Conflicts and Security: Hierarchical vs. Network Structures

Report prepared for the Conference entitled Conflictology and Security
University for National and World Economy, Sofia, Bulgaria
October 17-18, 2007, by Assoc. Prof. Nikolay Slatinski, Ph.D.
(Final version: October 17, 2007)

  The contemporary trends in international relations, their active dynamics, unpredictability and non-linearity, the change in the security paradigm, prove to be a serious challenge to conflictology and conflictologists. But more than some challenge, isn’t all going on also a peculiar punishment for this science and these scientists that they indulged in self-complacency, in seeking explanation and modeling of the processes with the traditional means and methods of analysis, although re-offered in an attractive packing for the fashionable wording for categories and concepts: synergy and self-organization, dissipative structures and chaos? The very modern categories and concepts have no bearing on that, of course.
  Long ago a wise man told me: “Remember that when the books and monographs in one field of studies begin to look alike as two peas, this indicates that the relevant science is in a standstill or it has become inadequate”. Another wise and prolific man intends to place on the cover of each of his books the following: “An expiry and topicality date 3 years reckoned from the present!” Afterwards he has to rewrite it again. That’s how quick and dynamic is the change of knowledge nowadays!
  In the same strain of repenting in sackcloth and ashes (because I also earn my living with the conflicts and security issues), today I would like to talk about the network structures. Generally, a lot is written about them. Our science, as it used to do, quite cleverly focused its attention on the networks and the network organization model. The question is whether the reason for this lies in the fact that the network structures add novelty and actuality to our writs? And isn’t that a simulation or an imitation of considerable scientific interest? Have we totally realized the gravity of the situation and the fact that we are obliged to be aware how many difficulties these structures bring and how they change the way we think?
  Let’s begin with an example. Many scholars think about the destiny of the current one-polar geopolitical model. Some of them believe that due to various reasons this model will not withstand the next 10-15 years and it will transform itself in a two-polar or multi-polar model. In order to make it happen, one more pole must appear. They seek such a new pole first in the other countries, because (in terms of polarity) they have a state-centralized view of the future international security system. Following this logic, the scholars cannot think of anything else except China. This is Scenario 1.
  A kind of broader treatment of the above scenario point is Scenario 2: a union of countries as a second pole. Only the EU might pretend to be this pole. The EU has potentialities to be a pole; but the question is Whether it will transform them in actual fact.
  There is some progress in betting activities on second pole’s identity and nature, if it will be found to be a civilization according Samuel Huntington, i.e. a community having a high degree of integrity based on culture, ethnos, religion, with a close to matching system of values [1]. This is Scenario 3. In this case only the Islamic world emerges as a potential candidate.
  Elsewhere, on other occasions, I have adduced arguments why, in my opinion, China can but does not want to, whereas the Islamic world wants but cannot be a second pole [2]. In addition to these three scenarios, let’s think about Scenario 4. Besides, why the role of the second pole shouldn’t be assumed by the very network structure, covering the Earth with a cobweb? Such a structure can be developed by the networks of terrorism and organized crime through their mutual interweaving. Let’s call this structure “Organized Crime & Terrorism Network Structure” (OCTopus-N structure). What a little wander, if no reaction comes in time, that one will find out that the OCTopus-N structure both wants and can pretend to be the second pole.
  The OCTopus-N network structure entangling the Earth must not be underestimated. With the flow of cadres and resources, of action methods, with the huge accumulated capital, with the actual penetration into all levels of power even in the democratic states and in all paying businesses, the organized crime and terrorism undoubtedly can “cultivate” ambitions of being an influential geostrategic factor. Therefore, the strategic influences on security on behalf of the organized crime are already being discussed; whereas the “terrorism” obsession is well-known.
  A colleague of mine from the Ministry of Interior Academy says: “Stop in front of the building of the National Security Services and the Organized Crime Control Main Directorate, and look at the people entering therein. They carry newspapers under their arms and a cup of coffee in hand.” No one doubts their professionalism, but they look like clerks of the 20th century. And who stands on the other side? Who is the enemy? And why is he so difficult to identify and localize? Isn’t he dynamic, mobile, changeable in time and space? Have we adequate ways and means to fight him in terms of mentality, approaches and motivation?
  Terrorism and organized crime are really like cobwebs: flexible and mutating, highly adaptive bodies and coresр such as sects and secret brotherhoods that are adopting the new communication technologies and are excellent masters of manipulation both of separate individuals and of human masses. The fight against terrorism and organized crime on the worldwide scale is run in such a way that only multiplies the number of terrorists and criminals and gives birth to new forms and opportunities for organized crime. These are to a great extent the vain efforts of the struggle, one of our next Paragraphs 22: “The more we struggle, the more we err and the more we err, the more we struggle”. In this way, as we all know, Achilles will never catch up with the turtle.
  Terrorism and organized crime set the global agenda; they “write” the loud titles in the mass media and they “direct” the cameras in order that they might cover specific topics. They are incredibly ingenious in violence; they hold a monopoly of time and space in which they operate, constantly changing the forms and the means, the objectives and the resources to exercise their influence. We, the West, the USA, NATO, Bulgaria, Russia, are re-active, while they are pro-active. That’s where the tragedy of the State nowadays comes from. Such tragedy can be approximately described as follows: today the State must match the hierarchical organization model, because it is a State after all, and the network organization model, with the purpose to be able to respond to the contemporary challenges.
  The state cannot be a non-hierarchical structure, because this is inherent to its nature, objectives and tasks, which it accomplished, to the way it functions and to the procedures under which it takes decisions. A kind of hierarchical organization model is directly related to the very people’s feelings of the strong presence of the State and of the state system, of the authorities and leadership presence. Therefore, it may be recommended to stop creating new hierarchical levels, to “flatten out” the structure of state institutions and within the state institutions as much as possible, to lay more stress on coordination and decentralization, to put more efforts into integration, consolidation and achievement of common objectives. But the state couldn’t cope with the new risks and dangers, opponents and enemies, if it does not begin to adapt itself, including in terms of structure, to the new security paradigm and environment; if it does not include in its arsenal new approaches, methods and means as well; and if it fails to “networkize” itself bit by bit.
  The network structures are more flexible and more adaptive than the hierarchical ones, more mobile and more adequately responding to changes in the environment. There do not go in fear of their own internal changes; just the opposite, they even strive for changes. The following rule operates in them: Solidarity, Sympathy, Collaboration, and Synergy (the system gains a new quality “multiplying” rather than summing up the properties of its components). Exactly for this reason, they are more efficient in extraordinary situations and crises. Furthermore, the hierarchical structures are much more closed, while the network ones are much more open. In the hierarchical structures, the formal power and compulsion are leading. In network structures, leadership and motivation predominate. The network structures are of Prigogine type, namely they have great complexity, determined either by the number of units, or by the manner of interaction of such units.
  The hierarchical structure must send a signal to the Instructions Center and act only after the signal’s return with instructions, whereas the network structure studies in its individual capacity the environment, in which it operates and which it knows perfectly well, and takes the optimal decision in an independent manner, in other words, it has self-training and self-synchronization as its intrinsic qualities. The owner of McDonald’s fast food shop (a typical network structure) in a Chinese town does not call Chicago (Illinois) to ask what kind of filling to put in the burger, but it decides for itself and puts therein what is well liked and sold in the Chinese town.
  The normal healthy cell, when attacked by pathogenic bacteria and viruses, as a part of the hierarchical structure, does what it knows: it asks the Center, the Headquarters, the Government or the Brain, etc.: “What should I do?” and until the answer comes, the end is foreordained. The bacteria or the viruses know what to do: their program is built in with the order “Action!” In the network structure, the unifying units are the values and culture, the confidence and the idea, the cause and the know-how. All the rest is a matter of self-initiative.
  The 20th century power hierarchical thinking loses against the 21st century flexible network thinking. The Hummer will hardly win a victory over the Network. Yes, it is able to inflict lots of damages to the Network, but the latter will regenerate. The Hammer will win only if everything is reduced to dust and ashes. The Network will win if it simply endures. It is practically impossible to gain a victory over the network structure “from above”. Only another network structure can do this “from inside”, “wrapping”, suffocating and tearing the previous network structure and destroying its tissue. Or moreover, as Todor Boyadzhiev writes: “The enemy is not explicit. Right now we are fighting a shadow. To a shadow must be opposed a shadow [3].
  In addition to the McDonald’s fast food chain and the oncological diseases, the network structures are also available on the Internet and within the aircraft lines, in the research works quotations and so-called “black holes”, in astronomy, in the electrical, transport and business networks (called namely “networks”), in the neurons and the brain, in the proteins and the genes, in biological diversity, in the viruses (including computer viruses), in the social relations (ex. the friendly ones) and the sexual relations, in the alimentary chains in nature (ex. the interactions of predator–prey type), in sport (ex. the managers, arranging players for western clubs), in Hollywood (ex. people able to arrange the distribution of a cast to any fair-haired woman). In earnest or in fun, the network structures are everywhere and they become more and more numerous.
  However, comes next something that sounds unusual, even irrational. It has been mathematically proven that the network structures in our sinful human world as a rule have a similar distribution law [4], according to which there is not any uniform distribution of contribution, influence, capacities or information to all knots and links with equal probability, but they are distributed to some peaks, called “hubs” or “nodes”. The latter are compressed layers and clusters of aptitudes, so they are the most precious units of the network (and as it will become evident further below, they are its most vulnerable points, as well).
  Why does this happen? Let’s suppose that some nodes of the network structure initially receive better access (to information or to any other resource) than other nodes, due to their better location, to their better staring position or to coincidence. In consequence, these nodes are supplied with better choices, there are more opportunities for success afforded to them, and so they become more attractive; the spiral winds up: these nodes attract more and more information and resources; therefore their chances of success increase and with them their attractiveness become greater, they attract more and more information and resources, they receive ever newer opportunities, thereby their attractiveness is multiplied, and so on.
  The above mentioned above is called “Matthew’s Effect”, in accordance with the Holy Gospel According to Matthew: “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance” (Mat. 25:29) [5]. If a teacher has gained the good reputation that the student applicants that he prepares is guaranteed admission to the University, he attracts new and new student applicants, which gives him better and wider choice, his chances even more of his student applicants to be admitted grow and with them his good name, and with the latter the fact that he is more sought after. As an illustration, let’s imagine the map of USA with all airports and let’s connect each two airports between which there is an existing airline connection. The result is that from the great number of points (airports) on the map there will be a certain number of outgoing arcs, but from one end and small number of points (airports), such as the airports in New York and Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle, so many lines will go out that around these point all will be black with them. These are precisely the so-called “hubs” or nodes.
  One can proceed with the amazing events in the network structures. The distribution law of the network structures is a function of a parameter, which is close to, and if all secondary factors darkening the picture are eliminated, it may be found that it is even equal to the Napier's constant. However, it is easiest to read about this constant in Wikipedia: “The Napier's constant is the irrational number e=2.71828… It is the base of the natural logarithm and alongside the number π it is one of the most important constants in mathematics”. It turns out that the network structures are distributed under a law, which is a function of a strange constant, of which we are aware that, for example, the derivative of the function ex is also ex, and that we can get a rather precise idea of this function graphics, reading the lifeline on our palm!
  Why on earth does the wide variety of network structures extend itself according to the same law? Exactly for the same reason that makes it possible for all circles both on the poles and on the equator, both in the democratic and in the totalitarian states, to measure their circumference and area by means of one and the same number π? And for the same reason that all people, both clever and stupid, both rich and poor, fall freely on the ground with one and the same acceleration of gravity g!
  Let’s not get surprised of such transfer of concepts and models from the political sciences to the natural sciences and vice versa; as, after all, both sciences describe one and the same world: our world; only the former ones do it using many words, whereas the latter using many formulae. Whether from the similarity of their extension one can draw useful conclusions inherent to some network structures, using the knowledge borrowed from other network structures?
  By the way, in the manner of deployment of the network structures there are hidden one good and one bad news for us. They result from the fact that these structures are very resistant to accidental attacks but they are also very vulnerable (sensitive) to organized (premeditated) attacks against the most significant clusters (compressed layers).
  Let’s start with the bad news. It is as follows: in the network structures, the virus (the tumor or the scandal maker) cannot be defeated at once and forever. No one is able to destroy all viruses in Internet, all cancer cells in the organism, all terrorists in the world, as the destruction of the network structures is not only impossible but also hopeless.
  But there is also good news. It is as follows: due to their organization and the law of their deployment in time and space, in the network structures it becomes possible to bring the virus, the tumor or the scandal maker under control! For the purpose, it is not necessary to pursue this virus, tumor, scandal maker all over the network. It is enough to strike the hubs, the main clusters, their concentration nodes. Eliminating them, we will win strategic advantage, we will take possession of the initiative and we will be able to turn to on the next nodes in virus concentration and deal with them.
  Let’s take the plunge! For instance, it is not necessary for the terrorists to strike on all American airports one by one, in order to destroy the passenger’s transport in USA; they can achieve this goal striking on only some of the airports with the densest airline connections to the remaining airports in the country. Or moreover, a further example: it is not necessary for one computer virus to be “persecuted” all over the Internet space in order to be destroyed. It is enough to “clean” the most important clusters (servers), which it has entered. And the fact that somewhere, for example in Uganda, this virus still exists, will not create a threat to Network security and it will not cause irreparable damages.
  This is also the major action principle of the modern anti-cancer medicines that do not wage exhausting war on each cancer cell in the organism, but they attack the clusters, the compressed layers, where there is greatest concentration of such cells, the process of cell-division is gaining speed and it quickly generates new cancer cells. Taking an aggressive and precisely oriented approach, these medicines “strike” the initial foci, the organs that are at first damaged by the cancer cells (and if there is an isolated cancer cell somewhere in the body, the blood corpuscles will cope with it somehow or other). Sometimes it is sufficient to cure the organism and in that way to invoke the self-disappearance of the metastases or it become possible to defeat the disease through additional therapy.
  And in counteraction to the pestilence of the 21st century, terrorism, it is not necessary that we should exterminate the terrorists one at a time. It is the same as if we think that we will sweep the fleas away smashing them one by one. We must hit the clusters of terrorists, such as the cores, the sleeping cells, the meeting places around some mosques, where the critical mass of future kamikazes is accumulated. Thus, we will get the initiative under control, this will give us time and we will be able to concentrate more strengths, police forces, special services and special purpose units on new and even more successful strikes. So the struggle to the network structures is doomed to succeed, as long as we as a state and as a community are up to the challenges’ standards.

1. Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Bulgarian edition) [Sblasakat na tsivilizatsiite i preobrazuvaneto na svetovniya red, Obsidian, Sofia, 1999], pp. 80-100.
2. Slatinski, Nikolay. National Security: Aspects, Analyses, Alternatives (a book in Bulgarian) [Natsionalnata sigurnost – aspekti, analizi, alternativi, Balgarska knizhnitsa, Sofia, 2004], pp. 16-17, 25-27.
3. Boyadzhiev, Todor. Espionage as a Craft (a book in Bulgarian) [Shpionazhat kato zanayat, Zahari Stoyanov, Sofia, 2002], 364 p.
4. Barabási, Albert-László, Eric Bonabeau. Scale-Free Networks//Scientific American, May, 2003, pp. 60-69.
5. Newman, M. E. J. The Structure and Function of Complex Networks,


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