Dealing with femtorisks in international relations

Aaron Benjamin Frank, Margaret Goud Collins, Simon Asher Levin, Andrew W. Lo, Joshua Ramo, Ulf Dieckmann, Victor Kremenyuk, Arkady Kryazhimskiy, Joanne Linnerooth-Bayer, Ben Ramalingam, J. Stapleton Roy, Donald G. Saari, Stefan Thurner, Detlof Von Winterfeldt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

18 Scopus citations

Abstract

The contemporary global community is increasingly interdependent and confronted with systemic risks posed by the actions and interactions of actors existing beneath the level of formal institutions, often operating outside effective governance structures. Frequently, these actors are human agents, such as rogue traders or aggressive financial innovators, terrorists, groups of dissidents, or unauthorized sources of sensitive or secret information about government or private sector activities. In other instances, influential "actors" take the form of climate change, communications technologies, or socioeconomic globalization. Although these individual forces may be small relative to state governments or international institutions, or may operate on long time scales, the changes they catalyze can pose significant challenges to the analysis and practice of international relations through the operation of complex feedbacks and interactions of individual agents and interconnected systems. We call these challenges "femtorisks," and emphasize their importance for two reasons. First, in isolation, they may be inconsequential and semiautonomous; but when embedded in complex adaptive systems, characterized by individual agents able to change, learn from experience, and pursue their own agendas, the strategic interaction between actors can propel systems down paths of increasing, even global, instability. Second, because their influence stems from complex interactions at interfaces of multiple systems (e.g., social, financial, political, technological, ecological, etc.), femtorisks challenge standard approaches to risk assessment, as higher-order consequences cascade across the boundaries of socially constructed complex systems. We argue that new approaches to assessing and managing systemic risk in international relations are required, inspired by principles of evolutionary theory and development of resilient ecological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17356-17362
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume111
Issue number49
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 9 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General

Keywords

  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Contagion
  • Resilience
  • Risk analysis
  • Systemic risk

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    Frank, A. B., Collins, M. G., Levin, S. A., Lo, A. W., Ramo, J., Dieckmann, U., Kremenyuk, V., Kryazhimskiy, A., Linnerooth-Bayer, J., Ramalingam, B., Roy, J. S., Saari, D. G., Thurner, S., & Von Winterfeldt, D. (2014). Dealing with femtorisks in international relations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(49), 17356-17362. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1400229111