Managing turbulence demands exceptional skills. As the international security environment dramatically deteriorates, our response as risk advisories and individual analysts must change accordingly. Traditional tools of analysis are increasingly outmoded in a world where systemic risks and polycrises abound. We must think out of the box, break out of our disciplinary siloes and intellectual comfort zones, and expand to embrace everything human knowledge has to offer to meet existing and emerging security challenges. As security analysts and advisories, we must include the latest and best from the sciences and technology to diagnose tomorrow’s challenges and offer creative solutions for diverse stakeholders including governments and businesses.
We must think big. We must contemplate a new science of human conflict and what it can do for us. Alongside explosive growth in open-source structured and unstructured data and inexpensive computing technologies, we must think about how that science will provide us with the concepts, methods, and tools needed to dramatically improve our analytical abilities.
The contours of that science are already emerging. Over the past four decades or so, a set of techniques, ideas, and theories have emerged from multiple academic disciplines that seek to understand how complex systems in general come to being and evolve with time. Ideas from mathematics, physics, biology and ecology, and economics have led scientists to posit theories of complexity that examine systems and phenomena as diverse as insect colonies, the evolution of life on earth, the human brain, financial markets, and rise and fall of civilizations. Complex systems are composed of interacting, networked units, and are characterized by the ability to adapt and coevolve, show path-dependence, emergence, and intelligence, and fit certain specific statistically-regular patterns despite their rich behaviour. While a single “theory of everything” when it comes to complex systems still eludes scientists, for a complex system to be treated as such, it must exhibit behaviour that lies somewhere in the middle of the complete order-complete disorder spectrum.
At the same time, and quite relatedly, works of mathematical biologists and social scientists have shown how simple computational and dynamical models not only exhibit extremely rich “emergent” behaviour but also provide insights into crucial biological and social problems such as the evolution of cooperation and other norms, the behaviour of ecosystems, and even mass uprisings and revolutions.
What is equally surprising is that some of such models have been shown to be applicable to a variety of unrelated phenomena. As but one example: the mathematical biologist Robert May (who also served as the Chief Scientific Advisor to the British government between 1995 and 2000) along with a collaborator showed in an influential 2011 paper how analogies between ecological webs and the spread of infectious diseases, and banking networks can be fruitfully used to understand systemic risk in financial markets, a topic that rose to the fore in finance and policy communities following the 2007-08 global financial crisis.
Mathematicians and theoretical physicists posit the existence of “universality” across a large class of disparate systems despite each of them being composed of many different units. As mathematicians and physicists point out, what is truly surprising is that macroscopic laws governing these systems are roughly independent of the microscopic laws that govern the behaviour of the constituent units.
This feature of universality–that we need not understand in detail the laws determining how individual units in a given system behave to understand the dynamics of the system as a whole–is key to the enterprise Tarqeq has undertaken. Despite dramatic advances in electronic surveillance capabilities and the ensuring high volume data streams, the behaviour of individual malign actors remains next to impossible to predict, as security and intelligence services around the world would attest. However, group dynamics–as a scientific matter–is more tractable, not so much with the goal of prediction in mind, but to understand broad trends which might facilitate the development of offensive and defensive countermeasures ahead of time.
It is intuitively easy to understand why group dynamics of networked actors shaping–and in turn, being shaped by–their environment may be easier to understand than the actions of individual actors. After all, groups are collectively shaped by material factors–shared geography and environment, and competition over resources–which, in turn, lead to certain behavioural norms and conduct and shape preferences of individual actors. At a time when many fear the rise of security polycrises–where political factors interact with natural and economic ones, such as climate change and rapid urbanization, in unexpected ways to disrupt public order and precipitate international conflict–a focus on evolutionary dynamics of interacting groups of actors and institutions provides us with an invaluable new way of thinking about potential futures.
Another happy corollary of the focus on collective behaviour is that an ecological approach goes hand-in-hand with how classical geopoliticians–who focus on material factors (geography, primarily) as drivers of conflict–view the world. A perspective based on evolving group dynamics is also a powerful way to think about transnational security challenges. After all, natural factors–and the incentives and disincentives they provide to individuals and groups–never respect artificial lines drawn on political maps.
The Tarqeq White Paper you are about to read explores how the ideas outlined above and much more can provide concrete solutions to a range of security problems and concerns. While we emphasize where Tarqeq Research fits in as a provider of such solutions, we offer the White Paper also as a way for you to think about what is, ultimately, a collective enterprise: the safety and security of current and future generations of inhabitants of this precious blue planet.
Tarqeq Research LLP provides bespoke research-based solutions and training to help meet a wide range of global security challenges of concern to businesses, national and subnational governments using cutting-edge methods steeped in contemporary scientific traditions.