Complexity, collaboration, swarming, and the new politics of war

Inspired thinking on how 21st century guerilla groups are embracing principles of complexity, decentralization and collaboration to wage a new kind of warfare, with implications for humanitarian response strategy.

John Robb, author of Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, provides some insightful insights into the dynamics of complexity and new collaboration techniques that are relevant to the humanitarian community.

In a recent post on emergent communities dedicated to war, he outlines how highly networked terrorist groups are taking advantage of complexity principles to achieve their aims. He notes that such groups are:

  • have little formal structure (are a nest of relationships)
  • have flexible membership (participants flow in and out based on their own personal goals and motivations)
  • are formed in relation to a shared, central purpose or belief.
  • What are the implications of this organisational style for humanitarian collaboration? There are obvious and important differences between networked terrorist organisations and humanitarian organisations, not lease of which is their purpose. Despite these differences, however, an understanding of the tactics, strengths, and weaknesses of this approach is desirable in order to more effectively operate in a sphere where such groups exist and wield power.

    Robb argues, for example, that these groups and their tactics are particularly effective against large, cumbersome systems such as centralised bureaucracies because they understand system dynamics and are able to leverage small actions against their weak points to great effect. 9/11, Mumbai, etc. are relevant examples. While it is unlikely that humanitarian agencies will adopt the organisational style of such groups, knowledge of how they think and operate may be essential to adapt and respond to their actions in the future. His post on on cascading systems failure, for example, identifies strategies and mechanisms for attacking critical infrastructure that any agency responsible for their protection must be aware of. Browse his site in more detail for an engaging read on the future of decentralised, networked collaboration.

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    One Response to Complexity, collaboration, swarming, and the new politics of war

    1. […] was talking about aerial combat, with reference to other forms of warfare. In a recent post, we reflected on how others (such as John Robb) are pointing out that modern terrorists groups are […]

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