Friday, March 21, 2008

Cycle of Hostility

Three points are critical to understanding what is happening in the cycle of hostility:

  • First, regardless of whether or not each side recognizes that it would benefit from talks, the momentum of this complex dynamic will propel both toward rising hostility. Evil intent on one side will make things worse, but evil intent is not needed to propell the two sides toward disaster.
  • Second, the interlocking nature of the feedback loops, each augmenting the impact of the others, means that the force propelling the two sides into a cycle of intensifying hostility snowballs: the intensity of the force rises exponentially, so the longer it last the faster it intensifies and the harder it gets to control.
  • Third, the cycle exists for several distinct reasons (the impacts of cycles A, B, and C). Any increase in any one of these cycles will intensify the overall effect because all are linked, so making things worse is easy. On the other hand, even if you solve the problems posed by one or two of the cycles (e.g., by persuading both sides to talk), it will NOT eliminate the overall tendency toward increasing hostility, because it only takes the operation of one cycle to keep the momentum going. Resolving the situation requires simultaneously addressing all the cycles! Moderating policy without starting talks or vice versa will (theoretically) not suffice to end the intensification of mutual hostility.
Anyone with a two-year-old in the house knows what I am talking about. Foreign affairs is no different.
The above diagram models what can happen when two two-year-olds interact without supervision. A leader, e.g., a mother, will address all the reinforcing feedback loops simultaneously in order to achieve a tipping point away from rising intensity toward declining intensity of the hostility. Authorities who are not leaders of course have the tempting option of just going with the very dangerous flow.

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