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Counterinsurgency expert joins ASU as professor of practice


David Kilcullen, is professor of practice in the Center on the Future of War and the School of Politics and Global Studies

David Kilcullen, professor of practice in the Center on the Future of War and the School of Politics and Global Studies. Photo from ASU Now

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February 26, 2019

David Kilcullen, a new professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies, was in Tempe this February to film a lecture for his first semester teaching online at Arizona State University.

Kilcullen is also an affiliated faculty member with the Center on Future of War, a senior fellow at New America and an author, strategist and counterinsurgency expert. He served 25 years as a military officer, diplomat and policy adviser for the Australian and United States governments, in command and operational missions (including peacekeeping, counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense) across the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Europe. In the United States, he was chief strategist in the State Department’s Counterterrorism Bureau, and served in Iraq as senior counterinsurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, before becoming special adviser for counterinsurgency to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In his first semester, Kilcullen will be teaching a course in the MA in global security program. During his visit he took some time to share more about his research and what he hopes to accomplish while at ASU.

Question: How did you get started in the field of counterinsurgency?

Answer: A lot of my mentors at Duntroon, which is the Australian military academy, and later in the Australian infantry, served in counterinsurgency campaigns in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam, so I sort of grew up with it. When I was a junior officer the army sent me to language school for a year and for some special training, and then to run teams in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea doing what we call "Foreign Internal Defense." I also commanded infantry troops doing counterinsurgency and peacekeeping work in East Timor and the Pacific. In the mid-1990s, I did my PhD on insurgencies in Indonesia — including an Islamic separatist insurgency that later became the Al Qaeda affiliate for Southeast Asia. I submitted my doctoral dissertation about eight weeks before 9/11. So, when the attacks happened there weren't a lot of guys around with detailed understanding of those groups, and I happened to be one of the few, so I quickly got pulled into dealing with them, and ended up doing counterinsurgency and counterterror work in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and a couple of places in Africa as a result.

Q: You’ve written a number of bestselling books including, "The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One" and "Counterinsurgency." Are you currently working on another project?

A: Yes, I'm writing a book now called "The Dragon and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West," which is about how adaptive enemies, both terrorists and state actors, evolve under the pressure of war. I'm looking not only at insurgents and terrorist groups but also at Russia, China and a couple of others, and am applying some ideas from evolutionary theory to explain how all these different actors are hitting on similar approaches as they deal with the "fitness landscape" we created after the Cold War. The book comes out later this year.

Q: Why did you decide to come to ASU as a Professor of Practice for the MA in Global Security online degree?

A: Well, ASU has a great reputation as an innovative and forward-looking place, and I am really excited to be part of the team for the new master's in Global Security, which is set to be one of the first of its kind and really bring new learning opportunities for students. It's also a great group of people.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as you work at the university?

A: Mostly just getting to know and work with students — it's students who make the university, and the next generation are going to face a world that's equal parts terrifying, inspiring and confusing. I'm hoping that together we can help each other figure it out!

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