Monday, August 27, 2007

Part IX. Co-Evolution in the Iranian-Israeli Confrontation

Continuing the exploration of how the concepts of complex
adaptive systems may help us understand world politics in general and the Iranian-Israeli confrontation in particular…

The conventional perspective denies that “we” can be influenced by the enemy.

The complexity perspective sees actors adapting to respond not only to others but to their perceptions of how others will adapt.
According to this perspective, one should assume ceteris parabis that all components of a system will adapt, as discussed in the previous post.

In world politics, a component could be not just a country but also a sub-national organization at whatever level down to an individual. A given component may not adapt, at least over some finite time period, perhaps because leaders put great effort into designing it in a hierarchical fashion precisely so it will resist adaptation. Such resistance to adaptation may or may not be healthy for the organization, as I have discussed here.

Given that all components of (or actors in) a system will, in principle, adapt, it is an easy extension to the concept of “co-evolution:” my adaptation provokes your adaptation, which in turn provokes…

Israeli foreign policy toward Iran is designed today to deal with a nuclear-armed Iran that is willing to use those weapons not just to prevent war or to defend itself in war but for offensive purposes. Israeli foreign policy thus rests on a whole cascade of unproven assertions. It might be worth weighing the possibility that Iran will in fact ceteris parabis turn out as predicted by this “mental model” against the possibility that Israeli policy will prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy as Iran becomes increasingly willing to develop and use nuclear weapons precisely because it is threatened with them. Co-evolution guided by a biased model of the opponent can amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Research Question: Are there principles in complexity theory that might help students of world politics determine the conditions
under which biased perceptions of the opponent could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy?

Co-evolution pervades the scenarios. Iran and Israel may continue co-evolving down the path of confrontation, as suggested by “Victory to al Qua’ida,” or may shift and co-evolve down on of several paths of conciliation, as imagined by the other three scenarios. Even the “Equilibrium” scenario, in which “nothing changes,” will probably see a zig-zag process of shot-term co-evolution first in one direction, then another.

Hostility by one side is likely to provoke hostility on the other side, and perhaps conciliation would do the same. This raises the question of how a co-evolutionary process toward rising hostility could possibly shift in the opposition direction and become a co-evolutionary process toward rising cooperation. Useful research could be done on the conditions for transforming an undesired co-evolutionary process into a more beneficial process.

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