Academic journal article Military Review

Entanglement: Using Social Network Analysis for Military Justice Applications

Academic journal article Military Review

Entanglement: Using Social Network Analysis for Military Justice Applications

Article excerpt

his article takes part of its title from the quantum property of entanglement, a strange and perplexing feature of subatomic physics. After two particles have interacted, entanglement describes how the properties of one particle directly and simultaneously influence the behavior or properties of the other particle, even after they stop directly interacting

and even when separated by great distances of space. They behave as if they remain tethered by an invisible web. (1) Einstein famously called this phenomenon "spooky action at a distance" (2)

Likewise, common life experience demonstrates that our interpersonal connections often influence our social behavior and conduct--in both positive and negative ways. Social network analysis (SNA) is a method for discovering and describing webs of relationships among social actors. (3) By describing soldiers as entangled nodes within a web-like social network in which they are connected by numerous (perhaps unseen) affiliations or shared characteristics, this essay proposes that commanders can make use of SNA in two ways. First, the approach can serve in a reactive sense, by enabling commanders to develop and execute wide-impact and strategic disciplinary choices in the wake of criminal misconduct. Second, but no less important, SNA can serve as part of a philosophy of proactive leader engagement and risk management.

This article will focus on the first mode, and it will introduce potentially innovative applications of SNA within military justice practice.


SNA takes as its fundamental premise the common sense notion that we are products of our social environments. Where we live, what jobs we take, our race, our gender, our personal hobbies, the sports we play, our children, our children's friends, our addictions, and our institutional affiliations are just some of the factors that give color to our personas and drive our interpersonal actions. Inasmuch as we orient our lives around what others close to us are doing, thinking, saying, and believing, each of the factors we share with other people can be modeled as a link between them and us.

In an early (1991), influential merger of the fields of SNA and police work, Malcolm Sparrow's critical contribution to SNA was to characterize its attributes as relevant to strategic decision making for very practical, socially-significant ends--such as fighting crime. In arguing that SNA's tools could and should be applied by civilian law enforcement investigators, Sparrow argued that fiscal constraints and ambiguities in evidence made conventional police investigations outmoded and inefficient. He then illustrated how SNA's techniques could better allocate public resources for the more effective and efficient targeting of criminal enterprises. (4)

Building on that premise, SNA has potential utility for military leaders attempting to disarm informal or formal networks of soldiers tied together by their misconduct. Similarly, it has potential in the manner in which military leaders might disable networks tied together by collective disenfranchisement or low morale. In other words, network analysis can help to upset a cart full of bad apples. (5)

First, I will sketch some of the basic conceptual elements of SNA. Then, I will propose some ways in which commanders could adopt this perspective to more accurately understand just how entangled their soldiers are with one another, including some ways in which commanders could use their increased situational awareness to make more strategic, warranted, and appropriate disciplinary choices.

While certainly not a panacea for widespread indiscipline, SNA could improve command visibility over these common problems in a way deserving more robust attention and critical review. To facilitate such a review, I will conclude by laying a foundation of common-sense variables: case-by-case factors that bear on whether a commander should rely on heuristics (experienced-based techniques for problem solving and learning) or, instead, augment a heuristic approach with SNA in the wake of misconduct. …

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