Inside Brave New War, Part 1: Wiki-War

Posted on Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 at 11:36 pm by dpacheco

For a change of pace, this is just a good article on the state of modern war. Nation-states and bloated military budgets are becoming less important in a world of decentralized terror cells that share information and tactics at the speed of thought in a sort of open-source warfare network—”wiki-warriors.” How can America meet the challenges of 21st-century global guerrillas? A scary thought, but something we should be thinking about.

From the Wired Danger Room:

For years, now, no one has had a better read on the enemies that America has been fighting — from Afghanistan to Iraq to Indonesia to here at home — than John Robb.

The former Air Force counter-terrorism officer, technology analyst, and software entrepreneur recognized early, early on the kind of threat we were facing. That’s because he had seen it before, in the digital realm. These overlapping terror networks looked and acted a lot like the open source software community online: independent operators that are quick to learn, quick to change, quick to swarm, and beyond dangerous to any competitor.

In his new book, Brave New War, he forecasts how these “open source guerrillas” will continue to grow in strength — and how they might eventually be stopped.

Our own Kris Alexander sat down with Robb recently, to discuss the book, and the state of the world. They talked about everything from “wiki-war” to $4 gas to a “brown-out” future. Here’s part one of the interview:

Q: Tell me a little about your new book:

A: Right after 9-11, the analysis that I saw from the media and military was insufficient to explain what we were facing — too much hype and too little analysis. So I started a weblog, Global Guerrillas, that used my operational and analytical experience combined with my experience in the high tech field to put together a new framework that made more sense. That in turn led to the book Brave New War.

One of the first things I noticed was that rapid globalization was forcing a correspondingly rapid evolution of warfare to take advantage of the new conditions. Global systems themselves like the Internet amplifies actions in a non-linear way which creates feedback loops that can dramatically escalate the impact of violence.

9-11 is a great example of how the underlying dynamics of globalization make a radical acceleration in conflict possible. Small groups can now produce results from actions that far exceed anything in history. However, this isn’t restricted to Islamic terrorists. Warfare is evolving is across the board at a rapid rate. I see it everywhere from Brazil to Columbia to Nigeria and Iraq.

That poses a big problem for the US military. They don’t have an historical guide to work from. Our previous experience with guerrilla groups in Vietnam, and beyond, operated substantially differently than what we see out there today. Today, there are no cohesive centralized movements to fight. No wars of national liberation. Warfare is now an open-source framework of loose organizations.

Q: So it’s like “wiki-war”?

A: Right. It is a ground-up phenomenon that challenges the Nation-state’s monopoly on violence.

Please forgive the market analogy, but it’s like Microsoft’s experience with the Internet. Before the Internet Microsoft dominated the computer industry. The arrival of the Internet changed things. Microsoft is still a player, but all the talent is gravitating away from the Windows platform towards the web. In warfare, you see the talent and innovation gravitating away from the nation state. As states decline, alternatives spring forth.

My book traces the development of these alternative non-state groups that are challenging nation-states across the world. I write about how new methods of warfare are emerging that go beyond simple terrorism. I illustrate this with examples of the campaigns against oil, the power grid, and the fuel systems in Iraq. I also show how loose groups can hollow out a state with these attacks. Under this type of assault, states can lose control and an entire commercially motivated set of groups can emerge that want to perpetuate the chaos.

Q: There have been reports of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, having his military study the Iraq insurgency. Is that the future of state vs. state warfare as well?

A: Yes, states are adopting many of the methods we see in development among non-state groups. For example, Saddam learned this lesson from the first Gulf War. He couldn’t fight us as equals so he organized his military for an insurgency with the Fedayeen Saddam. Hezbollah is another good example. Now, Venezuela and Syria are both looking at ways to replicate Hezbollah’s recent success in Lebanon in their own defense.

Hugo Chavez is smart to organize his military for a guerrilla war. He’s knows he’s a potential target. Also, he can’t fight any major power conventionally. Therefore, he’s organizing his military for small group warfare. He’s making some smart purchases by focusing on small weapon systems instead of big-ticket items.

Let’s face it: Big-ticket systems make small states dependent of the supplier of the system. Saddam’s Iraq was a good example of this. They were totally dependent on other states to keep their weapon systems running. Now you are seeing states move away from this and purchasing weapons they can use for fourth generation warfare.

Read the whole article here.

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