Monday, April 30, 2007

What if Warfare was Reinvented and Nobody Bothered to Tell the Pentagon?

The title of this post comes from a question posed in John Robb's new book, Brave New War. I received my copy a little over a week ago, but with all my travel, I just now finished it.

Summary Impression
For anyone involved in strategic planning, security, financial markets, energy infrastructure, scenario planning, transportation or communications networking, this book is a must-read. For those of us who follow his work at GlobalGuerrillas, much of the information is familiar, but presented here in book form, the many strands of thought that make up the concept come together effectively.

Go buy a copy of this book. Now. If you are low on cash, skip a few lunches and save up the cash. It is worth it.

In my view, one of the big concepts that Brave New War presents is found on page 20:
The threat posed by al-Qaeda and other emerging groups is different. It is not at war with us over the replacement of the state but over who controls the power a state exercises. Al-Qaeda doesn't want to govern Iraq or Saudi Arabia. It wants to collapse them and exercise power through feudal relationships in the vacuum created by their failure. This stance is exemplified by al-Qaeda's relationship with the Taliban in Afghanistan. In 1996, when Osama bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, he didn't maneuver to gain control or wield power over a newly emerging Islamic state. No, that would have been a uniquely twentieth-century goal. Instead, he was eager to build a new type of organization that operated in parallel and in concert with the Taliban within the same territory. {emphasis mine}

John Robb, Brave New War, page 20

The rest of the book works out how this new concept - powered by the technology of the microchip and enabled by a combination of a globalized market economy and vulnerable, complex infrastructure - will shape the future of conflict. I've touched on similar concepts (4GW, Socionomics and Chaos and Down This Winding Road for example) over the past few months and think Mr. Robb has come up with a model that explains a lot about the current problems with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Key point, if I read it correctly - the insurgents in Iraq and most of them in Afghanistan are NOT fighting to take over their governments. They are fighting hard enough to keep the state in a broken condition. They don't really care who gets appointed Minister of Games, Recreation and Mopery. They don't care what shiny little bureaucrat gets to attend an international conference, sit at a big table and act important. The global guerrillas just want the state to exist as a fiction - a straw man that gets beaten up by the international community when things go wrong, but which cannot police the criminal activities (smuggling, counterfeit product manufacture, oil bunkering, etc.) that make them and their associates/clan/gang rich.

They can keep a state in failure relatively easily because the modern nation-state is presented as the Ultimate Sugar Daddy. Even though it is ludicrous to believe that the U.S. federal government or the Federal Reserve can micromanage the multi-trillion dollar economy found in the U.S. - they are expected to. The propaganda associated with government leads citizens to expect that all good things flow from the State. When things go wrong, the government gets the blame.

For example, imagine that over the course of the last few hundred years, a large city grew up where a major river flows into the ocean. Due to subsidence, much of this city is actually now below sea level - protected by a system of levees. One day, as will happen in nature, an enormous storm blows in from the ocean and swamps the city, breaks the levees floods the homes of millions of people.

Now, anyone who ever looked at a map of New Orleans knew that something like Katrina was going to happen one day. As Mr. Robb points out in his book, much of the most effective response was executed by private individuals and corporations - entities with effective supply chains, good communications and a focus on results, not process. The government, especially the federales got a tremendous amount of blame for their response.

Now, multiply that by ten terrorist attacks a month on vital infrastructure and you can see Mr. Robb's point - a state can be dumped into failure relatively quickly these days. As an aside, it dovetails nicely with the socionomic model of behavior - this vulernability has been there for decades. Now we are reaching a critical mass of social mood and technology that allows that vulnerability to be exposed completely.

He ends on a positive note - that by building reslient "platforms" groups can use Global Guerrilla tactics for positive ends. I like the idea. The only problem I see is that getting to those platforms will require a change in mindset so vast that it will take two generations before the applications can spread outside of niche areas.

This Brave New War described by Mr. Robb is coming to a country near you. Buy a copy of this book and then begin thinking of just how vulnerable you are to systemic disruption. Then get off your butt and begin planning for a chaotic future. And always remember - chaos is not always bad, it is the seed of opportunity and success.


Anonymous said...

Maybe you're right, maybe not.
If you're right I have two questions for you: Was Al Kaida operating before we invaded Iraq during Dessert Storm? Of course NOT! Did it operate in Iraq after Dessert Storm? Of course not!
Doesn't that proove that we have created the circumstances for the creation and operation of Al Kaida? It's up to us to continue fighting and feeding animosity, or repair the damage (atone for our wild behaviour), show good will, retire the invasion and leave in peace.

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