Observing al Qaeda Through the Lens of Complexity Theory: Recommendations for the National Strategy to Defeat Terrorism

  • July 15, 2004
  • LTC Michael F Beech

Al Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2003 showed the World that a complex network of individuals, small groups and organizations coupled by a common sense of purpose and enabled by globalization could deliver a devastating attack upon the most powerful nation on Earth. This paper examines al Qaeda through the lens of Complexity Theory, which shows that this organization is a complex adaptive system that emerged as an agent of change within the strategic system of nation states. To defeat al Qaeda, or other complex global terrorist networks, traditional military strategies reliant on nation state frameworks and determination of centers of gravity and decisive points may not be sufficient. Using the characteristics of Complexity Theory, this paper identifies major inputs to expand the current strategy to defeat terrorism.