European and American Armies in Afghanistan: The Role of Casualty Aversion and Military Culture in International Operations

About the project

A Joint Research Project between the Sociology Team at the Swedish National Defence College and Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Kennedy School of Government, International Security Program. Additional Partner: University of Innsbruck, Austria (planned)

Why do European and US armies behave differently in low-intensity conflict? The project European and American Armies in Afghanistan: The Role of Casualty Aversion and Military Culture in International Operations - Military Leadership Challenges in Low Intensity Operations explores the effectiveness of European and US armies in counterinsurgencies and peace and stability operations, i.e. low intensity conflicts.

Notwithstanding remarkable variations, European countries (apart from the UK) prefer to deploy troops in peace operations while the US opt for counterinsurgencies. In Afghanistan, European states-indifferent to the threat level- tend to define the NATO mission a "stability operation" while the US defines it a "counterinsurgency operation". Why do European and US armies behave differently in the field? Why do European and US policy-makers label the mission differently? And what is the consequence on the effectiveness of these armies?

This Harvard-FHS joint project studies how domestic factors, such as the political balance of power or casualty aversion and the military culture of specific units in the field influence the effectiveness of different armies in low-intensity operations. It focuses on six cases: Sweden, the US, the UK, Germany, Italy and France. The data collection includes interviews and questionnaires with participant observation in Afghanistan in different areas of operation and interviews with policy makers and process tracing in each country.

Theoretically, this project would conceptualise LIC operation effectiveness- a new concept that reflects the challenges and constraints shared between peace operations and counterinsurgencies. In practice, it would explore the differences in casualty aversion and military cultures between Europe and the US, in order to investigate how these factors affect behavior and effectiveness of military units on the ground. This is pivotal to make low-intensity operations more effective and more tailored to the only beneficiaries of the missions: the local population.