Patterns in war dynamics, Part IX. Building blocks for a new theory (6): Identifying patterns

(6) For several reasons, the war cycles were not identified at an earlier stage.


Figure 11: This figure shows two domains – a deterministic and contingent domain – that can be distinguished in the System. Both domains interact and synchronize their dynamics through the security dilemma and interacting self-fulfilling prophecies that this mechanism results in.

I assume that several reasons prevented earlier identification of patterns in the war dynamics of the System, including the following:

(1) Too short time horizon: Historians normally use relatively short time spans to study events and processes.

(2) Incorrect ‘starting points’: Historians typically study historic events from ‘the inside out’. Starting points are mostly specific events, and the longer-term context is mostly ignored. This study demonstrates that the context – the longer-term – is crucial to make sense of events. For example, this study shows that the stage of development of the lifecycle at the time of a war determines and shapes certain properties of the war concerned to a considerable extent.

(3) Incorrect unit of analysis: War data have been studied and analyzed extensively by historians and social scientists. Typically, periods of centuries are used as units of analysis in efforts to identify patterns in war dynamics. This study demonstrates that the cycles that accompanied the finite-time singularity dynamic should be used as units of analysis to make sense of these dynamics.

(4) Ignorance of the fundamental difference between systemic and non-systemic wars: The distinction between systemic and non-systemic wars is fundamental: systemic wars are not ‘just’ larger non-systemic wars; rather, systemic wars fulfill very different functions and have fundamentally different properties. Because historians did not use cycles as unit of analysis, and did not distinguish a fundamental difference between systemic and non-systemic wars, systemic wars were considered by many historians to be ‘accidents’ or anomalies; consequently, it was not possible to understand the war dynamics of the System.

For example, historians have determined that the frequency of wars decreased over the long term; this observation is correct even when systemic wars are included in these calculations and suggests that this trend points to a decrease in war activity. However, this is not a correct observation. Although the number and frequency of non-systemic wars decreased over time, at the same time, the frequency of systemic wars increased, as did their severity. The System became more robust but also increasingly instable at the same time, as previously explained.

When the severities of successive cycles are related to the size of the population in Europe, analysis reveals that the severities of successive cycles are more or less constant, approximately 2.4% of the European population, as already mentioned (except for the second cycle; 3.9%). However, one should remember that the same percentage of battle casualty deaths – approximately 2.4% of a growing European population – was produced during increasingly shorter periods of time because of the shortening of the lifespans of successive cycles. A cyclical perspective provides us with completely different insights into the war dynamics of the System.

(5) Unawareness of abnormal war dynamics during the period 1657-1763: Abnormal non-systemic war dynamics during the second relatively stable period (1648-1792) were not recognized as such, and for that reason, historians were put on the wrong footing. During the first exceptional period (1657-1763), the System produced a series of large (sometimes system-wide) wars, but they did not qualify as systemic: these wars were ‘just’ over-sized non-systemic wars that the System could produce through a lack of a third (constraining) degree of freedom. The lack of a third degree of freedom was a consequence of the intense rivalry between Britain and France during that period, as explained above.

(6) Unawareness of the deterministic nature of the war dynamics and the development of the System (see also Fig. 11 and next point): Until now, historians and social scientists have not been aware of the deterministic nature of the war dynamics of the System and the ‘shaping effects’ this had not only on wars themselves but also on the development of the System. Therefore, historical research has been based on an incomplete and consequently biased perspective.

In their efforts to make sense of historical events and processes, historians in some cases ‘constructed’ causalities that in fact did not exist or assumed that certain events were just coincidences or abnormalities, whereas in reality they were closely related to the deterministic nature of the System.

Discussions among historians about the relationship between the First and Second World Wars (respectively, the third (1914-1918) and fourth (1939-1945) systemic wars) are a case in point. In what I call the deterministic domain of the System (see also next blog post), the wars constitute the third and fourth systemic wars, respectively, that mark the final stage – the collapse – of the third (1815-1918) and fourth (1918-1945) cycles, respectively. These two cycles are distinct components of the finite-time singularity dynamic the System produced during the period 1495-1945. Both wars do not constitute one war that was temporarily interrupted, as some historians suggest, but rather are two distinct critical periods. Analysis of war data demonstrates this conclusively.

However, because of their proximity in time, events and social processes that are related to these two systemic wars in the contingent domain of the System were much more intertwined than was the case for events and social processes that were unfolding in the second (the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815), for example, and third (the First World War) systemic wars. The increasing interrelationship between events and social processes in the contingent domain does not make the First and Second World Wars – the third and fourth systemic wars – a single critical period in the deterministic domain. Although the fourth international order (1918-1939) was highly dysfunctional, it was an integral part of the fourth and final cycle the finite-time singularity produced.

Another example also sheds light on the impact of the underlying deterministic domain. I now point to the network effect I discussed that resulted in increasing local stability of states in the network of issues once the tipping point of the relatively stable period was reached. This network effect offers a plausible explanation for the ‘abrupt’ – unexpected – outbreak of the third systemic war (the First World War, 1914-1918), a phenomenon that historians have remained intrigued with to date.

Because of this effect, the average size of non-systemic wars started to decline from 1856 (i.e., the tipping point of the third relatively stable period) onward to approximately ‘zero’ shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. During the period 1856-1914, tensions and unresolved issues accumulated in the System, eventually resulting in a critical condition. A network of (unresolved) issues, and accompanying tensions, percolated throughout the System in 1914; the correlation length of the System had become one.

This network was then triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne) on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo, Bosnia. This relatively minor incident triggered a systemic response that then resulted in an ‘upgrade’ of the international order.

A third systemic war, as this perspective reveals, was not an ‘accident’ that could have been prevented, as certain historians suggest. The third systemic war was already in the making through the self-organized finite-time singularity dynamic the System had begun producing at its inception in 1495, which was accompanied by four accelerating cycles. The First World War, as we experienced and know it, was a ‘contingent’ version of an unavoidable third systemic war – a third reorganization – produced by the System.

To be continued.