Network of Concerned Geographers

American Association of Geographers

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We, the undersigned, the Network of Concerned Geographers (NCG), are concerned about the growing involvement of the US military in the discipline of geography.

See full statement below.


To: American Association of Geographers
From: Sara Koopman

We, the undersigned, the Network of Concerned Geographers (NCG), are concerned about the growing involvement of the US military in the discipline of geography. While our discipline has always had complex relations with states and militaries, the past decade has seen a marked growth of these ties in the US. The US military and intelligence agencies have identified “human geography” as a fundamental concept and practice for their operations.[1] This nascent emphasis on human geography has been accompanied by an increase in funding from the US military and intelligence community to academic geographers. This raises a number of pressing issues that the American Association of Geographers (AAG) has failed to address.

More concretely, we are motivated by five concerns:

[1] Safety: With the identification of geography as a core element of US military-intelligence strategy and the routine engagement of academic geographers with these agencies, academic geographers are placed at risk of being identified as collaborators with the US military or intelligence community. For the many geographers who conduct fieldwork overseas, the potential consequences of such misunderstandings are grave.

[2] Research and labor demand: The status and money provided by the US military and intelligence community is shifting the centre of gravity in the discipline away from forms of critical scholarship towards those with potential military applications. This has important implications for the labor market, from graduate recruitment to faculty hiring.

[3] Curriculum: The advance of the military and intelligence community has had concrete effects on modifying curricula in geography departments, with growing emphasis on coursework and programs on geospatial intelligence analysis.[2]

[4] Academic freedom: A vibrant scholarly community requires free inquiry and the capacity for dissent; research that is influenced and/or funded by the military typically precludes these conditions. The involvement of the military and intelligence agents in academic life has a chilling effect upon independent thinking (particularly of the policies of the state and military).[3]

[5] Ethics: The active involvement of academic geographers in the work of the US military (particularly at a time when the US Government is engaged at war on many fronts) raises complex ethical problems, not only for those geographers who agree to be involved.

To address these concerns, we call upon the AAG to establish a commission to study the engagement of geography with the US military and intelligence communities.[4] The commission’s mandate would be to:

· document and analyze the US military and intelligence community’s work in and on ‘geography’ and ‘human geography’;

· document and analyze engagements between the US military and intelligence community and the academic discipline of geography; and

· develop and present public reports on these matters, with concrete recommendations addressing our five concerns, to the AAG Council and AAG membership at large.

We encourage all geographers who share our concerns to sign this statement.

Notes and selected references

[1] See, inter alia, Long, L. 2012. “Remarks by NGA [National Geospatial Intelligence Agency] Director Letitia Long.” Orlando, FL: GEOINT Symposium. Accessed 25 August 2014 at https://www1.nga.mil/MediaRoom/SpeechesRemarks/Documents/2012_GEOINT_DNGARemarks_AsPrepared.pdf ; Medina, R. 2014. “From Anthropology to Human Geography: Human terrain and the evolution of operational sociocultural understanding.” Intelligence and National Security doi: 10.1080/02684527.2014.945348; USGIF. 2016. 2016 State of GEOINT Report, “Essential Elements of the GEOINT Toolkit: Evolving Human geography to Meet GEOINT Tradecraft Needs,” pp 32- 33, accessed 15 July 2016 at http://usgif.org/system/uploads/4265/original/2016_SoG_1_.pdf . For critical perspectives on the US military’s use of “human geography”: Bryan, J. (2016): “Geography and the Military: Notes for a Debate,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(3), 506-512; Wainwright, J. 2016. “The U.S. Military and Human Geography: Reflections on Our Conjuncture,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(3), 513-520; Koopman, S. “Beware: Your Research May Be Weaponized,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(3), 530-535. On the political economy of geographical intelligence: J. Crampton, S. Roberts, and A. Poorthuis. 2014. “The New Political Economy of Geographical Intelligence.” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 104(1), 196-214.

[2] Consider the creation of graduate certificate programs for geospatial intelligence analysis with accreditation from the US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) with support from the NGA. For a list of accredited programs with graduate certificates for geospatial intelligence, see http://usgif.org/education/accreditation . For an illustration of the NGA’s involvement with one geography department (Penn State), see Fouché, E. 2015. NGA, Penn State partnership highlighted during leadership visit to university. Accessed 13 October 2015 at https://www.nga.mil/MediaRoom/News/Pages/NGA,-Penn-State-partnership-highlighted-during-leadership-visit-to-university.aspx

[3] On the influence of US military involvement on academic geography during the Cold War, see, e.g.: Barnes, T., and M. Farish. 2006. “Between regions: science, militarism, and American geography from World War to Cold War.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 96(4), 807-826; Farish, M. 2010. The Contours of America’s Cold War. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota; Barnes, T. (2016) “American Geographers and World War II: Spies, Teachers, and Occupiers,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers 106(3), 543-550. During Vietnam, see, e.g., Bowd, G. and D. Clayton. 2013. “Geographical warfare in the tropics: Yves Lacoste and the Vietnam War.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103(3), 627-646.

[4] One precedent for this action is the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) “Commission on the Engagement of Anthropology with the US Security and Intelligence Communities.” See the Commission’s final report at http://www.americananthro.org/ParticipateAndAdvocate/Content.aspx?ItemNumber=2591