Designing a simple, intuitive, graphical approach to modeling the likelihood of violent vs. peaceful political behavior...
Thinking about the future is plagued with unstated assumptions, misunderstood terminology, and unrecognized biases. Methodological rigor is the best defense against such, in the modern world, dangerously sloppy thinking.
Scenario analysis is an intuitively attractive method for thinking about the future, but its scientific value rests in great part on the choice of axes (variables) used to construct the analytical landscape. Scenario analysis must rely on political science to provide the theoretical foundation for selecting the axes, but political science has unfortunately not reached the point of being able to identify with assurance the minimum set of core variables determining foreign policy behavior and certainly not the 2 or 3 that constitute the number that scenario analysis can effectively manipulate. Finding the best set of variables is thus very much a matter of experimentation. For example, I have examined:
- attitudes of allies and adversaries in an ISA paper at the 2007 convention;
- power and status in an analysis of the Iran-Israel confrontation;
- unity and justice on the future of Palestine.
The "Political Behavior Model," below, portrays a landscape of political behavior to distinguish eight alternative scenarios that would theoretically result from the assumption that the level of violence is a function of three variables.
Here, an abstract model of political behavior based on three variables is proposed, with the variables being:
- ideological commitment;
- conflict resolution strategy;
- the nature of the environment.
The degree of ideological commitment goes from an attitude of unquestioning faith in oneself to an attitude of openminded analysis. Conflict resolution strategy goes from a strategy based on violence to a strategy based on peace. The nature of the environment in which the actor exists includes political context and whatever other contextual factors may impinge on political behavior.
The figure below highlights the two extreme scenarios. The red octant represents the Conflict Scenario, in which the group being analyzed is characterized by a military conflict resolution strategy and extreme faith in itself, while operating in a challenging environment, which I hypothesize will generate conflictual behavior. The acquamarine octant represents the oppose extremes, which I hypothesize will generate amicable behavior.
To examine the future of global affairs, concepts need to be at a level of abstraction that allows them to be applied to states, sub-state actors, and supra-state actors. In today’s world, critical actions may well be taken by insurgencies or global movements. Whatever the political group, its ideological commitment, its conflict resolution strategy, and the nature of the political environment within which it exists are basic factors influencing its behavior.
Future posts will extend the methodology of this abstract scenario analysis model and apply it to real-world issues.