PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Diversity, inclusion, and national security

At War on the Rocks, Caesar Nafrada and Joseph Caddell have written an excellent piece on the value of diversity and inclusion in national security analysis, focusing on the role that racism and stereotypes played in leaving the United States vulnerable to the Pearl Harbour attack:

“I never thought those little yellow sons-of-bitches could pull off such an attack, so far from Japan.” So confessed Adm. Husband Kimmel, former U.S. Pacific Fleet commander, to a member of the congressional Pearl Harbor investigation. Our 2021 reaction to Kimmel’s words is to focus on their racist invective. Yet, there’s an even more obvious problem with Kimmel’s statement. He was simply wrong, and he should have known better. Adm. Kimmel, Gen. Walter Short (the U.S. Army Hawaiian Department commander), and other military leaders on Oahu fundamentally underestimated and misunderstood the threat of Japanese carrier aviation to their detriment, and to the detriment of national security. Their underestimation and misunderstanding was deeply grounded in racial prejudice and went unchallenged in an environment of ethnocentric groupthink. Even in acknowledging his mistake, Kimmel’s words suggest he remained angrily defiant that the attack materialized the way it did — as if it were unfair that reality did not conform to his prejudices. Ethnocentric and racist attitudes and actions are objectionable for their harmful effects on the groups they malign, of course, but we should never forget that they are fundamentally stupid because they are factually incorrect. Prejudice literally means passing judgement prior to possessing adequate information. For national security professionals, prejudice is dangerous. Prejudice is fatal. The prejudicial unwillingness of Kimmel, Short, and others to posture adequately against a potential Japanese aerial attack was fatal 80 years ago today. Pearl Harbor is a concrete example that demonstrates how devastating ethnocentric bias brought on by largely homogenous institutions can be.

They go on to note:

The details of the warning failure at Pearl Harbor illustrate how toxic ethnocentrism, the byproduct of a homogenous workforce, taints analysis and decision-making in various ways. A lack of diversity fosters devastating shared blind spots, skewing the foundations upon which every process is built. Without diversity, some flawed beliefs go unchallenged. Pearl Harbor demonstrates the dangerous results of unchallenged ethnocentric assumptions. Pervasive ethnocentrism and racism lead to disastrous outcomes when they supplant real evidence or lead one to underestimate a foe. These dynamics do not merely reflect the prevailing racial attitudes of the American military of the 1940s. They illustrate how a lack of diversity and inclusion in the national security workforce could have lethal consequences today.

The private sector has no shortage of industry research that demonstrates how a lack of diversity and inclusion negatively impacts organizational performance. National security organizations are similarly vulnerable. Since national security leaders have made the argument that diversity and inclusion can strengthen their organizations, extrapolations from these industry findings should be further explored for their applicability.

While organizations lacking diversity risk prejudicial blind spots, teams comprised of people from diverse backgrounds are more likely to mitigate this bias thanks to multiple perspectives drawn from personal experiences. This is especially true in the realm of international affairs. Ethnocentrism can damage analytical tradecraft through groupthink, mirror-imaging, and the misreading of cultural norms and behaviors. …

National security decision-makers must be willing to incorporate more varied sources into their assessments to better avoid strategic surprises from peer competitors. Improved diversity and inclusion can drive better consideration of possible (if unlikely) threats by inhibiting groupthink and reducing cognitive biases, resulting in greater objectivity. Conversely, research shows that homogenous groups are less able to recognize the value of contrary informationleading to poor decision-making. Diversity and inclusion increase the integration of broader perspectives, reducing shared blind spots. Inclusion fosters new paradigms and heuristics that may have been absent within an otherwise homogeneous organization or team. Studies of racially diverse groups show that social differences generate teams more likely to anticipate differences of opinion, driving them to integrate multiple perspectives while building consensus.

The article isn’t about wargaming, but it’s a piece every serious game designer should read.

PAXsims is a proud supporter of the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming. If your organization would like to join the impressive list of cosponsors, drop us an email.

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