Transcultural Predictors of Will to Fight

October 2022 No Comments

Speaker(s): Atran, S. (Co-founder, Artis International; Emeritus Director of Research, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research)

Date: 12 October 2022

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Scott Atran (Co-founder, Artis International; Emeritus Director of Research, France’s National Centre for Scientific Research) as part of its SMA General Speaker Session.

Combatants’ willingness to fight and sacrifice their lives, family, or personal property has altered the expected outcome of military conflicts throughout history. An opponent’s unexpected will to fight has affected the US in many of its regional conflicts, such as Vietnam and Korea. Recent conflicts in Iraq and Ukraine have further demonstrated that leaders in the US and other countries have a poor understanding of what constitutes a combatant’s will to fight and its effects on the battlefield. Most research to understand populations utilize mass survey data collection, which lacks the scientific rigor that analytical study of this topic requires. The research by Artis International uses online tools and social media, brain scans, and in-person interviews to understand what affects individuals’ will to fight.  The studies focus on right-wing nationalists in Spain, jihadist fighters, and Ukrainian soldiers defending their homeland.

Findings indicate that the willingness of different populations to fight is influenced by varied factors. For example, US military personnel perception of how physically capable they are compared to an opponent directly affects their willingness to fight. For members of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIL) and the Levant or the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), their perception of the spiritual righteousness of their cause affected their willingness to fight. The fusion between members of a group also plays a large role in increasing organizational strength. Furthermore, it is harder for an individual to be deradicalized, if he or she becomes completely integrated within an organization and holds its principles as sacred. Brain scans of ISIL and PKK fighters demonstrated this. Dr. Atran stated that studies done in Europe show that Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is making democracy a more salient issue, especially among younger generations. The willingness of Europeans to sacrifice some of their wealth and comfort for Ukraine is also increasing. The conflict in Ukraine is demonstrating that while firepower and manpower is important in modern conflicts, the will to fight will ultimately win out over a long period of time

Speaker Session Recording

Briefing Materials

Biography: Dr. Scott Atran is an anthropologist and psychologist (MA Johns Hopkins, PhD Columbia University) who is co-founder of Artis International and Emeritus Director of Research at France’s National Centre for Scientific Research. He also holds research positions at the University of Oxford’s Changing Character of War Centre and the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, and he is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences.

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