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War Zone Advisors

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMarch 28, 2009 4:06 AM


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Is there a difference between non-military experts serving alongside combatant soldiers in a war and those that are part of a peacekeeping force in a war-torn country? I wondered about this today after reading about plans to add "green" advisors to U.N peacekeeping operations in countries where chronic instability is fueled by over-exploitation of the environment and/or bloody conflicts over natural resources. If you're the U.N. and your aim is to reduce war and suffering in impoverished countries, of which some of the root causes are degraded agricultural land, water scarcity, and pandemic disease, then it seems to make good sense to embed a few scientists with those peacekeepers. And wouldn't the same go for social scientists serving alongside U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, where an understanding of the language and culture can potentially help bring the wars there to a quicker end? This is not to minimize the problems, "growing pains", and tragedies associated with the Pentagon's Human Terrain teams. (The Danger Room blog at Wired has consistently provided the fullest perspective of the controversial military program.) Academic anthroplogists have been queasy about the Human Terrain program from its inception. Lately, criticism has come from once cautious boosters and from within the military. But let's say Human Terrain's defects can be fixed. Can anthropologists serving in a military capacity be a force for good in wartime, in the same way that environmental experts serving with peacekeepers can be a force for good in war-torn countries?

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