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Archive for April, 2006

Sunday, April 30th, 2006


Dr. Von commented on a post by John Robb that dealt with a network theory research paper by Alexander Franks on the evolution of rule-sets in noisy environments (i.e. environments with many competing distractions or a high level of disorder). John’s evaluation of the paper:

“This is an interesting topic since it is not at all obvious how open source networks develop cohesive rules sets — this in contrast to hierarchical systems that can propagate rules through central direction. In sum, his work suggests that one or two widely held rules (greater than 50% adoption) provide the basis for the evolution of an entire set. All rules that have affinity to those founding rules evolve until they are widely adopted. All minority rules that do not have much affinity are flushed. This has interesting applicability to open source warfare.

It suggests that the plausible promise (the idea that starts the open source warfare community) provides a center of gravity that attracts rules that advance it and repels those that don’t. Any additional work on this topic is welcome. “

Von has expanded on this beginning and brought up several noteworthy observations:

“What research has shown, though, is that in a perfect, noise-free environment, the majority rule will fail to reach global consensus, even if there is some amount of longer-range crosslinks within the network (meaning that some small number of individual agents not only see some number of nearest neighbors, but an occasional link to another agent outside the local boundary defined in the initial conditions). However, the boundaries between local pockets of differing viewpoints does breakdown when noise is introduced into the environment. This is, of course, a better simulation of what the real world is like anyhow. Noise, in the context of simulation work, means that there can be miscommunication between neighbors. This allows for incorrect information to be passed along and will influence agents to switch their state.”

The greater the systemic disorder of the environment the more likely the distortion within a network attempting to forge a consensus on rule-sets. Dr. Von offers some practical caveats for policy makers who must deal with non-state, decentralized, opponents like al Qaida:

“Lesson 1: Network formation takes time. Time can be an enemy or an ally, depending on circumstances.

Lesson 2: In social networks, law and order and security reduce environmental noise. If you do not maintain low noise levels, the local boundaries between those in the network who agree with you and those who disagree with you break down.”

and concludes:

“The key is that the noise in the main network as well as the loose ties to other networks has broken down boundaries and allowed widespread consensus to be reached, leading to an insurgency that apparently has surprised most military personnel and war planners. It is time that traditional war games, planning and training need to move on and research into areas like network theory must become much more prominent. Perhaps the results coming out of network and organizational theory research would have changed some minds and resulted in a more prepared occupancy of Iraq.”

The point here by Von has widespread implications for policy makers and military planners.

First, we see that slow devolution toward state failure or a catastrophic system perturbation attack creates an environment favorable to the emergence of entirely new organizations and what Dr. Barnett calls a “ rule-set reset“. However, while the shock of a perturbation preps the system for a rule-set reset by overcoming the system’s level of resiliency, Iraq would appear to demonstrate that the window of opportunity to control this process in the moment where system’s adherents would be accepting of change is extremely brief. Given any lag time between the perturbation and the introduction of new, systemically enforced rule-sets , the system will naturally begins to evolve its own solutions in an open-source manner. Once that genie is out of the bottle, the system will have competing rule-sets engaged in a Darwinian struggle for supremacy.

Secondly, on the smaller scale, understanding the formation of rule-sets by networks will make the behavior of decentralized, scale-free networked actors more predictable and subject to influence. To avoid that kind of evolutionary ” shaping” by state enemies, network leaders will have to retreat to older, more hierarchical forms of organization that we understand, can track and can counter very well, thus losing some critical advantages.


Network Theory with an emphasis on al Qaida

Emergent intelligence in open source warfare

Uncloaking Terrorist Networks

Rule set resets in the Global War on Terrorism

State Resilience


Scale Free Networks

Friday, April 28th, 2006


From the Small Wars Council today, a link to an NPR interview and partial transcript:

“Hashim lists about 20 groups of insurgents, including nationalists, former Baathists, tribal-based insurgents and religious extremists. The groups say they want the United States out of Iraq, and they reject the U.S.-backed government, but they don’t agree on what they do want.

“If we were out of the picture, some of the insurgent groups could engage in bloodshed against one another because they have such different and disparate political views of the future of Iraq,” Hashim says.

Hashim, who teaches at the Naval War College, says he was surprised by how little the U.S. military understands about the culture, or “human terrain,” of Iraq. That includes “societal networks, relations between tribes and within tribes, kinship ties… what is it people are fighting for?”… “

Exactly. Not only is communication of the most basic intentions rendered more difficult but observation is profoundly altered by ignorance of cultural norms. How can you “peel off” the rationally aggreived from the intransigent power-seeker and or religious fanatic if you are unable to tell one from the other ?

Of course, some of it is common sense. ” Would you like it if someone did that in your mother’s house? ” as a recent top counterinsurgency expert put it, is a good first question to ask in terms of the message being communicatd.

Friday, April 28th, 2006


Bruce Kesler’s article in Editor& Publisher can properly be found here.

My apologies to Mr. Kesler. Mea Culpa.

Thursday, April 27th, 2006


And so am I. The good Colonel is rather pithy.

“As we have been discussing here, the subject of “Counterinsurgency” is the flavor of the month in the Army and Marine Corps. People who could not spell “Counterinsurgency” three years ago are now busy reading TE Lawrence, Mao Tse-Tung and even more obscure texts from the corpus of “Counterinsurgency” literature. A political appointee in the DoD recently asked me with great and serious solicitude if I had ever seen “The Battle of Algiers.” The implication was that seeing this movie would make all clear.

It often happens that desperation leads to a willingness to listen to people who would, in other circumstances, never get an official hearing. As General (Retired) Keane said on the Newshour a while back, the army that he ran went into Iraq without a clue on “Counterinsurgency.” It is now playing “catch-up” in its own ponderous, committee-bound, acronym, and general officer burdened way. The US Marines seem better at such problems of intellectual introspection, somehow.”

I can see an original edition copy of Lawrence on the shelf from my desk ( but it is Revolt in the Desert, not “pillars” so I’m out of step)

Read the rest.

Thursday, April 27th, 2006


Lots to see..lots to see…..

Chirol at Coming Anarchy produced an intriguing three-part series applying PNM theory to the domestic sphere. PART I, PART II, PART III. And Chirol caught Dr. Barnett’s attention on other matters too.

Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project has advice for all of you blogging, aspiring, pundits who hope to have an op-ed someday in The New York Times. ( also check out Mr. Kesler’s article in Editor & Publisher )

Sean Meade, having some Chinese at Interact.

Marc at American Future has an excellent online Iran Bibliography

John Robb at Global Guerillas has a thoughtful op-ed piece on Iran – he has identified the position of the Bush administration very concisely – and offers a brainy paper on how networks evolve Rule-sets ( one that may look familiar to one Dr. Von).

Which brings us of course to Dr. Barnett’s recent posts on Iran. I think Tom had the ideal strategic dynamic nailed but this scenario is simply not going to happen ( No offense, Tom – though I’d rather you be right and me be wrong, I think the reverse will shake out, barring some Iranian Lee Harvey Oswald finding a convenient Teheran Book Depository window).

OTOH, I warmly endorse that you check out Dr. Barnett’s “Development in a Box” post – big things are happening there with Tom and Steve. Congratulations, guys !

Eddie at Live From the FDNF continues to prod our collective conscience on Dar Fur. Don’t stop Eddie, a tipping point will come.

That’s it !

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