The Mathematics of War

A very interesting article in the Economist (subscription required, but recently syndicated in a bunch of other papers, so may be elsewhere on the web),
which opens:

ON JULY 19th, IraqBodyCount, a group of academics who are attempting to monitor the casualties of the conflict in that country, published a report suggesting that almost 25,000 civilians have been killed in it so far. In other words, 34 a day. But that is an average. on some days the total is lower, and some higher — occasionally much higher.


It is this variation around the mean that interests Dr. Neil Johnson of the University of Oxford and Michael Spagat of Royal Holloway College, London. They think it is possible to trace and model the development of wars from the patterns of casualties they throw up.

The groundwork for this sort of study was laid by Lewis Fry Richardson, a British physicist, with a paper on the mathematics of war that was published in 1948….

The outcome was startling: rather than varying wildly or chaotically, the probability of individual wars having particular numbers of casualties followed a mathematical relationship known as a power law….

Terrorist attacks within G7 countries could be distinguished from those inside non-G7 countries by their different indices….

While trying to find a version of this not behind a subscription firewall, I came across
a related story in Nature. Net, net: the war in Iraq is approaching the same pattern as the long-running war in Colombia, though one started as a conventional war and the other a decentralized conflict.

The Economist article claimed that Johnson and Spagat’s paper was published on ArXiv, but I couldn’t find it there. If anyone else has better luck, let me know.