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Insight into Foreign Thoughtworlds for National Security Decision Makers

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Final rept. Oct 2000-Jan 2004

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Current national security concerns invite critical attention to the way the United States deploys its unparalleled political, economic, and military power. A strategy of using superior national power to compel desired outcomes - common in recent decades - is poorly suited to many present challenges, notably the strategic war against terror, taxing regional crises, and countering a global wave of anti-U.S. sentiment. There are alternative strategies that, instead of seeking to compel or force, actively engage foreign partners or adversaries in a way that recognizes their interests, perspectives, will, and energy, and that seek to effectively communicate, influence, or affect more fundamental changes in thought or action. Such strategies should receive relatively more consideration and emphasis in U.S. national security affairs because they may better address current challenges that are ineffectively addressed by efforts to compel. The author notes among these alternative strategies a reliance on a nuanced understanding of how people in other societies think that is more demanding than that required to compel. Such a degree of understanding has not been commonly reflected in U.S. national security affairs, and is not prominent in U.S. society generally. To realize the benefits such insights offer to national security, the U.S. Government should act to raise decision maker awareness, establish a dedicated institution to serve as a national focal point, and formally integrate consideration of foreign thoughtworlds into national security processes. A multi-disciplinary approach to achieving pragmatic insights into foreign thoughtworlds is described in this paper. Differing cultures thoughts on propriety, communication, reality, justice, time, identity and social groups, freedom, truth, aesthetics and tastes, and death illustrate the cross-cultural variation in thought on these topics. Also, five case studies provide insights from diverse practices. 49 refs.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law
  • Psychology

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