The Stragegic, Operational, and Tactical Logic of Network Sanctuaries

Social Network Analysis lends itself to modelling social networks, as opposed to non-social networks (networks of non-social objects/entities). From this, we can atempt to predict outcomes in the event of node disruption, and apply that knowledge to real world social network tactics (“syntactics”).

The fluidity of networks, social or otherwise, is variable, and entirely relevant to their resilience (their ability to recover). It’s also contingent on type of network. A hierarchical social network, for example, might be considered much less fluid than distributed networks. Similarly with egocentric networks (networks in which some individuals play a more central role in influencing overall network structure) and sociocentric networks (in which culture, language, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and other collective social dynamics shap the structure of networks).

For these, do structural determinants mitigate or influence the fluidity of networks? What is the relationship between the fluidity of networks and the indigenous and exogenous factors that shape them?

A limitation arises with varying network requirements for and interactions with physical space. SNA deals with social connections and relationships, but network theory’s concern with spatial dynamics has generally been limited to one- or two-dimensional factors, ie. centrality measures (how “central” a social actor is in relation to other actors in the network), and how these play out in graphic representations of networks.

This is distinct from actual physical space; network visualiztion is a representation of data, a metaphor… possibly a frame. That said, social network scholarship has begun to explore the relationships between social actors and physical locations, at least in limited terms. Locative SNA factors in geospatial data to better understand social dynamics, for example – identifying the common spatial influences of members of social network – like residential and other forms of clustering – to better understand alternative pathways for transmission of social values.

Can SNA be reconciled with the evolutionary spatial requirements of networks that vary both in time and in place? Persistent militant movements and organizations aren’t static actors. Neither are their requirements for physical space. They change over time, shifting from terrorist tactics to paramilitary operations and back again, with all the variable requirements for operational security that these entail, and with all the variable spatial demands of smaller to larger units operating under varying degrees of secrecy. So when we refer to Taliban sanctuary in Waziristan, for example, or Al Qaida sanctuaries in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or Northwest Fontier Province – or expeditionary AQ sanctuaries in Somalia, the Phillipines, Latin America – what do we really mean?

The Taliban, for example, are primarly Pashtun. Pashtun society, in which “every man is his own king”, is acephalous. This should suggest to us that there is therefore a direct ethnographic link between local culture and how networks embedded within it might look (in this, non-hierarchical). But one might expect that the social and functional structure of Pashtun Taliban operating in guerrilla units along the Durand Line will be distinct from that of a traditional Pashtun society of individuals. One might also expect that the operational structure of Pashtun Taliban in smaller, clandestine suicide IED cells in Kabul city will be distinct from both traditional Pashtun society and from Pashtun Taliban guerrila formations.

The logic is simple: larger units require greater amounts of coherent physical space in which to operate; smaller units require less physical space in which to operate; each carries distinct ethnographic weighting; each is influenced by whether operations are conducted in urban or rural space; each is influenced by whether their objectives are strategic, operational, or tactical in nature. How this complex terrain is organized and exploited – the concepts, structures, and practices of which it’s constituted – has a direct bearing on the nature of militant sanctuary. Battlespace regulatory regimes satisfy specific interests: a legal framework governs the conduct of war in one sense; technological platforms, allowing panoptic surveillance and targeting,  govern it in other ways.  This is system; sanctuary is a crack in it – a chaoplexic ellision. When we refer to militant or terrorist or guerrilla sanctuary,  we’re missing some very large patches of ground by not addressing the strategic, operational, and tactical logic of network sanctuaries.

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