Africa: The Minerva Research Initiative – The Military-University-Industry Complex Targets Africa

The Pentagon launched the Minerva Research Initiative in 2008 as a “DoD-sponsored, university-based social science research initiative that focuses on areas of strategic importance to the US national security policy.”  It is intended “to identify and support basic social science research issues in need of attention and to integrate those research insights into the policy-making environment.”  Each spring, the DoD announces three-year grants (which can be extended up to five years.

In his announcement of grants on 24 February 2022, Dr. Bindu Nair, the then Director, Basic Research Office in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, stated that “the knowledge and methodologies generated from Minerva awardees have improved DoD’s ability to define sources of present and future conflict with an eye toward better understanding the political trajectories of key regions of the world.”

In FY 2021, the Minerva Research Initiative announced $28.7 million in grants to 17 university-based faculty teams to support research in social and behavioral science.  Grants awarded for 2022-2024 include projects on the national security implications of climate change, US relations with Russia and China, and the impact of climate change on the Sahel.  Dr. Leonardo Villalon of the University of Florida received a grant as principal investigator for a project on “Social and Institutional Determinants of Vulnerability and Resilience to Climate Hazards in the African Sahel.”

In his announcement of grants on 26 May 2023, Dr. David Montgomery, director of social sciences in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, stated that “leveraging the strengths of the nation’s academic research institutions helps DoD define sources of present and future conflicts, with an eye toward better understanding the social and political trajectories of key regions of the world.”

In FY 2022, MRI announced $18 million in grants to 11 university-based faculty teams.  Grants awarded for 2023-2025 include projects on the internet, the national security implications of climate change, US relations with Russia and China, and the impact of climate change on social and political stability in Africa.  Dr. Arun Agrawal of the University of Michigan received a grant as principal investigator for a project on “Advancing Social Science Research on Demographic Shifts, Climate Change, and Political and Social Stability in Sub-Saharan Africa.  And Dr. Kathy Baylis of the University of California, Santa Barbara, as principal investigator for a project on “The Climate-Food-Urbanizations Nexus and the Precursors of Instability in Africa.”

As has been the case since the inception of the Minerva Research Initiative program, one of the principal interests of the Pentagon is projects which it hopes will help it respond to the impact of climate change on stability.  In addition to conducting humanitarian relief operations—which have always relied heavily on the military and are certain to increase in the future—they are convinced that the “multiplier effect” of climate change will also increase the demand for military intervention in crisis areas.  It is not surprising, therefore, to see grants to projects for Africa and specific projects for the Sahel.

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