Postgraduate Course ‘Intelligence and the Military’

From October 2nd to October 6th the postgraduate course ‘Intelligence and the Military’ took place in The Hague, the Netherlands. This event was hosted by the Faculty of Military Sciences of the Netherlands Defence Academy (NLDA) and supported by the Dutch Defence Intelligence and Security Service under the framework of the Intelligence College in Europe (ICE). Around 30 participants from 15 countries attended, coming from the full range of ICE member intelligence organizations.

The recent conflict in Ukraine and the tragic events in Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 clearly illustrate the complex environment in which military forces have to operate. In general, the environment in which Western militaries operate has been defined as “new wars”[1], hybrid or grey zone conflicts. These conflicts are characterized by different combinations of state as well as non-state actors and threats that blur the distinction between peace and war. Stability is threatened by large-scale displacement of people, fragile or failing economic, political, and social institutions, random and systematic violence against non-combatants and widespread lawlessness. As the war in Ukraine has demonstrated, this does not exclude regular military warfare. Yet, there is a blurring of roles and domains, of domestic and foreign, civil and military intelligence, and between the strategic, operational and tactical levels of warfare. Compounding to these challenges are the many innovations that take place at high speed and influence the way military organizations are doing intelligence.

Therefore, governments spend heavily on intelligence to support their militaries at tactical, operational and strategic levels. This happens in many different mission areas, abroad as well as at home, and in various contexts including counter-terrorism, homeland security and peace and stability operations. Overall, however, only limited scholarly emphasis has been put on intelligence and the military. As a result, the main academic intelligence journals only occasionally publish on this topic[2]. It appears not much has changed since Michael Handel[3] noted how “the most exhaustive military histories scarcely discuss the weighty contribution of intelligence activities”. At universities and defence academia the topic does not receive much attention either. Meanwhile, military intelligence schools focus mostly on providing practical tools and techniques, such as analytic techniques or counter intelligence measures.

This course sought to address this gap by reflecting on the role of intelligence in the military and providing new conceptual as well as empirical perspectives. It evolved around five themes; ‘Defence Intelligence providing strategic-level intelligence support’, ‘Military Intelligence supporting military operations’, ‘Countering Hybrid Threats’, ‘Technology and Innovation’, and ‘The Role of Intelligence in the Russo-Ukrainian Conflict’. Being a postgraduate course, the main objective was to bring together practitioners of intelligence and academic experts to engage in substantive dialogue. This stimulated knowledge development and deeper understanding on the topic of intelligence and the military. During each session, sufficient time was devoted to exchange perspectives, experiences and insights. An important element of this course was social interaction. Besides the regular coffee and lunch breaks, the programme offered a guided field trip to The Hague and several joint dinners which created room for informal discussions and relations. From the reactions of participants, it could be noted that the course was a successful contribution to the ICE aims of developing a shared intelligence culture in Europe and fostering mutual understanding.

[1] Mary Kaldor, New and old wars: Organized violence in a global area. Third edition. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012).

[2] Sebastiaan J.H. Rietjens, “Intelligence in defence organizations: a tour de Force,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 35, No. 5., 2020, p. 717-733.

[3] Michael Handel (ed.), Intelligence and Military Operations (Abingdon: Routledge, 1990), pp. 74.