Small Wars Journal

Human Insecurity in Mali

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Human Insecurity in Mali: Overcoming Obstacles to Economic Solvency and Democratic Governance through External Intervention

Philip Murray

Introduction

Mali is a unique nation on the African continent, primarily because it is the only nation to experience a transition to democracy by military coup d’état. The transition to democracy in Mali was celebrated by the international community for the outward appearance of progress away from autocratic, authoritarian, and corrupt political practices that dominates the political culture of African states. However, recent political and security developments have unmasked an ugly truth about the realities surrounding political practice on the ground in Mali. The façade of democratic governance established in 1991 has long concealed the pervasive practices of corruption, coercion, mismanagement, and political/economic exclusion of the Tuareg people. Furthermore, international aid has fueled the ability of Mali’s autocratic regimes to drive on without popular support and/or true economic development.

The fledgling and stunted economic environment of Mali is the common denominator for all security issues plaguing the Malian peoples. The combination of poor political and economic environments have effectively marginalized the Tuareg minority and allowed for Tuareg-dominated separatist groups, such as Ansar al-Din and Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), to become significant powers in the Malian political landscape. The end result has been multiple armed uprisings and an ongoing insurgency across the state of Mali and the Maghreb. Pervasive conflict and government corruption within Mali has made development in any sector of human security a significant challenge. Lacking a true guarantee of personal security and protection of economic enterprise, the Malian people are hard pressed to overcome human security issues.

True economic freedom and guarantee of personal security will be required to solve Mali’s long term problems. Grass roots economic development must occur first before the roots of democratic government/culture can take root and grow; none of this will be possible without the guarantee of personal security and protection of private property from government and/or rebel pillaging. Bolstering host-nation military capability to provide security is viewed as the lowest cost option for long-term security by external actors, but history has proved nations with strong militaries and weak political institutions are susceptible to coups d’état and coercive abuse of authority. Contradictory to the agendas of many external actors, any long term solutions to problems of insecurity will require security guarantees from outside the host nation for a long enough duration to ensure sufficient time has passed to allow the foundations of free economic enterprise and constitutionally-bound civil authority. Sustainable solutions to Mali’s security issues will not be solved quickly or through massive injections of foreign aid, but rather through dedicated external intervention that is willing to invest the significant amounts of time and resources towards resolving the core issues of economic, personal and political security.

Root Causes of Insecurity in Order of Priority

Political Security: Neopatrimonial regimes prevent improvements contributing to resolving issues of human security.

Mali’s commitments to free democratic elections in the 1990s have been welcomed and celebrated by the international community as victories for Africa’s progression towards democracy. The famous coup d’état in 1991 was unique in the fact that the military willingly gave up power to civilian authority, but not unique in the fact that power was given up in a time of economic and institutional instability. Michael Bratton and Nicolas van de Walle point out that power is often liberalized as a response to crises rather than individual initiative in neopatrimonial states (1994; 461). It appears that the move was made to gain monetary support from the international community, most notably, the United States, who had just emerged as a superpower from the Cold War (Lecocq, et al., 2013; 347). There has been very little progress economically or to strengthen the accountability and effectiveness of the Malian government since the transition to democracy. Little is done to spread the institutional benefits of the government until dramatic political or security threats arise, and problems are usually dealt with by buying off competitors with aid or government jobs (Lecocq, et al. , 2013; 346).  The results of the democratic transition in Mali demonstrate that neopatrimonial models of power and politics have carried over from pre-colonial and colonial times to the present. Malian administration still emanates from the capital Bamako, and the military is used to punish the northern districts who don’t contribute taxes or pose security risks.

Neopatrimonial practices in Mali have significant negative effects on human security issues, especially on economic and physical/personal security issues. Mali’s neopatrimonial practices ensure any resources that enter the system will be squandered and misappropriated, destroy the free market, delegitimize the political process, and it will invite conflict with both the military and Tuareg rebels. If any significant changes can be made in Mali, these patronage networks will need to be dismantled to allow for freedom and development to occur.

Personal Security: Persistent armed conflict has undermined the development of economy, other human security services, and the legitimacy of the government.

The current factors driving rebellious conflict in Mali fit into Collier and Hoefller’s model of conflict. Malian issues are primarily economic, but conflict is also influenced by outstanding grievances, military viability of rebellion, and historical violence. While popular perception may indicate the conflicts derive their roots from ethnic tension between Tuareg populations of Northern Mali and black ethnicities of Southern Mali, all evidence points towards the economic and political security grievances as the impetuses for conflict in Mali. Complicating matters further are the economic incentives for starting conflict. Economic viability of conflict has been derived from sponsorship by external actors to continue and/or resolve conflict. Funding associated with negotiations and terrorism has further encouraged conflict competition between government and non-government patronage networks within Mali.

The conflicts in Mali are very similar to other patterns of conflict in sub-Saharan Africa described by Collier and Hoeffler. The historic violence between the North and South in Mali have built up over time to establish a pattern of conflict between the capital city and outlying population centers. The central government of Mali attempts to manage through neopatrimonial networks and military authority instead of strong institutions. The results of these practices are huge disparities in wealth distribution due to the patronage network using restrictions on economic opportunities to maintain power. The patronage system used in Mali causes grievances against the government, which is seen as keeping the average citizens in abject poverty for the benefit of the small cadre of politically connected individuals. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the Libyan government, an influx of weapons from those regimes into Mali made it possible for many to make their grievances known through violence. Before the weapons arrived, armed conflict against the state might have been desired, but it was not militarily viable. With the influx of weapons, local ‘big men’ and average citizens alike saw the opportunity to take violent action against the government and regional rivals. Additionally, the decision to carry out armed conflict no longer had to be for grievances against the government, but rather it could be to increase one’s financial standing and ability gain more bargaining power with domestic and external actors in negotiations. In these aspects, conflict in Mali has been similar to other regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

What makes the Malian conflict unique from other conflicts occurring in sub-Saharan Africa now is the presence of the Pan-Islamist jihad movement. Unlike other similar conflicts, Western powers will not negotiate a truce with organizations such as Al Qaeda. As author Will Reno states, power brokers are now able to cut out their enemies that are labelled ‘terrorist’ from the negotiating table and use the external support to bolster even the weakest of patronage networks (Reno, 2013; 168). Recently, secular factions of the Tuareg rebel groups from the Ifoghas and Imghad agreed to a ceasefire brokered by Algeria and the UN, but extremist-affiliated groups will never be invited to sit at a negotiating table. After the secessionist movement was hijacked by AQIM, the leaders of patronage networks in both the Ifoghas and Imghad found it more prudent to throw their fate in with the government of Mali. They quickly realized that AQIM was ideologically motivated and would not tolerate their patronage networks or benefit them financially in the long run. Their willingness to reconcile with the government of Mali does not indicate significant change of heart on the part of the rebels, but rather a recalculation of interests of various patronage networks to survive and outlast their rivals. Within Mali, one’s ability to wage armed conflict demonstrates power and warrants recognition and financial reward by both other domestic actors and external supporters. Elimination of patronage networks and the financial incentives for armed conflict will significantly decrease the frequency and duration of conflict in Mali.

Economic Security: Economic development is being undermined by armed conflict, pillaging by patronage networks, and over-regulation by neopatrimonial regimes.

The ability for average citizens to engage in economic enterprise and entrepreneurship without undue interference is critical to ensuring nation-states develop markets that provide the necessities of life for their citizenry. Many falsely assume that governments determine the type of economy a nation has; it is more true to say there are free economies and those that operate sub-optimally under economic controls. Economist and author Louis Bromfield states, “Political concepts and ideologies do not create economic concepts but arise from economic unbalance and wrongs. Democracy, in any of it’s hazy countless sometimes phony forms, cannot flourish or even be maintained in an atmosphere of misery, starvation, illiteracy, and ignorance” (Bromfield 1947; 17). As such, the underdevelopment in Mali’s economy is most assuredly a direct result of restrictions imposed by neopatrimonial regimes, armed conflict, and the lack of several other factors of human security as defined by the United Nations.

According to the UNICEF statistics on Mali, 50.4% of the population lives under the $1.24 a day poverty line (UNICEF, 2015). Many other aspects of human security contribute to economic security, such as education and technological training, environmental security and energy development, as well as the availability of food and health resources. Improvements in economic development go hand in hand with improvements in other human security factors such as education, technological training, and the availability of food and health care. This result is mostly because there is significant interplay between the economy and those other services.  However, none of those have compared to the noteworthy relationship between personal security and economic security in Mali. Increasingly, the issues of physical/personal security and economic security are becoming inseparable in Mali. Since conflict is primarily driven by economic insecurity and conflict discourages economic growth, the continuing insurgency in Northern Mali has taken a majority of the blame for economic crises.

The government of Mali and Tuareg patronage networks are the chief culprits of economic underdevelopment in Mali since they create the restrictions on free economic enterprise and perpetuate armed conflict. Evidence of this is the fact that both the absence and presence of the government in Mali has been proven to be harmful to economic development. Authors Poku, Renwick, and Porto describe how the absence of physical security by the government harms development: “At worst, in areas where the state is entirely absent not only is there no palpable, visible relation between the individual and the state, but the local population is left at the mercy of unscrupulous political and economic actors” (1157). These authors also point out the problems associated with too much government intervention: “… corruption hinders economic growth and investment by increasing transaction costs, and thus diverting public funds from their planned allocations” (Poku, Renwick, and Porto, 2007; 1165). For the average citizen entrepreneur in Mali, there is no guarantee to the fruits of one’s labor and no guarantee to property ownership; in the current economic environment, producing puts a bigger target on one’s back to either be coerced or attacked.

Economic insecurity and underdevelopment is the most important issue hindering development of democracy in Mali today. Neopatrimonial regimes and the armed conflict they are spurning must be stopped immediately to allow the foundations of economic and other human securities to take root.

External Interventions and Their Effectiveness

In their article “Bilateral vs. Multilateral Peacebuilding in Africa”, Authors Carrie Manning and Louis-Alexander Berg aptly point out the importance of bilateral relationships in effective negotiations and peacekeeping operations. They state, “the behavior of established bilateral donors provides important signals to domestic political actors about the risks and benefits of implementing the peace agreement” (Manning and Berg, 2013; 214). Essentially, the bilateral donors can add legitimacy to multilateral peacekeeping operations or negotiations by adding weight to commitments and threats of sanction. Within Mali, domestic actors weigh the benefits/repercussions of external partnerships and agreements in terms of what will allow their patronage networks to survive and expand. There has been no effective effort by the international community to tackle the issue presented by the neopatrimonial patronage networks in Mali. Every external intervention and financial assistance program in Mali has supported the propagation and longevity of patronage networks. While some external interventions in Mali have provided near-term solutions to problems with limited scope, they have not been effective at taking out the root causes of human insecurity: namely the neopatrimonial patronage networks and economic insecurity.

Below, we will discuss some of the external interventions that have taken place in Mali. The key to these interventions is an introduction of important bilateral and multilateral partners acting within Mali. Given Mali’s colonial history, France has been, and continues to be, Mali’s most influential bilateral partner for economic development and security. Similarly, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and Algeria continue to be important trade partners and, to a lesser extent than France, partners in security. Until recent French military interventions in Mali, the United States held a relatively subdued relationship with Mali. Recent relationships between Mali and the United States are multilateral in nature and are generally in terms of the United Nations Mission in Mali and France’s Operation Barkhane. Westphalian-nation actors aside, Al Qaeda has taken firm roots within the Northern regions of Mali and has transitioned from being an external to a domestic actor. This was primarily accomplished through marrying into local communities and undermining traditional power structures to reform a portion of Tuareg society into a miniature pan-Islamist community.

Negotiations & Foreign Aid (Financial)

Negotiations, agreements, and aid have done nothing but support the Malian patronage networks and only receive attention by domestic actors when it can directly benefit their patronage networks. In Mali, the negotiating table has become an effective forum for patronage networks to gain financial solvency, as author Will Reno explains: “In countries where presidents historically have had a hard time maintaining political coalitions and controlling the flow of patronage resources, these local power brokers instead may bargain more vigorously and demand a higher price for their support” (Reno, 2013; 166). As evidence of this, the ceasefire agreements made in June and October of 2015 by the UN and Algeria between secular Tuareg rebels and the government have devolved into violence. The agreements allowed for patronage networks to argue for financial aid ‘for refugees’, weapons, and reprieve from government attacks. UN drone coverage has confirmed that the militias are still combating other tribal rivals, as well as alleged Islamic terrorists in the Kidal region of Mali (Farge, 2015). This is a clear violation of the ceasefire, but nothing has been successfully leveraged to keep the Tuareg factions in line with the ceasefire. The government of Mali seems content with, or unable to stop, the continuing violations so long as government forces or territory are no longer the targets of rebel attacks.

Even when the agreements made by domestic actors during negotiations are sincere, there is very little patronage network leaders can do to overcome their tenuous power networks and carry through on their pledges of support for economic development. As an example, Algeria helped broker the 1996 agreement and the 2006 agreements between rebel Tuareg factions and the Malian government. Both negotiations failed to achieve the economic development that was expected. The main problem with the agreements was that bulk commitments of foreign aid were disbursed to the Malian government and Tuareg power brokers. Ultimately, and arguably unavoidably, aid money ended up being squandered into their various patronage networks. As authors Morten Boas and Liv Elin Torheim state, “large amounts of money have been deployed to Northern Mali but with few tangible results…” (Boas and Torheim, 2013; 1284).

While aid may not be effective at ensuring long-term economic development, it can successfully provide solutions to gaps in essential services during emergencies. Citing the debate between Easterly and Sachs regarding the efficacy of aid, it is clear that aid will work under particular conditions, namely were aid is narrowly applied to particular goals and sufficiently supervised. The medical aid for the malaria prevention case highlighted by Sachs provides a great example of how aid can work to improve mortality rates caused by malaria through application of mosquito nets and medicinal treatments. The intended goal of the aid was achieved when supplies directly relating to the problem were delivered and supervised by the agencies supporting the mission. However, it would be incorrect to assume the successes of foreign aid can be expanded as a solution to long term development. As Easterly expertly states, “Aid and development are now separate topics with separate debates … Aid can do many other good things even if it cannot drive development” (Easterly, 2014). The real issue of development relies on the establishment of individual rights guaranteed by the government. Property rights, ease of access to business, security, and right to free association will all contribute to true development in the region. As Easterly states, “Don’t we see individual rights in our own societies as both desirable in themselves and how we escaped our own poverty? Why do we see things so differently for poor societies?”.  (Easterly, 2014).

Even if patronage networks were bypassed and effective control measures had been implemented for the distribution of financial aid, the results would have supported the propagation of the neopatrimonial patronage networks amongst the Malian government and the Tuareg communities. Economist and journalist, Henry Hazlitt wrote extensively on the intricacies of foreign aid in relation to the Marshall Plan in the 1940s and has valuable insight on why foreign donations of capital or food do not work to develop healthy economies. The direct injection of goods or services into a poor economy devalues prices and disincentives the local economies need to replicate these services. This has the effect of permanently making the poor economy reliant on external support for necessities and damages the free market economy’s ability to generate capability to provide goods and services. Additionally, Henry Hazlitt points out that government-to-government loans or financial donations encourage the continuation of ineffective governance, and in Mali’s case, neopatrimonial patronage networks: “… loans or gifts that merely subsidize or prolong policies that paralyze production are worse than thrown away” (Hazlitt, 1947; 28). Even if loans are given directly to the population for specific programs, this merely alleviates the patronage networks from the responsibility of spending their capital on these services in favor of other activities that increase their coercive control over the Malian peoples. In essence, all foreign aid has assisted the longevity of patronage networks strangling Mali by giving them direct control over economic opportunity and subsidizing their ineffective and harmful political practices of exclusion, coercion, and conflict.

Direct Military Intervention & Military Training

The national security of Mali has become an issue of international security for France, the United States, and the Western world at large. The success of Al Qaeda in the Maghreb and other Islamic fundamentalist organizations, such as Ansar al-Din, within Mali’s Northern desert has become a threat to governments across the Sahel, as well as a potential support zone for staging, preparing, and resourcing transnational terrorist attacks. Currently, the United States is supporting the French-led security Operation Barkhane with lift capability, refueling support, and ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) support (Buss, et al., 2011; 23). The French led coalition is comprised of ECOWAS troops and Malian troops. Their success in counterinsurgency operations has be largely successful up to this juncture (Boas, 2013).

According to authors Elisabeth Feleke, Louis A. Picard, and Terry F. Buss in their journal article, “African Security Challenges and AFRICOM”, the model being used in Mali is exactly how the United States envisions other African security missions occurring. “The United States and other UN member states would support the mission with funding, equipment, training, and some military support services (eg., lift capacity), and the African Union would continue to supply the personnel to staff the mission” (Buss, et al., 2011; 23).  Thus far, the efforts between France and the United States have been widely successful at targeting AQIM and other Islamic extremists, but the follow-up solutions to long-term security have been lacking entirely. For external actors, the most logical and cost efficient model for long term security has been to build host-nation military capacity to provide security autonomously from external support. However, given the proclivity of patronage networks, including the Malian military, building host-nation military capacity has led to the increase in abuses of power and the strengthening of some patronage networks. The French strengthened the Malian military capacity leading up to the referendum for sovereignty in 1961; the result was three major and bloodless military coups in 1969, 1991, and again in 2012. In fact, the 2012 military coup was preceded by United States sponsored military training the year before.

It seems current trends are preparing to repeat this process by ensuring the strongest, best resourced, and most capable patronage network left over at the brink of crises is the Malian military. According to Collier and Hoeffler and many other researchers mentioned in this essay, economic insecurity is the root cause of conflict and the improvement of access to economic opportunity is the guarantee of long-term human security. Current models of security development will only strengthen the patronage networks and their access to instruments of coercion. Carrying through with current plans will certainly not provide a long-term solution to security in Mali or other regions of Africa.

Conclusion and Recommendations for Development of Democracy and Human Security

Malian neopatrimonial patronage networks have played a central role in promoting the current environment of economic insecurity and conflict in Mali. Thus far, external actors have identified the symptoms of Mali’s problems, economic and personal insecurity, but have done little to effectively influence the change of the root cause: patronage networks. In fact, foreign aid, military training, and negotiations have intensified the efficacy of the patronage networks, hindering Mali’s long term security improvements. Having identified the definitive link between patronage networks and economic insecurity, there are only a few tenable solutions to Mali’s problems. The following proposal is a four-phase strategy that will be vehemently opposed by domestic power brokers in Mali. This plan will empower the individual Malian citizen, break down barriers to free trade, and ensure political institutions are created that serve the people of Mali instead of the ineffective patronage networks of old.

Direct Military Intervention and Personal Security Guarantees

French, ECOWAS, and United States military intervention in Mali has proven capable of defeating armed insurgents and securing significant portions of Mali against aggression by domestic and foreign militants. From the coalition’s perspective, no true security can be achieved in Mali until the local economy creates viable alternatives to convince the population that terrorism and rebellion against the government are no longer viable choices. History and experience have shown that in weak nations such as Mali, building military capacity before economic and political capacity results in stagnation of development. Therefore, for any economic development to proceed, foreign military troops will need to oversee the physical security of Mali until a robust economic environment can be established. Simply stated, French, ECOWAS, and United States troops need to be prepared to provide security and leadership for a very long time.

Afghanistan’s recent loss of several cities and the Faryab and Zabul provinces to the Taliban in 2015, and the Iraqi governments loss of Northern provinces to ISIS in 2014, demonstrate how the withdraw of foreign troops affects the security environment of politically and economically weak nations. There is no other viable alternative for a long-term security solution. Without a strong economy and elimination of patronage networks, Malian forces will be susceptible to bribery and collusion with strongmen to exploit the economic enterprises of Malian citizens or challenge the government directly for outright control. At worst, the military will be routed by insurgent forces, similar to what AQIM did in 2012. External ownership of Malian security enterprise is the only option to create a security environment that allows for economic and political development during the vulnerable transition to democracy and long-term economic stability.

Government Training and Institution Building

Merely hosting elections and creating the trappings of democracy will not ensure the development of true democratic and representative government. As economist Louis Bromfield states:

Imposing democracy upon people who have not earned it and do not understand it is never successful, for the structure degenerates almost immediately into dictatorship or oligarchy of a vicious and corrupt nature… It [democracy] is essentially a luxury which must be earned through literacy and prosperity, through wisdom and self-restraint, through knowledge and consideration and through fierce ideals of independence, liberty and the dignity of the individual man. (Bromfield, 1972; 43)

The intervention would essentially be a democratic revolution from the grassroots level led by foreign education and indoctrination of political bureaucrats. Such an intervention will be required to establish the conditions for economic development and reduction of incentives for armed conflict. Without this intervention, patronage networks will continue unabated in their attempts to use the state as capital to fuel their support networks. Within the plan to increase the efficacy of the Malian government will be comprehensive designs for education programs, rural infrastructure development, and political/indoctrination training for democratic values in the civilian and military organizations. These programs will be unpopular with the ruling elite since it strips them of their resources and patronage networks. Development of the Malian government would run concurrently with economic development and set the conditions for full independent governance by Malian political institutions over Malian citizens.

Free Market Promotion and Education

True free economic trade between ECOWAS, Europe and, the United States will provide the best resolution to developing the Malian economy. Pouring in more aid will likely be ineffective due to the aforementioned patronage networks and the deleterious economic byproducts of aid dumps. Following in the words of Austrian Economist Louis Bromfield:

It is cooperation among nations upon an economic basis that we must make understood and that we must practice—not the politically based weakness and ineffectiveness of the United Nations, but the real fact and force of economic co-operation. Giving away vast sums of money and material is not cooperation. (Bromfield , 1972; 54)

Thus far, other African nations have been successful in their adoption of free market principles, but Europe and America have been apprehensive to reciprocate by eliminating barriers to trade; especially with regards to purchasing ECOWAS exports (Buss, et al., 2011; 24). Allowing European and American businesses to enter the ECOWAS market and start issuing microloans and/or funding business projects will be crucial to quick satisfaction of Malian free market demands. Unlike government loans, businesses can only invest on viable projects that promise a return on investment or else they will go bankrupt. This process naturally ensures the most successful economic practices succeed at the lowest cost to the Malian consumer. Free trade combined with the removal of impediments to trade, such as conflict or corruption by external security and government forces, will generate real, long-term economic improvement in Mali

Mali’s lack of natural resources should not be a cause for major concern for its ability to become economically viable. Even though Mali is decisively short on natural resources, it has been projected by France, ECOWAS, and the United States that given training and technology, Mali could become a significant producer of agricultural goods for West Africa (House of Representatives, 2013; 71). Other opportunities for growth have been identified by Witney Schneidman at the Africa Growth Initiative. He says that the Mckinsey Global Institute projects that “by 2020 Africa’s consumers—in areas such as financial services, tourism, telecommunications and retail—are projected to contribute more than five times as much revenue to the region’s economic growth as the natural resource sector” (Schneidman, 2015; 11). The tourism opportunities in Mali will also represent a lucrative sector for income and taxation. Training with industry programs can be implemented to speed the creation of some of these industries, as well as loans from private enterprise that will naturally on be able to support successful projects.

Transition to Full Sovereignty

After the three previous phases are successful, external management of the security and government institutions will relinquish control back to the host-nation authorities. The unmitigated development of the Malian economy will ensure lasting peace through improvements in all aspects of human security. The opportunity cost for conflict will be greatly increased since government institutions will rely upon the rule of law and all citizens will have equal access to economic opportunity to better their lives in peaceful pursuits. Patronage networks and military authority will give way to the powerful constitutional authority of the Malian government. The ECOWAS, European, and United States international community, as a whole, will benefit from the trade opportunities originating in Mali and from the security that its government provides from the proliferation of international terrorist organizations.

Patronage networks have been sapping the economic viability of Mali since pre-colonial times, and thus far, external interventions have mostly helped to promote neopatrimonial practices. Significant revisions to the way external intervention is conducted will be needed to eliminate patronage networks from Mali’s political landscape and unshackle its economic potential. Solutions will need to be focused on empowering the individual in Malian society and ignoring the temptation to implement quick solutions through empowering the central government, power brokers, or the military establishment. An unprecedented scale and duration of external intervention will be needed to overcome the established neopatrimonial patronage networks and develop a lasting economy. The cost will be great to all parties involved in the transition, but the reward of true freedom for the people of Mali and the contributions they have to offer to the world community will be well worth the sacrifice.

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About the Author(s)

Philip Murray is an Active Duty United States Army officer and graduate student in the International Security department at University of Arizona. He has served two tours in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer and currently works at the strategic level in the Army of the Pacific. CPT Murray’s academic/professional studies focus on terrorism, contemporary French security policy, and Austrian economic theory.