The USA’s Minerva Initiative
In this day and age, more people associate “Minerva” with a strict teacher at a fictional wizard’s school than with Rome’s incarnation of Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, knowledge, and war. As “WIRED: A Different Kind of Net-Centric Warfare in Iraq” revealed, however, Minerva’s ancient incarnation remains very relevant today. “The surge” in Iraq is best known for its increase in the number of American troops, but that was actually its least significant feature. Its most significant feature was a major shift in the way the Americans fought the war, using a counterinsurgency doctrine that acted on the lessons from successes like Malaysia – and on newer insights from social scientists embedded with the American military. See also General Petraeus’ December 2008 remarks in Washington [Transcript | Slideshow].
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has previously served as the president of Texas A&M University. Under his watch, the US DoD has unveiled The Minerva Initiative to foster longer-term research that’s relevant to the national security community. Now the first awards have been made under that program…
Minerva Initiative: The Premises
On April 14/08, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced the Minerva Initiative at the 2008 Association of American Universities’ conference. An excerpt:
“What we are considering is based to some degree on the success we had in the Cold War. During that period, we built up the Department of Defense’s – and the nation’s – intellectual capital with new research centers such as RAND and new mechanisms like, as I mentioned, the National Defense Education Act.
With the Minerva initiative, we envision a consortia of universities that will promote research in specific areas. These consortia could also be repositories of open-source documentary archives. The Department of Defense, perhaps in conjunction with other government agencies, could provide the funding for these projects… Let me be clear that the key principle of all components of the Minerva Consortia will be complete openness and rigid adherence to academic freedom and integrity. There will be no room for “sensitive but unclassified,” or other such restrictions in this project.”
The total amount of the awards is expected to be as much $50 million over 5 years. These awards are intended to be larger and longer in duration than traditional awards, in order to help build an enduring capacity to conduct DoD-related basic research in the social sciences.
Awards are subject to the successful completion of negotiations between the academic institutions and DoD research offices that will make the awards: the Army Research Office (ARO), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR).
Contracts and Key Events
Dec 22/08: The Pentagon announces the first set of Minerva Research Initiative Awards. The awards announced today are for an initial 5-year base period, with a 5-year option contingent upon availability of appropriations and on satisfactory research progress. Topics selected include “The Evolving Relationship between Technology and National Security in China…”, the effects of climate change on state stability in Africa, and “cyber international relations.”
The program solicited proposals in 5 topics of strategic importance, received a total of 211 white papers, and chose to fund just 7.
The awards were selected for funding based on merit review by panels of “subject matter experts in the pertinent fields,” which highlights a key bottleneck in the program: the results will only be as good as the panels. The selection of those experts can ensure a doctrinaire set of views, or fund political programs divorced from reality. Or, it can winnow and select candidates for genuinely new, well-grounded insights. US DoD | WIRED Danger Room lists the 7 winning projects, and the academics leading them.
June 16/08: The US Army releases the Broad Agency announcement for the Minerva Initiative [PDF format]. NYU political science doctoral candidate Drew Conway, who has a positive interest in national security issues, airs some concerns.
- Drew Conway, Zero Intelligence Agents (June 10/08) – Preventing a Real ‘Human Terrain’ Tragedy