by SWJ Editors
Complexity, Defense Policy, and Epistemological Failure
by Adam Elkus
"Complexity," "uncertainty" and "chaos" are currently the preferred terms we use to describe modern conflict. It is an accepted truth that today's world is more complex, more dangerous, and more uncertain than it was before 9/11. But is conflict significantly more complex than it has been in the past? While everyone feels that his or her own era is somehow unique, our perception of unprecedented chaos is powerful evidence that the intellectual framework that we draw from to analyze US defense policy is broken.
At heart, our intellectual impoverishment is a linguistic problem. The traditional US tendency is to bracket off politics from defense, depriving us of the vocabulary we need to analyze the world and the challenges we face. The unfortunate result is an erroneous perception that conflict has taken a quantum leap into chaos, a lack of imagination concerning threats such as failed states, and the confusion of operational and strategic approaches.