The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel.


This book studies the impact of cultural factors on the course of military innovations. One would expect that countries accustomed to similar technologies would undergo analogous changes in their perception of and approach to warfare. However, the intellectual history of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in Russia, the US, and Israel indicates the opposite. The US developed technology and weaponry for about a decade without reconceptualizing the existing paradigm about the nature of warfare. Soviet 'new ...

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The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel.

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This book studies the impact of cultural factors on the course of military innovations. One would expect that countries accustomed to similar technologies would undergo analogous changes in their perception of and approach to warfare. However, the intellectual history of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) in Russia, the US, and Israel indicates the opposite. The US developed technology and weaponry for about a decade without reconceptualizing the existing paradigm about the nature of warfare. Soviet 'new theory of victory' represented a conceptualization which chronologically preceded technological procurement. Israel was the first to utilize the weaponry on the battlefield, but was the last to develop a conceptual framework that acknowledged its revolutionary implications.

Utilizing primary sources that had previously been completely inaccessible, and borrowing methods of analysis from political science, history, anthropology, and cognitive psychology, this book suggests a cultural explanation for this puzzling transformation in warfare.

The Culture of Military Innovation offers a systematic, thorough, and unique analytical approach that may well be applicable in other perplexing strategic situations. Though framed in the context of specific historical experience, the insights of this book reveal important implications related to conventional, subconventional, and nonconventional security issues. It is therefore an ideal reference work for practitioners, scholars, teachers, and students of security studies.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Recent and ongoing conflicts have exposed fundamental flaws in what became RMA orthodoxy. The Culture of Military Innovation is useful, in part, because Adamsky illuminates many of the socio-cultural factors that help explain the broad acceptance of false assumptions among military strategists and the propensity of both state and non-state actors to develop military capabilities based on idealised visions of future armed conflict. His study also illuminates the relevance of cultural analysis to self-reflection and criticism."—H.R. McMaster, Survival

"Despite the fact that the information- and precision-based RMA has not completely revolutionized all warfare, Adamsky properly recognizes strategic culture as a major factor in military innovation."—Peter R. Mansoor, Foreign Affairs

"The comparative cultural analysis is comprehensive, thoughtful, and interesting, and the book should be well-received and appreciated by academics and practitioners alike... Adamsky's analysis is impressive and persuasive. The empirical chapters are rich and deep, but also concise, clear, and accessible. From a theoretical perspective, the book is an excellent example of cultural analysis."—David W. Kearn, Jr., St. John's University, Political Science Quarterly

"Dima Adamsky's The Culture of Military Innovation is an account of how one intellectual paradigm, called the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), rose and fell in the militaries of the USSR, USA and Israel . . . The study distinguishes itself within its subdiscipline for its excellent sources (archival material from all three countries and interviews in Israel), skillful argumentation, and very intelligent case selection. Adamsky's cases connect logically and make for compelling reading."—Thomas Crosbie, Yale University, Canadian Journal of Sociology

"Adamsky has written a theoretically robust and empirically compelling account of the development of the revolution in millitary affairs (RMA) in the Soviet Union, the US, and Israel . . . Adamsky's account is brief, but it will be of value to both academics and practitioners. Recommended." -R.M. Farley, CHOICE

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780804769525
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press
  • Publication date: 2/8/2010
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 365,386
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dima Adamsky is a fellow at the National Security Studies Program at Harvard University. He has been a visiting fellow at the Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University, and at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies.

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Read an Excerpt

The Culture of Military Innovation

By Dima Adamsky

Stanford Security Studies

Copyright © 2010 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8047-6952-5

Chapter One



"Good strategy presumes good anthropology and sociology," argued Bernard Brodie in his War and Politics. In other words, good anthropology and sociology are tools of great significance for understanding how strategy is crafted and how military experts tailor a "new theory of victory." One can make an argument that variance in strategic behavior stems from differences in strategic cultures. In turn, differences in strategic cultures are determined by, among other factors, the variance in fundamental cultural characteristics.

A national cognitive style is one element in the cultural mosaic that shapes a state's strategic behavior and constitutes the ideational foundation of its military innovation. Empirical evidence gives grounds to assume that experts in the same profession from different cultures think differently about military innovation and produce various types of doctrinal outcomes from the same technological discontinuity. What reasoning traits recur in the intellectual activity of military experts in the frame of a given culture? What factors shape, determine, and guide experts' imaginations and cognition when they conceptualize military innovation? This chapter addresses these questions and portrays how the sociocultural background of experts shapes their style of reasoning. It introduces several fundamental cultural distinctions among societies, with particular focus on the cognitive style. This focus aims to present the plausible link between the cultural factors of a given nation and its aptitude to understand revolutions in military affairs. I argue that given certain cultural and cognitive characteristics, a particular professional community may have a greater propensity than others to grasp paradigmatic change in the nature of war.

The chapter elaborates on this argument in three steps. The first section describes a variance among different cultures, by distinguishing them according to social structure (collectivistic vs. individual), communication style (high context vs. low context), and time orientation (polychronic vs. monochronic); then, the second section discusses how these cultural differences underlie inclinations in cognitive styles (either towards holistic-dialectical cognitive style or towards logical-analytical reasoning); finally, the third section explains why cultures that are inclined towards holistic dialectical reasoning may have greater aptitude for understanding the RMAs. The description of each country's strategic culture, which will follow in the subsequent chapters, will make reference to these cognitive characteristics.


The quintessence of the general cultural traits of a given country impacts national strategic behavior. Theories of cultural psychology (sometimes referred to as anthropological or ethnic psychology) arose from the question of whether the laws that govern the behavior of an individual could be extrapolated to the macro-level to account for the functioning of a specific society as a whole. The predominant tendency is to combine psychology, which deals with micro-level phenomena whose scope in time and space is limited, with anthropology, which tends toward macro-level concentration on history and culture. Cultural psychology suggests distinguishing between societies by situating them along several cultural and cognitive continuums.

Cultural Continuums

Since different cultures transmit information differently, the literature suggests distinguishing between cultures by situating them along a dimension spanning high-context to low-context communication styles. In this framework of analysis, introduced by Edward Hall, the context referred to consists of background, the relationship between interlocutors or environment, and context connected to the discussed focal event or topic. An individual from a high-context culture expresses himself or herself (orally and in writing) in indirect, reserved, cyclical, and vague language, relying on the listener's/reader's ability to grasp the meaning from the context. This type of culture conveys information through messages with deep meaning and without referring to the problem directly. Form is emphasized at the expense of content, and nonverbal signals (e.g., tone, pitch, body language) might convey more important messages than do words. Those who are too open and direct might be considered by high-context culture as rude and blunt, and they run the risk of losing face. "Beating around the bush" is oft en the preferred way of approaching a subject. In contrast, communication in low-context cultures occurs predominantly through open and precise statements in text and speech, to ensure that the listener/ reader receives the message exactly as it was conveyed. The mass of information is invested in the explicated code, the meaning depends on the content of the spoken word, and, for that reason, content is emphasized at the expense of context. Directness and being "straight to the point" are considered virtues. The subjects of low-context cultures will shift from information already stated to information about to be given, while high-context cultures will jump back and forth and leave out details, assuming them to be implicit between the two interlocutors.

Perception of time is another parameter for measurement of cultures offered by Hall. On the "cultural time" spectrum, high-context cultures tend to be polychronic ("attend to many things at once"), while low-context cultures are monochronic ("one thing is considered at a time"). "Polychronic time" is not structured and flows boundlessly. Individuals from high-context cultures believe that everything will happen in its time and that "everything is connected to everything else." The subjects of these cultures are cyclic when in the workplace, changing from one activity to another. Their mode of thought grasps a lot of things but does not concentrate on something particular for long. For the subjects of the monochronic culture, time is a fixed, measured resource, divided into concrete intervals. Activities linked to these blocks of time are detailed, planned, and scheduled. Monochronic individuals from low-context cultures do not switch between missions but concentrate on one activity at a time until it is fully accomplished. Works of Charles Cogan, Richard Solomon, Raymond Cohen, Edmund Glenn, and Robert Bathurst demonstrate how the above cultural differences frequently manifest themselves in international security, negotiations, and business, when the interaction occurs between low- and high-context cultures.

The cultural continuums of context and time usually parallel the dimension of collectivistic versus individualistic societies, introduced by Geert Hofstede. People with a high-context cultural orientation usually come from hierarchically structured collectivistic societies that prioritize group values over the goals of the individual. People in collectivistic societies tend to be interdependent through a network of deep-rooted relationships. There is an emphasis on conformity and group orientation, and the society as a whole has a strong welfare mentality. Solidarity between people is seen as the ideal and the normative objective. People from low-context cultures usually arrive from somewhat fragmented and highly individualistic societies, which tend to emphasize the goals and in de pen dent accomplishments of the individual rather than the group. Low-context culture is usually spread among action, assertiveness, and achievement-oriented societies, where individuals are motivated by self-interest.

Another characteristic tied to this continuum is the power distance dimension-the extent to which less powerful members expect and accept unequal power distribution within a culture. Societies with high power distance include many hierarchical levels and an autocratic leadership, expectine quality and power differences, and usually parallel collectivistic high-context cultures. In contrast, low power distance societies are characterized by flat organizational structures, consultative or participatory management style, and an expectation of egalitarianism. In low power distance societies, superiors encourage independence and initiative in subordinates. By contrast, in higher power distance countries a very clear division of power exists, and different responsibilities are assigned to each player. High-context cultures are less prone to delegate authority downward; innovative ideas and planning usually originate at the top. In low-context cultures, on the other hand, responsibility is diffused throughout the system, and innovations are generated from the bottom up.

Cognitive Continuum

Psychologists and anthropologists argue that the sociocultural differences discussed above underlie both chronic as well as temporary variations in cognitive style across cultures. Cognitive style constitutes an individual's preferred collection of strategies to perceive, organize, and process information. These styles vary along the continuum between two diametrically opposed patterns: one grouped under the heading of holistic-dialectical thought and the other under the heading of logical-analytical thought. Cognitive psychology defines holistic thought as a tendency to attend to the context or field as a whole. Sometimes scholars dub it field-dependent reasoning. This mode of thought focuses on and assigns causality to the relationship between a focal object and the field, and explains events on the basis of such a relationship. Holistic approaches rely on experience-based and intuitive knowledge rather than on formal logic and are dialectical, meaning that there is an emphasis on change in the context, recognition of contradiction, and search for the synthesis between opposing propositions. Analytical thought, sometimes defined as field-independent, tends to center attention on the focal object, to detach it from its context, and to assign it to categories. This mode of reasoning uses formal logic to explain and to predict an object's behavior. Analytical thought, similar to what is defined by Thomas Kuhn as "normal science," avoids contradictions and does not suffer from conceptual discontinuities.

Physiologists speculate that the origin of these differences is traceable to markedly different social systems. On the basis of statistically significant evidence, researchers claim that individuals socialized in high-context, collectivistic social structures tend to rely on holistic reasoning. On the other hand, analytical thinking prevails among persons coming from low-context, individualistic societies. Similar to cognitive psychologists, anthropologists argue that conceptual styles are associated with different socioeconomic structures. Holistic thinking exists in cultures where the social order approaches a collectivist pattern, while analytical thinking tends to prevail in societies that have an individualist pattern.

By its nature, the holistic-dialectical approach is better suited for grasping emerging changes in the relationship between focal point and context than is analytical- logical reasoning, which decontextualizes objects. "Analytical attention" to the object encourages its categorization, the application of rules to it, and use of it as a point of reference for causal attribution. "Holistic attention" to the field encourages noticing relationships and change, and prompts causal attribution in terms of the context and distal forces. Although holism lacks the power of precise analysis and systematic classification, it can excel in explaining phenomena by pointing to other events that occurred at the same time in a broader context, even though by analytical logic the events are unconnected. It should be stated, however, that a possible correlation between the sociocultural structure and thought patterns does not mean that an individual from a high-context culture is unable to apply formal logic or that a low-context culture's individual is incapable of making a holistic observation. A specific culture's position on the cognitive-styles continuum is relative.

Some scholars parallel logical-analytical and holistic-dialectical cognitive styles with inductive and deductive thought patterns. Whereas inductive thinking aims to derive theoretical concepts from individual cases, deductive reasoning aims to interpret individual cases within previously derived theoretical concepts. These different thought patterns manifest themselves across different cultures and have a profound impact on argumentation, communication styles, and the way the world is seen and understood. Whereas Anglo-Saxon thought patterns are predominantly inductive, Latin American, Eastern, and Russian thought patterns are predominantly deductive. Thinking within the Aristotelian logical tradition, which is dominant in most Western cultures, may not be understood by people from a culture that emphasizes a more holistic approach to thinking. The impact of cultural environment is clearly demonstrated in the social history of science. Scientists from contrasting cultural backgrounds working on the same questions take different cognitive approaches and reach different conclusions.

Cognitive Styles and the Pass to RMA

How, intentionally or inadvertently, do different militaries organize their thoughts and their subsequent actions when they embark on military innovations? As Thomas Mahnken has shown, military institutions innovate in three distinct, yet oft en overlapping, phases: speculation, experimentation, and implementation. This book focuses on the intellectual activity that takes place during the speculation phase. In this initial stage, military innovators identify novel ways of solving existing operational problems and of exploiting the potential of an emerging technology. It is also the earliest opportunity for experts to realize revolutionary conceptual and organization al innovations that new technology can put into motion. At the point at which military innovators start to identify novel ways to exploit the potential of technology, epistemology-the ways and means of production of knowledge-comes into play.

According to Richard Hundley, identifying RMA involves a conceptual breakthrough in the way we think about warfare. To recognize it is, in other words, to attend to a change that occurs in military regimes at a current phase. In line with this view, Boot argues, in his comparison of RMAs across human history, that a military revolution, like a scientific one, demands a paradigm shift from one set of assumptions to another. Thus, RMA is a paradigm shift in the nature and conduct of military operations. The paradigm, as we know from Thomas Kuhn, is not only the current theory, but a conceptual set of assumptions about reality that allows one to process data, to elaborate theories, and to solve problems. Paradigmatic change does not take place at the level of mere rational discourse. This shift in perception is not a function of a linear progress moving toward more accurate and complete knowledge, but a radical shift of vision in which a multitude of nonrational factors come into play. When a new paradigm is eventually articulated, it brings fundamental changes in theoretical assumptions and transforms the entire worldview in which it exists.


Excerpted from The Culture of Military Innovation by Dima Adamsky Copyright © 2010 by Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 Cognitive Styles and Understanding Revolutions in Military Affairs 1

2 The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Soviet Military-Technical Revolution 15

3 The Impact of Cultural Factors on the US Revolution in Military Affairs 24

4 The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Israeli Revolution in Military Affairs 93

Conclusion 131

Notes 145

Index 223

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