The term cultural intelligence is usually associated with business. First used in 2003 by Christopher Earley and Soon Ang in their book Cultural Intelligence: Individual Interactions Across Cultures, and then by Brooks Peterson in his highly successful Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures, the term refers to a theory which posits that cultural backround has a strong impact on an individual’s behavior and ability to engage successfully in various environments. The term is, in turn, a subcategoryof a more general concept, emotional intelligence, defined by psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990 as “”the ability to perceive emotion, integrate emotion to facilitate thought, understand emotions and to regulate emotions to promote personal growth.”
The national security community, for its part, has long recognized that culture matters, but has yet to truly incorporate it into both doctrine and practice. It was Marine General Anthony C. Zinni who first used the term, in frustration, as he was carrying out relief operations in Somalia: ”What we need is cultural intelligence. What makes them [the faction leaders and people] tick? Who makes the decisions? What is it about their society that’s so remarkably different in their values, in the way they think, compared to my values and the way I think in my western, white-man mentality?…What you need to know isn’t what our intel apparatus is geared to collect for you, and to analyze, and to present to you.” Citing and applauding General Zinni’s remarks, in 2006, US Navy Commander John P. (Jay) Coles actually definedcultural intelligence “as analyzed social, political, economic, and other demographic information that provides understanding of a people or nation’s history, institutions, psychology, beliefs (such as religion), and behaviors. It helps provide understanding as to why a people act as they do and what they think.” Yet the official DOD Dictionary of Military terms (as amended through 15 May, 2011) makes no mention of the term. In short, both the concept and its implementation are still a work in progress.
The following definition merges the psychological with the military concept:
Cultural intelligence is the analyzed social, political, economic, and other relevant information that provides understanding of a people or nation’s history, institutions, psychology, beliefs, and behaviors, while taking into account one’s own cultural background and its possible effects on one’s perceptions, emotions, and judgments.
The Cultural Intelligence Project of the Center for Culture and Security seeks to identify the organizations and institutions that engage in cultural intelligence, whether or not explicitly so called, as well as key writings and discussions on the topic.
Why CI? Post-Westphalian Threat Systems
“In the 21st century, …, there is wide belief in certain circles that threats to security are equally likely to come from failing or weak states, or even non-state actors. In this context, many scholars and policy analysts have drawn attention to the dangers inherent in weak or failed states.… This suggests that international conflict and security in the 21st century – in terms of empirical patterns, and how these are studied and addressed in policy terms – reflect a broader transformation to a post-Westphalian world. This is conceived of as a world where notions of inviolable and equal state sovereignty – never actually a reality but often respected as a norm – are breaking down; where states are no longer the sole or even the most important actors in many areas of international politics; where states cannot be assumed to be viable or autonomous agents; where insecurity and conflict is primarily characterized by civil war, insurgency and state failure, rather than inter-state war; where the distinction between domestic and international politics is irreversibly blurred in terms of causes and impacts…..”
“Failed States and International Order: Constructing a Post-Westphalian World,” by Edward Newman. Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.30, No.3 (December 2009), pp.421–443.
In the new millennium, national security will be threatened by complex systems that consist of enemy states, organizations – often, though not always, primarily ideologically motivated – and enabling actors who may be used wittingly or unwittingly to advance certain goals. Cultural intelligence is needed to understand such systems, in order to deter, mitigate, and ultimately defeat them.