Non-state actors are the principle users of networks. They may be tribes, criminals, warlords, terrorists, insurgents, or religious cults. They blur political and legal boundaries so there is no distinction between offense and defense.

Networks use swarming tactics. Networks naturally disperse and evade their enemies. With skilled leaders, they rapidly converge on a target, attack it and then rapidly disperse before their enemy can respond. Their tactics are similar to the Steppe Horse Archers of the Middle Ages. Swarming tactics are ideal for disrupting a modern nation-state.

A modern complex economy is a matrix of nodes and connectors. These economies are highly specialized and complex, each node interdependent on other nodes. While providing economic benefits, this has certain structural vulnerabilities. Non-state swarming tactics can launch disruption campaigns to disrupt critical nodes and connectors in the economy, causing a cascade failure that severely disrupts economic production. Favored targets so far include electrical power, fuel pipelines, newmedia, airlines, railroads, and businesses. A rapid and systemic disruption campaign causes a modern nation-state to collapse.

Some new organizations, such as MEND in Nigeria, are becoming talented at economic and political disruption campaigns. MEND has reduced Nigeria’s oil output by over 1/3.


In the first example, network militants strike two critical nodes and cause a cascade failure seen in example two. Any attempts to defend critical nodes, as in example three, will fail as networks will fluidly adapt and strike undefended connections and nodes. It is impossible to fortify and protect every single node and connector in a complex economic system. Al-Qaeda has not realized the potential of network warfare; it engages in symbolic but militarily useless terrorist attacks for propaganda. Other organizations are learning exactly how potent their power is, and future attacks will be worse.

Technically, complex networks can grow to enormous sizes. This size does not mean the network is coherent or a unitary actor. Each individual has preferential choice and adaptive abilities so networks have to retain members and attracts new ones.

We can study the dynamic structure of networks to identify vulnerabilities. Focusing on individuals provides insight. While the entire network may be large, it is very impersonal. Social networks themselves are much smaller. It is probably
Dunbar’s Number

“there is a species-specific upper limit to group size which is set by purely cognitive constraints: animals cannot maintain the cohesion and integrity of groups larger than a size set by the information- processing capacity of their neocortex.”

Dunbar’s Number is a still a hypothesis, but there is some confirming data. Human brains limit our maximum group size to just fewer than 150 members. Beyond that number we have less and less understanding of strangers as persons. We are instinctually inclined to distrust strangers and can only connect under abstractions that we mutually trust, such as law, religion, or tribe. Technology closes the geographic distance between social networks, but it does not reduce the social distance.

Optimal networks consist of 70-100 members, depending on function. Larger networks require ever greater effort to maintain cohesiveness. After 150 members, the social network splinters into multiple factions as individuals opt to leave. Militaries try to form units of more than 150 because of the substantial advantages but weakened social cohesion larger sizes. The standard military unit as a result of harsh Darwinian experimentation is the company of about 100 men.

This is especially true if the social network must “hide” from competitors. Criminal gangs rarely grow past the 150 point because of police activity. Gangmembers are wary that new members may be informants or undercover cops. This requires them to selectively groom new members.

Non-state networks cannot grow past the 150 mark without creating new forms of organizations. They may create a command hierarchy, with internal laws and management to create a unified organization. Or they may create a confederation of autonomous networks to coordinate their activities for a common purpose. If they are under attack, they must also grow in such a way as to defeat their competitors.

Form of organization affects performance, adaptability and information flow. Hierarchies are excellent for handling masses material and members with standardized but somewhat inefficient performance. Confederacies have erratic performance but very high adaptability.

Confederations are the most common way of linking non-state networks. Political ideology provides the basic means of connecting various subgroups. Confederations of autonomous companies can link up to form a regional organization. Multiple regions link to form a nation-wide insurgency.

Complex networks expand their economy of scale allowing greater specialization and resource sharing. One company may specialize in crime, like kidnapping and ransom or smuggling, and share the profits with a militant company that defends their operation. An ideological front group can help guide extremely large networks, as Comintern did for Communism and Al-Qaeda does for Revolutionary Islamism, although neither of which are “organizations” so much as ideological bases.