Networks, complexity, and war: Investigating the impact of foreign interventions in Syria

Authors: Steven Radil*, University of Idaho
Topics: Political Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling, Middle East
Keywords: Social networks, complexity, civil war, Syria
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Empire Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The various interventions into the Syrian civil war by the US, Iran, Russia, and Turkey have all failed to achieve the basic goal of any intervention – to create the conditions for a durable peace. A partial reason for these failures is that the Syrian war is a complicated interconnected system of social, political, and geographic relationships among dozens of organized participants from within and beyond the immediate geopolitical setting; intervening also means trying to make, alter, or end such relations without also inadvertently retrenching the conflict. In this paper, we advance the idea of the war as a complex adaptive network to investigate the dynamics of these interventions. We use social network analysis (SNA) to develop and analyze a longitudinal spatial network of cooperative and oppositional relationships between armed groups in Syria to consider the impact that that foreign interventions by the US and others have had on the overall network structure. In this way, we see interventions as a kind of new input into an already complex system. Rather than focus on a linear sense of causality, we consider interventions as possible inflection points that can change the network’s properties in ways that counterintuitively support the continuation of the conflict instead of ending it.

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