The emergence of Complexity theory on the national security scene should come as no surprise. In fact, it is rather late arriving compared to such fields as corporate management, economics and markets, and ecology, among others. This can be attributed to a belated recognition of its potential by both National Security practitioners and Complexity theorists.

Complexity theory can be viewed as the native form for investigating the properties and behavior of the dynamics of nonlinear systems. This stands in contrast to the non-native modes invented by the linear domain to probe the largely nonlinear world around us—calculus, statistics, rounding and rules of thumb.

By linear systems, we mean the arrangement of nature—life and its complications—to be one where outputs are proportional to inputs; where the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, and where cause and effect are observable. It is an environment where prediction is facilitated by careful planning; success is pursued by detailed monitoring and control; and a premium is placed upon reductionism, rewarding those who excel in reductionist processes. Reductionist analysis consists of taking large, complex problems and reducing them to manageable chunks.

By nonlinear systems, we mean the arrangement of nature—life and its complications, such as warfare—in which inputs and outputs are not proportional; where the whole is not quantitatively equal to its parts, or even, qualitatively, recognizable in its constituent components; and here cause and effect are not evident. It is an environment where phenomena are unpredictable, but within bounds, self-organizing; where unpredictability frustrates conventional planning, where solution as self-organization defeats control; and where the “bounds” are the actionable variable, requiring new ways of thinking and acting.

The inquiry into the nature of nonlinearity, and the rise of Complexity theory has of necessity paralleled the development of the computer. Nonlinearity is extremely difficult to work with unless aided by the computer. Nonlinear equations were referred to as the “Twilight Zone” of mathematics. Beginning in the early 1960s, efforts to modify the weather indicated the severe limits to predictability in nonlinear environments, such as weather, itself. The self-organizing nature of nonlinearity, and the attributes of Chaos theory were well advanced by 1987, with the publication of James Gleick’s best-selling popularization Chaos: Making a New Science. In the mid-1980s, the Santa Fe Institute was organized to further the inquiry into complex adaptive systems. By 1992, Complexity theory also qualified for publication in the popular press with Mitchell Waldrop’s Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos, and Steven Lewin’s Complexity: Life at the Edge of Chaos. Nonlinearity was now in the public domain and universally accessible.

A number of modern U.S. defense thinkers, in retrospect, can be considered to be nonlinearists. Prominent among these are J.C. Wylie and the prolific, but unpublished, John Boyd of OODA loop fame. However, in the context of the time and vocabulary, this realization could only be implicit. An explicit articulation only began to emerge in the early 1990s. Two of the earliest pioneers are authors in this volume. Both wrote seminal papers, the significance of which was largely unrecognized when they first appeared. In late 1992, Alan Beyerchen’s “Clausewitz, Nonlinearity, and the Unpredictability of War,” was published in International Security, and Steven Mann’s “Chaos Theory and Strategic Thought” appeared in Parameters. The former work is a profound reinterpretation of Clausewitz’s On War, persuasively placing the work, and Clausewitz, himself, in a nonlinear framework. Mann, a Foreign Service officer, used self-organizing criticality, a concept associated with the Santa Fe Institute, to describe the dynamics of international relations and its implications for strategy.

These initial intellectual contributions were followed by important advances, each the individual efforts of talented Air Force officers. These included investigations into defense applications of Chaos theory (David Nicholls, et al.,1994, and Glenn E. James,1995.) Paralleling these efforts were those in Complexity theory applied to the determination of centers of gravity (Pat A. Pentland, 1993), and especially a robust and detailed methodology for identifying target sets (Steven M. Rinaldi, 1995). As a result, the confidence factor rose appreciably, as the body of defense-related literature began to assume the qualitative and quantitative dimensions for a discipline, or a contending body of thought. Primarily at the operational and tactical levels of war, nonlinear concepts were moving beyond the notional, to formulation and application.

A major breakthrough came in 1994, when the U.S. Marine Corps adopted nonlinear dynamics, and the ideas of Complexity theory, realizing that they provided an underlying basis for the Marine doctrine of maneuver warfare embodied in the capstone manual Warfighting. In a sense, science came to abet the school of hard-knocks and experience. This has triggered a host of ongoing exciting innovations and initiatives, notably the 1996 publication of MCDP 6-Command and Control, which explicitly rests on Complexity theory concepts. Nevertheless, the application of Complexity still lagged in the policy and strategic domains of the national security arena.

It is against this background that the symposium was held. The charge given by the President of the National Defense University and RAND leadership was threefold: (1) Capitalize on the momentum described above, and push the envelope; (2) Emphasize the nonlinearity of international affairs, and the policy and strategic dimensions of national defense with the implications for Complexity theory; and (3) Get the best talent available in academe.

These papers were first delivered at the two-day symposium held at the National Defense University in November 1996. In addition to the contributors to this volume, other speakers included Richard L. Kugler, Paul K. Davis, and Carl H. Builder of RAND. Importantly, VADM Arthur K. Cebrowski, USN, LTG John E. Miller, USA, LtGen Ervin J. Rokke, USAF, and LtGen Paul K. Van Riper, USMC were in constant attendance forming an Operations Perspectives Panel. Their invaluable participation throughout helped to shape the symposium, by honing its perspective for that of the Warrior.

David S. Alberts

Director, Advanced Concepts, Technologies, and Information Strategies

Thomas J. Czerwinski

Professor, School of Information Warfare and Strategy

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