Brave New War

John Robb's book Brave New War ISBN:0471780790 about Dealing With Terrorism/FourGW.

my notes

AlQaeda's demands

But the Iraqi Insurgency isn't just about AlQaeda: there are hundreds of groups of varying size involved. Each has its own beliefs and agenda. They simply share 1 goal: pushing out the US. (If a new Nation-State were created, these groups might end up fighting each other...)

  • the US military estimates the total size of the insurgency at 12k-20k people.

  • Robb estimates it at more like 150k.

And there are other insurgent groups in other counties (Nigeria, etc.) that have nothing in common with AlQaeda except for wanting to hollow out the Nation-State.

Any perceived coordination among these various groups is Emergent, not based on explicit Collaboration. They have essentially created a Market-based Bazaar Of Violence.

  • they don't need to form larger Coher Ent organizations, because technology has made small groups able to effect significant damage, esp to Infrastructure and Human System-s.

    • normal estimates of opposition manpower may be of little use because the number of people necessary to plan and execute five 9/11s (World Trade Center) a year is less than four hundred people.

    • Chris Allen's study of Group Size leads 2 a couple levels: small (5-9 members), and medium (25-80).

      • there's a "chasm" between the 2 groups (Crossing The Chasm?) because there's no net benefit to increased overhead/complexity at the sizes in between those 2 levels.

      • groups want to grow to the higher level to be able to cause more damage across multiple geographies.

  • and the decay/failure of those systems undermines the legitimacy of the State, increasing sympathy for the non-state parties (Tribalism): Positive Feedback.

  • some players may not buy into any of the insurgent goals, and are just Making Money as Mercenary groups. See section on the IED marketplace.

  • The truth of who we are facing is somewhere in between Juan Cole's enlightened world that years to be free of Western domination and Ralph Peters' erratic Warrior-s. My conclusion is that Globalization is quickly layering new skill sets on ancient MindSet-s... Despite this apparent Modernity and an eager willingness to adopt technology, however, their Value sets are often completely different from those we find acceptable in the West... Some have opted to create an alternative system, or Proto State-s, that conform to their values. We have seen this in Hez Bollah and HamAs. Otherwse, and this is the group that is on the rise, have opted to move with alacrity into Transnational Crime. (Groups like Hamas will be faced with the same weaknesses that made states vulnerable in the first place.)

Security implications

  • the centralized Nation-State with Brittle Security doesn't make sense any more.

  • a new philosophy of decentralized survival needs to be based on 5 tenets

  1. the Market State: Philip Bobbit's ShieldOfAchilles makes the case that the transition there is inevitable. States are shifting their Mission from delivery of Welfare (outcomes) to Opportunity. There are 3 dominant methods of doing this (and each has complaints about the others):

    • Entrepreneur-ial Market State (US): maximize flexibility via privatization; complaint: "chaotic... exporting inflation"

    • Mercantilist Market State (Asia): maximize employment via control; complaint: "exploiting foreign markets while protecting its own"

    • Managerial Market State (EU): maximize social cohesion; complaint: "keeping interest rates high which reduces investment in growth"

    • despite the complaints, these groups probably won't go to war with each other, unless there's an outbreak of residual Nationalism.

    • we need a Minimal Compact to keep these different groups trading/cooperating with each other. This calls for the establishment of a body that oversees the global Market Place: a society of Economic Engineer-s that is focused on ensuring that the members of the system adhere to the simple rules... this isn't the WTO... must have the means to enforce actions that protect it (within the field of global economics and communication, this oversight body will look more like a standards enforcement body than any political entity. (If a Market State won't follow the simple rules, what would this group do? Just "kick them out"? How would this matter?)

  2. Platform-s: decentralized services that can be aggregated in flexible ways (MashUp).

    • a robust Platform has a few attributes

      • Transparency

      • Two-way (anyone can be provider or customer)

      • Open-ness

    • he talks about applying this to the World Energy Grid

      • but in a sense he's talking about the opposite mentality: instead of increasing the globalization of the Grid for efficiency, he wants to make it more locally granular for greater Resilience.

      • thinks we need to unbundle Electric Utility to separate power generation from power transmission, to allow greater flexibility of competition for the former capability. (This is similar to the OpenNet argument for having a thin/cheap Broad Band transmission Utility Company.)

  3. EcoSystem-s: meta-Network built on top of the Platform

    • our EcoSystem-s are typically corrupted by large central players (e.g. TelCo, Energy Industry)

    • instead we need players who follow the Keystone Advantage recommendations (see Network Economy) to be a "good landlord".

    • To correct this, Market State-s and their constituent organizations must work diligently to provide market-based incentives for these firms to change their behaviors. Specifics?

  4. Open Source Network-s that work on our behalf

    • we need to leverage/support those groups (e.g. governments should adopt Open Source software)
  5. think Sustainability instead of Dependence


  • from Chet Richards - Although Robb makes a powerful - irrefutable in my opinion - case that armed groups of various motivations do form an "EcoSystem" and operate in an Open Source fashion, he doesn't make a strong case that we should consider it "war." Does it make sense to talk about being at "war" with an ecosystem? (Terrorism As War Or Crime) Is there anything wrong with calling it "war" anyway? Yes. Thinking we're at "war" against a centrally controlled enemy creates the types of abuses, things like Abu Ghraib, that add recruiting and motivating ammunition to the groups attacking us. It leads the US State Department into looking for "critical enemy elements" to eliminate (as they phrased it in the latest terrorism report), as if we were still fighting the Third Reich.

  • from William Lind - If this all sounds a bit like what happened as the Roman Empire fell, it should. The Empire in this case is not America or even the West, but the Nation-State system and the force that produced the state, the modern age. Modernity shot itself in the head in 1914 (World War I). How much longer ought we expect the body to live?

  • from David Brooks

  • from Glenn Reynolds, who recognizes it as the dark side of his own ArmyOfDavids. But he doesn't grok the implication: That puts a premium on Planning, to respond effectively when things go wrong. And that's a place where there's much room for improvement - both in our world and, to a degree, in Robb's book... Robb is a fan of Resilience, but his book provides scant help for those who accept the message and want to know where to start fixing things.

  • Thomas Barnett generally likes the book but with one mistaken criticism: Here's where Robb's thesis stalls, in my opinion, because it's one thing to keep a Weak State in failure but quite another thing to sow systematic chaos in advanced economies. After all, these societies advanced precisely by mastering such network Complexity in the first place, typically in response to disasters and scandals that regularly perturbed their systems and thus exposed vulnerabilities. Thankfully, transnational terrorism remains a fringe activity with virtually no impact on the global economy's performance, which has remained at an unprecedentedly high level since 2001. In contrast, the cumulative impact of system perturbations caused by manmade and natural disasters in recent years has been far more substantial, and arguably far more beneficial in triggering new rule sets designed to prevent future disruptions. (you mean like everything we learned from Hurricane Katrina?)

  • from Jamais Cascio - Looking more broadly, Robb lists three rules for successful "Platform-s," or sets of services, operating under his resiliency model: transparency (so all participants can see and understand what's happening); two-way (so all participants can act as both providers and consumers of the services); and openness (so the number and kind of participants isn't artificially limited).

A nice broad interview - Since the start of the Iraq war, AlQaeda has begun to recognize the power of systems disruption since it has worked so effectively there (developed through an entrepreneurial process rather than centrally planned). The attacks on Abqaiq (the Saudi refinery, if the attack was successful, we would have $100 oil today) and the Golden Mosque last year are great examples of Infrastructure and Social System disruption respectively. Why travel to the US when you can so much more easily disrupt US efforts by attacking closer targets. We live in a connected world.... The Black Swan problem defies anyone to posit that any single solution would work. It requires complex solutions that can only be constructed through an EcoSystem of participants. I also think that I am not smart enough to solve everyone's problems. I can offer a philosophy of approach, but I'm not about to tell everybody in the world what to do. I think a sequel on resilient communities (Resilient Community) would be lots of fun. There's lots of innovation in that area already. Now if we could only find a way to make it evolve more quickly.

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