Speaker: Logan, M. (University of Nebraska, Omaha)
Date: 10 January 2020
SMA hosted a speaker session presented by Mr. Michael Logan (University of Nebraska, Omaha) as a part of its SMA DHS CAOE Speaker Series. Mr. Logan’s presentation focused on his dissertation, wherein he measured the organizational sophistication of 280 violent non-state actors (VNSAs) in order to determine which present the largest threats. To begin, Mr. Logan defined a VNSA as a distinct organization—not integrated into a formal state structure—that is capable and willing to use violence to pursue its objectives. Although there are six distinct types of VNSAs, Mr. Logan’s research focused on terrorist organizations. He then defined organizational sophistication as the degree to which an organization is centralized, formalized, and specialized. Centralization represents the degree to which decision making within the group is concentrated, formalization represents the extent to which rules and procedures that govern the behavior of the group are present, and specialization represents the degree to which the organization is composed of many, interrelated, coordinated parts. Mr. Logan explained that all of these characteristics regulate the behavior of individuals in an organization. He also stated that organizational sophistication is important because as it increases, so does the VNSA’s sophistication. Moreover, as a VNSA’s aptitude for complex operations and tactics increases, so does its capacity for innovation and its ability to inflict violence/strike hard targets (e.g., military, police, government) and soft targets (e.g., civilians, religious groups). After discussing his methodology and terrorist organization selection criteria, Mr. Logan presented his dissertation results that are relevant to USCENTCOM’s area of responsibility. He examined 72 terrorist groups from the region and plotted each on an organizational sophistication continuum. Mr. Logan also found that a VNSA’s lethality increases as its organizational sophistication increases, and actors must have a moderate level of organization in order to carry out attacks on hard targets. Lastly, he determined that organizational sophistication is an observable construct in VNSAs, a practical way of examining capabilities of VNSAs, and linked to increasingly complex violence. To conclude, Mr. Logan discussed the benefits of his research from a planner’s perspective, namely that it can help inform potential capabilities of emerging threats, anticipate target selection based on VNSA’s organizational sophistication, and provide an additional tool for prioritization and resource allocation.