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Yes indeed. In addition it seems that the processes of organizing for war are easy - contextually simple, well known, and acceptable to many. On the other hand, we little about the processes that contribute to peace. These processes are neither complicated or complex, they remain chaotic and resistant to articulation. This may be why there are so few paths for peacemaking, and why few can agree on what steps are acceptable in unwinding the tensions behind the wars.

Chris Rodgers

Many thanks, Tony, for your comment,

In what sense are you using the terms complicated, complex, and chaotic? It seems as though you might be adopting the Cynefin classification, which is at odds in a number of respects with what I'm suggesting here and elsewhere in the blog.

I'm also interested in your suggestion that warfighting is easy and formulaic. And that it can be seen as something separate from peacemaking. I'm not sure that those currently engaged in conflicts in the Middle East would see war as "contextually simple, well known, and acceptable to many." The US Marines also seem to see it very much as a socially complex process - which is also how I see the general patterning of interactions that we tend to refer to as "peace". Can you elaborate?


Yes Chris. I am using Cynefin concepts and am familiar with some of your discussions with Dave Snowden. I understand that the Marines view things quite differently and don't mean to distract from their courage and sacrifice in their peacemaking missions.

In relative terms and a very far distance there is a metapattern that I'm trying to describe. Military officers are trained in war, from Sun Tzu to Machiavelli and strategy to tactics. States have turned to war habitually, until only recently with MAD doctrine; and perhaps not, according to Pinker and others.

In my geopolitical and military strategy courses we had some readings and discussions of just wars and peacemaking, and though I'm not qualified to offer an opinion, the authors and experienced are few and far between.

One quote I remember well (but can't attribute) was "peace can't begin until war has burned itself out".

Chris Rodgers

Thanks again, Tony, for your interesting thoughts.

If we think of war as armed conflict, then thankfully, I have no direct personal experience of it. Nor have I benefitted from what must have been very thought-provoking discussions on geopolitical and military strategy. So my comments on this aspect of the subject are very much drawn from the perspective of ‘peace’ rather than war per se.

My purpose in raising the contents of the US Marine’s “Warfighting” manual, of course, was to highlight what some might see as its counterintuitive support for the ‘muddling-through-ness’ of what they are doing (although they don’t go so far as to use that term!). People in ‘the military’ are popularly seen as being very regimented(!) in all aspects of their approach. Whereas the authors foreground the complex social process of human interaction as determining what happens in practice.

That having been said, I agree with your observation that the characteristic patterning of those interactions in governmental and military ‘circles’ has tended towards seeing military action as the default position. Perhaps that might become less so, given the changing nature of war (if that’s what it is) that appears to be taking place increasingly across the world – what Joseph Nye refers to as “the privatization of war” in his books on the nature and use of power in world affairs.

I think that it’s probably true to say that “peace can’t begin until war has burned itself out” in terms of the need for overt armed conflict to stop - although steps along the road to peace-making certainly need to be taken earlier than typically seems to be the case (think Iraq, for example). And, as regards the desired ‘end state’ of peace, I guess that many situations that would be considered to be peaceful (in the sense of lack of open warfare) are, in reality, characterized by an uneasy truce between opposed and potentially warring factions. As per your initial comment, and as those responsible for international policy interventions are finding, there is no obvious path to truly harmonious living between people whose thoughts and actions are polarized by the patterning of their and their forebears’ current, past and anticipated future interactions.

As I see it, all that we have in the end is people with different ideologies, interpretations, interests, and identities, etc. interacting together in ways that we characterize as war, peace, and/or some mixture of the two. Most of us, I guess, want to live in peace, and see much of what happens in the midst of war as abhorrent. But tensions are inherent in the dynamics of human interaction. And seeking to ‘manage’ these differences is the essence of political action. The problem is that nobody is in control - or can be in control - of what emerges in practice. It's complex. And whether or not the patterns of interaction shift from war-like engagement to something that might be seen as peace will ultimately rest (as in all things) on the sense-making-cum-action-taking conversations that the ‘warring parties’ have with others in their own ranks. The challenge is how to intervene to increase the likelihood of shifting these patterns in ways that foster peace-like, rather than war-like, interactions.


I agree with all you have said with one exception. We can not "seek to manage" and also have "no one in control". If we effect a change then we have managed something, and we are now also in some manner of control. If we try to manage and do not accomplish any change, then we are part of the "no one." The first is emergent, the second is not. It is nothing! Except I am afraid, a source of much of the tension that leads so readily to war.

Yes there's extreme complexity but there is one point on which we must be clear: war is a distillation of tensions, and peace is a relaxation, or to stay with the metaphor (drinks;) a dilution.

Chris Rodgers

Tony, I think that we might be using and interpreting the words manage and control in slightly different ways. In my previous comment, I placed the word “manage” in single inverted commas to suggest that I was using the term loosely. That is to say, whilst the intention of political action might be one of seeking to manage the differences and tensions to achieve a desired outcome, the reality is much messier and less neatly packaged than the phrase “to manage” implies.

In essence, I see those in formal decision-making positions as being both in control and not in control at the same time. Within the scope of their formal authority, they can command certain things to happen. That is, they are ‘in control’ of these aspects, in the sense of being in charge. And it is their formal responsibility to seek to manage the ongoing process in ways that they judge will further the stated purpose. At the same time, they are not in control of the ways in which people perceive, interpret, evaluate, and act upon those decisions. Nor are they in control of the decisions and actions taken by others outside their 'command' - such as (in the case of war) those people who would consider themselves to be ‘the enemy’ and third parties (both known and unknown) who are pursuing their own intentions. What happens in practice, therefore, emerges from the widespread interplay of all of these (inter)actions. And no one person, or group of people, is in control of the outcome. Nor, in turn, can anyone control the diverse ways in which people perceive, interpret, evaluate, and act upon that outcome. Instead, whatever emerges, emerges. And so it (life) goes on…

As you suggest, part of what ‘goes on’ is a further strengthening of the tendency for people to see their relationship in established ways or, potentially, to begin to shift those patterns. In either case, the outcome might be what you call a “distillation” of the underlying tensions (i.e. towards war) or a “dilution” (i.e. towards peaceful co-existence). Importantly, in both cases the metaphors you have used convey the idea that the tensions remain – albeit more concentrated in one case and less so in the other.


Chris, I think we are in violent agreement as the sayings goes. My discussion of managing didn't address and isn't sufficient for those who have a formal responsibility to manage and shirk, or worse subborn their responsibilities. Those cases present different aspects or patterns of emergence.

Your source material is a NETOPS, which I recall is a concept of operations instruction for the HQ staff's. I haven't read any of it and wasn't thinking of this set of patterns as I read your post.

Chris Rodgers

Thanks again Tony. I think that we're in sufficient agreement on the central themes to 'close the book' on our discussion.

As a final point of information, though, the Warfighting document has nothing to do with the NetOps framework and is intended to inform practice throughout the Marine Corps. From the foreword:

"Very simply, this publication describes the philosophy which distinguishes the U.S. Marine Corps. The thoughts contained here are not merely guidance for action in combat but a way of thinking. This publication provides the authoritative basis for how we fight and how we prepare to fight. This book contains no specific techniques or procedures for conduct. Rather, it provides broad guidance in the form of concepts and values. It requires judgment in application."

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