War, international dynamics and chaos theory

Dutch military analyst Ingo Piepers is doing some extremely interesting research on the dynamics of international systems and… war. If his theories are correct, then another world conflagration at some point in the future may well be more or less inevitable. I am going to let Piepers explain and point our readers to two of his papers.

The first one is entitled The International System: “At the Edge of Chaos”:

It seems that chaotic war dynamics contribute to the ‘smooth’ development of an anarchic international system: non-chaotic dynamics result in more intense Great Power wars and in a delay of an (unavoidable) fundamental reorganization of the international system. The assumption that complex systems function more optimally at the edge of chaos, seems valid for the international system as well.
This speculative research provides additional support for the assumption that self-organized criticality, punctuated equilibrium dynamics, chaotic war dynamics and development of the international system towards a more stable condition, are closely related (Piepers, 2006, 1).

His second paper is entitled Dynamics and Development of the International System: a Complexity Science Perspective (emphasis mine):

In this article I discuss the outcome of an exploratory research project based on complexity science concepts and theories; this research is focused on the Great Power war dynamics in the time period 1495 – 1945. According to this research, the international system has self-organized critical (SOC) characteristics. A critical point is the attractor of the international system. The war dynamics of Great Powers can be illustrated by a power law. As a result of a driving force, the international system is constantly being pushed toward this critical point. The security dilemma is a booster of this driving force. Tension and frustration build up in the international system as a result of various system thresholds, and are periodically discharged through wars. The SOC characteristics of the international system result in a punctuated equilibrium dynamic. The punctuations produce new international systems, each with its specific characteristics. A quantifiable development of the international system toward a condition of increased stability and reduced resilience can be observed. In addition to SOC characteristics, the international system exhibits characteristics of a chaotic system. Chaos, order and development are closely linked. The SOC dynamics generate a process of social expansion. It is possible to explain the social integration of Europe from this perspective.

And, finally, here is a list with the above mentioned papers by Ingo Pieper as well as a few others. Enjoy the reading. (via Sargasso)

PS: Alex linked to this item on Georgia in his post The Revolution is Over. One excerpt from that item that may provide some additional food for thought in this context:

The cost of the fighting in lives has yet to be tallied. But President Bush on Monday made it clear that the outcome was sure to mark a turning point in Russia’s relations with the West. It might also prove costly for the West’s relationship with the budding democracies of Eastern Europe, which now must contemplate a world where the United States could do little to protect a close ally in the face of a determined Russian onslaught.

Could this be a chance to bring the whole of Europe closer together? Or am I just being incorrigibly naive here? After all, there is this.

7 thoughts on “War, international dynamics and chaos theory

  1. Could this be a chance to bring the whole of Europe closer together?

    Probably not, because some countries are still going to be too pacifistic (e.g. Germany). But it would be possible to imagine a “pioneer group” of European countries that have closer cooperation in defence policy and in foreign policy coordination aimed at stopping Russian expeansion. This group might include Europe’s nuclear weapon states, former Soviet republics and former Warsaw pact countries.

  2. So basically what this guy is saying is that wars are like earthquakes? Tension builds up between tectonic plate-like powers until the forces finally overcome friction and the ground suddenly shifts?

    There are a couple of things to say here:

    1. For the earthquake model, you have to assume that there are some kinds of disputes between states where war is the *favourite* way of changing the status quo – either there are no alternatives, or the state actors would never choose them. Other disputes will tend to unwind peacefully, even if they require sudden changes (such as a treaty).

    The obvious example here is territorial changes. Thanks to territorial nationalism, it’s often political suicide for a country’s government to hand over territory peacefully to its neighbour, even if most inhabitants of the disputed territory itself want such a transfer. International arbitration is possible, but also irrelevant if the de jure sovereign has a solid claim. So the status quo is preserved, and tensions build up until it snaps on one side or the other and war breaks out.

    An earthquake theorist might suggest that we should be far more willing to redraw the map peacefully on local state-identity grounds, perhaps even population transfers to move conflicting populations apart from each other, lest we store up enough tension to launch another round of wars and ethnic cleansing, aiming to achieve the same results but with far more violence and misery.

    2. Why stop at the state level? Within states, there may be social hierarchies that are manifestly unfair, continuously generating resentment. Do these inevitably boil over into revolution or civil war?

  3. Colin, as for your second comment, similar models have actually also been applied to explain how and why internal tensions gradually develop further, eventually resulting in a civil war. Historians and political scientists have made comparable explanations of the outbreak of the Finnish Civil War in 1918, for example.

    Now, the difference is that the said internal tensions and the resentment they generate are usually kept under the lid by the superstructure of the orderly society, the power of the law and the authority of the government.

    Consequently, the said “social hierarchies that are manifestly unfair and continuously generating resentment” are usually less likely to result in internal conflicts, _unless_ the authority and/or the legitimacy of the government and the law, as well as the stability of the society, are somehow broken or dissipated by some external causes. Or, unless the people who view themselves as victims are pretty damn desperate or self-confident. Or stupid.

    Disintegration usually has to start from the top; succesful revolutions organized purely from the grass-roots level are rare in history.

    However, there’s really no similar deterrent constraining the use of violence in the international relations, which is probably why the article deliberately stresses “anarchic international order” and “chaos”. Basically, because we do not have and cannot have an effective world government, and because the international law is not effectively enforced by anyone, conflicts are far more likely.

    So, sadly, I guess I have to broadly agree with the article.


    J. J.

  4. But it would be possible to imagine a “pioneer group” of European countries that have closer cooperation in defence policy and in foreign policy coordination aimed at stopping Russian expeansion. This group might include Europe’s nuclear weapon states, former Soviet republics and former Warsaw pact countries.

    No subgroup in Europe is strong enough. They’ll be forced to close cooperation with the United States. In addition, for the European nuclear weapons states self deterrence applies.

  5. An observation, and perhaps incorrect..but corrupt politicians seem to me to be even more widespread than usual. Regardless of ideology, both authoritarian and more democratic gov’ts.
    If true, it is a subliminal early-warning that war pressure is increasing. Elites are starting to build up resources to survive potential upheavals.

  6. Pingback: Social Expansion versus Social Fragmentation by Ingo Piepers | afoe | A Fistful of Euros | European Opinion

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