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Syrian conflict yields model for attrition dynamics in multilateral war

Syrian conflict yields model for attrition dynamics in multilateral war

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Based on their study of the Syrian Civil War that’s been raging since 2011, three researchers created a predictive model for multilateral war called the Lanchester multiduel. Unless there is a player so strong it can guarantee a win regardless of what others do, the likely outcome of multilateral war is a gradual stalemate that culminates in the mutual annihilation of all players, according to the model.

The research, published in the August edition of the INFORMS journal Operations Research, is titled “The Attrition Dynamics of Multilateral War,” and is authored by Moshe Kress and Kyle Lin of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and Niall MacKay of the University of York in the United Kingdom.

The researchers found that by studying the conflict in Syria using existing attrition models, certain factors were lacking that required the creation of a new model. Legacy combat models focus on scenarios where only two players battle to defeat the other. In those models it is assumed that 100 percent of the effort is focused on defeating one other opponent. In the new predictive model, scenarios are considered where three or more players are engaged.

In the new Lanchester multiduel model, each player’s objective is to maximize its surviving number after defeating all others – if it can achieve a victory – or minimize the eventual victor’s surviving number.

“This new predictive model takes into consideration that there can be three or more players, a truel, which stands in contrast to a range of results for sequential-engagement scenarios,” Niall MacKay says.

The researchers used the war in Syria since 2011 as the “motivating example” of their model because it offered a different paradigm than typical two-side, force-on-force engagements. Several players – the Assad regime and its Iranian and Hezboulla affiliates, Free Syrian Army, Kurdish militia, ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra – all have been fighting for dominance over territory and population.

“Based on our study of this conflict and our new multiduel attrition model, we cautiously speculate that absent an overall agreement among the various players, the war in Syria will prolong toward mutual annihilation,” Moshe Kress says. “The one thing that can change this prolonged stalemate is if a significant and largely invulnerable external force, such as Russia, intervenes to make one player dominant.”
“We say one player is dominant if it can defeat the alliance of all other players,” adds Kyle Lin. “In other words, a dominant player can guarantee a win regardless of what the other players do. A player is pseudodominant if it can guarantee a tie for itself, where no others can win, regardless of what they do.”

To access the full study, click here.

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