Global changes are causing both global integration and local divergence of social / cultural domains. As a result, the problem of global security becomes not just one of fighting disruptors of order, but also of understanding what constitutes order. Reinforcing order and its active protection requires understanding the local socio-cultural domains, their vulnerability to disruption, and what must be done to strengthen them and respond when they are unable to defend themselves. Achieving global peace requires addressing the fundamental drivers of unrest and violence—including high food prices and ethnic geography, as well as the way values translate into behavioral and social imperatives. This is at least as essential as combating disorder and violent extremists in pursuit of the universal values of respect for life and liberty.

The U.S. military is the main responder to disruptions of social order globally. Due to the complexity of this task, effectiveness depends critically on rapid decision-making and adaptability to changing global and local conditions. At the recent Senior Conference hosted by the Department of Social Sciences at the United States Military Academy at West Point, I was invited to discuss my work on the science of complexity and its implications for counterterrorism policy and strategy, and show how different organizational models can help in this task.

Action in response to terrorism and other security threats should be understood in the context of changes in the global structure of human civilization. While it is widely recognized that globalization is taking place, the implications of the essential integration of global social and economic systems for security is yet to be fully recognized.

Interdependence results in a common security priority in which disruptions of local social order anywhere lead to greater risk everywhere. While traditional perspectives often focus on national priorities and international relationships, current conditions have shifted to a fundamentally global framework of economic markets and cooperation that includes necessities such as food, energy, and other commodities, as well as manufactured goods and services. This economic integration is part of the social integration that prominently includes widespread travel as well as internet-based information sharing and social media interactions.

At the same time, cultural values and other local conditions are leading to the divergence of groups from each other. This should not be viewed as a negative development, nor is it practical to divert massive social changes substantially from their course. Diversity is known to strengthen many types of natural systems, and social heterogeneity is consistent with the integrated global civilization becoming a complex organism with diverse roles played by parts of the system.

While it may ultimately be a positive development, social diversity leads to challenges when responding to disruptions of social order, as the interventions that are needed, in governance, economic assistance, and other efforts to establish effective security, are unclear. This also adds to the difficulty of strengthening societies through promoting economic development and nation building, which are well established as complex tasks. Viewed in this way, the military and other responders to security problems must be concerned with the health of social systems, where health has a local definition dependent on the values, economic conditions, and social imperatives.

Principles of Global Security
Since specific national constitutions and value systems cannot serve as a framework for counterterrorism activities globally, it is necessary to develop a more universal perspective that can serve in a context of cross socio-cultural actions. This section articulates basic assumptions that can be justified scientifically and which may serve as part of a framework for action:

Human civilization is an interdependent collection of diverse individuals and groups up to the scale of the world as a whole. We recognize that differences and autonomy are essential to the well-being of the whole and that the well-being of the system, and in appropriate ways to all of its parts, is an objective of the system itself.

There are universal values that should be present globally. These include a respect for individual life, security, social order, and justice. One of the values that the system must have is to protect itself.

The United States is a powerful part of the global civilization, and has taken a role that enhances the world as a whole and not just itself. This enhancement may include promoting the well-being of others, but does not involve imposing its own values, with limited exceptions for universal values. The United States carries responsibility today for protecting universal values across the world. The U.S. military helps to protect these values against those who would destroy, disrupt and harm parts of the system, from the global down to (almost) the individual level.

Social Imperatives
There are many aspects of local social values and their implications for social order. Developing an understanding of specific cultural imperatives and their implications for governance, economic, and social activities is essential. Here we limit the discussion to two topics for which theoretical insights have been validated empirically: the importance of food prices and the role of ethnic geography in social unrest and violence. By recognizing the role of these factors in global unrest, we can better adopt policies and actions that can prevent disruptive violence and promote security.

Food and Social Unrest
In 2011 protest movements became pervasive in the countries of North Africa and the Middle East. These protests were associated with dictatorial regimes and were often considered to be motivated by the failings of the region’s political systems in the human rights arena. Our research demonstrated that food prices were the precipitating condition for social unrest (See Figure 1) and we were able to identify a specific global food price threshold for unrest. [1]

Figure 1 - Bar-Yam

Our research indicated that, even without sharp peaks in food prices, within just a few years the trend line on food prices would reach the threshold we identified. This pointed to a danger of spreading global social disruption. Our predictions have been realized. [2] Addressing the economic problem of food availability for vulnerable populations can alleviate suffering and promote global security.

Ethnic Violence
The second case study relates to ethnic violence. Efforts to resolve conflicts and achieve sustained peace are guided by perspectives about how conflict is rooted in interpersonal and intergroup relationships, as well as historical, social, economic, and political contexts. Our research indicates that details of history and social and economic conditions are not the primary determinants of peace or conflict. Instead, the geographic arrangement of populations and the degree of autonomy is the key factor (See Figure 2).

Figure 2 - Bar-Yam

We have shown that where there are patches of one ethnic group of characteristic size of between 20 and 60 kilometers [3] that are completely or largely surrounded by another ethnic group [4] a high propensity to violence exists. [5] This is the conclusion of fundamental theoretical analysis based upon renormalization group methods, [6] empirically validated quantitatively for predictions of geographical locations of violence and peaceful coexistence in Yugoslavia, India, Yemen, and Switzerland. Significantly, our theory points to two distinct conditions that are conducive to peace—well-mixed and well-separated populations. The first option corresponds to the most commonly striven for peaceful framework: a well integrated society. The second option corresponds to spatial separation, partition, and self determination—a historically used but often reviled approach. We also showed that within-state boundaries that provide for an intermediate degree of autonomy can also enable peaceful outcomes. [7] The success of local autonomy is of particular importance as the world becomes more integrated. Adopting various types of federal systems that enable local autonomy for groups of divergent values may result in more peaceful coexistence.

We combined the results on ethnic violence and the role of food prices in looking at the case of Yemen. Our research indicates that the origins of violence changed in 2008. Prior to 2008, the locations of violence are consistent with inter-group conflict between ethnically and religiously distinct groups. Starting in 2008, a peak of global food prices coincided with a new wave of violence that spread to the endemically poor southern region with demands for government change and economic concessions. This violence appears to share its origins with many other food riots and the Arab Spring. The loss of social order and the opportunities for terror organizations in Yemen might be best addressed by eliminating the causes of violence. Inter-group violence might be addressed by delineating within-country provinces for local autonomy of ethnic and religious groups. Addressing the severe problems triggered by fluctuating food prices can alleviate other sources of unrest. Identifying the means for addressing ethnic friction and despair as drivers of social unrest can dramatically reduce the need for direct military action in Yemen and elsewhere.

Military Organization
A better understanding of complexity can also help inform how to respond more effectively to the challenges posed by terrorist groups. Large and uniform military forces operating in deadly confrontation across a marked border in desert terrain with a clear cut objective of inflicting massive damage on the enemy can be contrasted with loosely coordinated forces fighting in jungle, mountain, or urban environments. These examples begin to illustrate the distinction between conventional large-scale but relatively simple conflicts, and complex conflict. [8]

Hierarchical command of traditional military forces is designed for the largest scale impacts and thus relatively simple warfare. In comparison, distributed control systems, when properly designed, can enhance the ability to meet complex challenges. The existing military literature, however, is limited in providing guidance for design, planning, execution, and assessment of military systems and operations utilizing distributed control.

A conventional analysis of aggregate force size, firepower, and incapacitation of the enemy via attrition provides little, if any, guidance for the conduct of complex warfare. Instead of scale alone (i.e., manpower or firepower), complexity (i.e., the variety of possible actions that can be taken) should be used as a measure of force capability in the context of complex military scenarios. In a high complexity environment, high complexity forces are more capable than low complexity ones. Thus, war fighting capability must include both the scale and complexity of the forces and the environment in which the conflict occurs.

Scale and complexity are not, however, independently controllable—they are interrelated. The essential role of complexity and scale in military conflict is already present in the structure of military organizations and is percieved using the “complexity profile,” [9] [10] a mathematical and conceptual tool for characterizing complexity and scale in systems. [11] [12] (See Figure 3)

Figure 3 - Bar-Yam

The complexity of a military force is linked to its ability to conduct multiple, partially independent and coordinated actions of its units. This concept is related to command and control structures, its information sensing, processing, decision and communication capabilities, as well as its sociocultural background. Substantial improvement in the complexity of a military force requires a profound redesign of force organization and related training and culture.

It is impossible to have a single organizational structure that is effective for all types of military conflicts. An organization cannot be well-designed for success in both large scale and complex encounters. Tradeoffs must be chosen. This analysis indicates that to be successful in as broad a range of conflicts as possible, the military should be partitioned into a variety of functional groups designed to address conflicts of varying scales and complexities, as is currently the case. More generally, if we consider a conflict as having a complexity profile that specifies the number of actions needed at each scale, the forces can be well adapted to the conflict by having a matching complexity profile.

In order to advance the capability of military organizations, it is helpful to understand the relationship between organization and task in other kinds of systems, in particular in functionally corresponding biological systems. There are two paradigmatic types of biological organization that are helpful to consider when we think about highly complex encounters and the role of distributed control. These are the neuro-muscular system [13] and the immune system. [14] [15] [16] [17]

The neuro-muscular system can be understood to be composed of a sensory system, a decision system, and an effector system. The decision system is a distributed control network that enables high complexity decisions based upon disparate information sources. The effector system is designed for large-scale impacts and consists of highly synchronously (coherently) behaving muscle cells. Because of the networked decision system, the choice of when and which large-scale act to perform can be made highly selectively. The complexity appears because each act at a particular time can be precise and carefully chosen.

The second paradigmatic organizing framework is illustrated by the immune system, which consists of largely independently acting agents that are coordinated and adopt functional specialization through communication. A variety of types of agents (immune cells), many of which are capable of autonomous movement, have sensory receptors, communicate with each other, and are individually capable of attacking harmful agents. The immune system can be understood to act with high complexity at a very fine scale with many independent agents and does not aggregate to large-scale behaviors. By contrast, the neuro-muscular system performs high complexity behaviors over time due to the distributed control of the nervous system, but at any one time it performs individual large-scale actions of the muscles. This analysis highlights the difference between high complexity at a particular time and high complexity over time as captured by the immune and neuro-muscular systems. These differences arise as a result of differences in control structures.

The context in which the immune system operates—internal to the human body it is striving to protect—can be contrasted with the context in which the neuro-muscular system operates, which is in response to external forces or conditions that are separated from the human body by a margin of space that is typically comparable to that of the human body itself. This illustrates the different tasks for which distinct organizational structures are effective. It also illustrates the importance of functional segregation since both the immune system and the neuro-muscular system are parts of the same organism. By specialization of subsystems, different types of functional tasks for protecting internal components and responding to the external environment are possible. The examples also show how organizational structure reflects a tradeoff between scale and complexity. A system designed for large-scale behavior is not the same as a system designed for high-complexity behavior at a fine scale.

In correspondence with the two biological systems, it is natural to distinguish military organizations by the scale and complexity of their organizational structures and capabilities.

The neuro-muscular system most naturally corresponds to conventional military forces augmented by elaborate decision-making processes that may not yet be well formed, so that actions cannot be made even though the capabilities are present (See Figure 4).

Figure 4 - Bar-Yam

In this situation, increasing capabilities necessitate increasing the capacity of decision making processes. Thus, for example, the development of high precision weapons requires increased decision capacity so that the capability can be effectively used. Increasing jointness and coordination opportunities enables combinatorially greater numbers of military options, but without improving the decision-making capacity they cannot be effectively used. Components of the military such as naval fleets, tank divisions, infantry, and marines, provide capabilities at large and progressively finer scales. This is in correspondence with neuro-muscular components: arms, hands, and fingers.

In an advanced organizational concept, the forces involved may be similar to conventional forces, but they are coupled to a distributed decision-making process that enables many factors to be considered in order to achieve desired objectives. Actions in general will probably not be at full force, just as the availability of muscles that can kick or punch does not imply that they will be used at full capacity at all times. The objective is to deliver the right force to the right target at the right time through an understanding of the specifics of the situation as it changes in time. Developing such decision-making capacity requires adopting network structures for the decision-making system.

The immune system most naturally corresponds to special operations forces that have the expectation of being embedded in local contexts and serving highly complex, (i.e., diverse) roles. The existence of high fine-scale complexity forces, including special operations forces and integrating diplomatic, intelligence, and law enforcement agencies, and the extensive engagement with non-combatants, training of local forces, non-lethal force, psychological warfare, economic incentives, and economic support, reflects the natural extension of the complex fine-scale actions that are needed for achieving local and global objectives of complex warfare.

Agents interact with each other primarily through local communication to achieve coordination of their individual actions for effective attack, defense, search, or other tasks. The primary role of such coordination is to achieve the right level and kind of local capability.

In this organizational structure, local coordination replaces the role of command and control of a hierarchical force. The emergent collective behaviors are not directly specified. Indeed, the specific pattern that arises should not be controlled because the pattern is determined by the response of the agents to the local challenges they face in the environment, as well as interactions with each other.

The ability to field a rapidly evolving fine-scale force is the key to complex warfare. Ongoing development of military forces, extending the notion of special operations forces and their technological capabilities (as individuals and as groups), is needed to increase effectiveness when addressing high complexity challenges. Because each circumstance requires rapid adaptation, extensive planning of such innovations is not effective.

A system which is intrinsically built around rapid innovation is much more effective [18] Effective individual and team strategies should arise from evolutionary processes.

Combining the two perspectives we have developed, essential aspects of counterterrorism activities are (1) engaging in improving the health of local socio-economic systems including providing food security and preventing ethnic violence by selectively fostering local autonomy where it is needed, and (2) enhancing the ability of military organizations to match the scale and complexity of tasks associated with counterterrorism activities through improved decision-making structures at the scale of engagement, including adaptive local decision-making by special forces, and networks of decision-makers at the global scale. Scientific analyses suggest that dramatic changes for the better will result from incorporating these imperatives into policy decisions.

Professor Yaneer Bar-Yam received his S.B. and Ph.D. in physics from MIT in 1978 and 1984, respectively. Since the late 1980s he has contributed to the field of complex systems science, introducing fundamental mathematical rigor, real world application, and educational programs. In developing new mathematical methods and their application, he has published on a wide range of scientific and real world problems ranging from cell biology to the global financial crisis.

He is the author of over 200 research papers in professional journals, including Science, Nature, PNAS, American Naturalist, and Physical Review Letters, has three patents, and has given 160 invited presentations. His work on the causes of the global food crisis was cited among the top ten scientific discoveries of 2011 by Wired magazine.

[1] M. Lagi, K. Bertrand, Y. Bar-Yam, The Food Crises and Political Instability in North Africa and the Middle East, arXiv:1108.2455, August 10, 2011.
[2] B. Merchant, “The Math That Predicted the Revolutions Sweeping the Globe Right Now,” Motherboard, February 19, 2014).
[3] M. Lim, R. Metzler, Y. Bar-Yam, Global pattern formation and ethnic/cultural violence, Science 317, 5844 (2007).
[4] A. Rutherford, D. Harmon, J. Werfel, S. Bar-Yam, A.S. Gard-Murray, A. Gros, Y. Bar-Yam, “Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence,” PLoS ONE, May 21, 2014.
[5] A. Gros, A.S. Gard-Murray, Y. Bar-Yam, “Conflict in Yemen: From Ethnic Fighting to Food Riots.” arXiv:1207.5778, July 24, 2012.
[6] Y. Bar-Yam, “Beyond big data: Important information,” arXiv, December 17, 2013.
[7] A. Rutherford, D. Harmon, J. Werfel, S. Bar-Yam, A.S. Gard-Murray, A. Gros, Y. Bar-Yam, “Good Fences: The Importance of Setting Boundaries for Peaceful Coexistence.”
[8] Y. Bar-Yam, “Complexity of Military Conflict: Multiscale Complex Systems Analysis of Littoral Warfare,” Report to Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group (2003).
[9] Y. Bar-Yam, “Complexity Rising: From Human Beings to Human Civilization, A Complexity Profile,” Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS UNESCO Publishers, Oxford, UK, 2002); also NECSI Report 1997-12-01 (1997).
[10] Y. Bar-Yam, Dynamics of Complex Systems (Perseus, 1997), Chapters 2, 3.
[11] Y. Bar-Yam, Making Things Work (Knowledge Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004).
[12] Y. Bar-Yam, “General Features of Complex Systems,” Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems, (EOLSS UNESCO Publishers, Oxford, UK, 2002).
[13] Ibid Y. Bar-Yam, Dynamics of Complex Systems.
[14] A. S. Perelson and F. W. Wiegel, “Some Design Principles for Immune System Recognition,” Complexity, 4, 1999, pp. 29-37.
[15] A. J. Noest, “Designing Lymphocyte Functional Structure for Optimal Signal Detection: Voilà, T cells,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 207:2, pp. 195-216, (2000).
[16] I. Cohen and L. A. Segel (eds.), Design Principles of the Immune System and Other Distributed Autonomous systems, (Oxford University Press, 2001).
[17] D. M. Pierre, D. Goldman, Y. Bar-Yam and A. S. Perelson, “Somatic Evolution in the Immune System: The Need for Germinal Centers for Efficient Affinity Maturation,” Journal of Theoretical Biology, 186, pp. 159-171 (1997).
[18] Y. Bar-Yam, “Enlightened Evolutionary Engineering / Implementation of Innovation in FORCEnet,” Report to Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group (May 1, 2002).

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