Global Cooperation

What bullet-proof Kevlar teaches us about cooperation and resilience

Kevlar is a remarkably durable and resilient material — we could learn from that.

Kevlar is a remarkably durable and resilient material — we could learn from that. Image: Ben Mills and Kynto/Wikimedia Commons

Aba Schubert
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Dorae
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  • Kevlar is more than the sum of its parts — because of its unique construction and how its molecular forces interact, it is bullet-proof.
  • This material holds lessons for the wider world, where collaboration and bonds bolster resilience to geopolitical and economic shocks.
  • From cybersecurity vulnerabilities to transnational railways, the world is replete with examples of how our bonds make us stronger — just like Kevlar.

Kevlar is an amazing material. It is light, strong and flexible. It has saved countless lives through its use in things like body armour, combat helmets and heat resistant firefighter suits.

When it was developed back in 1965 by Stephanie Kwolek, Kevlar was a game-changer. We had nothing like it.

Kevlar’s unique qualities arise from the three-dimensional interplay of bonds and cross-linkages in its particular molecular structure. This complex interwoven structure gives Kevlar its surprising and useful properties. A mere polymer – a cousin of the nylon stocking – can stand up to a bullet.

As a 3-D array of binding forces working in harmony, Kevlar is a chemical illustration of the power of networks and structural cross-pollination.

In a world of growing multi-polarity, linkages and cross-channel bonds like this can become more important than ever, bending around rigid obstacles, creating a strong mesh from many weaker filaments.

Through purposeful collaborations, we can build resilience and foster stability. The bonds built through communication and working toward common goals can be surprisingly strong and flexible, like Kevlar — protecting those who wield them from the hot and cold storms of geopolitics.

Have you read?

The ties that bind us make us strong

There are examples from around the world and across sectors, like the way ad hoc communication amongst software engineers in the open-source community recently spread the word when one discovered a backdoor implanted in xz Utils, a data compression utility available on countless installations of Linux operating systems. Getting the word out before the backdoor could be fully propagated prevented a cyber security event that could easily have dwarfed the Solar Winds hack of 2020.

Or like the way governments and industry groups have coordinated for over a decade on the Rail Baltica project, hammering out common ground to modernize rail infrastructure in the Baltic states in a manner that integrates them into the European rail system and away from the historic Russian gauge standards. Debates and collaboration efforts have had to span topics ranging from technical standards and environmental planning to the human behavioural aspects of locomotive drivers crossing into territories where they don’t speak the language. For years, the project has built slow but steady linkages across economic, social and security interests. In times of stress and crisis, like those felt now in the region, those linkages save time and open doors — trust already exists and communication channels are open.

Most of us have experienced first-hand the psychological payoff from camaraderie and teamwork. Working together on a common goal gives people a sense of purpose and well-being. And it creates bonds between cooperating team members.

Building an infrastructure of resilience

These bonds don’t just make us feel good. (Though they do that very well.) They also have an inertial effect: once we establish relationships, they tend to continue. A body in motion tends to stay in motion. So, investments in collaboration have a near term payoff — the object of a project or output of a workstream — but they also have a kind of long term dividend yield. The links that grow from collaboration give us an infrastructure of resilience that can span disciplines, sectors and geographies.

The speed of technology development and its increasing adoption across industry and society makes it an excellent vehicle for collaboration, and a means of connection. Indeed, every day working groups and communities advance on things like developing norms and goals for the use of artificial intelligence, harmonizing standards for digital trade and implementing data sharing frameworks to mitigate loss from natural disasters, just to name a few.

These efforts are often made in the shadow of competing sovereign and commercial interests and even outright state-level conflict. But the special material made of smaller bonds, when tightly woven and skilfully deployed, can serve to advance agendas of common ground even in the face of challenges (or projectiles).

New technologies can surprise and delight us. Arthur C. Clarke said that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Seen in action, Kevlar is magic. And while collaboration is hardly a new technology, it is one we must not neglect. It too is magic.

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