Dissertation Defense: Shannon Souma
Candidate Name: Shannon Souma
Advisor: Andrew Bennett, Ph.D.
Title: Inside the Blue Box: Organizational Identity and Turf Decision-Making in the United States Air Force
Why would a US military service relinquish a mission—a mission that could justify millions of dollars in new assets—while pursuing another to the point of near obsession? Why do these decisions regarding “turf,” that is, the martial components of a military service, sometimes spark intense interservice competition? To addresses the puzzle of US military turf decisions, I bring a powerful conceptual tool from the organizational behavior field, organizational identity (OI), to the field of security studies.
The basic premise behind OI as an explanatory variable is that leaders make significant decisions consistent with the OI. What is “good” for the organization is defined in reference to the OI. The process of organizational identification (OID) inculcates members with organizationally beneficial OI logics and decision premises (rhetorical syllogisms) which guide members to decisions. The US military services exemplify organizations with strong OI and OID. US military officers typically conflate personal, organizational, and national interests.
First, through examination of organizational artifacts, discourse, history, practices, and memory, as well as an original survey of US Air Force officers, I formulate a detailed description of the Air Force OI. Second, I use that OI description as an empirical referent in a case study analysis, that of the Air Force’s adoption of the RQ-1 Predator unmanned aerial vehicle, 1993-2001. This case offers the advantage of a change in the dependent variable, turf decision-making, allowing for within-case analysis. Through detailed process tracing, I evaluate the explanatory power of OI against several alternative theories and their derivative hypotheses.
I find that OI exerts a power influence on the Air Force’s decision-making regarding turf. Decisions are made by individuals who identify deeply with their organization, and turf is assessed vis-à-vis the organizational identity, regardless of attendant resources. The logic of OI makes anti-turf behavior as comprehendible as pro-turf behavior. This argument goes against the conventional wisdom that the US military services, as typical bureaucracies, work to accumulate turf in a purely rational, self-interested manner. Through this study I aim to present a more truthful and nuanced understanding of the behavior of the US military services.