In a paper published in 2001  I put forth some empirical evidence, already claimed in the 1980s by Kleinknecht  and Vasko , that publishing on economic long waves (or Kondratieff waves) seems itself to move along a long wave path. Reckoning the number of publications (books and papers) on long waves since the start of the 20th century my graph suggested the existence of two clusters of publications separated by ∼59 years, each following a logistic trajectory. The first cluster, presenting a ΔT (time to go from 10% to 90% of the complete growth) = 28 years, peaked in the late 1920s, coinciding with apogee and downswing of the 3rd Kondratieff wave (K-wave for short) and in my opinion it corresponded to the period of discovery and diffusion of the long wave concept, the period when the main body of Kondratieff's work was published and also the period that witnessed the uprising of publications on business cycles (not considered in my reckoning). The second cluster, presenting a ΔT = 25 years, peaked in the middle 1980s, coinciding with the downswing of the 4th K-wave and, again in my opinion, it corresponded to a typical phase of proofing the existence, modeling, and theorizing on economic long waves. I concluded then that the unfolding of the second logistic signaled the ceiling of publications on long waves in the coming years, probably heading to a reasonable understanding of the phenomenon.
Now, only four years later, this conclusion seems to be incomplete. Indeed, we have observed a diminishing number of publications during the last couple of years (if compared to the huge amount of publications during the 1980s), but not the expected ‘reasonable understanding’. What some chapters of this book reveal is that doubts on the very existence of K-waves increased (coming even from authors that actively published on long waves during the second cluster), or if they in fact exist (or existed), some recent developments may have perturbed their unfolding, in such a way that long waves might be but a temporary historical fact associated perhaps with the onset of the massive capitalistic means of production.
We must recognize, however, that considerable progress has been made in understanding the underlying mechanisms driving the long wave behavior of the world socioeconomic development. Despite this progress, one also recognizes that many aspects related to these underlying driving forces remain unsolved. Perhaps the most controversial of these aspects to have endured is the close relationship between K-waves and the outbreak of major wars, first suggested by Kondratieff himself.
Social scientists and politicians are well acquainted with the fact that chance events (instantaneous and unforeseeable events of human or physical nature) have been responsible not only for the outbreak of wars, but also have even changed or decided their course and outcome. Notwithstanding, since the last quarter of the 20th century the new recognition of some patterns in the study of warfare may contribute to change this perception. Two main trends in analyzing warfare are now acknowledged: the increasing recognition of the existence of some cyclical patterns of warfare involving the core of the world system, and a shift toward newly evolving patterns involving non-state actors and asymmetric warfare.
Moreover, we should add the fact that warfare analysts agree that for the coming decade the threat of a largely bi-polar, superpower-driven global war situation is practically non-existent. Instead, the near term threat for international security comes from conflicts of asymmetric nature, bringing a confusing mix of stateless actors, separatist and fringe independence movements, insurgence operations, terrorist attacks, the use of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction), information warfare, and other unconventional threats. There is consensus too that there are few, if any, countries that can militarily challenge the NATO countries in open combat at the present time, a scenario that, however, may change in the long term.
The prevailing view has been that warfare is a random occurrence having more or less severe or transitory effects on the economic and social system. Contemporary historians, economists, and other system scientists, who have demonstrated the existence of cyclical patterns, however, are increasingly questioning this view [4–6]. Long wave theorists have shown a clear secular pattern of recurrence of major wars with a period of 50 to 60 years [7–10], as well as a concentration of wars in the upswing phase of the K-wave. Another pattern of 25-year periodicity, probably generation-driven, also emerges from these studies [1,11]. Moreover, simple extrapolation of the secular trend points to a highly probable severe conflict by the middle of the second decade of this century (upswing of next K-wave), involving countries struggling for leadership in the Pacific Rim.
Hence, we may tentatively agree with this maturing point of view that wars are not merely the result of blind social and political forces, but patterned according to long socioeconomic cycles and/or, as recently proposed , the result of deep and general laws underlying the coevolutionary unfolding of the world system. It is necessary to investigate the underlying causes of the observed patterns, using the modern tools of systems science and looking at social and biological human behavior at the aggregate level, in order to develop a consistent theory of warfare. Even the recently observed trend of “brush-fire” and asymmetric wars might be an adjacent new ingredient of the long wave dynamics.
The meeting that spawned this book had as scope the discussion of the above points, mainly concerned with the relationship between K-waves and warfare under the light of the new trends observed in the international political sphere. To my surprise, however, as well as to most of the participants of the NATO Advanced Workshop on Kondratieff Waves, Warfare, and World Security (held in Covilhã, Portugal, 14–18 February 2005) many of the contributions presented and the discussions developed during the meeting again stirred up the old controversy about the existence of long waves and about the possibility that K-waves might come to an end.
For this reason it was a very difficult task to sort all the 38 received contributions among the three different parts of the book. In Part I (Kondratieff Waves Revisited: New Concepts on the Interpretation of Long-Term Fluctuations in Economic Growth) the reader will find a mix of contributions dealing with new visions or revisions of the concept of long waves considered from very different perspectives related to their unfolding. A few of them also broach the subject of their relation with warfare and some also contribute with some views about future developments, but these aspects were not the main objective of the contribution. Those contributions objectively discussing the issue of K-waves and their relation with military conflicts, following old and/or new conceptualizations of the phenomenon, were selected to form Part II (Kondratieff Waves and Warfare). Finally, those contributions with strong emphasis on the analysis of future scenarios, related or not to warfare and/or world security compose the body of Part III (Looking into the Future).
However, as stressed above, the reader will observe that the authors of many of the chapters composing this book merge the three themes (revisiting K-waves, warfare, and future scenarios) in such a way that the position of their article in the respective Part may seem out of place, but I hope that this fact does not affect the main purpose of the book – that is – to give readers a modern overview of the still debatable long waves concept. I think that readers will agree that this overview, the first published at the dawn of the 21st century, is very broad and rich in scope, and will contribute deep insights for further research and actions.
The 38 chapters composing this book comprise the contributions of scientists from 12 different countries (NATO countries and NATO-Partner countries). Unfortunately (mainly due to the restrictions imposed by NATO for participants from non-NATO countries in Advanced Research Workshops), we have not the participation of scientists from other cultures and continents holding many different views of the future to enrich our understanding on this ever-exciting debate. This was one of the strong points that arose during the final discussion of the workshop – we must keep in mind that the trend nowadays toward globalization and the increasing role and weight of Asian countries in the geo-political world system urges a broader expertise participation. As I pointed out in a recent paper , we are presently witnessing a westward trajectory toward the ‘Morgenland’, and such a culturally broad discussion on long waves would undoubtedly contribute to future actions towards creating a better tomorrow.
I cannot finish this prologue without addressing some words expressing my profound gratefulness to the NATO Public Diplomacy Division – Threats and Challenges Section, represented by the Programme Director Prof. Dr. Fernando Carvalho Rodrigues, and to the University of Beira Interior, represented by the Rector, Prof. Dr. Manuel dos Santos Silva, whose strong support made it possible to bring together at least a significant elite of today's world expertise on long waves related science.
Tessaleno C. Devezas, University of Beira Interior, Covilhã, Portugal