Research Program

Strategic Culture and Violent Non-State Actors

Edward David Last wrote a 2018 PhD at the University of Southampton on strategic culture, Al Qaeda, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb:

Last, Edward David (2018) Strategic culture and violent non-state actors: a comparative strategic cultural analysis of Al-Qaida and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb. University of Southampton, Doctoral Thesis, 602pp.Record type:

While strategic culture has traditionally been applied to states, this work adds to the emerging literature applying strategic cultural approaches to VNSAs. This analysis goes beyond these ideational approaches by also incorporating the concept of practices. In contrast to Alastair Johnston’s (1995a; 1995b) conception of strategic culture I concur with Colin Gray (1999b) that behaviour cannot be disentangled from culture. Indeed, narrative and behaviour, in the form of practices, are mutually constitutive of strategic culture (Lock 2010; Neumann and Heikka 2005). This study consists of a comparative strategic cultural analysis of two Salafi-Jihadist violent non-state actors: Al-Qaida-central and its franchise, AlQaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), employing concepts of strategic narrative and strategic practices.

AQIM, formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat or GSPC, rebranded as an Al-Qaida franchise in 2007, leading to speculation of a change from its Algeria-centric agenda to an anti-Western agenda. However, this has not been the case. Rather, AQIM has undergone a process of regionalization, expanding its operations beyond Algeria into Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Indeed, the study finds that while their strategic narratives share a number of common themes they are expressed in differing strategic practices. As such, the two organizations have distinct strategic cultures and differing strategic priorities. AlQaida prioritizes the battle against the far enemy, i.e. the West, whereas AQIM prioritizes the struggle against the near enemy, i.e. local regimes, deemed apostate, in the Maghreb-Sahel, primarily Algeria and Mali. Indeed, Al-Qaida primarily employs strategic practices of terrorism against Western civilians, whereas AQIM primarily employs guerrilla practices targeting local security forces.

Last’s PhD parallels my 2020 Monash University PhD that developed a new strategic culture framework for terrorist organisations, although I looked at Japan’s Aum Shinrikyo. I look forward to reading Last’s dissertation when it becomes available in June.