War dynamics are like a chessboard, lecturer says


Scott Gates, research professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo, presented the lecture “Forces of darkness: Islamic State, armed conflict, and resource allocation” on Thursday. Throughout his career, Gates has written three papers on the strategic dynamics of war.

Gates said a crucial part of gathering research is Nighttime Light Emissions, which is downloaded into a spatial grid called a PRIO-grid and visualized. The NLE, in Gates’s case, plays a role in demographic and economic data collection.

In terms of NLE, Gates said he can track Islamic State, or IS, domains since they appear darker in the data.

NLE is one aspect of productive efforts that can be measured for contested areas by rebels and the government. Areas controlled by IS have significantly less NLE than other areas. Areas not experiencing a change in IS control have significantly more NLE than other areas.

“No matter how many enemies, no matter who its fighting, IS [worries] about its existence,” Gates said. “Survival is the most important thing they’re thinking about. Resource inflows make fight and not light.”

There is a unit of analysis Gates said he and his coworkers use called the q-cell, which compounds satellite maps of spaces, for example Iraq, to visualize the NLE.

“It’s like a chessboard,” Gates said. “One q-cell is a small square. Where can a king move? Up one, down one, across, left, diagonally. We’re going to hypothesize that IS isn’t going to jump over here to attack. They’re going to attack cells next to you.”

Chuck Sexton, senior in history, said the technology was interesting.

“The application of technological resources to examine phases of conflict is impressive,” Sexton said. “You see it in pictures of North Korea but you don’t think of that technological capability.”

Austin Harrell, senior in secondary education, said the lecture validated a lot of what he saw in Syria.

As for the future, Gates said he hopes to expand his data to include the NLE of other rebel groups.