Pentagon Makes No Secret of Monitoring Social Change Activism

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by Nafeez Ahmed, via OCCUPY.com:

he U.S. military is increasingly concerned about the risks to social, political and economic stability from resource stress and climate change, and whether they might lead governments to collapse. That’s the upshot of the latest call for proposals from the Pentagon’s flagship social science research program, the Minerva Research Initiative.

Minerva is a multi-million-dollar research program led by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and founded in 2008 under the watch of then-defense secretary Robert Gates. The final deadline for submissions for the latest research round is next month.

Preparing for “Shocks”

The research call, which was put out near the end of last year by the Office of Naval Research, shows that the Pentagon is particularly taken aback by sudden “societal shifts like those seen recently in North Africa and the Middle East,” as well as in “Central Eurasia.”

The 2011 Arab spring saw the toppling of western-backed dictators in Egypt and Tunisia, and the breakdown of Syria and Libya into protracted civil war. Various studies have repeatedly highlighted the previously overlooked role of droughts, food crises and economic problems caused by climate change in dramatically undermining the capacity of the region’s largely authoritarian states to maintain a cap on domestic grievances.

Now the Minerva program wants to fund researchers examining “the factors that affect societal resilience to external ‘shock’ events and corresponding tipping points.” This year the Pentagon is investing a total of $8 million in projects from almost any academic discipline, which must of course be relevant to “contemporary DoD strategic priorities.”

Given that the upheaval in the Arab world took all observers by surprise, it is not surprising that “the Department of Defense is interested in better anticipating and identifying potential areas of unrest, instability, and conflict,” particularly in “regions and states… of strategic interest to the DoD.” The Minerva announcement specifically requests policy-oriented research that will “inform strategic thinking about resource allocation across defense missions (including in the cyber realm)”—in other words, to help determine where the U.S. military should focus operations.

Unlike previous Minerva projects, this year’s program is explicitly for both “basic and applied scientific research,” which means that the research could be applied to directly support military operations.

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