Saturday, November 04, 2006

A New Book on Fourth Generation Warfare

I do not agree with this author's basic premise, that the West [America] can't defeat terrorism, but he offers interesting arguments on other factors. I only here publish the synopsis of the book as food for thought.

Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization
John Robb
ISBN: 0-471-78079-0


Terrorism has become global, and incredibly complex, because it exists inside a social and economic system that's become global and complex. Globalization, unfortunately, has planted the seeds of its own destruction. Every new technology for improving the world system, is also a tool for undoing it. The question John Robb is most concerned about boils down to: will terrorism, in the end, be able to destroy the current system? The tragedy of 9/11 represents the pinnacle--and finale--of terrorism the old way. The goal was to inflict psychic damage, and nothing will ever top that--but they don't need to. Most forward thinking military strategists understand that we've entered the age of "fourth generation warfare." The first three "generations" of strategy revolved around the best way for one state's large army to inflict massive casualties on the other state's army. Political scientists are moving away from state against state thinking, to thinking about non-state actors. Our enemies are now much smaller than that: small, ad-hoc bands of like-minded insurgents, organized less like bees in a hive than like the millions of users for Wikipedia, each with its own competing, but complementary agenda.

As Brave New War explains, system disruption lies at the heart of the agenda. Instead of symbolic, or deadly attacks, we should be on the lookout for economically devastating attacks. Our enemy will be looking for gaps in the system where a small, cheap action--say, on an oil pipeline--will generate a tremendous return. It may not even make the evening news, except as a report on spiraling gas prices. Because of the open source nature of the enemy, they don't all need to be smart. In fact, none of them need to be smart. They'll just keep trying random acts until one really works, and then they'll all copy it. That doesn't take genius, just flexibility. Is this all just theoretical? No, it's exactly what we're seeing in Iraq, as their IEDs improve, their targeting abilities expand, and their networks become more invisible. But isn't Iraq sui generis? Hardly. From Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to Chechnya and beyond, it's spreading. Right now, the West is not prepared for it, and worse, we never can be truly prepared. No one can predict what the next catastrophic attack will be, because even now it's beyond the imagining of those who will perpetrate it.

What's the solution? What Robb refers to as deep resilience. We need to make our economic and communication systems more decentralized. If we can't stop an attack in advance, we can mitigate it. Right now, we've left ourselves too open to attack, with all our resources too concentrated. A simple, successful attack in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, or New York could shut down the world's oil, high-tech, or financial markets, costing millions. We have too few energy sources, too few shipping routes, too few companies making the components for all the things we need. Until Americans start seeing the world as John Robb does, we'll spend all our resources preventing the last attack, rather than the next one.

1 comment:

Myrhaf said...

One question. If we nuked Tehran, what would happen to the global terrorist network?