Patterns in war dynamics, Part III: New concepts and perspectives

To make sense of the development of the properties of the System’s war dynamics during the period 1495-1945, I introduce several ‘new’ concepts based on similar ideas that are applied to, for example, ecosystems and their dynamics.pnas-fig-4

Figure 4: This figure schematically shows the development of the properties of the System’s core. All the properties consistently converged toward values that could no longer be sustained, eventually resulting in the core’s collapse in 1939.

Increasing robustness. I consider the absolute number of non-systemic wars and the war frequency during relatively stable periods to be indications of the robustness of relatively stable periods (international orders). I assume that an approximate linear decrease in the absolute number of non-systemic wars and the decrease in war frequencies point to an increasing ability of successive international orders to prevent and suppress non-systemic wars from breaking out and to an increasing inability of relatively stable periods to release tensions by means of non-systemic wars. In other words, successive international orders were increasingly able to ‘absorb’ incidents and events without producing non-systemic wars. The development of the release ratios supports these assumptions: the release ratio of the fourth cycle was 97% (see Fig. 3).The development of these characteristics indicates that the robustness of successive relatively stable periods (international orders) increased approximately linearly and that shortly before the start of the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945), the System became ‘infinitely’ robust; the number of non-systemic wars and the non-systemic war frequency approached ‘zero’ at that point in time.This development shows that during the fourth cycle (1918-1939), the System was no longer able to release tensions via non-systemic wars, whereas tensions were produced in ever larger amounts and at an accelerating rate, as the increasing total severity of successive cycles and the severity/year measure also suggest.I argue that the increasing robustness of successive relatively stable periods and the acceleration of cycles – their decreasing lifespans – are related phenomena.

Increasing fragility. I consider the lifespans of successive relatively stable periods as indicative of the fragility of the System. Fragility points to the ability of international orders to maintain themselves within a certain ‘stability domain’. Apart from a distortion during the second relatively stable period (1648-1792, as mentioned), the fragility of successive international orders also increased to almost ‘infinity’ during the fourth international order (1918-1939), when the lifespan of the international order was reduced to only 21 years.

Robust yet fragile. It seems that increasing robustness and the increasing fragility of successive international orders went hand in hand during the period 1495-1945; this is also a characteristic of other complex systems, including certain ecosystems.I consider robustness and fragility of the System to be two sides of the same coin. The increasing robustness of successive international orders increasingly prevented non-systemic wars from breaking out during relatively stable periods, and instead, increasing amounts of tension were released during increasingly severe systemic wars, which, moreover were necessarily produced at a higher rate. Through the increasing robustness of successive international orders, these orders also became increasingly fast obsolete.

Increasing organizational permanence. I consider the decline in the number of Great Power status changes in the System’s core during successive international orders an indication of the increasing permanence of the Great Power status hierarchy in Europe. Great Powers were increasingly able to maintain their status, while at the same time, it became increasingly difficult for ‘normal’ states to achieve Great Power status.This demonstrates that Great Powers were increasingly able to consolidate their power and influence at the expense of ‘normal’ states. I refer to this effect as the ‘powerful-become-more-powerful’ effect. This effect was achieved by Great Powers that ‘won’ systemic wars and used their position of power and influence to implement favorable international orders that contained certain privileges for them and that then further enhanced their positions of power and influence.The veto power in the United Nations Security Council and the ‘legal’ monopoly on the ownership of nuclear weapons that the winning Great Powers of the Second World War (the fourth systemic war, 1939-1945 – the United States, the Soviet Union, China, France and Great Britain) awarded themselves are striking examples of this mechanism.I consider the decrease in the Great Power status dynamics in Europe to be an indication of the increasing organizational permanence of the System’s core.I consider the acquisition of Great Power status by the United States and Japan, respectively, in 1898 and 1905, to be indications of the increasing expansion of the System’s core (Europe) to the non-core and of the development of autonomous non-core war dynamics, which is a development that is consistent with the increase in the number of expansion wars, as I explain later.The fading of Great Power status changes in the System’s core, shortly before its collapse and the start of the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945) shows that the organization of the System’s core became ‘permanent’ at that stage.

Increasing ‘structural’ stability. The stabilization and permanence of the sizes and shapes of states in Europe following the third systemic war (the First World War, 1914-1918) points to the ‘absolute’ (‘infinite’) structural permanence of the System’s core. This development is consistent with the increasing organizational permanence of the System’s core.

Increasing instability of the System. The increasing frequencies and amplitudes of cycles are considered an indication of the increasing instability of the System’s core during the period 1495-1945.

Synthesis. When the war cycles that the System produced during the period 1495-1945 are used as units of analysis, the following mutually consistent developments and trends can be observed, as discussed above:

(1) The frequencies of successive cycles increased toward ‘infinity’.

(2) The amplitudes of successive cycles, that is, the severities of successive systemic wars, also increased to ‘infinity’; the development of the frequencies and amplitudes of successive cycles was highly synchronized.

(3) The robustness and fragility of successive international orders, which can be considered two sides of the same coin, also developed toward ‘infinity’.

(4) The organizational and physical permanence of successive international orders became ‘absolute’.

(5) The System became increasingly unstable.

The war dynamics – and the properties of successive cycles of the System’s core (Europe) – exhibit strong consistency (see also Fig. 4). All properties I discussed developed consistently toward ‘infinity’ or absolute values and reached ‘end points’ during the fourth relatively stable period. I assume that these developments point to the unavoidable collapse of the anarchistic core of the System.I argue that during the period 1495-1945, the System’s core (Europe) produced a finite-time singularity dynamic that was accompanied by four accelerating war cycles; a phenomenon that is also observed in other complex systems. The development of the properties of the System’s core already signaled that collapse was imminent shortly before the core’s actual collapse in 1939. In 1939, the core reached the singularity in finite time.At that stage, it was no longer possible to produce the next relatively stable period that allowed for implementation of an international order that could – in an anarchistic setting – absorb and regulate the tensions it produced without immediately collapsing.Consequently, the core produced a phase transition that led to implementation of non-anarchistic structures in Europe, and by doing so, ‘perpetual war’ was avoided. Perpetual war was neither ‘achievable’ nor sustainable, given the resources that were required and the collective self-destruction that would be unavoidable.The phase transition was accomplished through the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945) and resulted in the transition of the System’s core from anarchy at the state level to two non-anarchistic structures (i.e., Western and Eastern Europe) that formed two ‘blocks’ controlled by the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively. Both blocks developed intense rivalries, which resulted in a second period of abnormal war dynamics (the Cold War, 1945-1989).In 1989, when the Soviet Union lost control and later collapsed, the two non-anarchistic structures (except for Russia and several former Soviet satellites) merged and ‘crystalized’ into the European Union, a non-anarchistic European order.However, the phase transition (the fourth systemic war, the Second World War, 1939-1945) had a second closely related ‘component’. At the same time that two non-anarchistic structures were being implemented in Europe, a first global order was implemented on the global scale of the System (the United Nations), and the actual merging of the core (Europe) and non-core of the System became a fact. The phase transition can be considered a next step in a long-term process of the System’s social integration and expansion, which started the moment humankind grouped into extended families and tribes, and still is unfolding.

To be continued.