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Chaos Theory and Strategic Thought

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Journal article

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A revolution that can change strategic thought is underway. The bittersweet truth is that this revolution has little to do with the new world order set to follow the end of the Cold War and the success of Desert Storm. The true revolution is in science, and its effects may change the pattern of both warfare and strategic thought. Yet our attention is fixed on short term international reshuffling. Absorbed by the transitory, we ignore the epochal. Scientific advances are pushing us beyond simple Newtonian concepts and into the exotica of chaos theory and self-organized criticality. These novel lines of scientific inquiry have emerged only in the past three decades. In brief, they postulate that structure and stability lie buried within apparently random, nonlinear processes. Since scientific revolutions have so transformed conflict in the past, it is essential for US strategists to understand the changes in progress. One reason why this is important is technological new principles yield new classes of weapons, just as basic quantum theory and special relativity ushered in nuclear devices. A second and more fundamental reason for understanding scientific change is that our view of reality rests on scientific paradigms. The world often appears to us as an intricate, disordered place, and we search for frameworks that will make sense of it all. These frameworks derive overwhelmingly from the physical sciences, as in the 18th-century view that the motions of the celestial bodies could be compared to the works of a giant clock. Scientific advances, therefore, offer us new ways of understanding a given environment, and can suggest innovative solutions to policy dilemmas. But despite the strategic communitys hunger to grasp the technological benefits of change, it has been unable to adapt the advances to strategic thought. This article will therefore touch only lightly on the hardware benefits of scientific change and focus instead on the conceptual aspects.

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  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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