The West Point Minerva Research Initiative hosted its first annual workshop at West Point on April 16th and 17th, which focused on the theme “Understanding Cultural Networks in Africa and Asia for National Security.” The Minerva initiative funds Universities and Service Academies to initiate research that can build a deeper understanding of the social, cultural and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world. Beginning in 2010, the Office of the Secretary of Defense has partnered with a range of Defense educational institutions to launch Minerva Research Fellow programs at select Joint Professional Military Education schools. http://minerva.dtic.mil/.
The event began with a community-building boat cruise along the Hudson River and continued the following day at the Thayer Hotel with a series of keynote, plenary, and technical session presentations. Keynote speakers, Dr. John Nagl and Dr. Marcia Hartwell captured the overarching relevance of social sciences within the military. Both have been apart of the U.S. counterinsurgency initiatives and are Oxford Scholars. Dr. Nagl is currently the USNA Minerva Fellow and Non-Resident Senior Fellow from the Center for a New American Security and Dr. Hartwell is a Visiting Scholar from the U.S. Institute of Peace. Discussion panels addressed each of the two Minerva research initiatives at West Point on Africa and Asia. The entire USMA Minerva Team was present at the workshop. Minerva Fellows, Dr. Makame Muhajir and Mr. Luke Gerdes incorporated their research within each panel session and Minerva Researcher; Ms. Kristine Ringler supported collaborations and coordination efforts.
The Department of Geography and Environmental Engineering led the Africa panel which discussed models of socio-and-ethno cultural development, civil-military social networks and the stability of those networks, the politics of piracy in Somalia, and the realities of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. These topics were addressed through human geography research. The Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership led the afternoon panel with topics on social networks in a counterinsurgency, building cultural models and the rule of law in China, and an assessment of network analysis of Asian extremism. This panel focused on the evolution of social network structures within the Muslim world to provide insight into how cultural norms and extreme ideologies are born and maintained.