constitute the shared basis of social action. It develops as a collective response to the fundamental human need for security within the context of the challenges and opportunities presented by their unique strategic environment. Security today has become a far more complex
8concept than the dictionary definition of assured freedom from poverty or want. UN Secretary
General Kofi Annan stated at a UN led international workshop on Human Security in 2000 that the concept of security had moved past the traditional state-centric view where national security was the priority, to a more inclusive view that holds human security as the priority. Where once human security was seen as a subset or outcome of national security this shifting of priorities suggests that national security is instead a subset that is dependent on human security.
7 Manheim, J. B. R., Richard C.; Willnat, Lars; Brians, Craig Leonard (2008). Empirical Political Analysis: Quanitative and Qualitative Research Methods Seventh Edition. U.S.A., Pearson Education Inc.
8 (2005). Collins English Dictionary. Glasgow, UK, Harper Collins
“Once synonymous with the defence of territory from external attack, the requirements of security today have come to embrace the protection of communities and individuals from internal violence. The need for a more human-centred approach to security is reinforced by the continuing dangers that weapons of mass destruction, most notably nuclear weapons, pose to 9humanity:
He elaborated on this with a definition that included a list of criteria that he believed were necessary to human security today.
“Human security, in its broadest sense, embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and health care and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her potential. Every step in this direction is also a step towards reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and preventing conflict. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to inherit a healthy natural environment -- these are the interrelated building blocks of human – and 10therefore national – security.”
The problem with a security definition based on a list of criteria, however, is that it becomes bound to those same criteria, and loses the flexibility to adapt to changes in the dominant social, political, and strategic environment. There is more sustainable value in a definition that incorporates instead a context free appreciation of the “why” of a concept. Human
security, and subsequently national security, approached in this way, is the extent and nature of control an individual or group has, direct, or delegated over the means of their survival, their wellbeing and their growth or development.
This perspective is better able to include situations such as those where a people may appear to have their basic needs met but in reality have no control over how, when, or even if those needs will be consistently met. They may, instead, be faced, for example, with the ongoing threat of having their means of survival withheld or withdrawn as a means of coercing their cooperation with an imposed government or regime. It is also more applicable when an
9 Annan, K. (2000). “Secretary-General Salutes International Workshop on Human Security in Mongolia.”.
unexpected change in the physical environment such as natural disaster, climate change, or increase in population density, compromises the traditional or historical control, direct or delegated, that a society has had over the means of their survival. Direct refers to a self-sufficient, subsistence existence such as farming or fishing, and delegated refers to participation in a more complex society, with indirect control over a more collective and collaborative means of survival.
This exploration of terms may seem excessive or repetitive, but language can be both a useful communications tool and an impediment to understanding. Broken down into component parts and analyzed piece by piece, words and phrases can be reassembled to make up the building blocks of knowledge. To propose a conceptual definition for Strategic Culture requires a preliminary understanding of the separate concepts being combined to support the composite.
Understanding the component parts of the concept of Strategic Culture provides a useful frame of reference for a review of some of the key points in the research that has been done since its‟ inception. It should also facilitate an analysis of shared concepts in previous definitions, the identification of consistencies in definitional intent, and recurring definitional shortcomings.
(2005). Collins English Dictionary. Glasgow, UK, Harper Collins
Annan, K. (2000). “Secretary-General Salutes International Workshop on Human Security in
Manheim, J. B. R., Richard C.; Willnat, Lars; Brians, Craig Leonard (2008). Empirical Political Analysis: Quanitative and Qualitative Research Methods Seventh Edition. U.S.A., Pearson