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The Libyan War Spills Over to Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Europe – Scenarios for the Future of Libya

This article is the second of our series focusing on scenarios depicting the range of spillover that could stem from the Libyan war. In our previous article, we detailed two scenarios of spillover that initiate a renewed war encompassing more than just Libya. We discussed a case of spillover in one direction – where Europe is drawn into this renewed war, as well as spillover in two directions, where Algeria and Niger are also drawn into the war. In this article, we shall conclude the spillover scenarios with a contagion taking place in all directions (west towards Algeria, south towards Niger, east towards Egypt, and north towards Europe).

It is important to note our choices for spillover sub-scenarios. There are many combinations that could occur under spillover conditions, but we have chosen three examples that maybe considered as ideal-types with particular country cases for the sake of brevity: spillover in only one direction (north towards Europe), spillover in two directions (Algeria/Niger), and spillover in all directions (Algeria/Niger/Egypt/Europe). Spillover in all directions, of course, is not limited to just Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe – it can also include Tunisia and Chad. For the sake of brevity, we chose one country in each direction for this scenario. Furthermore, the intensity of and response to spillover plays a key role in these sub-scenarios. The renewed war – now encompassing new actors outside of Libya – is altered significantly as intensity and response levels rise. However, we shall only briefly outline these scenarios, as they are fundamentally new conflicts and would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Migrant/Refugee: For the purposes of the spillover scenarios, we have chosen to use the BBC’s use of the term migrant, which refers to people migrating to other countries that have not yet received asylum (BBC News, March 4, 2016). However, we use the term refugee when referring to Libyans fleeing the discussed conflict.

Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

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Sub-scenario 2.2.3 Conflict Spills Over in All Directions (Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe)

Smuggling operations crossing the Libyan-Algerian border expand as conflict continue to rage. Islamist militants also utilize the smuggling routes to infiltrate Libya from Algeria and join Salafist groups there. As Algeria increases the security of its border region with Libya, Islamist militants turn to join extremist groups already operating in Algeria, while spreading to other now easier routes, both north, using the sea and boats and south to Niger. Furthermore, conflict between the Toubou and Tuareg tribes over the lucrative smuggling routes causes their kinsmen from Algeria, Niger, and Chad to cross into Libya, while Salafists move even more freely to and from Libya – thus turning the Southern Libya conflict into a regional conflict between tribal forces. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Algeria that has already been discussed.

Niger begins to experience spillover from the Libyan conflict as Toubou and Tuareg cross from Niger into Southern Libya. The severity of tribal conflict in Southern Libya determines whether or not conflict breaks out between the Tuareg and Toubou within Niger’s borders. Facing significant pressure in Libya, as well as the threat of international intervention, jihadists begin relocating their operations to Niger. Considering Niger’s instability and already existing threat of Boko Haram, which leads wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyiah for the Islamic State (see Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” updated June 20, 2016) and operated initially essentially in southern Niger – notably in Diffa and Bosso (see June attacks – UN News Centre, June 6, 2016; Donovan, UNHCR, June 7, 2016), the increase of jihadists arriving from Libya prompts a serious military response and increased operations near the Niger-Libyan border. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Niger that has already been discussed. Nonetheless, the Salafist fighters coming from Libya and those controlling the South increasingly connect.

Posted on the Official Page for the Military Spokesman of the Armed Forces Facebook page, 30 May 2016

Meanwhile, considering the presence of Islamic State groups already in the Sinai, the spillover from Libya causes greater instability throughout Egypt. Smugglers utilize routes through the Libyan-Egyptian border to covertly transfer drugs, migrants, militants and weapons – all of which undermine Egypt’s stability. The porous border between the two countries allows Salafist groups to move fighters and weapons between strongholds in Libya and the Sinai. General Haftar increasingly uses Egypt’s assistance to train his forces and to receive weapons. As a result, Islamic State militants target remaining Egyptian migrant workers in Libya. Meanwhile, their Salafist brothers in the Sinai begin to increasingly attack Egyptian targets in retaliation for Egypt’s assistance to Haftar’s forces. Wanting to expand their operations and keep pressure on rivals, al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya escalate their attacks on Haftar’s forces in the east, as well as Egyptian forces along the border. Attacks by Salafist groups forces Egypt to militarily strike back in Libya in a series of operations – effectively opening up a second front in its fight against terrorism (Libya to the west, and the Sinai to the east). The target proves however elusive as it now moves increasingly easily also to the south. To retain Egypt’s support, Haftar’s forces exert additional pressure on Salafist groups as punishment. As the nationalists put intense pressure on these Salafist groups, militants are smuggled into the Sinai region to bulk up their group’s capabilities against Cairo. Wilayat Sinai makes a general call to their global supporters to join their war in Egypt, with tremendous impact on an already dwindling tourism.

If Egypt successfully closes its border and prevents weapons and militants from infiltrating, there is the risk that Salafist groups already in Egypt will launch increased attacks against border security targets in order to disrupt their efforts. However, if Egypt is unsuccessful in closing the border, Salafist groups in Libya and the Sinai will be able to reinforce each other with fighters and weapons – depending on the need in each country. Regardless of success or failure to close the border, spillover from the Libyan conflict permeates Egypt, which increases its instability and draws Egypt into the renewed war.

The migrant flow from Libya into Europe increases as Libyan actors forsake some state functions – such as border security – in order to bolster their frontline forces. Salafist groups utilize the migrant flows to smuggle jihadists into Europe to carry out attacks. These jihadist cells originating in Libya begin targeting European populations as an alternative to fighting mounting pressure in Libya. Two new routes to Europe are now opened, one from Algeria and one from Egypt, taxing European capabilities to deal with the rising threat. Furthermore, the deployment of European advisers and Special Forces in support of Libyan actors against Salafist threats also results in jihadists attacking European targets. If Europe is unsuccessful in stopping the migrant flow, it continues to experience terrorist attacks emanating from Libya. If successful, Europe changes the conflict in Libya. With less opportunity to infiltrate European countries, jihadists begin to increasingly target the government and military officials of the other Libyan actors. This, in turn, forces the Islamists and nationalists to focus more on the Salafist groups. With the migrant flow stopped, the refugees and migrants stuck in Libya cause further instability in the coastal regions, join armed groups as an alternative, or head to neighboring countries – all of which affect spillover and the war in Libya. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Europe that has already been discussed.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of militants to use smuggling routes to infiltrate Egypt. The likelihood of this scenario increases if militants are able to infiltrate Egypt through smuggling routes. With civil war in Libya to the west and Egypt dealing with a Sinai problem to the east, militants are more easily able to utilize established drug, migrant, and weapons trafficking routes to infiltrate Egypt (AhramOnline, October 2, 2015).
  2. The ability of Egypt to effectively patrol its border. With Libya not able to secure its side of the border, the responsibility falls to Egypt to secure the entire border. Already having to deal with jihadists in the Sinai, Egypt will likely not be able to secure the entire Libyan-Egyptian border, which allows smuggling rings to profit by moving drugs, weapons, migrants, and militants to and from Libya. A previous indication of Egypt’s attempt to secure the border occurred when it increased its ground and air presence on the border, as well as reached an agreement with the U.S. in 2015 on a “Border Security Mobile Surveillance Sensor Security System” along the Egyptian-Libyan border (Nkala, DefenseNews, July 26, 2015; Muhlberger, AhramOnline, January 27, 2016).
  3. The stability of Egypt. Egypt’s internal stability determines how much it will be affected by spillover from Libya. The level of economic and political stability, as well as terrorism in the Sinai region, all affect Egypt’s overall stability. Past indications affecting its stability occurred when Egypt’s economy faced currency depreciation and a decrease in tourism and investment (Karuri, Africa News, July 4, 2016); as well jihadist groups continuing an insurgency from the Sinai region (STRATFOR, June 29, 2016).
  4. The level of pressure on Salafist groups to migrate operations towards Egypt. If the Islamists, Misratans, and nationalists put enough pressure on Salafist groups to the point of destroying them completely, the jihadists will likely be more willing to shift their operations to Egypt, which increases the likelihood of this spillover scenario. Geographically, the Salafist hotbed of Derna is very close to the Egyptian border and will most likely be the origin of jihadists fleeing into Egypt if this indication occurs.
  5. The willingness of Egypt to support Haftar and his forces. Egypt’s level of willingness to support Haftar and provide military assistance to his forces will play a role in the Salafists’ level of retaliation. The likelihood of this scenario increases the more Egypt directly supports Haftar. Past indications occurred when Egyptian President El-Sisi called on international support for General Haftar and his National Army (Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016); when Egypt armed Haftar and the Libyan National Army (Dettmer, Voice of America, May 17, 2016; Toaldo and Fitzgerald, European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016); and when Egypt offered military training and intelligence assistance in 2014 to the forces under the Tobruk government – which included Haftar and his forces (Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” December 1, 2014).
  6. The Salafists’ level of retaliation towards Egypt. The level of Salafists’ retaliation towards Egypt is rooted in Egypt’s assistance for the hated General Haftar. The more Egypt supports Haftar’s forces, the higher the level of retaliation. In Libya, Salafists will likely target Egyptian migrants or Egyptian security personnel on the border. Salafist groups operating in the Sinai will likely carry out attacks within Egypt as retaliation for events in Libya.
  7. The willingness of al-Qaeda to intensify its presence in Libya and Egypt. If al-Qaeda begins to lose influence as a result of pressure from other Libyan actors, it may try to intensify its presence in Libya. Furthermore, if instability continues to increase in Egypt, and if Islamic State groups in the Sinai are seeing greater success, al-Qaeda may attempt to increase its presence their as well. In either case, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. Indicators 1-8 of sub-scenario 2.2.1 also act here in a similar way.
  9. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 also act here in a similar way.

Bibliography

Featured Photo: Still from “New ISIS Video Shows Recruits Training in Sinai Peninsula, Egypt,” April 4, 2016

“Assessing the Jihadist Threat in Egypt: The Sinai Peninsula,” STRATFOR, June 29, 2016

“Attacks by Boko Haram continue in Niger’s Diffa region, forcing more people to flee – UN,” UN News Centre, June 6, 2016

“Egypt’s army sometimes operates beyond border to ‘chase smuggler’: Libyan FM,” Ahram Online, October 2, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” The Red Team Analysis Society, November 23, 2015

Jamie Dettmer, “Will Arming Libya’s ‘Unity’ Government Escalate Conflict?” Voice of America, May 17, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, December 1, 2014

Ken Karuri, “Egyptian pound facing another devaluation as dollar shortage persists,” Africa News, July 4, 2016

Louise Donovan, “Thousands flee Boko Haram attack on Niger town,” UNHCR, June 7, 2016

Mattia Toaldo and Mary Fitzgerald, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016

“Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts,” BBC News, March 4, 2016

Oscar Nkala, “Tunisia, Egypt Boost Libyan Border Security,” DefenseNews, July 26, 2015

“Sisi calls for support for Libya’s Haftar,” Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016

Wolfgang Muhlberger, “A Thorny Dossier: Egypt’s Libya Policy,” Ahram Online, January 27, 2016

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly – 17 March 2016

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 17 March 2016 scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly – 10 March 2016

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 10 March 2016 scan in newspaper format  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 228 – 12 November 2015

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 12 November 2015 scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 221 – 24 September 2015

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics – this week, notably, as the EU migrants’ crisis drags on and deepens, the overwhelming focus of crowdsourced articles would tend to point out that the new, still Cold War between the U.S. and Russia now threatens to overshadow the already complex and  dramatic situation in Syria); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 24 September 2015 scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Multiplicating Crises: Strategic Surprises or Strategic Shocks?

Over the last two decades, strategic surprises have accumulated and accelerated rather than receded, and they continue to do so. Various actors, from governments and international organisations to the corporate world through citizens seem to be constantly and increasingly surprised by events they fail to anticipate, and thus for which they are unprepared.

The Arab Spring (e.g. Ellen Laipson, Ed., Seismic Shift: Understanding Change In The Middle East, Stimson, 2011), the rise and development of the Islamic State, with shocking series of murders and terrorist attacks (see Portal to the Islamic State War, the Red (Team) Analysis Society) and, currently, the European refugee crisis (e.g. The Guardian,Refugee crisis: EU plans new internment measures – live updates“) are aWien_-_Völkerwanderung_am_5_Sep_2015,_Westbahnhof 300ll related events that were surprises if we judge by the lack of preparedness and the difficulty to design and then implement a proper answer. Similarly (in terms of surprise), the scale and scope of the chaos in Ukraine, the incorporation of Crimea in the Russian Federation, with heightened and novel tensions between notably the U.S.m its allies and NATO on the one hand, Russia and its partners on the others, and their multi-dimensional impacts, for example on farmers and the agricultural sector in Europe to take an instance that is rarely pointed out, constitute another series of surprises (Charles Clark, “Riot police in Brussels are struggling against 4,000 tractors blocking the streets“, Business Insider UK, 7 Sept 2015; e.g. “Portal to strategic analysis for Ukraine“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society).

Besides the possible absence of adequate capabilities across actors to properly consider and foresee crucial issues, at least another phenomenon may also be at work, which would combine with under-dimensioned capacities to further heighten uncertainty, favour inadequate answers to an initial surprise and, as a result, multiply unforeseen crises. This phenomenon would be that we are not only faced with surprises, but, more adequately, with shocks.

Indeed, in many of the examples cited above, a strong emotional element is present. Indeed, we spontaneously refer to the idea of shock. The “West” was shocked by the rapid move of Russia to secure the bloodless incorporation of Crimea within the Russian Federation (Ibid.). It was shocked, in the case of Ukraine, that another “peaceful revolution” did not end up into something peaceful, smooth and happily accepted by all (Ibid.). The world was shocked that a commercial plane flying over a war zone could be shot down (Ibid.). The international “community” at large was shocked by the apparently sudden progress of the then Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) during the first part of 2014 (“Timeline of ISIL related events“, Wikipedia). It was shocked by the massacre of the Yazidis (e.g. Raya Jalabi, “Who are the Yazidis and why is Isis hunting them?“, The Guardian, 11 Aug 2014). It was shocked by the horrendous videos of beheading and of the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot (H. Lavoix, “The Islamic State, Puppet Master of Emotions“, 5 February 2015). It was shocked by the variousRepublican_marche_-_Lyon_-_11_January_2015_3 terrorist attacks, starting from the one in Paris in January 2015, without forgetting those in Tunisia and elsewhere, even if some of them were foiled more by miracle than by any preventive action (e.g. “2015 Thalys train attack“, Wikipedia; for a list of terrorist attacks instances for the sole first part of January 2015, H. Lavoix, The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War, 19 January 2015). It was repeatedly shocked by Middle Eastern and African migrants drowning when trying to reach Europe, starting in October 2013 (e.g. “2013 Lampedusa migrant shipwreck“, Wikipedia), by the picture of a dead little boy (e.g. Jessica Elgot, “Family of Syrian boy washed up on beach were trying to reach Canada“, The Guardian, 3 Sept 2015), by the sheer flow of migrants, potentially refugees, entering various countries of the European Union (e.g. The Guardian,live updates“).

This idea of shock is not unknown in military circles dealing with strategic foresight and warning or more broadly anticipation, and it may help us understanding better what is currently at work, including why we are not faced with one shock but with a series of them. We shall first delve deeper into the idea of shock and contrast it with surprise, meanwhile also bringing in knowledge and understanding from futures studies.* Second, we shall explain that both surprise and shock are located onto a continuum of unexpected changes and explain the dynamics leading to a shock. Finally, we shall underline some consequences for SF&W, risk management, or more broadly anticipation of crises.

Surprise and shock

In 2007 the “Strategic Trends and Shocks” project within the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (OSD) Policy Planning introduced the idea of strategic shock (Freier, Known Unknowns, 2008: 38, fn 5). The new concept was defined as

“An event that punctuates the evolution of a trend, a discontinuity that either rapidly accelerates its pace or significantly changes its trajectory, and, in so doing, undermines the assumption on which current policies are based… Shocks are disruptive by their very nature, and … can change how we think about security and the role of the military.” (Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Transformation Chair, Forces Transformation Chairs Meeting, 2007)

MOD2014The idea of shock is similarly used in the U.K. Ministry of Defence Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre’s (DCDC) Strategic Trends Programme and its products (2007-2035; 2010-2040; 2014-2045), and is defined as

“Events – or ‘shocks’ – [that] only have a low probability of occurring, but because of their potentially high impact, it is important to consider some in more detail, allowing for possible mitigating action to be taken.” (Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045, MoD, DCDC, 2014: ix)

Until 2007, Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W), i.e. “the organized and systematic process to reduce uncertainty regarding the future that aims at allowing decision-makers to take decisions related to security with sufficient lead-time to see those decisions implemented at best”**, or more broadly anticipatory activities for national and international security, had essentially focused upon surprise.

“Strategic surprise” referred initially to “surprise military attacks”[3] (Grabo, Anticipating Surprise, 2004: 1-2; J. Ransom Clark, 
The Literature of Intelligence: A Bibliography of Materials, with Essays, Reviews, and Comments, “Analysis: Strategic Warning“, Muskingum University). During the first decade of the twenty-first century, with the dawning awareness of the complexity of issues and related multi-disciplinarity impacting national and international security, the idea was enlarged to any “surprises with strategic significance” (Crocker, “Thirteen Reflections on Strategic Surprise”, 2010: 1).

Strategic surprises correspond approximately to futurists’ “wild cards” (low probability/high impact event)** and to Taleb’s (2007: 37, 272-273) “gray swans” (“rare but expected events that are scientifically tractable” – see also, H. Lavoix, “Taleb’s Black Swans: the End of Foresight?“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 21 January 2013). This coincides with the way the U.K. MOD uses the idea of shock, as presented above.

There is, however, also more involved in the idea of wild cards and strategic surprise. Indeed, in 2003, Steinmuller (“The future as Wild Card“) underlined that wild cards “change our frame of reference,” and, in 2007, Schwartz and Randall (“Ahead of the Curve”: 93) stressed similarly strategic surprise’s “game-changing dimension.”

As Freier (Ibid. 5-6) highlighted, strategic shock and strategic surprise appear to be almost identical. Do we thus need two different concepts? If yes, how do we recognise one event belonging to the first category from one belonging to the other?

According to Luttwak (The Logic of War and Peace, 2001: 4), “surprise at war” needs to suspend strategy, however briefly and partially. Thus, it does not necessarily imply any in-depth revision of mindset, as is expected from the idea of shock (Freier, Ibid: 8). Hence, surprise and shock are two different phenomena, which will each demand specific kinds of actions. SF&W having as aim to be actionable, then losing the specificity of both strategic surprise  and shock may only lead to less efficiency, when the introduction of a new idea could, on the contrary, be fruitful.

USS_Arizona_burning-Pearl_Harbor scWhen we compare different shocks as given by various authors, e.g. the 1929 financial crisis, Pearl Harbour, the fall of the Soviet Union, or 9/11 (Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), 2007; Arnas, 2009: 5), with “the poor performance of Israeli’s military machine during the 2006 Israeli—Hezbollah War,” (Balasevicius, “Adapting Military Organizations to Meet Future Shock”, 2009: 9-10), it would seem that all are not equivalent.

Could we thus have another phenomenon hidden within the idea of shock?

Even if the 2006 Israeli—Hezbollah War was a game-changing event, thus a strategic shock, because it forced the military of various nations to revise perceptions and concepts on warfare (Balasevicius, 2009: 10), in which way is it different from other cases?

The common definition of a shock describes it as:

“A violent collision, impact, tremor; a sudden, disturbing effect on the emotions, physical reaction; an acute state of prostration following a wound, pain; a disturbance in stability causing fluctuations in an organization.” The Concise Oxford dictionary, 8th edition.

Many of those components are absent from the U.S. OSD definition. Nonetheless, including the scope and depth of the event’s emotional impact in the idea of strategic shock tends to confirm and explain the previous distinction between cases. It also points towards the subjectivity of a categorisation in shocks – or surprises – as actors and populations directly involved are more likely to feel a deeper shock than unrelated actors.*** To include emotion enhances the difference with strategic surprise.

Yet, if strategic surprise and strategic shock are different, then, how could an event, for example Pearl Harbour, be categorised as both (Arnas: 1-2;  Hans Binnendijk, 2008; Grabo, 2004; Wohlstetter, 1962, etc.)?

Surprise and shock on the continuum of unexpected change

Freier (2008: 7-8) and Balasevicius (2009: 9) underline that surprise and shock are two similar phenomena with no “scientific break point” between the two, shock being linked to a higher degree of unpreparedness in terms of policy, strategy and planning.

If we also use the Oxford dictionary definition of shock, then we must consider that the emotional reaction (prostration, panic) heightens the disruption, making it more difficult to find adequate answers. Meanwhile the emotional effect’s spread to other actors potentially changes both the initial impact of the shock and consequent policy and strategic planning. The potential for long-term destabilization is thus amplified with the depth and scope of the shock.

electricity 300
by Steve Jurvetson, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Hence, if an event is a strategic shock, it is also a strategic surprise, whilst the reverse is not true. Both strategic surprises and strategic shocks are unexpected changes occurring in a society’s or polity’s environment and to which actors will and must react. Shocks imply a considerably more difficult coordination than surprise, because, notably, of the depth and scope of the created emotion. Thus, strategic surprise then strategic shock are two ideal-types located on the continuum of unexpected change and ordered according to the ease with which humans coordinate their activities with changes in their larger environment – those changes that caused surprise or shock, accordingly – for security and ultimately survival (Lavoix, “Strategic Foresight and Warning”, 2010: 3  building upon Elias, Time, 1992).

Now, all events that are likely to occur and to constitute shocks are the outcome of dynamics. They do not happen out of the blue.

In fact, two possible processes, which are not mutually exclusive, will underlie a shock and its level. The first possible process takes place when an acme (violence and impact), a new stage in the dynamics of escalation, is reached. This new stage will then be perceived as a phenomenon that is both new and sudden, even if actually the event was building up unnoticed, and was thus neither sudden nor fully novel.

The second process results from an accumulation of non-perceived or improperly perceived grinding alterations (not necessarily linked to an escalation), which lead to a change. The latter takes then the characteristics of a shock, e.g. a tipping point (see also Elina Hiltunen, “Was It a Wild Card or Just Our Blindness to Gradual Change?”, 2006: 61-74).  This idea of a tipping point was noted by the U.S. Department of Defence when it stated,

“Shocks can be sudden and violent, and are often unanticipated. They can also occur when a system passes a critical point and undergoes a phase change. This type of shock results from the gradual accumulation of change in a number of variables (e.g. increased violence and frequency of hurricanes as a result of rising ocean temperatures).” (United States Joint Forces Command, 2008: 3).

The idea of “creeping catastrophe”, as described by Steinmüller (2003: 6-7), can be seen as a mix of the two processes.

Thus, a shock and its level result both from the impact that is inherent to the dynamics involved (and that should ideally be observed), including emotional consequences, and from our perceptions, as the abruptness of the perception enhances and transforms the emotional component of the impact, adding to it the component specific to shocks. In turn, a new awareness will be born (Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: 
Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, 1999).

In terms of policy-making and decision, to consider we are prey to shocks is of tremendous importance. Indeed, first, we may surmise that the successive shocks have likely impaired, or contributed to do so besides other factors, proper decision-making, which ideally necessitates a cold objective analysis. Second, not only the existence of a shock, but also the repetition of shocks imply that the change of mind-set, including how we think about security and the role of the military, that is demanded by the initial strategic shock has not taken place. As a result, shocks succeed to shocks and are more likely to do so until the necessary evolution of mind-set(s) takes place and thus until adequate answers are found. Note that, again here, we find elements that indicate a paradigm shift is likely to be at work (see H. Lavoix, “Towards a new paradigm?“, 2012).

Looking out for future shocks: some consequences for SF&W

The most important consequence for SF&W would take place at the analytical level, with an enlargement of the object of analysis. Indeed, when trying to foresee and warn about surprise, one is mainly concerned with others, in terms of intentions, capabilities, and actions. We analyse what is exterior to oneself through events befalling us.

Bush_signs_Patriot_Act_2001 scIf we want to look out for shocks, then we need to devote as much analytical attention to ourselves, not only the institution where the SF&W office is located, but also our society and polity. Considering the way intelligence and security thinking, and as a result state agencies, is usually organized, i.e. with a clear separation between the domestic and international realms, this would be a major change, involving ethical discussions if individual freedom is to be respected. Appropriate legislation would need to be created and voted.

We would also need to include into our impacts’ evaluation emotions, somehow following Gigerenzer (“Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Behavioral Reactions to Terrorist Attacks”, 2006). For example, we need to include new areas such as the media and the world-wide-web as propagating, flag de zakat scenhancing or dulling emotions. (Note: this last paragraph was written in 2010 and only modified to change the reference system. It was thus anticipating, among others, the use of the world-wide-web for the Arab Spring and, even more so the emotional use of media and social networks by the Islamic State pysops – see our Islamic State’s psyops series, as well as the Western work on “anti-radicalisation programmes” to face the Islamic Sate’s foreign fighters threat. Efforts to include all these elements in anticipation analysis must continue).

Looking out for future shocks would too put to the test the intelligence principle to “speak truth to power,” as self-scrutiny would imply analysis of policy, past, present and planned, and of its consequences. Meanwhile we should also consider the unintended consequences of one’s actions, as highlighted by Crocker (Ibid.) Nolan, MacEachin, and Tockman (Discourse, Dissent and Strategic Surprise2007).

Our struggle against biases would need to be enlarged to emotionally-induced biases and those incorporated into our impact assessment.

The analytical enlargement affecting impact, likelihood and timeline, in turn, would have consequences on the prioritisation of issues.

Finally, an approach through shocks could change how horizon scanning is done, as exploration of weak signals according to issues could be supplemented and cross-checked with an identification of emergence of weak signals relevant to the dynamics leading potentially to shocks within our societies (for more on weak signals and monitoring see H. Lavoix, “Horizon scanning and monitoring for anticipation: definition and practice“, 2012)

Adding strategic shock to strategic surprise as focus for SF&W may only enhance our efficiency in ensuring national and international security. It would also contribute to speed the likely needed change of mind-set and thus the progressive adoption of adequate responses to the host of problems besetting the world.

Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.

Featured image: by Steve Jurvetson, on Flickr, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Notes & Bibliography

Notes

*This article is a revised and updated version of an article previously written for the RSIS, Singapore: H. Lavoix “Looking Out for Future Shocks”, Resilience and National Security in an Uncertain World, Ed. Centre of Excellence for National Security, (Singapore: CENS-RSIS, 2011). It is a shame that although shocks were the theme of a 2010 related international conference of high level practitioners, building upon the then U.S. military and intelligence interest in shocks,  it did not lead to any real, practical and actionable incorporation of the idea of shocks in SF&W across countries and actors.

**This definition we use here and throughout the website was compiled out of Thomas Fingar, ”Myths, Fears, and Expectations,” & “Anticipating Opportunities: Using Intelligence to Shape the Future;” Payne Distinguished Lecture Series 2009; Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence and National Security; Lecture 1 & 3, FSI Stanford, CISAC Lecture Series, March 11, 2009 & October 21, 2009; Jack Davis, “Strategic Warning: If Surprise is Inevitable, What Role for Analysis?Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis, Occasional Papers, Vol.2, Number 1 ; Cynthia M. Grabo, Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning, edited by Jan Goldman, (Lanham MD: University Press of America, May 2004); Kenneth Knight, “Focused on foresight: An interview with the US’s national intelligence officer for warning,” September 2009, McKinsey Quarterly.

***“A wild card is a future development or event with a relatively low probability of occurrence but a likely high impact on the conduct of business,” BIPE Conseil / Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies / Institute for the Future: Wild Cards: A Multinational Perspective, (Institute for the Future, 1992), p. v ; The idea was then popularised with John L. Petersen, Out of the Blue, Wild Cards and Other Big Surprises, (The Arlington Institute, 1997, 2nd ed. Lanham: Madison Books, 1999).

****See also the notion of “target groups” for the selection of wild cards, John L. Petersen and Karlheinz Steinmüller, “Wild Cards,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J., 2009, Ch 10, p.3.

Bibliography

Arnas, Neyla, “Introduction,” in Neyla Arnas Ed., Fighting Chance: Global Trends and Shocks in the National Security Environment, (CTNSP, NDU Press, Potomac Books: Washington D.C., 2009).

Balasevicius, Major T., “Adapting Military Organizations to Meet Future Shock,” Canadian Army Journal, Vol. 12.2 (Summer 2009).

Binnendijk, Hans, presentation at Institute for national Strategic Studies conference, “Strategic Re-Assessment:  From Long Range Planning to Future Strategy and Forces, National Defense University, 4 June 2008.

Clark, J. Ransom, 
The Literature of Intelligence: A Bibliography of Materials, with Essays, Reviews, and Comments, “Analysis: Strategic Warning”.

Crocker, Chester A. “Thirteen Reflections on Strategic Surprise,” Georgetown University, 2007, reprinted in The Impenetrable Fog of War: Reflections on Modern Warfare and Strategic Surprise, Ed. Patrick Cronin, (Praeger Security International, 2008).

Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: 
Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, (Heinemann: London, 1999).

Elias, Norbert, Time: An Essay, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).

Freier, Nathan, Known Unknowns: Unconventional “Strategic Shocks” in Defense Strategy Development (Carlisle, PA: Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute and Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2008).

Gigerenzer, Gerd, “Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Behavioral Reactions to Terrorist Attacks”, Risk Analysis, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2006.

Grabo, Cynthia M. Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning, edited by Jan Goldman, (Lanham MD: University Press of America, May 2004)

Hiltunen, Elina, “Was It a Wild Card or Just Our Blindness to Gradual Change?” Journal of Futures Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, November 2006, pp. 61-74.

Laipson, Ellen, Ed., Seismic Shift: Understanding Change In The Middle East, Stimson, 2011.

Lavoix, Helene, “Strategic Foresight and Warning: an Introduction,” in Helene Lavoix, Ed. Strategic Foresight and Warning: Navigating the Unknown, RSIS, 2011.

Luttwak, Edward N., Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001 2nd edition).

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Transformation Chair, Forces Transformation Chairs Meeting: Visions of Transformation 2025 – Shocks and Trends, February 21, 2007.

Nolan, Janne E.  and Douglas MacEachin, with Kristine Tockman, Discourse, Dissent and Strategic Surprise Formulating U.S. Security Policy in an Age of Uncertainty (Washington, D.C., Georgetown University, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 2007).

Pham, Michel Tuan, “Emotion and Rationality: A Critical Review and Interpretation of Empirical Evidence,” Review of General Psychology, 2007, Vol. 11, No. 2, 155–178.

Schwartz, Peter, and Doug Randall, “Chapter 9, Ahead of the Curve: Anticipating Strategic Surprise,” in Francis Fukuyama, ed. Blindside: how to anticipate forcing events and wild cards in global politics (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007).

Steinmüller, Karlheinz, “The future as Wild Card. A short introduction to a new concept,” Berlin, 2003.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. (New York: Random House, 2007).

U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Operating Environment: Trends & Challenges for the Future Joint Force through 2030, (Suffolk, VA: United States Joint Forces Command, 2008).

Wohlstetter, Roberta, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962).

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 220 – 17 September 2015

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics – this week again includes much on the migrant crisis and its impact on the EU, while the U.S. strategy against the Islamic State continues to be under attack. To note also, some interesting insights on the potential advent of a new bipolar world and relatedly on China, a new poll made in Syria and Iraq, including within Islamic States held zones, as well as some analysis on the Caucasus and the Islamic State; economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. This latter section, with the COP 21 drawing nearer, gather a number of interesting new studies, articles and facts. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 17 September 2015 scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.