Articles - It’s All About the People: - Cultural Intelligence (CQ) as a Force Multiplier in the Contemporary Operating Environment


It’s All About the People:

Cultural Intelligence (CQ) as a Force Multiplier in the Contemporary Operating Environment

Emily Spencer
University of Northern British Columbia


Militaries spend enormous amounts of money, time, and energy ensuring that their troops are trained on weapon systems, vehicles, and equipment. They spend small fortunes on preparatory exercises and training to test tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs); drills; and general soldier proficiency and effectiveness should they need to exercise force protection, demonstrate a deterrent posture, or actually fight during an operation. This preparation and expenditure is only prudent. However, what makes less sense is that, comparatively speaking, very little effort, if any at all, is spent solving the "people puzzle."

In reality, most stability and counter-insurgency operations are all about the people. The importance of people is true at all levels, whether dealing with the adversaries, host nation population, international community, and even one"s own nation. To be successful in these potentially diverse environments, cultural intelligence (cultural quotient or CQ), that is the ability to recognize the shared beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors of a group of people and, most importantly, to apply this knowledge toward a specific goal, is critical.

The fact is, understanding the people you work with makes for smoother relationships, better communication and comprehension, and, therefore, more effective results. Grasping differences in how others think, behave, make decisions, view the world, and interpret actions assists in providing strategies and options in how best to engage them to achieve your own objectives.

Furthermore, a better understanding of one"s adversaries is equally as empowering. Abandoning preconceived, superficial, or erroneous perceptions and actually endeavoring to fully comprehend the "enemy" can provide invaluable insights into their attitudes, behaviors, decision-making processes, and motivations.

In all, CQ is an underused tool that provides enormous capability to empower military personnel and assist them in achieving mission success. It is a force multiplier that is relatively inexpensive and, if properly harnessed, can furnish a return on investment far in excess of its cost. After all, conflict in general, and military operations specifically, are all about the people.


1 Much has been written in the current literature about the contemporary operating environment (COE), specifically on the need for adaptive land operations that address asymmetric tactics, information activities, and a “whole-of-government” approach to counter-insurgency operations. Militaries have invested great effort in learning lessons from the theatre of operations and adjusting tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTPs), as well as the training regimens of deploying troops to ensure they can more effectively fight insurgents and succeed in the difficult execution, if not art, of counter-insurgency.

2 Moreover, those same militaries and their governments have finally learned the importance of building an indigenous capacity and, equally important, conducting effective information operations that focus on the importance and necessity of influencing and shaping perspectives, expectations, and allegiances of populations. In addition, militaries have also realized the necessity of focusing on the security of the people instead of maintaining an emphasis on kinetic operations aimed at annihilating insurgents.

3 This adaptive approach makes consummate sense. It is indicative of the capacity for military organizations to learn from their experiences and provides a more sophisticated model for success. The realization that counter-insurgency is all about the people is equally encouraging. “The will of the people,” asserted General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), “is the objective.” He astutely noted that “we need to understand the people and see things through their eyes.” McChrystal added, “It is their fears, frustrations, and expectations that we must address.” He concluded, “the conflict will be won by persuading the population, not by destroying the enemy.”1

4 Truer words could not be spoken. Yet, despite the realization, albeit arguably late in coming, that it is all about the people, the value of cultural intelligence (CQ) has not been fully grasped by all. For many conventionally minded tactical leaders, it is still about kinetic operations — about killing bad guys — and relatively little effort, if any at all, is spent solving the “people puzzle.”

5 Quite simply, people are, as General McChrystal suggested, the key component to mission success in the COE, a space characterized by complexity, ambiguity, volatility, change, and danger. The people’s support, whether defined as the adversaries, the host nation population, the international community, or even one’s one national population, is critical to success. As such, CQ, that is the ability to recognize the shared beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviors of a group of people and, most importantly, to apply this knowledge toward a specific goal, is an important force multiplier for militaries operating in the COE.

6 Understanding the people you work with — whether other Canadians, international alliance members, or host nation inhabitants — makes for smoother relationships, better communication and comprehension, and, therefore, more effective results. Grasping differences in how others think, behave, make decisions, view the world, and interpret actions assists in providing strategies and options in how best to engage them to achieve your own objectives. Effective relationships, based on high levels of CQ, will assist in gaining support for operations, whether in the form of cooperation, information, or participation. Enhanced CQ will also enhance communications and interaction with a direct impact on improved human relations. High levels of CQ will ensure both parties actually communicate and hear what is meant rather than simply what is being said. In essence, it helps to mitigate the gulf between the “intended message” and the “received message.” Admiral Michael G. Mullin observed, “we must know the context within which our actions will be received and understood.”2

7 In addition, fully understanding one’s adversaries is equally empowering. Abandoning preconceived, superficial, or erroneous perceptions and actually endeavoring to fully comprehend the “enemy” can provide invaluable insights into their attitudes, behaviors, decision-making, and motivations. This knowledge can provide options and strategies for disrupting, neutralizing, and defeating adversaries by potentially addressing real or perceived grievances, discrediting their informational/ideological messages with subsequent erosion of support bases, disrupting their decision-making processes and alliances, and possibly co-opting the more moderate adversarial membership.

8 It is now often realized in the COE that military victory, in the words of retired American Major-General Robert H. Scales, “will be defined more in terms of capturing the psych-cultural rather than the geographical high ground.”3 Specifically, as identified earlier, the seminal struggle centres on influencing the population by winning support for the governing authority and denying the same to the insurgents. However, to have any hope of influencing the people, and especially winning their hearts and minds, it is vitally important to understand them and their culture. Failure to understand their beliefs, values, attitudes, and how they “see” the world is tantamount to mission failure. As Major Ben Connable of the US Marine Corps (USMC) appropriately noted, “Failure to refocus . . . on sustainable culture programs will lead to another wave of first-round operational failures.”4 The reality is simple: “Operational culture,” insisted retired French Colonel Henri Bore, “is a combat skill that is critical to mission success.”5

The Importance of CQ to the COE

9 The non-linear and asymmetric approach of the contemporary operating environment, particularly with respect to insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, demands that soldiers act as warriors and technicians as well as scholars and diplomats. Kinetic solutions are no longer the panacea of warfare. Instead, individuals need to see “reality” through the eyes of another culture, specifically the one with which they are interacting, so that they may better adapt their attitudes and behaviors to better influence the target audience in the pursuit of specific aims. Cultural knowledge contributes to this end: while an understanding of CQ and, in particular, the four CQ domain paradigms, provides a fluid template for how to use cultural knowledge to attain desired objectives. Failure to do so can be lethal. As military experts Jacob Kipp, Lester Grau, Karl Prinslow, and Don Smith argued, “conducting military operations in a low-intensity conflict without ethnographic and cultural intelligence is like building a house without using your thumbs: it is a wasteful, clumsy, and unnecessarily slow process at best, with a high probability for frustration and failure.” They continued their analogy by explaining that “while waste on the building site means merely loss of time and materials, waste on the battlefield means loss of life, both civilian and military, with high potential for failure having grave geopolitical consequences to the loser.”6 Certainly, as Philip Taylor, Professor of International Communications at the University of Leeds, UK, noted, “in a generational war of ideas, the two key elements to winning are credibility and trust. These take time to create and cultivate, to show potential adversaries what kind of people we really are, that indeed we are not their enemies.”7

10 The ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq highlight the fact that people are the prize in the COE. As Kipp and his colleagues noted, “from the varied examinations of the historical record of insurgency is a broad consensus that civil society in Iraq and Afghanistan — as in past insurgencies — constitutes the real center of gravity.”8 Notably, as Benjamin T. Delp, Assistant Director for Policy and Administration at the Institute for Infrastructure and Information Assurance at James Madison University, recognized, these connections are best made prior to entering into conflict. He observed that, “while high ranking military officers and commanders on the ground have only recently begun to recognize the importance of ethnographic and cultural intelligence for success in Iraq, decision-makers in Washington D.C. must understand the value of analyzing foreign populations’ cultural identities prior to, during, and after U.S. military intervention for current U.S. objectives to be realized.”9

11 Arguably, the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have served as a “wakeup call” to Western militaries “that adversary culture matters.” While many soldiers serving in conflict zones realize this important reality, this message needs to percolate to higher echelons and be “actioned” accordingly. As a returning US commander from Iraq noted, “I had perfect situational awareness. What I lacked was cultural awareness. I knew where every enemy tank was dug in on the outskirts of Tallil. Only problem was, my soldiers had to fight fanatics charging on foot or in pickups and firing AK-47s and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades].” He finished, “Great technical intelligence. Wrong enemy.”10 This comment caused cultural anthropologist Montgomery McFate to assert that, “understanding one’s enemy requires more than a satellite photo of an arms dump. Rather, it requires an understanding of their interests, habits, intentions, beliefs, social organizations, and political symbols — in other words, their culture.”11 McFate continued, arguing that “culture matters operationally and strategically;” moreover, “misunderstanding culture at a strategic level can produce policies that exacerbate an insurgency; a lack of cultural knowledge at an operational level can lead to negative public opinion; and ignorance of the culture at a tactical level endangers both civilians and troops.”12 Conversely, however, she also noted, “understanding adversary culture can make a positive difference strategically, operationally and tactically.”13

12 These “truths” are not lost to the men and women who are serving in conflict zones. As one American veteran of Iraq realized, “American military culture interacts with Iraqi Islamic culture like a head-on collision.” He continued, “massive deployments of American soldiers fighting a counter-insurgency now hurts more than it helps. When we focus on the military solution to resolve a social problem, we inevitably create more insurgents than we can capture or kill. As a consequence, the real ‘Islamic terrorists’ subverting their own tolerant religion will use this popular anger and sense of resentment to their advantage.”14

13 Regrettably, however, General Thomas Metz, who from May 2004 to February 2005 commanded the MultiNational Corps – Iraq (MNC-I), conceded, “The truth of the matter is that our enemy is better at integrating information-based operations,15 primarily through mass media, into his operations than we are.” He elaborated, “In some respects, we seem tied to our legacy doctrine and less than completely resolved to cope with the benefits and challenges of information globalization. We are too wedded to procedures that are anchored in the Cold War industrial age.”16 An anonymous source from inside the Pentagon echoed these sentiments saying, “We’ve got to stop trying to ‘out-religion’ these people and we need to stop looking for a purely military solution to this insurgency [Iraq]. We need to give IO [information operations] officers and commanders comprehensive cultural training so they can tailor the right message to the Iraqi people.”17

14 However, this type of education and training cannot be limited to the upper ranks in the military. In this global age of media, decisions by soldiers in remote areas can have far-reaching consequences for home and host populations. As Colonel Bore observed, “knowledge acquired does not depend on rank but on mission, task, and military occupational specialty.”18 In the COE, which is almost always in the glare of international media, everyone who participates must be culturally savvy to ensure they do not purposefully or inadvertently offend or alienate audiences whether at home, abroad, or in the operational area.

15 As such, CQ should not be seen as merely a tool to be utilized, but rather as a fundamental, critical enabler to success in the COE. Its importance extends beyond operations and applies equally to networking and building relationships within Canada, with international allies, and with host nation nationals. It is also an important tool for understanding and defeating the enemy.

National Domain

16 Within the domestic realm there are a number of audiences that are critical for the Canadian Forces to fully understand — each with its specific beliefs, values, and attitudes and, consequently, behaviors. The first target domestic audience is the general Canadian public itself. Understanding Canadian beliefs, values, and attitudes is critically important for a number of reasons. First, public confidence and support is crucial for the continuing vitality of the CF. The “decade of darkness” of the 1990s, when a series of scandals eroded governmental and public confidence and support in the CF, demonstrated the danger of losing touch with Canadian societal sensitivities and beliefs in such basic concepts as accountability, integrity, and transparency.19 This erosion in CF support impacted the Department of National Defence (DND) and the CF in a myriad of ways from budgetary support to recruiting and the ability to investigate and regulate itself as an autonomous profession. In essence, public support engenders political support, which can lead directly to credibility and trust, which in turn leads to freedom of action. Indeed, continuing Canadian participation in Afghanistan is directly tied to public sentiment and support.20

17 A “cultural” comprehension of the general Canadian public also has an impact on recruiting. An understanding of what is important to Canadians, and what triggers their commitment and support, is key to developing the necessary approaches to attract young Canadians to join the CF. If the public understand the CF and its members, if there is a deep-rooted connection between them and the CF, particularly its mission and importance to national security, temporary crises or scandals will be less traumatic and have a shorter lasting effect.

18 Finally, a cultural understanding of the general Canadian public is an important source of information. As the threat to Western societies grows through both the interconnected globalized world and through radicalization of home-grown terrorists through the internet or simply from domestic disenfranchised elements, the CF will increasingly be called on to assist law enforcement agencies (LEA) in a domestic context. As such, understanding what is important to Canadians from a cultural, ideological, and/ or attitudinal perspective will be critical for ensuring active support of the CF and equally to prevent alienation, passivity, or even active resistance while assisting LEAs in Canada.

19 Another key domestic audience for the CF — and one for which CQ is a vital enabler — are members of other government departments (OGDs). In the current complex security environment, integrated operations, that is security operations that require the cooperation of all military services (i.e. joint) as well as LEA and other governmental departments (e.g., Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade [DFAIT], Public Safety, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP], Public Health Canada, and Transport Canada), will be consistently on the increase. As such, close personal relationships and trust will be key. However, the military has a starkly different culture than the OGDs. Relations between the different entities have been a tale of mistrust, misunderstanding, alienation, and awkwardness. Much of this is due to a complete lack of understanding of the cultural make up, decision-making processes, and expectations of the various OGDs. For the military to gain, nurture, and maintain the necessary relationships that engender cooperation, influence, and trust will require a conscious effort at increasing levels of CQ with regard to OGDs, as well as educating the OGDs about the military.

20 Success in this realm will have a direct impact on cooperative ventures, whether operations, policies, or sharing information, TTPs, or resources. Cultural understanding will remove suspicion and build credibility and trust, which, as noted earlier, equates to freedom of action. It will promote cooperation and mutual assistance, which, in turn, will help dissipate bureaucratic inertia and build protocols and frameworks necessary for crisis decision-making and cooperative action. It all starts with being able to see reality through the eyes of the other government departments and utilizing that knowledge to help shape and influence the outcomes you require.

21 The final domestic audience for which CQ is fundamental for success is the internal CF audience. Often overlooked, the CF consists of a large number of subcultures, the most obvious being the four distinct services — the Navy, Army, Air Force, and Special Operation Forces (SOF). Without a deep and solid understanding of the CF’s overriding culture and the specific sub-cultures, each subunit will be condemned to repeatedly fighting the same tedious battles for resources, whether for personnel, money, or other. Understanding what drives competitors and/or potential allies is critical. In addition, simply knowing the beliefs, values, attitudes, traditions, and decision-making protocols — in essence, understanding their outlook and respecting who they are — will assist in eroding suspicion, animosity, and rivalry. More importantly, it will build the foundations for cooperation, resource sharing, and operational support.

International Domain

22 The benefit of CQ for the CF with regards to the international audience — whether allies, coalition partners, government agencies, international organizations or agencies, or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) — follows a similar rationale. Quite simply, understanding those you work with makes for smoother relationships, better communication and understanding, and, therefore, more effective operations.

23 Allies and coalition partners, including our closest allies, the Americans and British, have distinctly different cultures from ours. Moreover, our other European allies and coalition partners have cultures that vary even more from our own. Therefore, it is critical to understand these differences and to know how decisions are made: what is important to a specific ally or coalition partner and how best to engage them to influence or shape them as required. Effective relationships, based on high levels of CQ, will assist in gaining support for operations, whether in the form of intelligence, enablers, or troop commitment. It can also lead to cooperative ventures and access to sensitive equipment and/or technologies.

24 Effective CQ will also enhance communications and interaction with a direct impact on improved relations. High levels of CQ will ensure both parties actually communicate and hear and share what is meant rather than simply what is perceived to have been said. Proper interpersonal skills (i.e., informal personal chat prior to getting to business), verbal expressions understood by both parties (i.e., avoiding jargon or slang known only to one party and that may have ambiguous or potentially negative meaning to another), and proper body language (i.e., that may be innocuous to one party but offensive to another or conversely understanding and accepting practices in other cultures that are alien to your own) will enhance clarity and effectiveness of communications and ensure there is no confusion or breakdown due to misunderstanding. It will also build potentially long-lasting relationships.

25 Additionally, this level of understanding will assist in comprehending why partners act the way they do. As such, much frustration and criticism can be avoided, further helping coalition operations and relations. It is important to comprehend that not all nations/armies operate as we do and, therefore, delays in decision-making, approval processes, and expectations of what can be done in a given day will differ. In order to have an impact on those systems or organizations, it is sometimes best to operate within their parameters as opposed to “butting heads” and building walls through an aggressive, myopic approach that is centered on an inward perspective of “reality.”

26 This applies equally, if not more so, when dealing with international organizations and agencies (e.g., United Nations (UN), World Food Program) or NGOs.21 A strict military approach will alienate individuals and organizations who, in most cases, philosophically and institutionally already have a negative bias against the military. Understanding these biases and utilizing CQ to make these civilian partners feel at ease, open, and receptive to CF advice and requests will pay huge dividends since these actors play an important role in the security environment today (and tomorrow), especially in counter-insurgency operations. These institutions represent the development and reconstruction pillars, as well as political governance and reform. Moreover, they have information and access to individuals and information that may not be as easily accessed, if at all, by CF personnel. Therefore, they represent a potential, if not vital, pool of information. As such, a failure to access and leverage these domains and work within an integrated manner will equate to operational failure. That undesirable end state can be avoided through the effective application of CQ.

27 In addition, CQ is vital to success when helping to train host nation forces. Quite simply, whenever training foreign or indigenous forces in counter-terrorism, internal defence, guerrilla warfare, or any form of security operations, it is essential to understand your audience: What resonates with them? What engages them? How do you get them to listen and fully participate? How do you develop bonds of trust and credibility? How do you appeal to their sense of duty and honour? How do you create lasting bonds of friendship and commitment?

28 In short, CQ is a vital force multiplier for the CF in its relations and operations with international forces, both military and civilian. The proper utilization and application of CQ will enhance comprehension of, and communications with, our partners, resulting in more effective outcomes. After all, CQ is a tool used to assist with achieving a specified goal.

Host Nation Domain

29 Once again, the importance of CQ for the military when dealing with host nation populations, political decision-makers, and military or police agencies follows rationally from what has already been discussed.22 For instance, host nation governmental officials or organizations represent another of our coalition partners. As such, the importance of CQ remains extant.

30 CQ as applied to the host nation populace is equally important. As has been touted in many forums, in today’s security environment, particularly in the counter-insurgency context, “people are the prize.” They represent the center of gravity in the struggle for dominance between governmental authorities and the insurgents who wish to usurp them. Therefore, both groups try to win the hearts and minds of the populace to gain their support and deny it to their antagonists. However, without a solid grasp of CQ, it is impossible to establish credibility and trust and thus win over the population. Instead, a lack of CQ will alienate, insult, and marginalize the very people you wish to influence. At worst, a lack of CQ will drive the population to the enemy; at best it will win their neutrality or passivity. But even neutrality is failure as it will not assist military forces to leverage the population to help win the fight against the insurgents.

31 Showing a high level of CQ, that is, understanding their culture — what is important to them, their value system, how they make decisions, what is acceptable behavior in their eyes, and respecting their traditions and behaving accordingly — will help to earn their respect and trust. It will ensure CF actions do more good than harm. In turn, this will generate the support of the populace, which has a direct effect on operations. The support and cooperation of the population will create a more effective operating environment for friendly forces and deny the same to the enemy. Globally, it can enhance force protection, increase information flow, and enhance reconstruction and development. Specifically, it can:

  1. Provide information on adversary movements, identities, and intentions;
  2. Warn of adversary weapons and explosive caches, safe houses, ambush locations, and IED (improvised explosive device) placements;
  3. Provide information on “communities” and define who belongs and who does not, how authority and power are defined and codified, who holds the power, and how resources are managed;
  4. Provide information on key personalities, decision-makers and facilitators that can assist in mobilizing a target audience;
  5. Define rules for interaction;
  6. Explain relationships and social networks;
  7. Provide information on local/regional atmospherics with regard to culture, economics, demographics, social issues;
  8. Provide information on topographical issues, such as best routes, environmental/ ground limitations, and restrictions;
  9. Enhance cooperation and participation in development, governance, and reconstruction initiatives;
  10. Generate support and participation for local security initiatives; and
  11. Increase overall support for national government and supporting coalition.

32 In sum, to win the support of the people, that is, their respect and trust, or, in terms of popular military jargon, their “hearts and minds,” it is critical to truly understand them. Specifically, it is essential that CF members see reality through the eyes of the host nation populace and comprehend intimately how their own words, behavior, and actions are actually seen, interpreted, and understood by the host nation population. This requires detailed CQ.

Enemy Domain

33 The enemy domain is normally the area that intuitively receives the most attention but often not in the correct context. Lieutenant-Colonel Adrian Bogart, a SOF officer with extensive experience in Afghanistan and Iraq observed, “we continually fail to understand our enemy.”23 Bogart’s criticism is valid: too often the enemy is analyzed, assessed, and rated based on our own cultural outlook. Adversary strength, organization, hierarchy, TTPs, weapons, and equipment are rightfully important areas of concern. But so too is the adversaries’ beliefs, values, attitudes, motivational drivers, tribal affiliations, networks, and history — essentially, their culture.

34 To properly apply CQ to the enemy domain it is necessary to actually carefully identify and define the “enemy.” For example, often the Taliban and al-Qaeda are defined as the enemy/threat in Afghanistan, and they are frequently used interchangeably. From a CQ perspective this is problematic, as the two organizations are fundamentally different. From an attitudinal, ideological, motivational, and organizational perspective, to mention a few, they are clearly dissimilar.

35 Similarly, such an unrefined outlook on the enemy/threat also limits the benefit that can be derived from CQ analysis. For instance, using the example of Afghanistan once again, it must be noted that threats also emanate from criminal organizations, narco-traffickers, warlords, regional state rivals, and proxy forces supported by third-party state actors with geopolitical goals and aims at play.24 From a CQ perspective, each of these actors presents a potentially diverse profile. As such, it is critical to understand the exact audience in each and every domain.

36 With respect to the “enemy” domain, applying CQ presents a valuable return on investment. Specifically, it can:

  1. Provide insight into enemy motivation that could allow for diffusion of grievances or the co-opting of moderates;
  2. Assist with debunking enemy information operations, propaganda, and recruiting messages by highlighting discrepancies, contradictions, and falsehoods;
  3. Provide understanding of decision-making processes and value systems; thus, furnishing possible weaknesses or stress points that can be manipulated;
  4. Assist with the understanding of a pattern of behavior that can provide insight into targeting (both the enemy’s and your own), attack preferences (i.e., timing, locations, type, targets), likely reaction given circumstances (e.g., if faced with military or police actions), and normal patterns of life;
  5. Assist with understanding history and symbology, which in turn provides insight into possible “safe areas” (sanctuary), historical and/or preferred attack positions/zones, targets, and dates (i.e., historically, religiously, or ideologically significant dates and times);
  6. Provide insight into historic alliances and sponsors that can lead to illuminating financing, supply nodes and routes, leadership engagements, and possible sanctuaries; and
  7. Provide insight into social networks, which in turn provide information on targeting of key personalities (i.e., leaders, facilitators, specialists) and intelligence-gathering activities.

37 The list provided is not meant to be exhaustive; however, it is does highlight the types of information that can be obtained from applying CQ when analyzing the enemy domain. It is always important to remember that it is not our own cultural interpretation of the enemy that we are fighting. Instead, it is an understanding of the enemy as they see themselves that is important as it is this interpretation that will yield the greatest benefit in the struggle to vanquish our adversaries.

38 CQ and the four-paradigm model is not a “silver bullet” that will magically tame the ambiguous, chaotic, and volatile contemporary operating environment. However, it will assist and empower CF members, as well as any military or paramilitary force or any other entity operating in the security environment, to make better sense of the environment in which they operate, and increase their ability to influence and shape the attitudes of important target audiences. In this way, enhanced CQ is an excellent tool that will assist the CF in achieving their aims. Consequently, it is worth the time and other resources needed to develop these skills within the CF.


39 There is no question that in order to operate effectively in the COE both cultural education and training are necessary. Several recommendations can thus be made for how to best go about this pursuit:

  1. The “so what” factor of the importance of CQ to the COE should be continuously underscored by commanders, subject matter experts, and intelligence analysts;25
  2. Education should be encouraged, facilitated, and rewarded throughout members’ careers;26
  3. Specific reading lists should be developed and material readily accessible, preferably online;
  4. Language training should be readily available;27
  5. Subject matter experts should be retained and contribute in identifying what material needs to be available and should update reading lists and other available teaching tools;28
  6. Discussion groups, led by subject matter experts (which can include academics, veterans, and foreign nationals, to mention a few) should be readily available;
  7. Professional development sessions should regularly have a CQ component;
  8. Relevant personal experience should be shared and built upon, including the experiences of military members, members of other governmental departments, non-governmental organizations, and other professionals, as well as expatriates living in targeted countries;
  9. Real life scenarios should be recreated with role playing, particularly “Red-Teaming,”29 and feedback from subject matter experts should be provided on the spot; and
  10. Time must be allocated for these activities by commanders to underscore their importance.

40 What it essentially boils down to is that leaders must allocate time and other resources to properly educate and train subordinates in areas related to enhanced cultural intelligence. In essence, leaders must first recognize the importance of CQ to the COE and its importance as a force enabler, as well as a force multiplier. They must then convey that belief to their subordinates. As Bore remarked, “ultimately, the battalion commander’s operational culture training is driven by the idea that teaching leaders and soldiers how to think and operate in a foreign environment matters more than just teaching them what to think about it.”30 By inculcating the importance and benefit of understanding the attitudes, beliefs, values, and behavioral idiosyncrasies of other cultures, as well as your own society’s and organization’s culture and sub-cultures, leaders can better prepare and arm their subordinates for success in the COE.

41 Next, they must ensure they allocate the appropriate resources to achieve the necessary effect. Words are not enough. They must underscore their commitment with action. The list given above provides ten recommendations on how commanders and leaders can begin to work at strengthening CQ within their organizations. They must clearly demonstrate that CQ training and education is important to them. They must dispel the notion that it is a “nice to have” or a discretionary activity. The best way to achieve this end is to dedicate the necessary resources and personal attention to this education and training. Leaders have a tremendous responsibility to instil CQ among their subordinates; neglecting to do so is akin to knowingly sending a soldier off to battle without the necessary equipment to get the job done. Few would argue that this would be unconscionable.

Emily Spencer is an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George, British Columbia.
1 General Stanley McChrystal, “ISAF Commander’s Counterinsurgency Guidance,” Headquarters International Security Assistance Force Kabul Afghanistan, September 2009.
2 Admiral Michael G. Mullen, “From the Chairman: Strategic Communication: Getting Back to Basics,” Joint Force Quarterly 55, 4th Quarter (2009), pp. 2-4.
3 Robert H. Scales cited in Helen Altman Klein and Gilbert Kuperman, “Through an Arab Cultural Lens,” Military Review (May-June 2008), p. 100.
4 Ben Connable, “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket: How the Human Terrain System is Undermining Sustainable Military Cultural Competence,” Military Review (March/April 2009), p. 58.
5 Henri Bore, “Complex Operations in Africa: Operational Culture Training in the French Military,” Military Review (March-April 2009), p. 70.
6 Jacob Kipp, Lester Grau, Karl Prinslow, and Don Smith, “The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century,” Military Review (September-October 2006), p. 8.
7 Philip Taylor cited in Tony Skinner, “Shaping Influence,” Jane’s Defence Quarterly 23 (August 2006), p. 29.
8 Kipp et al., “The Human Terrain System,” p. 9.
9 Benjamin T. Delp, “Ethnographic Intelligence (ETHNINT) and Cultural Intelligence (CULINT): Employing Under-utilized Strategic Intelligence Gathering Disciplines for More Effective Diplomatic and Military Planning,” IIIA Technical Paper 08-02 (April 2008), p. 2.
10 Cited in Montgomery McFate, “The Military Utility of Understanding Adversary Culture,” Joint Force Quarterly 38 (2005), p. 43.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid., pp. 43-44.
13 Ibid., p. 45.
14 Bill Edmons, “A Soldier’s Story,” posted on line, 29 November 2006, found at:
15 The NATO definition for Information Operations is “Info Ops is a military function to provide advice and co-ordination of military information activities in order to create desired effects on the will, understanding and capability of adversaries, potential adversaries and other NAC approved parties in support of Alliance mission objectives.” Cited in Colonel W.N. Peters (Retired), Shifting to the Moral Plane: The Canadian Approach to Information Operations (Kingston, ON: Canadian Forces Leadership Institute Technical Report, 2007), pp. 20-21.
16 Thomas Metz cited in Skinner, “Shaping Influence,” p. 26.
17 Cited in ibid., p. 27.
18 Bore, “Complex Operations in Africa,” p. 69.
19 See Peter C. Newman, Canadian Revolution 1985-1995: From Deference to Defiance (Toronto: Viking Press, 1995). For an account of the impact of the changes to the CF in the 1990s, see Bernd Horn, Bastard Sons: The Canadian Airborne Experience (St. Catharines, ON: Vanwell, 2001); Bernd Horn and Bill Bentley, “The Road to Transformation: Ascending from the Decade of Darkness,” in R.W. Walker, ed., Institutional Leadership in the Canadian Forces: Contemporary Issues (Kingston, ON: CDA Press, 2007), pp. 1-25; and “An Absence of Honour,” in Alister MacIntyre and Karen Davis, eds., Dimensions of Military Leadership (Kingston, ON: CDA Press, 2007), pp. 245-80.
20 Seventy-one percent of Canadians said “no” to any extension of the mission in Afghanistan and “yes” to bringing the troops home on schedule in 2011. Despite the Harper Conservative government’s “hawkish” approach to military affairs, in light of the overwhelming public sentiment, they have stuck to the withdrawal pledge. Ipsos-Reid/ CanWest Global Afghanistan Mission, January 2009 poll. DND, “Public Opinion Research,” Presentation to PAPCT, 28 January 2009.
21 See Russell D. Howard, “Intelligence in Denied Areas. New Concepts for A Changing Environment,” Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) Report 07-10, December 2007.
22 For example, see Richard D. Newton, Travis L. Homiak, Kelly H. Smith, Isaac J. Peltier, and D. Jonathan White, “Contemporary Security Challenges: Irregular Warfare and Indirect Approaches,” JSOU Report 09-3, February 2009.
23 Adrian T. Bogart III, “Block by Block: Civic Action in the Battle of Baghdad,” JSOU Report 07-08, November 2007, p. 5.
24 It is not uncommon for rivals to denounce their competitors as Taliban or al-Qaeda or simply as terrorists in order to have the Coalition remove their business (criminal or otherwise) rivals from the scene.
25 Every soldier and officer needs to know that cultural intelligence is an important force multiplier. They need to appreciate that applying enhanced CQ to the COE is operationally effective, not just “politically correct.”
26 Moreover, education should be available to all military members regardless of rank or occupation, and selection for specialized education should be based on aptitude and performance in learning. See also, Scales, testifying before the House of Armed Services Committee, 15 July 2004, found at:
27 The importance of language to culture has been recently underscored. For example, researcher Clifford F. Porter wrote, “Truly ‘knowing our enemy’ requires understanding the culture, politics, and religion of the terrorists, which in turn requires experts in their language. Two earlier lessons learned from Afghanistan are that foreign language skills were absolutely critical for overthrowing the Taliban regime so quickly and that the military does not have enough foreign language capability.” Clifford F. Porter, Asymmetrical Warfare, Transformation, and Foreign Language Capability. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Combat Studies Institute, 2006. See also, Prisco R. Hernandez, “Developing Cultural Understanding in Stability Operations: A Three Step Approach,” Field Artillery (January-February 2007), pp. 5-10.
28 This is not to say, however, that cultural understanding should be farmed out to contractors. Human Terrain Systems (HTS) and Human Terrain Teams (HTT) are steps that the Americans are taking to help bridge the cultural gap. D. Jonathan White explains, “The United States has attempted to improve the cultural knowledge of U.S. forces conducting counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan by employing Human Terrain Teams (HTTs). HTTs consist of anthropologists, political scientists, or historians that possess or build knowledge of the culture in which the U.S. forces operate.” The verdict about their utility, however, remains to be seen. As White continues, “This knowledge is certainly important in conducting effective counterinsurgency operations, yet the importation of foreign HTT members into a culture provides manoeuvre commanders with a form of artificial knowledge of the culture in which U.S. forces are operating. This knowledge is artificial because it is exogenous and must be built over time by the HTTs.” D. Jonathan White, “Legitimacy and Surrogate Warfare” in Richard D. Newton, Travis L. Homiak, Kelly H. Smith, Isaac J. Peltier, and D. Jonathan White, Contemporary Security Challenges: Irregular Warfare and Indirect Approaches. JSOU Report 09-3, February 2009, p. 89. For a further discussion on the debate about HTS, see Kipp et al. “The Human Terrain System: A CORDS for the 21st Century”; and Connable, “All Our Eggs in a Broken Basket.” While the verdict may still be out on the utility of HTS and HTTs, with respect to SOF, there is no doubt that they require an organic growth of CQ within their ranks. As such, while experts may be called upon to help with education and training, they are no substitute for instilling the knowledge to CF personnel.
29 In essence, “red teaming” involves one group of people acting as the adversary. According to military affairs analyst Williamson Murray, writing for the Defense Adaptive Red Team, red teaming “provide[s] a means to build intellectual constructs that replicate how the enemy thinks [because the constructs] rest on a deep intellectual understanding of his culture, [the] ideological (or religious) framework through which he interprets the world (including the battlefield) and his possible and potential strategic and operational moves. Such red teaming is of considerable importance in estimating the nature of the future battlefield. But it might be even more important in providing military leaders and staff officers a wider and deeper understanding of how the enemy will fight.” Williamson Murray cited in Gregory Fontenot, “Seeing Red: Creating a Red-Team Capability for the Blue Force,” p. 5. In the Canadian context, Defence Research Development Canada is also improving its ability to “red team.” According to Carol McCann, head of Defence Research Development Canada’s adversarial intent section, this task “requires expertise in culture, but it also requires imagination, and the ability to challenge in a constructive way.” Carol McCann cited in Chris Thatcher, “Forecasting Adversarial Intent: Unraveling the Human Dimension.”
30 Bore, “Complex Operations in Africa,” p. 71.