Monday, March 1, 2010

Incidentals (3rd of 5): apropos the future of conflict (and TIMN)

Some comments that fit in this five-part scrapbook pertain to the evolving nature of conflict. These comments include a couple of swipes at the “4GW” notion, followed by a reprise of John Arquilla’s and my view about the four ways of war associated with military history and social evolution à la TIMN — and I've inserted some additional remarks about the fourth way, our concept of swarming. I then tack on two comments about organizing for cybersecurity that reflect my view of the +N part of TIMN. In all this, there are a few — but only a few — observations that I’ve not made before.

* * *

I have long bridled at the notion of “Fourth Generation warfare” (4GW) and finally dropped a couple comments to that effect.

The first was at Adam Elkus’s keen blog Rethinking Security in September 2009, for a post he did in August doubting that conflict was becoming ever more fraught with “complexity” and likely to induce “state failure” here and there:
I quite agree that notions about state failure -- notably about states being eroded by tribal, market, and new network actors, as well as by internal corruption and incompetence -- have acquired excessive memetic momentum these past few years. My view remains that the state is far from finito. It’ll go through adaptations and reformulations, remaining essential for the construction and governance of complex societies.

Speculations about the decline of the state get tied to the rise of 4GW. It’s a concept I find attractive, but I’m continuing to have a problem with it: 4GW is presumably a postmodern kind of warfare. But I’ve yet to identify a wholly postmodern bunch engaging in 4GW in a violent manner. Instead, the ablest postmodern practitioners appear to be lobbyists, public-relation firms, and activist NGOs. Plus some cyber gangs dedicated to malevolent hacking.

But as for violent conflict, most (all?) of 4GW’s perpetrators so far -- to the extent that Al Qaeda, the Taliban, la Familia Michoacana, etc., reflect 4GW -- are laden with antique tribal and clan dynamics and engage in old modes of violence. In that sense, many of today’s exemplars of 4GW are primarily practitioners of PGW (pre-generation warfare, if I may?). The 1GW, 2W, 3GW, 4GW spectrum, as I understand it, leaves out this earlier mode, and recategorizes it under 4GW.

I wish I could find some clarification about this. I’m not asking for it here, but I thought I’d mention it because it relates to your able points: Many of these actors aim to reinstitute the state in some form.
I reiterated much of the preceding at Peter Hodge’s worthwhile blog The Strategist in November 2009 for a post he did criticizing the “generations of war” notion. But by then I could also add:
Recently, I came across an interesting timeline about 4GW that starts with the notion of a pre-formal generation of war: 0GW. It corresponds to my concern. To take a look, go here:

Even so, I still find the whole 0-4GW spectrum problematic, and prefer other options.
* * *

I summarized the option I most prefer at the Chicagoboyz blog after learning about a post by Lexington Green in October 2009 that invited advice for a presentation on military history:
In a view that John Arquilla and I have elaborated before, the history of military organization and doctrine is largely a history of the progressive development of four fundamental forms of engagement: the melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming. Briefly, warfare has evolved from chaotic melees in which every man fought on his own, to the design of massed but often rigidly shaped formations, and then to the adoption of maneuver. Swarming appears at times in this history, but its major advances as a doctrine will occur in the coming years

If this formulation looks helpful and interesting, go here to download our old Rand study (it's free) on Swarming and the Future of Conflict. Chapter Two (pp. 7-23) is about the evolution of military organization and doctrine: melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming, with particular reference to the roles of information and information technology in the evolution of these four forms.

What that write-up does not show, except in a passing footnote, is that this formulation derives from a view of social evolution — a pet theory of mine (called TIMN) — which holds that, across the ages, societies have come up with only four major forms of organization: tribes, hierarchical institutions (as in states and their militaries), markets, and networks. Thus, early tribes are associated with melees, hierarchical institutions with the rise of massed formations, the rise of market-oriented societies with the turn to maneuver doctrines, and now the age of networks with swarming.
I did not elaborate there, but I’d note here that two other current notions of military swarming are deficient in our view: One has evolved around observations about “swarm intelligence” in nature (e.g., birds, bees, ants). It’s interesting, but it is more about decentralized flocking without any central command and control, rather than coordinated swarming as we understand it. Another view has grown around the notion of “network-centric warfare” (not to be confused with our notion of “netwar”). This view has taken swarming in a high-tech command-and-control direction having mainly to do with UAVs, leading to lots of corporate funding by the Pentagon. UAVs are important, but we'd rather see advances made at the soldiers’ operational level (e.g., in connection with Gant’s proposals for a tribal engagement strategy in Afghanistan). In any case, these two other schools of thought about swarming keep evolving in our direction.

For additional analysis of military swarming, see two spin-off writings by former Rand graduate student and colleague, Sean Edwards: Swarming on the Battlefield: Past Present and Future (Rand, 2000), and Swarming and the Future of Warfare (Rand, 2005). For an update on Arquilla’s thinking, see his article on “The New Rules of War,” Foreign Policy, March/April 2010, available online. Also try to get hold of his booklet Aspects of Netwar & the Conflict with Al Qaeda (Monterey, CA: Information Operations Center, Naval Postgraduate School, 2009; contact: Insofar as social rather than military swarming is of interest, Arquilla's and my volume on Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (Rand, 2001) remains timely.

* * *

I’ve set cybersecurity aside as a focus since my July post here on “Toward a collaborative community for cyber defense?” Nonetheless, I dropped two tentative comments that reflect the rising importance of the +N in TIMN.

One was at the at IntelFusion blog, for a post by Jeffrey Carr in August 2009 about his forthcoming book Inside Cyber Warfare. He noted he “changed the focus of my final chapter from ‘A Public Private Partnership’ to something that I think is much more vital: ‘Advice For Policy Makers From The Field.’” And he invited formal submissions for compiling that last chapter.

I didn’t aim to participate, but I sensed an opportunity to reiterate a point I like to make, even though I never seem to be effective at making it:
Part of the problem may be the very term you emphasized in the former title of your final chapter: “public-private partnership.” This concept sounds so sensible, and it slides into place so easily in recommendations everywhere these days. But perhaps it’s an aging legacy concept, more suited to the passing industrial era than to the emerging information age, even though the latter’s proponents keep embracing it (which I’ve done at times too).

Consider its meaning(s): It divides matters into public (i.e., governmental) and private (i.e., business), as though they’re the only two sectors that exist. Good governance then mostly means finding the right mix of public and private measures to enable government and business, plus sometimes an occasional nonprofit civil-society actor, to work hand in hand. And this usually ends up meaning key/big government agencies allying with key/big business corporations, often through subcontracting and outsourcing.

I doubt (and I hope others doubt) that this is the wisest direction to keep trying to go in. For one thing, the two-sector/public-private model is headed for obsolescence. An additional sector has been emerging for years now, though its nature remains unclear and it still lacks a good name (Peter Drucker called it the social sector — I like that name best so far — but others call it the third sector, the citizen sector, or the social benefit sector). Whatever, it seems to consist mostly of relatively small, agile, non-profit organizations that pertain more to civil society than to government or business, and that are suited to operating in sprawling networks with each other, as well as with traditional public and private actors.

While this deep re-organizational trend bears mainly on the future of social issues (e.g., health reform?), it may also be significant for cybersecurity, especially cyber defense. Indeed, the way I see matters, your Grey Goose project is in this new sector.

I’m not disputing that the big government and industry actors have crucial roles to play. They do, and they must improve at operating in partnerships. But we Americans are going to need a multi-tiered, multi-sectoral cyber defense system (or set of systems) that is not adequately denoted or properly motivated by the prevailing notion of public-private partnership.
The trite simulation of a “cyber shockwave” that CNN presented this month, with an array of big government and industry players on stage, gives me no heart that my point is likely to resonate any time soon.

* * *

Finally, I left a string of comments at Matt Armstrong’s MountainRunner blog in September 2009 for his post on “preparing to lose the information war.” My comments ramble, but I reiterate them here anyway, much abbreviated and combined from across the string, because I still think there may be a good idea embedded in them somewhere.
. . . [A] lot of concerns that plague public diplomacy/strategic communication also plague cyber security. The difficulties faced in both issue areas — e.g., definition of terms and aims, search for able top leadership, key agency location, inter-agency responsibility, public-private coordination, even the role of NGOs — exhibit lots of curious parallels.

To some extent, these parallels reflect broader problems of government in our times. But at a deeper level, the parallels may owe to facts that both issue areas are about “information” and that much is still up in the air about the significance of this concept/dynamic. . . .

Your comment above about data vs. information reflects the so-called information pyramid. as your remark implies, it has a broad base of raw “data” and “facts,” atop which sits a middle stratum of “information.” The next, still narrower, higher stratum corresponds to information refined into “knowledge.” Atop all, at the peak, sits the most distilled stratum, “wisdom” — the highest level of information. The pyramid implies that the higher levels rest on the lower, but that is true only to a degree. Each layer has some independence — more data do not necessarily mean more information, nor more information more knowledge (or wisdom). Also, it should not be presumed that the hierarchy is driven from the bottom by data; values and value judgements may intrude at all levels. Moreover, critics object sensibly that “information” should not be mistaken for “ideas.” [Read more at]

This looks like a good way (or one part of finding a way) to frame my point that the cybersec and stratcomm areas have a lot of parallels and linkages, and your keen point that cybersec is often mostly about ops at the lower levels and pubdip (info engagement) about ops at the higher levels of this pyramid. . . .

Under current circumstances, I suppose that officials who deal with public diplomacy and strategic communication rarely if ever talk to officials who deal with cyber security. Moreover, current proposals in both issue areas for new czars, coordinators, offices, whatever, would continue to keep them quite separate. . . .

Now, if our musings about the tie-ins between the two issue areas are more sensible than people have considered, then maybe those two sets of officials should be relating a lot more to each other. . . .

This does not mean that the same person(s) should be in charge of both issue areas. But a range of implications may be advisable. At a minimum, perhaps there should be occasional joint meeting to figure out and act upon the synergies. At a maximum, perhaps a National Information Council (or put cyber in the name somehow) should be established, and both issue areas (plus others, like media policy, as you raised?) should be associated with it.

. . . I’m not taken with the notion that a new cybersecurity advisor should report mainly to the OMB and the National Economic Council; that’s too business-oriented for my sense of what’s at stake. And you are not happy (nor am I) with what’s been going on with the treatment of public diplomacy and strategic communications. The maximum implication I posited above may well be too much, but maybe there’s an interesting range yet to be identified.

[CORRECTED — October 16, 2011:  This post originally referred twice to "the +I part of TIMN" when it should have referred to "the +N part of TIMN".  Correction made.]


Peter Hodge said...

Thanks for the mention, David. Good to see you back blogging.

I read John Arquilla's article the other day, and picking up on the section on swarming, wrote a blog post on the application of swarming to politics, "How could you stage a political Isandhlwana?".

I'm not sure if my assertion, that swarming doesn't seem to have been adapted by politicians, would withstand scrutiny, although I couldn't think of any examples. But no-one has diagreed with it, so far at least.

Perhaps it's the NGO activists and PR firms that are more alive to the possibilities of political swarming?

Spartacus O'Neal said...

Given the aim of many non-state actors involved in these conflicts is the devolution of governance to a more democratic arrangement, the strategies of indigenous nations that represent tribal societies warrants further analysis. As asymmetrically powerful governing entities relative to the market/state alliance, their organizational adaptation to netwar has been remarkable.

Nationalia chronicles some of these conflicts, and we write about them as well at Fourth World Eye

David Ronfeldt said...

peter -- yes, i thought your new post was pertinent. but i'd also suppose that the situation in your country is different.

over here, political swarming, as you lay it out, is not as far along as the kinds of social and military swarming that john and i used to write about. but it is developing.

maybe the "swift boat" attacks on kerry's candidacy count, since as i recall they involved multiple attacks from multiple ngos and pacs. and i tend to regard some of the tea-party and town-hall maneuvers against obama's initiatives as moving in the direction of orchestrated swarming, or at least aspiring to.

that's my late-night off-the-cuff impression. -- david

David Ronfeldt said...

spartacus -- good to hear from you. many thanks for pointing out these urls. and yes, i quite agree, new social netwars are likely. -- david