Topical Meeting

All day

This event is by invitation only.

Seeing Conflict In A New Light

Held at the New America Foundation, 1899 L Street N.W., Suite 400, Washington, DC 20036

Co-organized by Jessica Flack, Santa Fe Institute, Eric Bonabeau, Icosystem, and the New America Foundation.  

Along with climate change and poverty, armed conflict, including terrorism, is perhaps the most important contemporary challenge to the integrity of human society and to improving individual quality of life. Yet despite its significance and a substantial investment on the part of the United States and other nations to prevent and control it, conflict persists. Its potential for causing economic and social devastation is growing. Standard theoretical approaches that were powerful during the cold war (e.g., bilateral game theory) have not proven useful in this era of high uncertainty caused by the growth of trans-national communities, multiparty interactions, and the emergence of new kinds of coercion observed in cyber warfare. Novel, empirically-grounded, predictive theories of conflict are needed.

The Santa Fe Institute, long associated with transdisciplinary approaches to fundamental scientific questions, and the New America Foundation, which invests in new thinkers and new ideas to address the next generation of challenges, are joining forces to bring their respective new thinkers and new approaches to the understanding of terrorism and conflict. In this meeting we will explore how concepts and tools from complex systems science can inform attempts to predict and control multi-party, armed conflict in the human arena. We will also consider how fundamental principles of armed conflict, derived from comparison of conflict dynamics across a diverse set of biological and social systems, can inform conflict response decision-making strategies by identifying the conditions under which sanctions, different kinds of military interventions, and social investment make sense.


  • Aaron Clauset, Omidyar Fellow, Santa Fe Institute with response by Eliza Griswold, Schwartz Fellow, New America Foundation and Philip Mudd, Senior Research Fellow, Counterterrorism Strategy Initiative, New America Foundation

Aaron will address the following topics: 1) predictability and unpredictability in global terrorism, 2) terrorist organizational dynamics, 3) connections with insurgencies and civil wars, and 4) estimating the future of violent human conflict

  • Jessica Flack, Research Professor, Santa Fe Institute with response by Patrick C. Doherty, Director, Smart Strategy Initiative and Senior Advisor, Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency Initiative, New America Foundation, and Steve Coll, President, New America Foundation

Jessica will address: 1) principles of conflict management - what works when, 2) causes of (armed) conflict in multiplayer systems, 3) implications of multiple timescales for conflict dynamics, and 4) extracting from time series data individual conflict decision-making strategies and their implications for social stability 

  • Dan Rockmore, External Professor, Santa Fe Institute and Professor, Dartmouth College with responses by Lisa Margonelli, Director, Energy Policy Initiative and Joel Garreau, Schwartz Fellow, New America Foundation

Dan will give a general introduction to complex systems research, stressing concepts and tools. Among the topics he will cover: 1) networks - topology and dynamics, 2) evolution - biological and cultural, 3) emergence, 4) criticality, 5) statistical Inference, 6) agent-based modeling, and 7) evolutionary game theory

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