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  Sunday  July 22  2007    12: 05 AM

book recommendation

Brave New War:
The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization

by John Robb

This is a profoundly disturbing little book. Robb's position is that the open source warfare we are seeing developing in Iraq, where small groups are able to take on and defeat large states, is going to undo the last 350 years of the rule by nation states. The Thirty Years War, which ended in the Peace of Westphalia, established the modern nation state. It was a war that only left the big boys standing. Only a nation state could wage war on that scale. That is coming to an end. Throught the miracle of modern technology, small groups can, with a small investment, cause major damage. Think flying airplanes into buildings. Think blowing up Iraqi pipelines. Think IED. In the Spanish Civil War Germany developed the war techniques that they used so effectively in WWII. Iraq is the proving ground for a new warfare. We are spending a whole lot of money on a worthless military. Robb has some solutions but they have about as much chance of being put in place as solutions for global warming. Another shit storm coming.

Inside the Brave New War, Part 1

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 isnít 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 donít 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.


Inside the Brave New War, Part 2

Q: Tell me more about the idea of a systempunkt.

A: Over the last decade or so, the science of networks has progressed rapidly. What the science is telling us is that the networks we rely upon are optimized for efficiency and to a certain extent, resilience against random failures. The downside of this is that they handle intentional attacks very poorly. So, if a terrorist picks the right node to attack, the entire network can cascade into failure, very much like a line of dominos.

he term systempunkt is based on the concept of the schwerpunkt (a German term for the point of greatest emphasis or concentration) in mechanized warfare. The schwerpunkt is the place in the enemyís battle line you would focus your efforts to get a break through (think the Ardennes in the battle for France during the early days of WW2). The systempunkt is similar except with networks. The systempunkt is the node in a network that will cause a cascade of failure if removed. Hereís how it applies to warfare.

In our increasingly urbanized world, we are highly dependent on systems. You can visualize this by thinking of an inverse pyramid. All of us and everything we do is balancing on the tip of that pyramid, which represents the systems that provide us with energy, fuel, transportation, communication, etc. The systempunkt is that tip. To topple the pyramid, all you need to do is kick out that point. Itís important to understand that this isnít just theory. Itís being used in the real world in a plethora of conflicts, with the fastest rate of advance in Iraq. The repeated attacks against the oil and power networks in Iraq have sent it into a cascading failure from which they havenít been able to recover from.

Q: So 9-11 was the ultimate systempunkt?

A: Yes and no. Al Qaeda recognized after the fact that its attack had a major system disruption payback. But it took them a while for bin Laden to figure it out and start to incorporate it into their tactics. In fact, bin Laden specifically mentions that Al Qaeda realized a return on the investment for 9/11 that turned a $500,000 investment into $80 billion or so in damage.


Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization

What if warfare was reinvented and nobody bothered to tell the Pentagon?

That is the thesis to John Robbís Brave New War. Globalization, the Internet, cellphones, etc. have created a world in which information spreads very fast, can not be contained, and is available to all. This allows small, highly mobile groups working in loose networks with others to not only create open source software that benefits everyone, but also to create open source warfare whereby just a few can effectively block and cripple nation-states they oppose.


John Robb has his own blog where he posts about these issues.

Global Guerrillas
Networked tribes, infrastructure disruption, and the emerging bazaar of violence. An open notebook on the first epochal war of the 21st Century.