Energy, tensions and their transformation and use

Lightning By releasing tensions through wars, a ‘social tension gradient’ is nullified that has formed in the anarchistic System (Source photo).

The System, including its war dynamics, are products of our urge to survive and self-organised ‘efforts’ of the System to regulate tensions in the system and find an optimal balance.

Energy is defined in physics as the ability to do work. The principle of the conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed in the universe, but it may be converted from one form to another, including the energy equivalent of rest mass. These principles (of course) also apply to the System and its dynamics.

In case of the System and war dynamics – consistent with these energy principles – it is possible to distinguish between: (1) kinetic energy, (2) potential energy, and (3) rest energy.

Destructive energy (‘violence’ used by military organisations) can be considered kinetic energy. Tensions that are produced in the System and typically accumulate during high-connectivity regimes of war cycles, can be considered potential energy.

The network of issues and states that constitutes the System, and its components (communities and states) have certain tensions levels, a certain potential energy. The network of issues and states, and tensions ‘in’ this network, can be considered a social tension field.

Tensions – potential energy – can be ‘transformed’ into kinetic energy. The ability of states to achieve such a transformation depends on various factors, including the ability of a state to mobilise its society, available knowledge, etc.

This ability – the output (in terms of kinetic energy), the efficiency and scale of the transformation process, etc. – determines the power (defined as potential influence) of a state.

The ability of a state and its society to transform – redirect – resources to be used as kinetic energy in wars, can be considered the rest mass of a state/society.

The CINC-index (Composite Index of National Capability) is the most widely used indicator for national capability, and consists of six values: total population, urban population, iron and steel production, energy consumption, and military expenditure of states.  The CINC-index can be considered an indicator for the available kinetic energy and rest mass of states. Soft power is ignored in this perspective.

Tensions in the System are an ‘abstract’ property that are intrinsic to relations between states and issues in the System. Tensions are elusive.

Tensions in the System originate from the intrinsic incompatibility between connectivity and anarchy. Connectivity is a function of population size, and the need for humans to fulfil a set of basic requirements to fulfil their basic requirements, that ensure their survival. Population growth and increasing connectivity go hand in hand

Humans group in communities, because through grouping – cooperation – economies of scale and scope can be accomplished that are helpful in the fulfilment of basic requirements, survival and well-being of these communities (and their members). Like humans, communities also compete with other communities for (scarce) resources, to ensure the fulfilment of basic requirements of their respective members. The communities, as social structures, also develop their own basic requirements, that need fulfilment, independent of its members. Communities develop a ‘life’ – a survival dynamic – of their own.

Relationships between states can be positive or negative, or be a mix of both. Cooperation is indicative for a positive relationship. In case of conflict (war) there is a negative relationship, that results in the deployment of destructive energy; tensions – potential energy – is transformed into kinetic energy.

The purpose of the deployment of destructive energy is the destruction of an issue, and the tensions that accompany the issue. Issue and states are in fact synonym.

The transformation process – from potential to destructive energy, and its use – is triggered when a state reaches a decision threshold, and considers it necessary to apply violence to safeguard its interests. Deployment of destructive energy comes with benefits (is the expectation), but also with costs and risks, including: the risk of escalation, a negative response from other actors, physical destruction, and damage to one’s reputation.

Destructive energy is considered (rightly or wrongly) necessary to ensure the states interests, including the fulfilment of basic requirements, and survival.

During relatively stable periods of war cycles tensions are released – transformed into kinetic energy –  by means of non-systemic wars, which are (normally) limited in size and are used to maintain the status quo of the System (the international order that is in place).

The moment accumulated tensions and issues (that cannot be released/solved during high-connectivity regimes of relatively stable periods) percolate the System, the System becomes critical and produces a systemic war in response. This happened four times during the period 1495-1945.

At the critical point, the correlation length of the System is one. A correlation length of one not only causes an incident or event to reverberate through the System (and cause a systemic response), but also allows for system-wide communication and coordination. System-wide communication and coordination are prerequisites for the ‘collective’ design (involving all Great Powers) and implementation of upgraded international orders in the System.

The use of energy is not without effect: During the period from 1495 to 1939 (when the European System collapsed), Europe developed from a collection of circa 300 loosely connected and diverse communities with a population of 83 million, into a tightly connected network of only circa 25 highly standardised states with a total population of 544 million.


The process of social integration and expansion in Europe during the period 1495-1945 – in which four accelerating war cycles were instrumental – can be considered a crystallization process. As is the case with crystals, the number, shape and configuration of communities (states) in the System, is (to a high degree) a function of physical laws.

During this period, the System produced four accelerating war cycles, that were powered by population growth and intensifying rivalries between communities (states). Over time, states, their societies and members had become increasingly interdependent for the fulfilment of their basic requirements. This was also the case for their mutual security. In efforts to regulate the increasing tensions, increasingly far-reaching and intrusive international orders were implemented (from an organisational perspective).

At a certain point, however – 1939 – the System could no longer produce (design and implement) international orders that could regulate the increasing amount of tensions: The energy laws (related to the second law of thermodynamics) demanded upgrades with an infinite frequency, and the deployment of infinite amounts of destructive energy, to maintain a certain order. Consequently, the System collapsed and experienced a phase transition to avoid collective self-destruction.

The phase transition – accomplished by/through the fourth systemic war – had two closely related effects: The implementation of two non-anarchistic structures in Europe, and the implementation of a first international order at a global scale of the System. The United States and the Soviet Union acted as lynchpins between the new European order and the first global order, until 1991.

In 1991, the System – producing a fifth (but first global) war cycle – resumed its chaotic war dynamics.