The last section on concepts of complex adaptive systems that can illuminate the future of the Iranian-Israeli confrontation…
The conventional perspective is that one applies force and halts undesired behavior.
The complexity perspective holds that force leads to disequilibrium characterized by a variety of shock waves of varying period and amplitude that reverberate throughout the system (because the parts are interdependent). The effect of these waves, because of the complicated nature of the interactions, is effectively unpredictable in detail but may very well include the emergence at the system level of behavior that could not be inferred from behavior at the individual level.
Aggressiveness at the national level of countries whose citizens as individuals oppose war may be an example of emergence to which we are so accustomed that we no longer think it counterintuitive.
Emergent behavior is hard to identify and almost unpredictable by definition (it is only slightly sarcastic to define emergent behavior as behavior we were too ignorant to predict). At a minimum, the complexity perspective warns us to be prepared for something new. Given the existence of a complex system (and a modern country with its high popular educational level, tight social networks that extend throughout the country, and close communication links is a prime example), severe pressure (war, depression) is likely to generate adaptive forces that will lead to the emergence of dramatically new types of social organization, new goals, and new behavior.
Adopting a complexity perspective would have made it obvious to U.S. decision makers considering the 2003 invasion of Iraq that it would be naïve to expect Iraqis to throw flowers on the invaders: the injection into a small system of a huge amount of (military, financial) energy will generate new behavior. One can argue about the specifics, but there is no need to argue about whether or not new, surprising behavior will occur. It will occur and must be planned for. If the time, will, and resources to plan for the unknown are not available, then the triggering action should not be taken.
Even in the case of tiny Lebanon facing invasion by the regional superpower Israel in 1982 and 2006, the same argument applied. Although Lebanon had “no chance” of defending itself against Israel, in 1982 Israeli violence provoked the formation of Hezballah, which became the vanguard of the Lebanese independence movement. A massive and utterly unpredicted political phenomenon that continues to grow in power today emerged very slowly during 1982 and 1983 in response to endless Israeli violence against the Lebanese people. The same organization responded in a dramatically different tactical manner in 2006 but once again succeeded in persuading the vastly superior Israeli military that aggression was more trouble than it was worth. Powerful forces can emerge from small beginnings and take unforeseen forms...
The decade-long Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion and subsequent, now intensifying Afghan resistance to the U.S. invasion constitute further examples of the unpredictable course of adaptation of a society in reaction to extreme stress.
This applies even more to an attack on Iran than it did to Iraq or Lebanon or Afghanistan, for Iran has far more capability to resist aggression than those three small, weak states did. The only safe prediction about the consequences of starting a war against Iran is that the result will take us by surprise. The growing complexity of Iranian society with its now educated and politically mobilized population, highly experienced in political organization as a result of the half century of resistance to Western colonialism and domestic revolution, open wide the doors to a vast range of possible reactions. How Iranians may adapt or self-organize in response to aggression cannot be foreseen, but the energy and complexity demonstrated by the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Lebanon hint at the potential for the emergence of new forms of political behavior if a population is pushed too far.
This ends the section on how the concepts of complexity theory can be used to analyze the future of the Iranian-Israeli confrontation or other world politics developments; the whole series on the future of the Iranian-Israeli confrontation will conclude with the next post...