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 International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2007)

So many zebras, so little time: How ecological models may aid counterinsurgency operations

Mark Drapeau
National Defense University, U.S. Department of Defense

Peyton Hurley
U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY

Robert Armstrong
National Defense University, U.S. Department of Defense

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     Last modified: October 18, 2007

Pity the poor lions. If only they had a bit more time, they could finally rid the plains of the pesky zebra. There are just so many of them, though. Why don’t the zebra just unite and finish off the lions? The zebras far outnumber them.

Obviously the issue is more complicated, but this story is example of a complex ecological interaction between predators and prey. The mathematics underlying the various strategies for survival on both sides have been worked out over the past 100 years, and we have a fairly good understanding of such relationships.

While not a perfect comparison, it strikes us that many of the mathematical models developed by ecologists may have considerable applicability to the field of counterinsurgency. Some preliminary analysis on our part suggests that this predator-prey model may be too simplistic for the more complicated issue of counter-insurgency, but there are other, more detailed ecological models that we feel capture the essence of the problem.

The purpose of this paper is not to provide a definitive answer to this problem, but to suggest a framework for other researchers to adapt – we could find no similar work in any literature – and to expand upon it. Indeed, many of the models discussed in this paper are common to both ecologists and economists. (The result of both sorts of modeling are quite similar: maximizing profits – money/food – at the least risk – bankruptcy/death.) From our preliminary work, we hope that others more adept at the use of these models will make significant contributions to the area of predictive ability in combating terrorism and understanding unconventional warfare.

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