Tag Archives: uncertainty

Evaluating Likelihoods for Libya – Scenario 2 Methodology

In this article and the next, we shall evaluate the likelihood of the primary scenarios for foreign military intervention, which we started to detail in “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Scenario 2: The Joint Arab Force Takes a Side (1).” We shall focus on preliminary methodological work allowing for better describing the intervention cases for likelihood estimates. In the last article we discussed the likelihood of Scenario 1, where the Libyan actors negotiate a peace settlement—a scenario for which the probability we assessed was less than 20%, or highly unlikely.

As detailed previously, we shall use the methodology developed by The Red (Team) Analysis Society, building upon Heuer (“Assessing Probability of a Scenario”, in Psychology of Intelligence Analysis, pp.156-157) and the capability given by indicators. This methodology allows us to obtain an estimated likelihood, which is considered not only as good enough for the purpose of anticipation through scenarios but also as remaining usable by analysts.

Note: In the following article, we shall use the acronym COR for the Council of Representatives (nationalists), GNC for the General National Congress (Islamists), and GNA for the UN-backed Government of National Accord (unity government).

Organizing the Scenarios & Indicators

In order to mathematically deduce the likelihood of this scenario and its sub-scenarios, we organized the sub-scenarios in such a way as to correctly account for scenarios not detailed in our articles previously because they were not necessary in terms of narrative and understanding of the future of Libya – they were implicit.

For this scenario, we also had to add a supplementary step to account for intervention in support of the three separate governments, as well as the order in which intervention could occur­ as an intervention taking place for one of the governments could affect the likelihood of subsequent interventions occurring (see graphs below). With that in mind, we developed the graphs in such a way as to easily estimate the scenario likelihoods on different tiers and determine their overall likelihoods in various order of interventions.

In the first graph, external actors intervene (or not) first for the General National Congress, then on behalf of the COR depending on whether intervention has occurred (or not) in support of its rival, the General National Congress.

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In the second graph, external actors intervene (or not) first for the GNA, then in support of the COR depending on the level of intervention for the GNA.

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In the third graph, external actors intervene (or not) first on behalf of the Council of Representatives (COR), then for the GNA depending on whether intervention occurs in support of the Council of Representatives.

Click to access larger image

For tiers 2 and 3, we also had to add additional indicators that considered the potential intervention occurring in favor of the actors on tiers 1 and 2, because some indications may become more likely in the case of rivalry between competing Libyan authorities (GNC vs. COR). For example, the United Arab Emirates may be more willing to militarily intervene for the COR if Qatar has begun to intervene on the side of the GNC, possibly more so than a case where no external actors intervened in support of the GNC. Thus, we added this additional indicator to the pair of scenarios that follow an intervention in support of a particular actor on tier 1 or tier 2. In the tier 2 scenarios following the branch starting with “No Intervention in Support of [Actor]” on tier 1, we used the regular set of indicators for intervention, since no intervention occurred for the tier 1 actor.

Tier 3 accounts for the third actor receiving external intervention on its behalf according to the various branches of the “tree of scenarios for likelihoods”. As for Tier 3, we added supplementary indicators for scenarios that followed intervention of the tier 2 actor.

With the ability to estimate likelihoods (depending on the tier 1 actor) and thus calculate probabilities for three different orders of interventions, we are able to cover a broad range of scenarios. Having discussed the methodology of how we organized the various trees of intervention, we shall discuss the sets of indicators according to tiers and if necessary revise them, detail their evaluation and proceed with a first likelihood estimate in the next article.

Featured Photo: Norwegian F-16 Libya 2011 by Metziker, [CC BY-NC 2.0], via Flickr

The Psychological Impact of the Islamic State Terrorist Attacks – Geopolitics, Uncertainties and Business (6)

This article is part of a series seeking to identify the impacts of the current and most probably forthcoming Islamic State and jihadist terrorist attacks and focuses on major socio-psychological consequences. It follows a first article, which started outlining a framework for impact assessment out of our current understanding of the economic consequences of terrorism, which notably pointed out the need to use mapping as methodology if the complex and cascading characters of these impacts are to be properly assessed. The larger aim of the series is notably to understand if businesses should or not neglect these aggressions and related geopolitical uncertainties, while finding out ways to foresee these risks so as to best design answers (see Helene Lavoix, “Businesses and Geopolitics: Caught up in the Whirlwinds? (1)”, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 17 Oct 2016)

To find out which could be the psychological impacts of the ongoing string of terrorist attacks, we shall use articles related to 9/11 as well as studies following the second Intifada, which took place in Israel from the end of September 2000 until the beginning of 2005 and was waged by “Palestinian terrorism on Israeli society” (Dov Waxman, “Living with terror, not Living in Terror: The Impact of Chronic Terrorism on Israeli Society“, Perspectives on Terrorism, Vol 5, No 5-6 (2011). Each case will bring insights in what we could expect in terms of current and future socio-psychological impacts, although differences with the contemporary and forthcoming Islamic State’s and jihadist attacks should not be understated. Notably, 9/11 was a huge shock and a very large and spectacular multiple attack, but happened only once and only to one country. The Second Intifada, although targeting too a single country, taking place on a much smaller territory and aiming at a smaller population, compared with the current and probably near-future situation, should give us an insight into the consequences of attacks repeatedly waged over time and carried out in very various ways when, as outlined by Waxman, “once innocuous items (drinks, shoes, backpacks) can become the means of deadly attacks”.

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We shall first explain the disconnection existing between direct exposure to the attack, objective threat and socio-psychological impacts, i.e. how people are impacted psychologically even though they are not in the immediate vicinity of the attack and how this phenomenon takes place. This will allow us better envisioning who can be impacted. We shall then turn to the more individual harmful psychological consequences of terror attacks, from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to depression and insomnia and their impacts on businesses through impaired professional life. This will notably allow us pointing out that a crucial stakeholder for the corporate sector in terms of considering the Islamic State’s and Jihadist terrorist attacks and thus related geopolitical uncertainties is the department of human resources, which must thus be primarily involved, besides other more obvious departments such as security, risks, or sales, marketing, operations and finance. Staff in charge of exports and supplies must also become involved as the companies with whom they are dealing could be impacted by terrorist attacks. Finally, we shall turn to socio-psychological consequences with collective impacts, which have various effects on companies and de facto societies and countries, from avoidance (not doing something anymore, e.g. flying, traveling by train, visiting some countries, investing in some sectors and countries, etc.) to the rise of collectively aggressive behaviour.

Disconnection between exposure, objective threat and socio-psychological impacts

The first crucial element to consider if one is to understand and take into account properly the socio-psychological impacts of terrorist attacks is the disconnection existing between personal direct exposure, objective threat and happenstance of effects.

This disconnection has been observed again and again according to research. Silver, Holman, et al. show, in the context of the consequences of 9/11, that “the psychological effects of a major national trauma are not limited to those who experience it directly, and the degree of response is not predicted simply by objective measures of exposure to or loss from the trauma” (“Nationwide Longitudinal Study of Psychological Responses to September 11“. JAMA. 2002;288(10)). This was confirmed by Bleich, Gelkopf and Solomon, in the framework of the second Intifada, as they found “no association between symptom criteria for PTSD,…  number or intensity of TSR symptoms or any of the other indicators of distress”, and level of exposure to terrorist attacks (“Exposure to Terrorism, Stress-Related Mental Health Symptoms, and Coping Behaviors Among a Nationally Representative Sample in Israel“, JAMA. 2003;290(5): 619). Gigerenzer, similarly, in his study on dread risk and avoidance (see below) notably after 9/11, show that more people chose to drive rather than fly after the attack, even though those people had not been directly exposed (“Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Behavioral Reactions to Terrorist Attacks“, Risk Analysis,  Vol. 26, No. 2, 2006).

Furthermore, Bleich et al. (Ibid.) found “no significant association … between objective threat (high vs low residency risk, urban vs nonurban, Jewish vs Arab Israeli), exposure and future orientation, or sense of personal safety,” apart from association that could be found only in the case of fear for friends and family. The only demographic indicator that could be identified as having an effect on the happenstance of psychological symptoms was that women were more susceptible (5.5 times more likely for Israeli women) to develop PTSD and TSR symptoms and to experience feelings of depression (Ibid.), which, of course, does not imply that men do not develop these symptoms. This means also that neither the level of education nor age, nor social class etc. have an effect on the development of psycho-social impacts after a terrorist attacks, but, on the contrary that everyone is affected.

The explanation that is most often given for these disconnections is first that people are actually exposed to the attacks through media coverage (e.g. Vaxman; Daniel Antonius, “When fear is a weapon: how terror attacks influence mental health“, The Conversation, 5 Dec 2015, updated March 23, 2016;  Schlenger et al., “Psychological reactions to terrorist attacks: findings from the National Study of Americans’ Reactions to September 11.“, JAMA. 2002 Aug 7;288(5):581-8); for a review up to 2007, Marshall et al. “The psychology of ongoing threat: relative risk appraisal, the September 11 attacks, and terrorism-related fears“, Am Psychol. 2007 May-Jun;62(4). This does not mean that media should not provide coverage of the attacks, on the contrary, or, to anticipate on what is explained below, the factor of “unknowability” which mediates our distorted appraisal of risk would be heightened.

As far as the current Islamic State’s and other jihadist attacks are concerned, the rising spread not only of media access and exposure but also of direct access to witnesses’ videos, pictures and accounts through social networks, from Twitter to Facebook, through Instagram and YouTube may only heighten this characteristics of the socio-psychological effects of terrorist attacks.

Once people are exposed to attacks through media, individuals would interpret the information received through what Marshall et al. (ibid.) suggest to call “relative risk appraisal”,  a “multidimensional process that mediates the relation between environmental events and the individual’s meaningful appraisal of them.” Interestingly, we may note that individuals, when they evaluate the terrorist risk they face (ibid.) are prey to exactly the same biases as analysts trying to foresee future events (see online course, module 2).

As explained by Marshall et al. (Ibid.), this appraisal process is notably influenced by three elements, as identified by Slovic (“Perception of Risk”, Science, 1987 Apr 17;  236(4799), and Slovic P, MacGregor D, Kraus NN, “Perception of risk from automobile safety defects”, Accid Anal Prev. 1987 Oct; 19(5)). First, we have the “catastrophic, uncontrollable, and inequitable” aspect of danger, called “dread risk”. Second we have the unknowable character of the hazard, notably in terms of timing (when waiting for a plane, at a cafe, in a restaurant, when shopping, when commuting, any time and any place actually), and specificities (a suicide bomber, a knife stabbing, a lorry ramming a crowd, etc.). Finally, these characteristics must have “signal potential”, i.e. they must be interpreted as a warning of an existing danger, “which has entered the environment” (Slovic et al., 1987, ibid.).

As far as the Islamic State and other jihadist attacks are concerned, we definitely find the characteristics of uncontrollable as well as inequitable dangers, while the catastrophic element is sometimes present in terms of scope, as with the Bataclan, Stade de France and restaurants attacks in November 2015 in Paris, and often emphasised in repeated signal potentials, such as, for example, references to nuclear risk in Belgium (Debra Decker, “ISIL’s next Belgian target could be a nuclear plant“, USA Today, 24 March 2016), or regular mention of the potential use of Weapons of Massive Destructions (WMD) by the Islamic State (e.g. Associated Press, “Chemical weapons found in Mosul in Isis lab, say Iraqi forces“, The Guardian, 29 Jan 2017;  Rob Merrick, “Isis wants to carry out a chemical weapons attack in Britain, the national security minister warns“, The Independent, 1 Jan 2017).

Similarly the wide variety of modus operandi for the attacks, the inherent element of surprise found in terrorist attacks, added to the stress put by politicians, governments’ and states’ officials on the impossibility of zero risk, show that Slovic second factor is also present in the current string of attacks. Furthermore, the rising suspicion against the ruling establishment (as evidenced by President Trump election in the U.S., or shown by the degrading OECD index of “trust in government, with only 40% citizens continuing to trust their government in 2016), the willingness of governments and media to sometimes hide the terrorist character of attacks by initially favouring explanations in terms of psychiatric unbalance (e.g. Mark Mazzetti and Erik Schmitt, “In the Age of ISIS, Who’s a Terrorist, and Who’s Simply Deranged?“, The New York Times, 17 July 2016) may only heighten the feeling of “unknowability” of the population, while the signal potential has not been lowered. Finally, the signal potential may only remain as long as the Islamic State’s and Jihadist threat exist.

As a result, we may expect the disconnect to take place currently and in the near future, potentially leading to an even more distorted relative risk appraisal compared with previous episodes of attacks, considering current specificities.

The disconnection and the way it is taking place through relative risk appraisal process not only allows for the occurrence of pathological symptoms within individuals, but also favours harmful behaviour at collective or aggregate level (Marshall et al., ibid.). It is first to these different pathological symptoms in individuals  we shall now turn.

Harmful individual socio-psychological impacts: from PTSD to lower work quality and burnout

Acute Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Stress-Related Symptoms

Without entering into the clinical details, best left to Medical Doctors, these disorders are now gathered in a single category, “Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders“, and are the most painful and incapacitating range of symptoms that an individual may experience after a terrorist attack.

Acute Stress Disorder (ASD) usually appears immediately after the trauma and may last from 3 days to 1 months, while the others last for more than a month (MSD Manual).

A precise model of estimation would be necessary here, but without it, we can at least obtain a rough estimate of the number of people who are potentially concerned by these disorders out of previous instances. In the case of the second Intifada, Bleich et al. (Ibid.) report that 76.7% people suffered from at least one Traumatic Stress- Related (TSR) symptom, 9.4% suffered of PTSD and 1 person from ASD.

In the case of 9/11, two months after the attack, “the prevalence of probable PTSD was 11.2% in the greater New York area and 4.3% across the United States as a whole” (Marshall et al.). Note the difference of results between the U.S. and Israel in terms of exposure. It could stem from numerous variations, such as size of country and would justify further research. Indeed, understanding the various variables leading to variations would be crucial to better estimates for the case of the attacks at hand: for example we could test the hypothesis that the further away not only in geographical terms and exposure but also feeling of “imagined community”, to borrow from Benedict Anderson, the least likely the relative risk appraisal would operate to favour the happenstance of TSR disorders (TSRD) (Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities. Reflections on the Origin and. Spread of Nationalism, 1983, 1991, 2006).

The number of people suffering of these disorders drops after 6 months but does not disappear. Studies found that 6 months after 9/11, between 3.4% and 5.8% of people indirectly exposed through media experienced PTSD symptoms (Ibid.). In the New York area, the six-month prevalence of PTSD in the directly affected subgroup of New-Yorkers was 12.0% … and in the indirectly affected group, 3.7% (Ibid.). Always in New York, one year after the attack 4.2 % people had PTSD and the following year this number fell to 3.3%(Joseph A. Boscarino, Richard E. Adams, and Charles R. Figley, “Worker Productivity and Outpatient Service Use After the September 11th Attacks: Results From the New York City Terrorism Outcome Study“, Am J Ind Med. 2006 August ; 49(8).

The repetition of attacks, although potentially allowing for desensitisation (Bleich et al., Ibid.), also obviously multiplies the number of people who can suffer from TSR disorders, thus spreading over time adverse consequences within the very fabric of everyday life of a society.

Operations within businesses may be impacted inasmuch as the staff is psychologically hurt, which can virtually hit almost anyone, with various consequences according to whom develops TSRD and to the size of the company: a small company with, for example 10 employees, which sees one crucial member of its staff suffering of PTSD may see its overall activity more hurt than a very large company employing thousands of people, when someone can more easily be replaced.

The findings from Israel regarding less severe “suffering of one symptom of TSR” let us expect that three quarters of the population may be impacted (Bleich et al.) Thus,  pretty much all companies will have to deal with negative symptoms and, as a result, impacts on operations. The impact of the psychological trauma is not only limited  to the few months following the attacks, but could last much longer, as seen. For example, Boscarino et al. document a loss of productivity (measured through work loss and lower work quality), especially through lower work quality stemming from PTSD, notably during the second year following 9/11.

Human Resources Offices and related services should thus pay a particular attention to the potential for terrorist attacks as stemming from related geopolitical uncertainties. Meanwhile clients and suppliers may also be impacted, and this should be kept in mind by all staff dealing with them.

Depression and impaired productivity

Depression is another symptom that has been observed following terrorist attacks.

For New York residents, a study found that 11% of workers had depression during the first year following 9/11 and 10% during the second year. Depression was found as a major cause of work loss and lower work quality during the first year following 9/11, mitigated by self-esteem (Boscarino et al., Ibid).

In the case of the second Intifada, Bleich et al. (Ibid.) find that “58.6% [of respondents] reported feeling depressed or gloomy and 28% that they felt “very” depressed or gloomy.” Yet, the authors also point out that “the majority of participants (82.2% [421/512]) stated that they felt optimistic about their personal future and 66.2% (337/509) that they felt optimistic about the future of Israel.” We thus are presented with strange results, as one of the characteristics of depression is “pessimistic thoughts” (DSM-IV Criteria for Major Depressive Disorder – MDD). Further research would be needed to investigate this phenomenon, all the more so that it is used to outline the resilience of society (e.g. Vaxman, Ibid.).

Considering the impact on work quality, again, human resources offices, as well as those staff dealing with clients and suppliers which may be likewise, impacted should pay attention to terrorist attacks and to uncertainties leading to them.

From Insomnia to Burn-out

Also working on the Second Intifada, researchers found out that fear of terrorist attacks heightened the probability to develop insomnia two years after the attacks. In turn, the tiredness generated by insomnia led to heightened odds to see the impacted people experiencing job burnout “two years after insomnia increased” (Sharon Toker, Gregory A. Laurence and Yitzhak Fried, “Fear of terror and increased job burnout over time: Examining the mediating role of insomnia and the moderating role of work support“, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Volume 36, Issue 2, pages 272–291, February 2015; George Watson, “Fear of terrorism hastens path to burnout for Israeli workers“,  Texas Tech University, 19 Feb 2015).

Note that insomnia may be part of PTSD and TSRD, as well as of depression (see MSD Manual and DSM-IV Criteria). It may also be experienced without PTSD, TSRD or depression.

As previously, human resources offices, and staff dealing with clients and suppliers, are most concerned here. Interestingly, Toker et al. study also points out that co-workers’ support but not management concern had a mitigating impact and suggests that the creation of a work environment conducive to this adequate support could be key (Ibid.). Assuming the current campaign of terrorist attacks continues, as the December 2016 attack in Berlin or the February 2017 Louvre attack in Paris (e.g. The Telegraph) indicate, we are thus faced here with the possibility to have to fundamentally re-design work spaces and possibilities for employees relations, assuming companies do not want to see their operations impacted because of adverse consequences of terrorism on staff, including management and senior executives.

Socio-psychological symptoms with negative collective impacts:  avoidance and aggressive behaviour

Impaired sense of safety and avoidance

People living in societies victims of terrorist attacks tend to experience an impaired sense of safety, which lasts for a relatively long time. In the 2002 survey in Israel, 60.4% people feared for their own safety and 67.9% for the lives of family and friends (Bleich et al, Ibid).  After 9/11 in the U.S. we find a similar impact: six months after the attack 40 to 50% of Americans “feared for their safety and that of family members” (Marshall et al.). One year after the attack, in New York, up to 73% people feared for their own safety and 75% for the lives of family and friends (Ibid.).

As fear for safety leads, besides notably the fear to relive painful memories, to avoidance behaviour (Marshall et al.), this psychological impact is particularly important.

Avoidance behaviour, which is not always considered as pathological, means that affected people will avoid places and situations where they feel their life can be threatened, considering the previous terrorist attacks. For example, after 9/11 people avoided flying:  airlines’ passenger traffic in the U.S. dropped by 20% for September to December 2001 (Marshall et al.; Gigerenzer). This avoidance led to an increase in driving at least for the next three months and, also, unfortunately to more death out of car crashes (Gigerenzer, Ibid; Ropeik D, “The consequences of fear“, EMBO Reports, 2004 Oct; Spec No 5). After the March 2004 Madrid attacks, for the two following months, people in Spain reduced train travel, however less significantly, and there no increase in driving-related death was observed (Gigerenzer; López-Rousseau, “Avoiding the death risk of avoiding a dread risk: the aftermath of March 11 in Spain“, Psychol Sci. 2005 Jun;16(6) ).

For the current string of attacks, a similar avoidance phenomenon seems to be observable in Paris, although comprehensive and detailed studies focusing on avoidance for these attacks are not (yet) available: following directly the November 2015 attacks, cafés and restaurants saw a drop in attendance of 44% and 58% respectively, while hotels saw their occupancy rate lowered by 51% (Sondage Synhorcat auprès des adhérents, 20 novembre 2015 in “Rapport au Premier Ministre sur la Destination France après les Attentats“,  Rapporteur M. Sharon Elbaz, Prime Minister Office, Sept 2016: 25). Avoidance continued, although less starkly, in the following months (Ibid, p.26-31)*. The attack in Nice and St Etienne de Rouvray in July 2016, again led to touristic avoidance not only in the Cote d’Azur (region of Nice) but attendance and occupancy rate remain bad in Paris, at least until September. At the end of the first semester 2016, the number of tourist in France had fallen by 7% since january 2016 (Ibid.). The sector of tourism for the region Ile de France (region around Paris) lost 1 bn euros for the first semester. We may note here that the recurrence of attacks appears to lead to a much longer avoidance compared with flight avoidance and 9/11.

Considering the very direct impact of this specific psychological consequence on business operations, it seems obvious that the corporate sector should definitely consider terrorist attacks and the geopolitical uncertainties from which they stem. As attacks are varied in their modus operandi, the way forward would be to start wondering where and how the activity of a company could become victim of terrorist attacks, considering understanding and knowledge available on the perpetrators, i.e. in our case the Islamic State and other similar Jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda. Contingency plans to face and mitigate avoidance could then be developed peacefully in advance and only activated if the threat materializes. Planning in advance would be even more important in the case of terrorist attacks that CEOs, managers and staff being human beings, they are as susceptible as others to be hit by the various psychological symptoms following terrorist attacks, which may then not be very conducive to think peacefully and strategically. Furthermore, in such dire circumstances, having a plan ready could contribute to a much-needed safety feeling for staff and management.

Rise of aggressive behaviour

Finally, research on the socio-psychological consequences of terrorist attacks points out a probably less known but as important impact: “the impulse to respond aggressively” (Marshall et al., Ibid.) going hand in hand with a “sense of victimhood” (Vaxman, Ibid.)

As a result, at least three interactive collective consequences may be observed.

First, in the case of Israel, a “brutalization of interpersonal relations” was observed through the proxy of school violence and proliferation of firearms (Simha Landau, “Societal Costs of Political Violence: The Israeli Experience“, Palestine-Israel Journal 10, no. 1 (2003); Vaxman, Ibid.).

Second, and relatedly, “violent crime (homicide and robbery) and property crime” increased in a way that is found related to the stress generated by terrorism, as well as to potentially increased hardship as generated by the impact on the economy: between 2000 and 2001 in Israel, criminal homicides increased by 28% and robberies by 11%(Simha Landau, Ibid.; Vaxman, Ibid.).

Finally, it has been showed that terrorism leads to a “hardening of  attitudes” against the group responsible, or perceived as such,  for the terrorist attacks (Nehemia Friedland and Ariel Merari, “The Psychological Impact of Terrorism: A Double-Edged Sword“, Political Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec., 1985). Indeed, as explained by Vaxman, “terrorist attacks increase negative beliefs about and hostile attitudes toward the opposing group the terrorists claim to represent” (Daniel Bar-Tal and Daniela Labin, “The Effect of a Major Event on Stereotyping: Terrorist Attacks in Israel and Israeli Adolescents’ Perceptions of Palestinians, Jordanians and Arabs,” European Journal of Social Psychology 31, no. 3 (2001); Vaxman, Ibid.). This, added to the rising aggression and thus societal brutalisation, as well as to the feeling of “victimhood”, may only lead to a rise in hate crimes, as was also observed in the case of 9/11 (Marshall et al., ibid.).

As far as 9/11 was concerned, the increase in hate crimes seemed to have mainly occurred within 10 days following the attack (Ibid.), which corresponds to the impulsive aggressive reaction. However, in cases where attacks are repeated, then the impulsive reaction might be transformed into the more pervasive brutalization pointed out by Landau (Ibid.).

As a result, we may wonder if the Islamic State’s and other jihadists’ string of attacks does not participate in the contemporary rising polarization of society, which is observable notably throughout the Western world, as is evidenced by the brutality at work during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign and its aftermath, as well as by the extreme reactions of the media and of the losing side after Mr Trump came President, as again shown by the very controversial cover page of the German magazine Der Spiegel on 4 Feb 2017 (BBC News, “Der Spiegel: Trump beheading cover sparks criticism“, 4 Feb 2017). It is most probably not the only cause, as explained in Lessons from and for the Brexit – Geopolitics, Uncertainties, and Business (2) (Helene Lavoix, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 22 Nov 2016),  but it cannot either be ruled out that it does not play a part. Feelings of victimization and its corollary of sentiments of entitlement and self-righteousness added to brutalization of societies are certainly not conducive to composed and wise democracies.

As far as violent crime is concerned, businesses should foresee them and take adequate preventative measures. As for the more general brutalization, this should also be considered in details, according to the activity of each business, while a better understanding of the processes at work and how they can evolve in the future should be promoted before policies are decided. Indeed, it may well be that decisions taken too rapidly or without proper analysis were themselves taken under conditions of “aggressive response and victimhood feeling”. Adequate related lobbying could also be endeavoured.

To conclude, studies on 9/11 and the Second Intifada also point out the resilience** of both the American and Israeli Society to terrorist attacks (e.g. among others, Marshall et al.). In the case of the Second Intifada, resilience suggests that a phenomenon of de-sensitisation could take place when terrorism occurs repeatedly and on a long period (Vaxman, Ibid.; Bleich et al., Ibid.). However, first, this potential  de-sensitisation does not consider the brutalization pointed out by Landau (Ibid.). Further research would thus be needed.

Second, since 2001 for 9/11 and 2000-2005 for the second Intifada, eleven years have gone by.  The world and the international system, as well as all the countries targeted and threatened by the Islamic State’s and other jihadists’ terrorist attacks are caught in the unsettling times of transition.  To this should be added the variety of targeted countries in the case of the current and potentially near future attacks, with different societies, values and belief-systems, political systems and interests, compared with past attacks on single countries, heterogeneous yet each being unified by values and beliefs. Thus, the very resilience that was displayed then should not be taken for granted now, but on the contrary cautiously checked. Targeted societies may be now and in the near future more or less resilient to the attacks, terrorism becoming then one of the causes that contribute to the transitional changes, besides potentially feeding polarization as pointed out above. The possible absence or lowered resilience of the victim societies, in turn, would heighten the importance of the socio-psychological impacts of terrorism on society as a whole, as well as, de facto, on its actors, making it even more important to foresee them and to feel concerned by the issue.

*Note that the report to the French Prime Minister does not consider the psychological aspect of avoidance and thus does not take into consideration corresponding measures that could have also been designed to face this specific impact.

**We use here the definition of resilience given by B. Walker, C.S. Holling, S. R. Carpenter, A. Kinzig Resilience, 2004, “Adaptability and Transformability in Social–ecological Systems,” Ecology and Society, 9(2): 5: “The capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” Note that the choice of the definition will greatly influence what may be seen or not as a resilient behaviour to terrorism.

Featured image: Battling PTSD, Marines, May 24, 2010, United States government work, Public Domain.

About the author: Dr 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.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly – 22 December 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 22 December 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 usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilising 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: Antennas of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), on the Chajnantor Plateau in the Chilean Andes. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, two companion galaxies to our own Milky Way galaxy, can be seen as bright smudges in the night sky, in the centre of the photograph. This photograph was produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO), ESO/C. Malin [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2.4 Partition and Spill Over

In our previous article, we detailed a partition scenario where Libya splits into independent states along tribal and provincial lines, as well as a north-south axis, and in the one before, we focused on various possible spill over. This article focuses on a combination of the two cases, partition and spill over scenarios. In the first scenario, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes outright declare independence and break away from the Libyan state, which leads to significant spill over in Algeria, Niger, and Chad. In the second scenario, Libya is partitioned along provincial lines, which leads to spill over in all directions. In the last scenario, Libya splits apart along a north-south axis located through Sirte, and bordering countries experience similar spill over.

Provincial: Provincial refers to Libya’s three provinces – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan

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 2.4 Partition and Spill Over

Unresolved political grievances, exclusion from political power, tribalism, lack of faith in a unity government, economic insecurity, and the lack of security contribute to Libya’s partition. Libya is partitioned into mini-states that each pursue its own interests and don’t participate in a cohesive security plan, while surrounding countries begin to experience spill over. A combination of partition and spill over significantly alters the region, and draws neighboring countries further into Libya’s conflict and instability.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The stability level of bordering countries. If bordering countries suffer from instability, they are more susceptible to spillover effects than more stable countries. The lower the stability level of a state, the more likely this scenario will occur. For example, Niger is already plagued by Boko Haram, institutional weakness, lack of development, and a deteriorating political climate, which makes it highly susceptible to experiencing spillover from the Libyan conflict (Jezequel and Cherbib, International Crisis Group, February 19, 2016; Melly and Shepherd, Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, April 19, 2016).
  2. The strength of transnational tribal ties. As discussed in Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III, tribalism plays a significant role in Libya. Any conflict involving the Tuareg or Toubou runs the risk of spilling over throughout the region – considering their tribal ties extend across various state borders in North Africa. Conflict between the Tuareg and Toubou over vital smuggling routes, in particular, increases the likelihood of spillover.
  3. The length of the war in Libya. The longer the war in Libya continues, the higher the likelihood that it spills over. The length of war increases the number of refugees, potentially allows Salafist groups the time to expand their capabilities, and creates a demand for transnational arms and militant smuggling.
  4. The level of exhaustion from years of conflict. The longer the conflict continues, the more likely the involved actors succumb to exhaustion. Higher levels of exhaustion from conflict increase the likelihood of the competing sides to settle for partition, rather than full victory.
  5. Willingness to partition Libya into independent states, rather than unite as one people. If the rival governments are more willing to partition the country and Libyan people rather than unite for the sake of Libya’s future, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  6. Indicators 2, 3, 4, and 5 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  7. Indicators 2 and 3 of sub-scenario 2.2 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.4.1 Partition Along Tribal Lines, Spill Over in Bordering Countries

Libyan and Amazigh flags flying side by side

As discussed in our previous article, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes increasingly see that their involvement in the conflict is helping preserve a Libyan state that fails to include them. With ideas of autonomy progressively escalating to independence, the tribes decide to declare full independence from Libya and establish their own tribal states ruled by tribal councils and courts. As a result, southern Libya is partitioned away, and a small Amazigh state in the north is carved out.

With Libya’s southern trade routes as their only economic base (with the exception of the El Sharara oil field), the Tuareg and Toubou states clash for control. This continued conflict between the two tribes – now independent states – spills over to the Tuareg and Toubou in Niger, Chad, and Algeria. Some of the Tuareg in Algeria cross over to help their tribesmen in Libya, while Toubou fighters from Niger and Chad cross into Libya as well.

Furthermore, economic dependence of the new tribal countries on the trade routes allows spill over of drugs, arms, illicit goods, and jihadists into Chad, Niger, and Algeria. Tensions increase when the bordering countries deploy more forces to secure their sides of Libya’s border. With Tuareg tribes in Algeria and Niger wanting to expand the Tuareg state, as well as Toubou tribes in Chad and Niger wanting to expand the Toubou state in former southern Libya, these bordering countries face growing tribal movements that threaten their country’s stability and borders. Similar to the Northern Mali conflict in 2012, conditions are created in Algeria, Niger, and Chad that lead to open insurgencies by the tribes; however, these are new conflicts and would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Tribal conflict and subsequent insurgencies in northern Niger, southeastern Algeria, and southwestern Libya may temporarily disrupt the migrant flow that goes through Ghat. In that case, migrant flows might shift to smuggling routes through Algeria and Egypt. Even if tribal partition and subsequent conflict temporarily disrupt migrant routes going through southwestern Libya, continuing conflict between the Islamists and nationalists prevent them from fully controlling the masses of migrants already in northern Libya that are poised to cross the Mediterranean.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of reliance on the southern trade routes. If trade routes offer the sole form of economic sufficiency and prosperity, it is highly likely that spill over will occur as a result – whether in the form of jihadists, drugs, arms, migrants, or illicit goods. According to Global Risk Insights, “the Fezzan region is at the core of this booming lawlessness” (Global Risk Insights, August 28, 2016), which supports our notion that independent tribal states in Fezzan will lead to spill over.
  2. Control of the El Sharara oil field. If one of the new tribal states gains control of the El Sharara oil field and is able to exploit it for economic gain, total reliance on the trade routes may be mitigated – which could decrease the levels of resulting spill over. However, one tribe’s control of the oil field could simultaneously spark tribal conflict over its control, thus leading to tribal spill over. A past indication occurred when Tuareg and Toubou fighters – backed by Misrata and Zintan, respectively – fought for control of the oil field in 2014 (Al Jazeera, December 5, 2014).
  3. The level of conflict that can shift migrant routes. If tribal conflict significantly escalates to a regional level with tribal fighters coming from Algeria, Niger, and Chad, it may cause migrant smugglers to avoid the major routes through Ghat and instead pursue migrant routes through Algeria and Egypt. Pursuing alternative migrant routes increases the likelihood of this scenario occurring.
  4. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  5. Indicators 1-4 of sub-scenario 2.3.1 act here in a similar way.
  6. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.4.2 Partition Along Provincial Lines, Spill Over in Bordering Countries

After reaching a military stalemate, but not wanting to submit to a government dominated by the enemy, the Islamists, Misratans, nationalists, and tribes look for an alternative. With faith in their own abilities to fulfill state functions, and having no hope for a unity government, the competing sides partition Libya along provincial lines and declare self-governing states (see Mitchell, “Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition” for an in-depth narrative on provincial partition). In this case, the Tuareg and Toubou tribes agree to share power if it means having their own state in southern Libya.

Although the Tuareg and Toubou tribes share power in the Fezzan province, they are still economically dependent on the trade routes. This allows jihadists, migrant smugglers, drug smugglers, and arms smugglers to operate freely – crossing the borders of Libya’s neighbors and going into Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. The tribal state’s dependence on the trade routes causes smuggling rates to drastically increase. Once smugglers and jihadists cross over into the northern and eastern provinces (now “states”), they spill over into Europe, Egypt, and Tunisia. As the new states of Tripolitania and Cyrenaica prioritize the removal of Salafist threats, jihadists begin to shift their operations to bordering countries. Tunisia – which is already particularly susceptible to Tunisian-born jihadists returning from regional conflicts – begins to see an increase in terrorist attacks as jihadists migrate from northern Libya. Jihadists also begin to spill over to Algeria, Niger, Chad, and Egypt to join with other Al-Qaida or Islamic State groups. Egypt works with the eastern state of Cyrenaica to secure Egypt’s western border (see further details in sub-scenario 2.4.3). With Egypt’s assistance, nationalist forces in Cyrenaica are able to put heavy pressure on Salafist groups, which cause Salafist groups in the Sinai to support their fellow jihadists in Libya by increasing their attacks against Egypt.

With the three states of former Libya focused on building their own states, clashing over natural resources, and attempting to put down rivals, the migrant crisis continues to expand. Not having the ability or not wanting to waste precious funding on migrant masses, the northern and eastern states allow migrants on Libya’s shores to cross over into Europe. Unless Europe provides resources to help the new Libyan states deal with the large numbers of migrants, migrant spill over ensues and further exacerbates Europe’s migrant crisis.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability or desire to care for and contain migrants on Libya’s shore. With security efforts, the rebuilding of critical infrastructure, and the provision of basic social services likely taking priority after a partition, the new states would not have the ability or desire to care for and contain roughly 235,000 refugees and migrants on their shores. The lack of ability or desire to care for migrants can be seen in Libya’s current migrant detention centers, where detained migrants are reportedly “coerced into hard labor, beaten by guards, and cramped into tiny cells with little food or water…” (Alfred, Huffington Post, May 27, 2016). Without European assistance or pressure, it is likely that these conditions for migrants would persist after partition.
  2. The willingness of Europe to provide assistance in containing the migrant flow. If the European Union is willing to provide assistance to the new Libyan states to contain the migrant flows, the likelihood of this scenario decreases. A past indication occurred when the European Union signed a memorandum of understanding to help train Libyan coast guard and naval forces in preventing illegal migration across the Mediterranean (STRATFOR, August 24, 2016).
  3. Indicators 1 and 2 of sub-scenario 2.4.1 act here in a similar way.
  4. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  5. Indicators 1 and 2 of sub-scenario 2.3.2 act here in a similar way.
  6. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 act here in a similar way.
  7. Indicators 1-7 of sub-scenario 2.2.3 act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.4.3 Partition Along North-South Axis, Spill Over in Bordering Countries

The primary difference between this scenario and 2.4.2 is that the tribes maintain their alliances with the competing governments and agree to the east-west split, rather than form their own tribal states (see Mitchell, “Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition” for an in-depth narrative on partition along a north-south axis). Furthermore, smuggling trends will not inflate to levels that would be seen in a 2.4.1 or 2.4.2 scenario where tribal states are reliant on the trade routes for state income. Rather, a partition along a north-south axis would allow the western Libya state to tap into oil resources and commercial trade instead of relying on smuggling.

Similar to sub-scenario 2.4.2, the competing sides are exhausted by civil war, but are unwilling to unite under one government. With the support of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou, the rival governments partition Libya along a north-south axis – with the axis starting in Sirte and going through to the southern Libyan border.

Similar to the previous sub-scenario, the two new Libyan states are unwilling or unable to accommodate the large groups of migrants on their northern shores, and thus allow them to spill over to Europe. Furthermore, the two states are focused on destroying Salafist strongholds within their respective borders, which inadvertently causes spill over in all directions. As Salafist strongholds come down, jihadists begin migrating to neighboring countries with Al-Qaida or Islamic State groups – such as Algeria, Niger, Tunisia, and Egypt.

To secure its western border, Egypt invests heavily in the eastern Libyan state’s security forces – likely in the form of training and weapons. As Libya’s Salafist groups come under extreme pressure by the nationalist forces, Wilayat Sinai begins to increasingly attack Egyptian targets in retaliation for Egypt’s assistance to the eastern Libyan state. The cooperation between the eastern Libyan state and Egypt focused against Salafist groups prompts Wilayat Sinai to put out a global call of support for its struggle against Egypt. Unless Egypt withdraws its military support of the nationalist government and its new state, spill over from Libya increases Egypt’s instability.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.4.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of the new states to provide alternate economic opportunities to southern tribes. Since the Tuareg and Toubou will be included in the new states, they will be able to benefit from the economic opportunities in the north – at least more so than if they had their own tribal states. If the new states invest in economic development for the tribes, and or include them in the economic benefits of oil exports, the tribes would be less reliant on smuggling routes. As a result, there would be less spill over from the smuggling routes, and the likelihood of this scenario would decrease.
  2. Indicators 1 and 2 of sub-scenario 2.4.2 act here in a similar way.
  3. Indicators 1, 2, 3, and 5 of sub-scenario 2.3 act here in a similar way.
  4. Indicators 1-3 of sub-scenario 2.3.3 act here in a similar way.
  5. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 act here in a similar way.
  6. Indicators 1-7 of sub-scenario 2.2.3 act here in a similar way.


Featured Photo: Photo posted on King Robbo Twitter page, 21 September 2016

“A fierce battle for control in Libya’s desert,” Al Jazeera, December 5, 2014

Charlotte Alfred, “Libya is Saving Migrants at Sea, only to Trap Them in Dire Conditions on Land,” Huffington Post, May 27, 2016

Jean-Herve Jezequel and Hamza Cherbib, “Presidential Elections in Niger: Tense Climate, Uncertain Future,” International Crisis Group, February 19, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition,” The Red Team Analysis Society, September 12, 2016

“Libya, EU come to an Agreement on Migrants,” STRATFOR, August 24, 2016

“Libya’s Collapse is Changing North Africa,” Global Risk Insights, August 28, 2016

Paul Melly and Ben Shepherd, “Stability and vulnerability in the Sahel: the regional roles and internal dynamics of Chad and Niger,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, April 2016

Scenarios for the Future of Libya – Sc 2.3 Libya’s Partition

In our previous article, we detailed a spillover scenario where conflict spills over in all directions, including Europe, Algeria, Niger, and Egypt. This article is focusing on possible scenarios depicting Libya’s partition that could stem from the Libyan war. In the first scenario, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes move from ideas of autonomy to outright declaring independence and breaking away from the Libyan state as a result of marginalization and lack of security. In the second scenario, Libyans begin declaring independence and breaking away from the rest of Libya along provincial lines. In the last scenario, Libya splits apart along a north-south axis located through or close to Sirte – essentially East Libya and West Libya – with the Islamists, Misratans, Amazigh, and Tuareg in the west, and the nationalist forces, federalists, and Toubou in the east.

Provincial: Provincial refers to Libya’s three provinces – Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, and Fezzan

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.

Sub-scenario 2.3 Libya’s Partition

Tribalism, lack of faith in a unity government, the lack of security, economic insecurity, opposition to groups in power, and exclusion from or grievances with the political sphere are the primary factors that contribute to Libya’s partition. It is important to note that tribal independence may also occur after a partition along provincial lines or along a north-south axis located through Sirte.

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk management
Click to access larger image

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of exhaustion from years of conflict. The longer the conflict continues, the more likely the involved actors succumb to exhaustion. Higher levels of exhaustion from conflict increase the likelihood of the competing sides to settle for partition, rather than full victory.
  2. Level of faith in a unity government. If the rival factions distrust or have no faith in a unity government, they will lean towards full victory or outright partition in order to maintain their own type of governance. A past indication occurred when the Council of Representatives passed a vote of no confidence in the UN-backed unity government (“Libyan parliament scuppers UN-backed unity government,” Deutsche Welle, August 22, 2016).
  3. The level of security throughout the country. One of the primary functions of a state is to maintain stability and defend its citizens. With a civil war raging and security forces lacking or non-existent, the rival factions and tribes provide for their own security. The lack of proper security increases the likelihood of the rival groups pushing for independent states. Furthermore, the lack of security heavily contributes to the weakening of the state, which in turn weakens the nation. The more weakened the nation, the higher the likelihood of partition.
  4. Increased influence of tribalism throughout Libya. As civil war drags on and conditions deteriorate, it’s likely that tribalism will increase. Increased tribalism will increase the likelihood of partition, particularly a partition along tribal lines.
  5. Level of political inclusion for minority tribes. If minority tribes continue to be excluded or underrepresented at the state level, they will more likely push for an independent state with a tribal government.
  6. Willingness to partition Libya into independent states, rather than unite as one people. If the rival governments are more willing to partition the country and Libyan people rather than unite for the sake of Libya’s future, the likelihood of this scenario increases.

Sub-scenario 2.3.1 Partition Along Tribal Lines

As the conflict continues, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou tribes increasingly see that their involvement is helping preserve a Libyan state that fails to include them – involvement that is taking a toll on their people. This mentality increases as the war drags on, which soon causes the tribes to think that their people would be better off in an independent state where tribalism is the belief-system behind the state.

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk managementWith previous rhetoric for autonomy coming to the forefront and progressively escalating, the tribes confer with their tribal leaders and councils to come to an official decision. The lack of security, lack of economic development and inclusion by the state, marginalization and outright aggression by Arab tribes, and opposition to foreign “intervention” (assuming that foreign soldiers and government personnel are operating in tandem with the Libyan government(s)) push these tribes to forego autonomy and outright declare full independence from the Libyan state and establish their own tribal state ruled by tribal councils and courts. As all three minority tribes declare independence – and it is possible that a declaration of full independence by one tribe will influence the others to do the same – much of southern Libya is essentially partitioned from the rest of the country, with a small autonomous Amazigh state in the north. A partition along tribal lines significantly limits the power of the national government in Libya, or the fighting between contending national governments, and threatens to influence additional secessionist movements.

Furthermore, the whole strategic and geopolitical outlook of the region is fundamentally altered. The primary issue stems from international recognition. Some states may support independent Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou states, while others do not – of which these differing positions may cause further political or military conflict.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.1 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Level of tribal resentment towards the competing governments. If the minority tribes continue to feel excluded from power – despite allying with the rival governments – they will be more likely to push for independent tribal states.
  2. The level of marginalization and aggression by Arab tribes towards the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou. If Arab tribes continue to fight with the minority tribes for territory and influence, the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou may push for independent states in order to legitimize their territorial claims.
  3. Level of opposition to foreign involvement in Libya. Considering foreign intervention’s effect on Libya’s minority tribes throughout history (see Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War I, II, and III), the tribes will be more willing to oppose the rival governments and declare independence for themselves if foreign forces are operating alongside the Islamists or nationalists.
  4. The progression of rhetoric from autonomy to full independence. If tribes begin moving from the autonomy rhetoric to independence rhetoric, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases (see Lavoix, PhD Thesis, 2005, for how this occurred in Cambodia). Furthermore, if one tribe begins a move for independence, it may cause the other two minority tribes to change their rhetoric as well.
  5. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.3.2 Partition Along Provincial Lines

After a long period of conflict, the Islamists, Misratans, nationalists, and tribes reach a military stalemate. Exhausted by continuous fighting, but not wanting to submit to a government dominated by the enemy, the Islamists, nationalists, and even the tribes, look for an alternative. Fuelled by their own abilities to provide security, governance, and social services in their own territory, as well as by enmity against the enemy, the competing sides push for independence and acceptance of partition. The Toubou and Tuareg tribes in the southern province of Fezzan are already on the verge of independence, and the primary coalitions in northern Libya are essentially divided on provincial lines. Having abandoned the hope that a unity government representing them is possible, the opposing coalitions partition Libya along the country’s historical provincial lines and declare self-governing entities. In this way, each new government can perform the functions needed for each new country (printing money, overseeing oil exports, foreign relations, etc.). In each ex-province now a state, Libyans can elect strong leadership and accomplish state functions on that level.

The Islamists and Misrata primarily become the leading force for the new Tripolitania, the nationalists for the new Cyrenaica – which is also the heart of Libya’s federalist movement, and the Tuareg and Toubou tribes share the power in the southern province of Fezzan.

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk management
Historical provinces of Libya

Similar to sub-scenario 2.3.1, the whole strategic and geopolitical outlook of the region is fundamentally altered. The primary issue stems from international recognition. We could imagine that countries like Turkey and Qatar immediately recognize the Islamist-dominated Tripolitania, while countries like Egypt and the United Arab Emirates immediately grant recognition to Cyrenaica, which is dominated by the nationalists – led by people like General Haftar. Recognition for the Tuareg and Toubou state of Fezzan may also be mixed. The international community’s differing positions on legitimacy and recognition have the serious potential to cause further political or military conflict in Libya, and the whole region.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.2 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. Willingness to partition the country along provincial lines. If all the powerful factions agree to split the country along provincial lines, the likelihood significantly increases. The trouble lies in the rival governments conceding to partition along these provincial borders despite territorial gains made during the war. Furthermore, the Toubou and Tuareg would have to agree to share power in the province of Fezzan (see indicator below).
  2. Toubou and Tuareg’s willingness to share power in the southern province. In order for Libya to partition along tribal lines, the Toubou and Tuareg tribes in Fezzan province have to agree to share power. They will have to come to a lasting agreement on territorial control – particularly over vital trade routes (see Mitchell, Tribal Dynamics and Civil War II and III). If the two tribes come to a territorial agreement and are willing to share power in Fezzan, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  3. Indicators 1-6 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.

Sub-scenario 2.3.3 Partition Along North-South Axis (Islamists vs. Nationalists)

scenarios, Libyan scenario, Libyan war, Libya's partition, strategic foresight, warning, early warning, geopolitics, uncertainty, geopolitical risk, risk managementSimilar to sub-scenario 2.3.2, the various sides are exhausted by civil war, but are unwilling to unite under one government. Driven by exhaustion from conflict, ego, and belief in their abilities to fulfill state functions better than their opponents, the opposing sides split Libya along a north-south axis with the Islamists, Misratans, Amazigh, and Tuareg in the west, and the nationalists and Toubou in the East. Considering Sirte’s strategic location between east and west Libya (Fasanotti, The Atlantic, August 27, 2016), the axis begins there – or very close to the city – and goes south. With territorial control more or less established, the rival governments declare independence for their respective portion of the Libyan state. As a result, both governments compete for international legitimacy, and begin structuring their own political system, military and police forces, social services, currency, and oil ministries. Given Libya’s geographic climate and location of natural resources, there is naturally some additional conflict over water and oil resources that can determine the survival of these now independent “states”.

The difference between this scenario and scenario 2.3.2 is that the Tuareg, Toubou, and Amazigh tribes are more involved with the competing governments, and go along with an east-west split, rather than forming their own independent tribal states.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.3.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The level of tribal inclusion with the Islamist and nationalist governments. In order for Libya to be partitioned along a north-south axis, the Amazigh, Toubou and Tuareg will have to agree to be part of the partition and submit to the rule of their respective governments. If the Islamist and nationalist governments better include these tribes, as well as address their other grievances, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  2. Willingness of the Amazigh, Tuareg, and Toubou to be included in these two new states, rather than form their own independent tribal states. Building upon the first indicator above, if the minority tribes are better included in government and have their grievances addressed, they will likely be more willing to be included in one of the two new states, rather than form their own independent mini-states – which increases the likelihood of this scenario.
  3. Ability of the competing governments to agree on a dividing border. The competing governments must agree on a fixed border in order for this scenario to occur. If one side holds more territory, they will likely not be as willing to scale back their territory in order to abide by a border. However, if both governments are able to reach a binding agreement on a fixed border along a north-south axis, the likelihood of this scenario significantly increases.
  4. Indicators 1, 2, 3, and 5 of sub-scenario 2.3 also act here in a similar way.


Featured Photo: Council of Representatives Government posted on the Council of Representatives Facebook Page, 1 September 2016

Federica Saini Fasanotti, “Why Partitioning Libya Might Be the Only Way to Save It,” The Atlantic, August 27, 2016

Helene Lavoix, “’Nationalism’ and ‘Genocide’: The Construction of Nation-ness, Authority, and Opposition, The Case of Cambodia (1861-1979),” PhD Thesis, University of London – School of Oriental and African Studies, 2005

Jon Mitchell, “The Libyan War Spills Over to Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Europe – Scenarios for the Future of Libya,” The Red Team Analysis Society, July 11, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (1),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 13, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, April 20, 2015

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures – Tribal Dynamics and Civil War (3),” The Red Team Analysis Society, May 11, 2015

“Libyan parliament scuppers UN-backed unity government,” Deutsche Welle, August 22, 2016


Assessing End of Year Predictions: How Did they Fare? (2)

Here are the results of our experiment on the evaluation of a sample of 2012 end of year predictions, following up on the post explaining the methodology used (spreadsheet and an interactive version of the charts can be found here).

Let us start with the bad news. As a whole, the percentage of success is relatively low, 27%, i.e. 44 predictions were correct out of the 165 made. However, this global figure hides very different results.

In terms of method, as shown below, classical analysis (that may cover the use of other methods or not) obtains the whole range of results, from complete inaccuracy to excellent. The validity of the judgement on the future depends upon the knowledge, understanding and genius of the analyst.

predictions, 2012, success rate, evaluationRisk analysis fares better than overall sample, but is still below 50%. This might be related to the absence of differentiation between likelihood and impact as explained in the previous post.

Our sole example of scenario is relatively unsuccessful. However, this is also linked to the very specific form and place scenarios have in terms of foresight: fictionalized narratives mainly aim at making one plausible version of the future real for the target audience. They intend to break cognitive biases and other lenses. They must be built upon a coherent model, which can be seen as the principle, the essence, but the unfolding discrete events themselves are only one example of what might happen. In Kant’s understanding, a scenario is a phenomenon, built upon noumena.

Unsurprisingly, analysis that includes, more or less, a part of recommendation and advocacy, what we could see as normative predictions, do not fare very well.

This brief evaluation, however, tells only one part of the story. As explained in the methodological post, we can draw much more interesting conclusions out of an assessment that is less drastic and marks each prediction first according to the plausibility of the content and second to the accuracy of the timing, despite the inherent subjectivity of the approach.

Issues and countries: a conventional view of national security

The first very interesting result this experiment gives us is about the topic of the predictions itself, what was deemed as relevant and interesting enough to be the object of anticipation.

The overwhelming majority of predictions were made according to countries, be they focused on economics, political economy, geopolitics or politics. The map below shows the intensity of the number of predictions made, the brightest the colour, the more numerous the prediction. Some countries were off the radar, when, for example, coups in Mali and Guinea-Bissau happened, as correctly predicted by Jay Ulfelder, whose forecasts were not included in the experiment. This underlines the danger to leave some countries out when making judgements on the future, because one will automatically tend to focus on those countries where events or problems occurred in the recent past, or on those that were of interest for one reason or another. The limited character of resources however most of the time forces such initial selection, which thus must be made with great care and kept in mind.

nbre per countries scaled1Very few assessments concerned other global problems, when they belong to what is called unconventional national security. Among those identified in our sample, we find: oil, water, gold, the virtual and digital world (although hardly with a cyber-security dimension), augmented reality, and the environment (but only in terms of regime and debates, not in terms of actual natural events and their impacts). Many issues such as most transformational technologies, from nano to biosecurity, health concerns, cyber threats, extreme weather events or resources competition beyond oil were thus left out. One possible explanations is that we are still operating within specializations inherited from the last three centuries, and that for each new issue appearing on the agenda of national security, a new sector of expertise is created, with serious potential adverse consequences on our identification of threats. We may very well become perfect in terms of predictions on old topics, this will always remain insufficient if interactions and feedbacks with new threats are ignored. For example, International Relations – or geopolitical – analysis must fully include the cyber dimension, and cyber-security in terms of national security cannot be fully understood without the international, geopolitical and political dimensions.

Systematically including horizon scanning for emergence of novel dangers and pluri-disciplinary/multi-expertise work would be needed. Another possible explanation is that those unconventional security issues were left out because they were estimated as beyond the 2012 time horizon. We may only wish this latter hypothesis to be correct.

Inaccurate timing and relatively plausible content

If we now look at the countries, object of predictions, and colour them first according to the plausibility of content of the predictions, and second according to the accuracy of the timing, we have the two following maps. The averaged accuracy of the results goes from deep red (inaccuracy) to deep green (accuracy).

2012, prediction, evaluation 2012, prediction, evaluation

The maps confirm the hunch I wished to test: our capacity to predict timing is less good than our ability to understand content and thus foresee coming evolutions. We know quite well what will most probably happen, but we do not know precisely when.

Interestingly, China, Russia and the U.S. fare relatively badly for both content and timing. This could be explained by strong cognitive and ideological biases existing for those three countries, including, for the U.S., which also ranks first for the number of predictions, those biases related to partisan politics… and analysis. Regarding our initial conclusions on methodology, and considering the lack of explanations given by authors, this shows that we should, ideally, and as underlined by forecaster, futurist and strategist Scott Smith in his Year-end lists are hazardous to your health, identify precisely who the author is, his/her target audience, and in which context the predictions were made. The category mixing classical and normative analysis would most probably swell as a result.

Timing for Brazil is completely wrong, and this would be even worse if the prediction made for the BRICS (0 on all counts) had been added, while the results would have been less good for all the other BRICS. Again, we are seeing an ideological bias at work, a “pro-BRICS” bias, which is also the reflect of a global power struggle we can see enacted in any international fora.

These results point towards the absolute necessity to struggle against all biases when making judgements on the future, if proper decisions are to result from this foresight (which is of most probably not the case with our sample, but we have to consider that many decision-makers also read open source predictions and may be influenced by them, knowingly or not).

Novelty and pace

Finally, let us observe the evaluation for all predictions, without aggregation and average (click here to open the chart in full in another window).

results 2012 predictions scaled 1

Besides the points we already made, what is most striking is the way various water issues were erroneously foreseen. If, true enough, only one author is concerned – and he had the merit to select this issue when the corresponding U.S. ICA was not yet published – we can always learn from all mistakes. This erroneous judgements on water security may underline the difficulty of properly estimating issues when those are relatively newly integrated in assessments. First, there is an insufficient accumulated knowledge and understanding. Second, the eagerness to promote a topic that may still be debated and belittled may lead to overstatement.

The wrong timing on various European countries stems most probably from our very imperfect knowledge of internal political dynamics, as those last decades mainstream political science has tended to focus on elite politics and public policy – one of the major cause of the warning failure regarding the “Arab Spring” – even more so in the case of the so-called rich countries. Furthermore, time is very rarely an object of research. Finally, we tend collectively to forget that the political time is long – even very long – and that much of our (recent) habits, approaches and institutions do not accommodate for it… but this will not change the reality of political dynamics.


Nota: The surprising, at first glance, cases when timing gets a better mark than content correspond to predictions that were accurate (or almost accurate) in terms of timing, accompanied by explanation of dynamics that were partly or fully wrong, illogical, or inaccurate.

An Experiment in Assessing End of Year Predictions (1)

experiment, assessing, evaluating, foresight, forecast, prediction Evaluating predictions, or more broadly the end-products resulting from methodologies used to anticipate possible futures, should become the norm rather than the exception, as explained in a previous post. Such exercise should improve methods and processes and direct our efforts towards further research. We shall here make the experiment to assess a sample of open source predictions for the year 2012. This part will address the methodological problems encountered while creating the evaluation itself, and underline the related lessons learned. The second part (forthcoming) will discuss results.

Actually, there is nothing new here as estimating results for “predictions” is one of the fundamental principles of science (a scientific theory must have explanatory, descriptive and predictive power). If a theory does not fulfill the predictive criteria, then it must be disqualified. Things are relatively straightforward when dealing with hard science. They are much more complex when we are in he field of social science, and the very possibility to obtain predictive power is hotly discussed, debated and often discarded. If we consider the family of disciplines, sub-disciplines and methodologies – what we call here strategic foresight and warning (foresight for short) – that deal with future(s)-related analysis, then we are faced with even more challenges. Some methodologies will be considered as scientific, and among them, some are close to hard science, while others belong to the realm of social science. Other approaches will be seen as art and thus are considered as not having to be tested. Furthermore, everyone has her/his own vision of what constitutes good future(s) related analysis, what should be done and used, what is valuable and what is not.

Despite these difficulties, it is still worth our while evaluating those future(s) related efforts, which had the courage to make an evaluation for the future located on a timeline. This is, of course, a very small exercise and experiment, compared with what is done by The Good Judgement project, led by Philip Tetlock, Barbara Mellers, and Don Moore with funding by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) and explained in this article by Dan Gardner and Philip Tetlock, “Overcoming our aversion to acknowledging our ignorance.” Nevertheless, hopefully, it will also bring interesting results, and the reflection it imposes, the questions it brings are in themselves a very constructive practice.

For this experiment, the sample used is constituted of open source predictions for the year 2012 posted on the web from December 2011 to January 2012, as presented here.

The result of the evaluation, in a Google spreadsheet, can be downloaded here or viewed below. Explanations and discussion follow.

The sources used to evaluate the foresight are given in the seventh column (except when the answer is obvious or common knowledge, and thus does not necessitate reference to a specific source e.g. the European Union still exists).

The variety of format and methodologies, furthermore more or less explained, was a first challenge. How to evaluate consistently “predictions” delivered in ways as varied as classical analysis (e.g. The Financial Times – Beyond BRICS), scenarios (e.g. Tick by Tick Team), risks (e.g. CFR – Preventive Priorities Survey: 2012) or predictions mixed with policy recommendations and advocacy, what could be seen as a version of normative foresight (e.g. Foreign Policy with the International Crisis Group – 10 conficts to watch in 2012)?

The Council on Foreign Relations, risk and making likelihood explicit

The Council on Foreign Relations’ approach is a perfect example of this hurdle. Its risk list for 2012 was particularly difficult to evaluate considering the way it is formulated and the lack of information regarding the methodology (those challenges have been removed or to the least improved with the 2013 version, where we find more detailed explanations and where likelihood and impact are separated). To find out what the CFR exactly meant I had to turn to a companion article to the risk list published in the Atlantic, “Gauging Top Global Threats in 2012“. There we read:

“The contingencies that were introduced for the first time or elevated in terms of their relative importance and likelihood in 2012 included an intensification of the eurozone crisis, acute political instability in Saudi Arabia that threatens global oil supplies, and heightened unrest in Bahrain that spurs further military action.”

A contingency means “an event (as an emergency) that may but is not certain to occur”.

Thus we can deduce that the CFR saw all the events (their “risks”) listed as possible for the year 2012 – if not probable. This is on this basis that the evaluation was made. Hence, all the CFR “risk-statements” were mentally expanded as follows: “a mass casualty attack on the U.S. homeland or on a treaty ally” means, for evaluation, “a mass casualty attack on the U.S. homeland or on a treaty ally” in 2012 is possible and would have a major impact for US National Interest (according to the tier to which the risk belongs) or “a major military incident with China involving U.S. or allied forces” means “a major military incident with China involving U.S. or allied forces” is possible in 2012 and would have a major impact etc.

Making the “risk-statements” more explicit for evaluation (however not transforming the statement itself) immediately underlines how the fusion of likelihood and impact existing most commonly in the idea of risk (until the concept itself was revised by the new ISO31000: 2009 norm) creates supplementary difficulties in terms of evaluation, hence my personal reluctance to use the concept, despite its fashionable character. What are we to judge: a likelihood? an estimation of impact? a timing? As already mentioned, the CFR Preventive Priorities Survey tackled indeed this problem and now (2013) gives detailed results in terms of impact and likelihood.

This underlines how crucial it would be, ideally, to always include, for all results of future(s)-analysis an estimation of likelihood, as done, for example, in the Intelligence Assessments (see p.14 of the ICA on Global Water Security).

In our sample, each prediction, or series thereof, corresponds to one or another methodology. Yet, rather than trying to standardize thoughts, for example transforming what the authors wanted to write in a sentence easy to evaluate, I chose to keep the text as it was, breaking it down in various paragraphs most of the time, sometimes expanding it mentally as explained above for the CFR, and in agreement with their methodology, but not altering it, and to evaluate it as such. The exercise was constructive in itself and led to interesting points. We shall see with the next post if the results will also say something about the foresight methodology itself.

When the text was far too removed from something that looked like a judgement on the future, for example when it was only an opinion on what was happening, or when it was a 50/50 possibility, I excluded the sentence or paragraph from the sample (in red in the spreadsheet).

Scenarios, timing and content

As I started the concrete phase of evaluating statements with the fictionalized scenario made by Tick by Tick Team (Finance), it very quickly became clear that I had to make two types of assessment: one regarding the plausibility and logic of the content of the prediction itself, the other the accuracy of the timing. Indeed, some of the predictions made still sounded plausible, had not happened in 2012 but could not be ruled out for the short to medium term, e.g. “Greece leaves the Euro, returns to the Drachma.” (3002 – this number corresponds to the identification given in the database, to facilitate reference). To me there is a large difference with a prediction that is plainly wrong in terms of content and thus impossible in terms of timing: e.g. Syria deals with the “initial post-Assad stages” (2011) or “Obama decides not to run for elections” (3011).

Furthermore, this approach will allow me to test a hunch according to which we are in general much better to explain phenomena than to time them, would it be only because we hardly ever work on timing (outside the hard science realm).

Evaluating content and timing: a difficult, uncertain, never-ending task?

Thus, columns 4 and 5 display marks for content and timing, ranging from 0 (completely wrong) to 1 (completely accurate). There is, however, a major hurdle with this approach. First, by judging the content in terms of plausibility of dynamics, I evaluate one understanding (the author’s) against another (mine). There is little we can do about it as this is the core of research and debates in social science, besides giving evidence (column 7, the sources), developing a coherent argument and/or pointing out flaws in the argument subjected to the evaluation. A commissioned report would need to be more detailed and specified than I could be in the framework of a volunteered experiment.

foresight, prediction, evaluationSecond, it implies that by evaluating the plausibility of something happening in the future, then I am myself making a judgement on the future, thus a prediction. Ultimately, those challenges should be resolved through the happenstance of events and facts, which suggests that evaluations should themselves be reviewed and followed in time. This is certainly not ideal, but still better than to lose the information on timing and content, which would happen if one chose with black and white, true or false, 0 and 1 answers.

Objectivity (as much as biases allow) of the person assessing the predictions is crucial, and the use of teams that would discuss and confront their analyses would be best. Furthermore, the latter would also allow overcoming plain lack of knowledge on one issue or another.

This leads us to a last challenge that is not easily overcome for some predictions: the information that is available to the person doing the evaluation. Still using the CFR example, and more particularly the risk of “a mass casualty attack on the U.S. homeland or on a treaty ally”, some actions taken throughout the year by authorities may have prevented a risk to materialize, thus the prediction could be seen as false. Certainly, had no intelligence, defense and diplomatic actions existed, then such risk would have materialised. Such state’s actions are ongoing, and, as an outsider, we can only estimate (without complete certainty) that it is because of them that the threat did not materialize, not because the risk was incorrectly identified. An evaluation made by an insider with access to all classified documents would be made with more confidence. Here, I could only estimate the reality of the risk to the best of my understanding and knowledge, for example with the use of counterfactuals.

Should all those challenges, the existence of uncertainty even in evaluation, lead us to conclude that trying to evaluate foresight products is useless? My first answer, at this stage, is no because all the questions one asks or should ask oneself and that are forced by the evaluation are crucial and may only lead to better methodologies and thus to better judgements on the future. It is thus a gage of quality. We shall see next what the results of the assessment, keeping in mind all their imperfections, may tell us.


“Gauging Top Global Threats in 2012” – Interviewee: Micah Zenko, Fellow for Conflict Prevention, 
Interviewer: Robert McMahon, Editor, 
December 8, 2011, The Atlantic.

Useful Rules for Foresight from Taleb’s The Black Swan

This second post on The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb emphasises some of the author’s points that could be useful to foresight and warning and all “predictive work. Many of those themes are not really new, but already integrated in F&W and, more broadly, analysis. Nonetheless, it is always useful to underline them, as it is so easy to forget best practice. (The first post can be accessed here).


humility, doubt(Notably pp.190-200) Considering uncertainty, but also our imperfect condition of human beings, the complexity of the social world, feedbacks, our more than insufficient knowledge and understanding, we must be very humble, accept our partial ignorance, our imperfection and mistakes (and make sure those essentially human flaws are accepted by others, which may be more difficult). Yet, we must also struggle to improve ourselves, increase our understanding and our capability to foresee the future. Doubts, humility, real dialogue between those different communities which try to understand the world, reflection upon mistakes – to correct what can be identified as wrong or inefficient – and successes – to reproduce what worked (according to conditions) – are keys for this improvement.

Taleb’s use of and reference to Montaigne’s wisdom also points to the importance of struggling against the loss of memory – institutional, scientific and general – that plagues us. Some things that were understood in the past are now misconstrued or ignored. It would appear, sometimes, that we are part of a race where youth, novelty, fads and shortening of time rule as masters. Yet, shouldn’t we pause for a while and wonder about this behaviour, and its origin. Should we not question the results stemming from this new race forward? For example, in science (soft and hard), it is not because something has been understood, discovered or written decades or centuries ago that it has become wrong. On the contrary, good science starts with knowledge and understanding of past scientific discoveries. Some understandings are outdated, but some are not. Novelty and justness of analysis are not synonymous, while discarding all the past only makes us lose time. Consumerism cannot and should not be applied everywhere.

“Black Swans events” (unpredictability, outliers)

As underlined last week, Taleb makes a distinction between “Mandelbrotian Gray Swans” (rare but expected event that are scientifically tractable, pp. 37, 272-273) and real “Black Swans events,” which are never identified in advance. From that we could make the following “rules”:

  • Making swans gray

Try to imagine as many improbable events as possible, initially suspending disbelief. This is already done; methods, however tentative, exist: wild cards scenarios (e.g. James A. Dewar, “The Importance of “Wild Card” Scenarios”); brainstorming; what if stories and narratives; use of alternative thinkers and thinking.

innovative idea, dangerous idea, wild card, gray swan

The key, here, is imagination and allowing oneself to go beyond groupthink, norms (institutional, social, cultural), belief-systems, even if ideas may feel dangerous (read for example “In defense of dangerous ideas” by Steven Pinker, Harvard college professor, cognitive scientist, July 2007). Then, and as suggested and explained by Dewar, because resources are limited and also because even Swans have to follow a few rules, those potential “gray swans” should be examined in the light of all the other rules. The least likely (or the most absurd) should be discarded. For example, we may always assume that gravity on earth could disappear, or that lambs will become carnivorous, yet, the chances are so minimal that we may choose to dispense with these situations. For those events that remain on the gray swans list, potential impacts can be estimated and highly improbable-high impact scenarios developed.

  • The absence of certainty

Because we may assume that the likelihood of the existence of Black Swans is very high, then we must consider them. This will influence our estimation of probability. We may just forget certainty. This may look like nothing, but I suspect that in the world of security and politics where the issues of power and control – including in personal terms – are so crucial, truly accepting uncertainty and insecurity is a major effort.

Continuing the struggle against biases

(pp.1-164) Cognitive biases being a fatality of human beings, the least we can do is being aware of them, and persist in our struggle against them. Using our increasing knowledge and awareness of cognition, we may continue applying and creating specific training and systematically incorporate related safeguards in methodologies and processes, from organization (for example people joining the exercise at different stage) to teams-composition (people with different background, psychological makeup, etc.).

Meanwhile, introspection and reflection should be promoted by and for those who deal with foresight, forecast and prediction, as, exemplified (here on the question of ethics and potential biases induced by “conflict of interests”) by this very recent post by Jay Ulfelder. “Introspective phases” could and should be included at different stages of the foresight process.

Opium, Dutch East Indies, anachronistic projectionThose phases should notably fight against the known phenomena of anachronistic projections and cultural projections. Anachronistic projections are usually done with regard to past history (judging past actions from the point of view of today’s moral norms; understanding the past through today’s lenses), which obscures understanding. For example, we currently struggle against drug trafficking, notably because this endangers our societies and is seen as morally bad. Yet, opium has been an accepted state activity at least from the 19th century to well into the 20th century. This does not mean going backwards in terms of norms or accepting things that are seen as morally reprehensible or are damaging or hurtful, but would help locating phenomena in their proper context, and thus focusing on dynamics, processes and understanding. This would also (ideally) help us move from an attitude that favours judging and casting blame, with all the power struggles and violence that this implies, towards a much more constructive behaviour, promoting understanding, preventing and healing.

A political scientist* gives somewhere a great trick that we could usefully apply: if you read (we can change it to think/say) somewhere the word “always,” then stop and think.

Not being prey to anachronistic projections would imply considering too the evolution of ideas and norms and setting time-dependent struggles within historical processes. Coming back to foresight, anachronistic projections may as well be done regarding the future. What does this imply? Can we devise methods to try minimizing them? How can we best proceed to include ideas, norms, and beliefs in our models?

Cultural projections are even better known and may be easier to consider. Not falling prey to them will demand knowing our own cultural sets of norms on top of, or even prior to, those of others (e.g., in the anticipation field, Werther, 2008). Just asking ourselves this question during foresight exercises could improve results. Similarly we must struggle against being victims of ideology. This does not mean rejecting this or that belief, just being aware of what influences us.

Finally, the impact of emotions on our cognition, emotional biases, should be considered, as human beings are definitely not rational, emotionless beings.

Falsification rather than confirmation

(Notably pp.55-61) The risks of induction, which are so important to us because so many of our analyses come from collected evidence, are linked to our tendency to seek confirmation rather than falsification (looking for an element, a fact, an event that would prove our hypothesis or explanation wrong). All our analyses – this is valid for all our explanations and understanding, not only for foresight and warning – should include an effort at falsification, however without denying confirming facts. We should always wonder:  which evidence, fact, should I look for to disprove my theory, analysis, estimation, conjecture?

Furthermore, this effort should be mentioned in the final anticipatory product (potentially in an appendix, according the specificities demanded by the delivery needs of the customer) to allow for follow-up and update. Meanwhile, indicators, specifically designed for falsification, should be created. For example, in foresight, if we have concurrent scenarios, the happenstance of an event or any indication showing that one scenario is becoming less likely should be considered and the set of scenarios should be revised accordingly.

Careful causality: “silent evidence”

silence, National Security, silent evidence, causality

(pp.100-121) Taleb starts first by cautioning against the dangers of applying causality when there is none or when “silent evidence” could potentially distort causal reasoning. “Silent evidence” is what we don’t know, cannot know, cannot hear, do not hear. To explain “silent evidence”, Taleb uses Cicero’s story: “Diagoras, a nonbeliever in the Gods, was shown painted tablets bearing the portraits of some worshippers who prayed, then survived a subsequent shipwreck. The implication was that praying protects you from drowning. Diagoras asked, ‘Where were the pictures of those who prayed, then drowned?’” Taleb, however, does not reject causality but encourages to use it with care and caution, trying to think about the possibility of existence of “silent evidence”.

Creation of new adapted quantitative tools

(The whole book) Except in the cases when they can be applied, the author warns us to distrust correlations, which furthermore do not allow for understanding (according to the famous “correlation does not imply causation“), linear trends and Gaussian distribution. Instead, research involving fractals and scalability, complexity theory (as done for example by the New England Complex Systems Institute) should be favoured. Building upon this, we can imagine creating new tools allowing for multi-disciplinary research, articulating, when necessary (there is no need to use something very complicated if a simple analysis or logic are sufficient), complex modeling, agent-based models, and mixing quantitative and qualitative assessments (notably including processes and feedbacks), and integrating within foresight methodologies. What should guide us is always the issue or the problem at hand.

* Unfortunately I cannot remember who wrote this, nor in which book or article. Initially I thought it was Benedict Anderson in Imagined Communities but after having skimmed again through the book, I cannot locate the citation, thus it could be Anthony Smith, or Eric Hobsbawm, or… if anyone knows, I would welcome the reference!



Dewar, James A. “The Importance of “Wild Card” Scenarios,” Discussion Paper, RAND.

Pinker, Steven, “In defense of dangerous ideas”, July 2007.

Ulfelder, Jay, “Advocascience“, 27 January 2013, Dart-Throwing Chimp.

Werther, Guntram F. A., Holistic Integrative Analysis of International Change: A Commentary on Teaching Emergent Futures, The Proteus Monograph Series, Volume 1, Issue 3, January 2008.

Taleb’s Black Swans: The End of Foresight?

Meteorids and Earth, Taleb, Black Swan Events, Black SwansSince Nassim Nicholas Taleb published his bestseller The Black Swan: the impact of the highly improbable back in 2007, “Black Swans” and “Black Swans events” have become part of everyday language. They are used as a catchphrase to mean two different things. First, as was the case recently in the Brookings interesting interactive “briefing book” Big Bets and Black Swans: Foreign Policy Challenges for President Obama’s Second Term, “black swans” represent high impact, low probability events, what is also known as wild cards.[i] Second, “black swans” refer to events that could absolutely not be predicted, as, for example for the Economist in ”The prediction games: Our winners and losers from last year’s edition”. Unfortunately, in this case, the label “black swans” excuses foresight errors. It tends to stop explanations and evaluation. Similarly, some will make statements along the line of “oh, but there is no point to do any foresight (or futures work or forecast), did you not read Taleb’s Black Swan? One cannot predict or foresee anything.”

This is a rather crucial assertion for us and it needs to be investigated. Continue reading Taleb’s Black Swans: The End of Foresight?

Constructing a foresight scenario’s narrative with Ego Networks

In many foresight methods, once you have identified the main factors or variables and reach the moment to develop the narrative for the scenarios, you are left with no guidance regarding the way to accomplish this step, beyond something along the line of “flesh out the scenario and develop the story.”*

Here, we shall do otherwise and provide a straightforward and easy method to write the scenario. We shall use the dynamic network we constructed for Everstate – or for another issue – and the feature called “Ego Network” that is available in social network analysis and visualisation software to guide the development and writing of the narrative.

Ego network

An ego network is, basically, the network that surrounds or is centered upon a single variable or node, called, in this case, an “ego.” This network will be the backbone of our narrative.

The depth of an ego network is the length of the path between the selected ego and a linked node or variable. An ego network of depth 1 will thus display all variables or nodes that are linked to the selected ego by only one edge (link, arrow), either incoming or outgoing. If we take the example of the network centred on the ego “country’s geopolitical position s3” (reminder: s3 means step 3 in our dynamic mapping), which is the first variable we shall use to set the stage for Everstate, then we obtain the graph above.

An ego network of depth 2 would show all variables linked to the ego with a path between each variable and our ego equal to a maximum of 2 edges (for an ego network centered around variable A, examples of paths of length 2, or 2 edges are A->B->C and D->F->A). Always using the same example, we would have a much larger graph for an ego network of depth two, as shown on the left hand side.

Save for rare exceptions, we shall use ego networks of depth 1. The analyst can try different depths for her/his ego network and choose the depth that allows her/him to tell the clearer story.

Working with Ego Network in Gephi

Once the overall graph is constructed, it is extremely easy to obtain any ego network with Gephi.

In “Overview,” as shown on the screenshot below, select “filters” on the right hand side, and choose “Ego Network” in the section “Topology.” Then drag with the mouse “Ego Network” in the bottom right hand window “Queries.” In the “Node ID,” enter either the name of the variable you want to use or its ID, here 34. Then press OK and filter. The ego network redraws itself automatically in the “Graph” window. You can then apply any layout (bottom left hand window).

The complete network is accessed by clicking again on filter. One can then change ego or variable, or proceed with other tasks.

It is best to re-run the usual layout between filtering for two different ego networks to be able to benefit from the best possible visualisation for each ego network.

Using Ego Network to write the narrative

With one ego network

To start telling the narrative for a scenario, then one needs obviously to begin with a variable to which a value will have been attributed.

Continuing with the same example, we have set as variable “country’s geopolitical position s3” the value “medium range power,” as explained with the previous posts (Revisiting influence analysis and Variables, values and consistency in dynamic networks). This variable will be chosen as ego for the Ego Network (depth 1).

Then one uses one after the other linked variables to tell the story, each time attributing a value to that variable. Cross-consistency will need to be checked mentally and the analyst will have, of course, to remember the values s/he attributed to make sure the overall story is consistent and logical.

Here the first variables affecting our ego are “country geopolitical position s2,” “geographical location” “ecological setting” “new external military threats s3.” Thus, the corresponding narrative, as shall be fully seen in the post “Setting the Stage,” runs as follows (variables are inserted between brackets for the sake of explanation):

“As a medium state power [country’s geopolitical position s3] located on the Eurasian land mass [geographical location], Everstate had not seen its geopolitical position fundamentally altered since the end of the Cold War, and even since the end of World War II [country geopolitical position s2]. However, recently, some tensions had begun building up and Everstate had to start contending with them as they could easily transform in very concrete new external military threats [new external military threats s3].

What had contributed to maintain its geopolitical position were different factors. If the impact that its ecological setting could have had on its geopolitical position was remote and long forgotten, it nevertheless played a part [ecological setting]. Similarly, its continental climate, soften for the southeastern part by the influence coming from the sea was not seen as a factor influencing geopolitics anymore [geographical location, ecological setting]. The harshness of the snowy and mountainous North had long been seen as a bounty for tourism [geographical location, ecological setting]. The large river crossing the country from Northwest to Southeast was seen from the perspective of industry, trade and tourism and no longer as a possible way in for invaders [geographical location, ecological setting]. Finally, it had been centuries since the rich agricultural eastern plain had not attracted invaders or greedy neighbours looking for rich lands [geographical location, ecological setting].”

We can now move to the next group of influencing variables :

“Everstate’s army was performing, considering military techniques, expertise and previous experience, even if its size had been reduced [army’s size and performance s3].” Etc.

One then describes all the values for each variable, paying attention to the types of links, either cause or impact.

Moving from one ego network to another

When one sets the stage for the ideal-type (here Everstate), then one moves from one criteria initially selected to another, using each of them as ego, while the related network is used to develop the narrative. There is thus no difficulty regarding the choice of the next ego network.

Once this task accomplished, then one starts a new phase of the scenario building, really telling the story.

The variable that must be chosen to begin narrating the story depends upon the understanding the analyst has of the overall dynamics for the issue at hand. In our case, I chose, as shall be seen in a later post, the variable “pop level of satisfaction (sec) s3”  (the level of satisfaction regarding security as felt by the population – step 3) because it is crucial for understanding the overall dynamics of a polity. However, another analyst could have chosen to start with another variable. As no variable has been removed from the graph, all variables will be used anyway.

The variable is then used as ego, as explained previously. One starts with the influencing or causing variables. For each causing or influencing variable, to obtain details on this variable and thus better develop the narrative and explain the dynamics, the analyst will be able to use it as ego network. This will allow her to better flesh out the story.

Once causing variables have been detailed and a coherent story developed, then the analyst must move to the impacts or consequences. Each impact will be used as new ego, and a new paragraph or part written using the network of this ego.

The process is repeated until completion of the scenario.

Exception: groups or clusters of variables

For some variables that appear as tight groups or clusters, it makes more sense to develop a narrative including both influencing and influenced variables. In those case, then one shall tell the story for the whole group in one or two paragraphs. The task of detecting those groups of variables is eased by the use of network visualisation tools as those groups are literally shown by the lay-out (here Force Atlas).

Ultimately, it will be up to the analyst to decide how to tell the story according to which outline and how to handle the variables for the best possible result.

As we progress with the Chronicles of Everstate, the reader will become familiar with the method. To help the reader, the first post dealing with Everstate’s future, “The Chronicles of Everstate (2011 EVT – 2012 EVT): Discontent” (to be published on January 15), will also serve as example. It will recall briefly the methodology and the words corresponding to an influencing or influenced variable or node for the main narrative will be in bold.

Ego networks, an analyst’s weapon

Using ego network to develop the narrative is not only a support but it also helps ensuring that neither influencing factors nor impacts are forgotten. It allows fighting against many biases and gives a structured framework and outline to the analysis, thus assisting the analyst.

It will facilitate verification, revision and discussions among various analysts.

Furthermore, assuming the model has been developed scientifically, it can be used as proof or evidence of the validity of the scenario, which is crucial to obtain the trust of policy-makers and decision-makers, or more largely of all potential users of the strategic foresight scenarios.

* For example: Andrew Curry & Wendy Schultz, “Roads Less Travelled: Different Methods, Different Futures,” Journal of Futures Studies, May 2009, 13(4): 35 – 60; Jerome C. Glenn and The Futures Group International, “Scenarios,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. 2009, Ch 19; Tom Ritchey, “Morphological analysis,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J. 2009, Ch 17.