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Book Reviews

Book cover: SOLVING THE PEOPLE PUZZLE: CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES

SOLVING THE PEOPLE PUZZLE: CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES, by Emily Spencer

Reviewed by Major Tony Balasevicius

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SOLVING THE PEOPLE PUZZLE: CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE AND SPECIAL OPERATIONS FORCES
by Emily Spencer
Toronto: Dundurn Press, 2010
184 pages, $24.99
ISBN-10:15548870X
ISBN-13: 978-1554887507

Reviewed by Major Tony Balasevicius

From their inception during the early stages of the Second World War, modern Special Operation Forces (SOF) have steadily evolved into a key element of a nation’s military inventory. Their utility has been especially recognized in the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, as the trend since then has been to expand the capabilities and employment of these forces. In fact, Canada has consolidated its own SOF capability with the creation of Canadian Special Operation Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) in 2006. Since that time, the Command has played key roles in operations such as Bosnia and Afghanistan, and there is now every indication that they will now become a standard part of many future Canadian Forces (CF) operations.

With this new emphasis upon employing SOF in a wider range of operations it is not surprising to find a growing interest in exploring possibilities for increasing both the capabilities and overall effectiveness of these forces. In this book, Dr. Emily Spencer looks at the use of Cultural Intelligence (CQ) as a means of providing SOF with a significant force multiplier for the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE).

During her tenure at the Canadian Forces Leadership Institute, and as an assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, Dr. Spencer has researched and published extensively on both CQ and SOF. This latest effort combines these two disciplines in order to explore the possibility of enhancing this little understood but critical element of SOF success.

Spencer opines that SOF’s greatest strength lies, not in its advanced technology, equipment, or weaponry, but rather in the quality of its personnel and their ability to establish relationships. It is this ability to develop and leverage these relationships that is at the heart of their operational success. She makes a strong case for having SOF develop a strong CQ capability.

The book is broken down into four parts that examine the Contemporary Operating Environment (COE), SOF, CQ, the SOF-CQ interface, and ethical considerations when employing CQ. This format provides the reader with a concentrated analysis of each subject that logically builds the foundation for subsequent arguments.

Part I provides a concise and well articulated introduction of the COE, and highlights the major issues effecting global security. Spencer suggests that the 21st Century has brought about a perfect storm of conditions to create substantive global instability. She believes that future operations will be characterized by complexity, which will create ambiguity, volatility, and constant danger. Security threats will likely include irregular enemies using hybrid forms of warfare with the ability to organize, network.

The use of advanced technology and networking will allow them to mount significant challenges on a range of fronts. Over time their mobility, reach, and lethality will increase as they are able to access a broader range of enablers such as advanced communications and weapon-related technologies. She concludes this part by advocating the idea that conflict, particularly in this new era of hybrid warfare is about dealing with humans, and therefore requires a human solution.

Spencer believes that the human dimension will become increasingly important because future conflict will occur within populations as potential enemies seek to conceal themselves among the people. Therefore, the support of the population will become the centre of gravity for operational success, and true success will only be achieved by the ability to influence and this can only be done by fully understanding others. However, to achieve success influencing the population requires military forces that have professionals who can see reality through the eyes of others. The idea of moving SOF to the forefront of influencing activities in the COE is the lead into the second part of the book.

SOF is defined as “… a group comprised of highly trained personnel with the ability to deploy rapidly and apply special skills in a variety of environments and circumstances.” In positioning SOF as the clear force of choice, the book revisits many of the arguments that still linger regarding the value added by the capability as it attempts to dispel some of the myths surrounding it. As a result, it covers sections on the debate about competition for resources, and return on investment before dealing with the more difficult issues, such as the concepts of discipline, accountability, and divergent cultures. This part of the book ends with a discussion on Canadian SOF including an overview of CANSOFCOM. Unfortunately, although this particular section provides interesting insight into Canada’s current capabilities under the heading of “SOF Theory,” it may have been better placed as an annex as it provides little towards advancing the thesis and interrupts the otherwise smooth flow of the work.

The last section of this part opens the argument for CQ becoming an important tool of choice for SOF. The book defines CQ as “… the ability to recognize the shared beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviours of a group of people and then apply that knowledge toward a specific goal.” Historically, CQ has been an important but little understood component of SOF success, particularly when they have had to operate behind enemy lines for extended periods of time or when dealing with foreign or irregular forces. In fact, the military application of CQ is not a phenomenon of the 21st Century battlespace. It has been widely used within the realm of conventional and asymmetric warfare as early as the 5th Century B.C. During the Peloponnesian War both the Athenians and Spartans attempted to take advantage of their opponent’s cultural ‘weaknesses’ while endeavouring to enhance their own cultural ‘strengths.’

In more recent times, the innovative and daring use of CQ has achieved startling military successes with surprisingly few resources. During the First World War, Colonel T.E. Lawrence, the famous Lawrence of Arabia, was able to utilize his understanding of Arab culture to win the trust of Feisal, the third son of Sharif Hussein bin Ali. In so doing, he became a major force in organizing and sustaining the Arab revolt against the Turks. The revolt set the conditions for the Allies campaign into Syria, ultimately allowing a combined British and Arab force to drive the Turkish Army out of the country.

Although not well understood at the time, the success of Lawrence’s endeavour validated the idea that CQ could be used by individuals to facilitate relationships, which could then be leveraged to produce tactical successes. When these smaller operations were combined with conventional forces, as was the case with Lawrence’s activities, operational victory could also be achieved. Dr. Spencer articulates this idea very successfully throughout the remainder of the book.

The section on CQ describes the foundation of CQ in some detail. It provides the reader with a good overview of the theory, starting with an examination of culture and how it is shaped by such things as beliefs, values, attitudes, and behaviours. It then discusses the CQ components of National Objectives, regional specific knowledge, ability, and appropriate behaviour.

Spencer advises that to be successful, insight into other cultures must be put into context. Specifically, the appreciation of CQ must be aligned with the role a military plays, where it operates, and with whom it is engaged. She describes these elements as the National, International, Host Nation, and Enemy domains. Although each of the elements are tied together when dealing with CQ, of particular interest is her analysis on the importance of understanding the enemy. In this respect, she states: “Abandoning preconceived, superficial, or erroneous perceptions and making an effort to fully comprehend the ‘enemy’ can provide invaluable insights into their attitudes, behaviours, decision making, and motivations.” She suggests that this knowledge can be leveraged to provide options and strategies for “… disrupting, neutralizing, and defeating adversaries by addressing real or perceived grievances, discrediting their informational/ideological messages with erosion of support bases, disrupting their decision-making processes and alliances, and possibly co-opting the more moderate adversarial membership.”

The author then develops what she refers to as the SOF - CQ interface, as she examines the application of CQ to SOF activities within each of the four domains. Based upon this analysis, Spencer recommends that CQ be imparted to all SOF personnel. She suggests that this be done through a process of education and training. She also believes that the development of critical thinking skills should form the foundation of educational development.

Dr. Spencer further acknowledges that there is also a responsibility to apply CQ ethically, and that this responsibility applies to everyone. As such, the final part of the book tackles some of the ethical considerations of employing cultural intelligence. She therefore examines ethical dilemmas and considerations before moving on to the ethics of applying CQ to the COE. She ultimately concludes that “… ‘right decisions’ have a practical impact on the outcome of a conflict in the COE. Ethically applying CQ is not just the ‘politically correct’ thing to do. It is a force enabler and can be a force multiplier in the COE ...”

In summary, this is a well written book with a logical flow and easy to read style. It provides unique insight into a little understood subject and presents a compelling argument for empowering SOF with enhanced CQ capabilities for its roles within the COE. Although this book looks at CQ from the standpoint of SOF, the topic of CQ, with its focus on the human element, goes to the heart of all successful operations within the COE. As such, it should be read with interest by all concerned with creating capabilities employing human resources, or those wishing to better understand the dynamics of success within the COE.

Major Tony Balasevicius is a highly experienced infantry officer currently serving at the Directorate of Future Security Analysis within Chief of Force Development at NDHQ Ottawa. He was a member of the team that worked on the Arctic Integrating Concept, and is currently Team Lead for the Canadian Forces Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Enabling Concept.

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