Pentagon spending millions to prepare for mass civil unrest

AFP Photo / Adem Altan

AFP Photo / Adem Altan

The Pentagon is pumping millions of dollars annually into programs that set out to explore the factors responsible for creating civil unrest around the world, The Guardian reported this week.

An article by journalist Nafeez Ahmed published
by the paper on Thursday this week acknowledges that the
little-known United States Department of Defense program — the
Minerva Research Initiative — has since 2008 partnered with
universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the
social, cultural, behavioral and political forces that shape
regions of the world of strategic importance to the US.”

According to the program’s website, it has recently awarded
millions of dollars to be divvied up among 12 proposals from
colleges that have launched projects relevant to the Pentagon’s
interest, including a Cornell University study called “Tracking
Critical-Mass Outbreaks in Social Contagions” as well as others
involving state stability, social disequilibrium and, in one
instance, “Understanding American Muslims Converts in the
Contexts of Security and Society.” The funding all comes entirely
from the Dept. of Defense.

“Understanding the Origin, Characteristics and Implications of
Mass Political Movements,” a study out of the University of
Washington, was among those selected as well. In Lowell,
Massachusetts, researchers there will use $2 million from the
Pentagon to study terrorist behavior.

“This research is intended to identify precisely how children
get involved and how to interrupt and stop the process,”

UMass Lowell Professor Mia Bloom told the Lowell Sun of her Initiative-accepted
project. “The research will contrast children in terrorist
groups with child soldiers and children in gangs to better
understand how they are alike and how they differ.”

Jonathan Moyer of the Pardee Center for International Futures in
the School of International Studies at the University of Denver
told a campus publication at that school last
month that a project he is involved with — one that will also now
receive Pentagon funding — will “hopefully help us understand
instability in middle-income countries, not just the low-income

“Trying to pull out the Tunisias and the Libyas and the
” he told the Pardee Center, “and why they
might be unstable.”

“The total funds awarded for this set of projects is expected
to be around six million dollars in the first year and $17
million over three years,”
the Minerva Initiative
acknowledged on its website.

Writing for The Guardian, Ahmed investigated these programs
further and determined that many are directly involved in mass
protests and other acts of civil unrest witnessed by the world in
recent years. The Cornell project, for example, will determine
the critical mass (tipping point)” of social contagians
by studying their “digital traces” in the cases of
the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma
elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013
Gazi park protests in Turkey
,” Ahmed wrote. To accomplish as
much, researchers say they will examine social media
conversations such as Twitter posts “to identify individuals
mobilized in a social contagion and when they become

Another project, Ahmed added, is managed by the US Army Research
Office and focuses in “large-scale movements involving more
than 1,000 participants in enduring activity”
across 58
countries around the globe.

The Pentagon’s overseeing of academic projects like these have
raised eyebrows before, and even earned the ire of the American
Anthropological Society due to its concerns with where the
funding comes from.

“The Department of Defense takes seriously its role in the
security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and
Dr Erin Fitzgerald, the Minerva Initiative’s
director, told The Guardian. “While every security challenge
does not cause conflict, and every conflict does not involve the
US military, Minerva helps fund basic social science research
that helps increase the Department of Defense’s understanding of
what causes instability and insecurity around the world. By
better understanding these conflicts and their causes beforehand,
the Department of Defense can better prepare for the dynamic
future security environment.”

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