Thursday, May 17, 2007

Brave New War, Part II: Systems Disruption and Open Source Warfare

The last two chapters of the second section of John Robb's new book, Brave New War: The Next State of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, begin to seriously introduce the concepts Robb first introduced on his global guerrillas and personal weblogs. The first of these chapters, Systems Disruption, focuses on his main idea that the best way for small forces to battle states is to attack them at brittle parts of the strongest component: their infrastructure. Following that, Open Source Warfare compares a method of warfighting to the popular free and open source software movement that is behind the Firefox web browser.

Brave New War, by John Robb

"Systems Disruption" is a short chapter. The first pages recite various economic facts which are not under dispute. The parts that are questionable are not factually wrong but are open to question. The book uses the phrase "global guerrillas" again without providing a definition, though "systempunkt" is defined earlier in the chapter. Additionally, twice (pgs 103 and 110) I was struck that if these tactics is so open, obvious, and cheap, why are they not seen?

A clue can be found on page 107, where Brave New War emphasizes that global guerrillas should not aim for the destruction of the state.

Complete collapse would create total war... A complete urban or country takedown would prompt the state to launch a total war. This is a type of warfare that global guerrillas are not prepared or able to fight... By keeping the level of damage below what would be considered fatal to the state, total war is avoided

This may be the most important paragraph of the book. Global guerrillas are nuisances who can aim for nothing better. They, like thugs of all sorts, can kill and maim. But they are not as important or dandgerous are foreign states or internal insurgencies.

The next chapter, "Open Source Warfare," is full of fun ideas. I covered similar ground in my posts, "The Unix Philosophy" and "Audacity." Likewise, the concept of sematectonic ("Environmental conditions influence the behavior of all actors in the system...") appears important for SecretWar/5GW. "Open Source Warfare" is an offensive chapter that introduces these important ideas to a large audience.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Federalism, Counterinsurgency, Christianity, and the Klan

Barnett ponders Brave New War...

One thing Robb's book made me realize: Core states tend to be bottom-heavy (more government below and thinner on top--e.g., the U.S. police structure), whereas Gap states tend to be top-heavy (and capital-centric to boot). The former structure disincentives the insurgent (the locals have vibrant local government), the latter is far more vulnerable to their penetration and supplanting.

Federalism (states rights, whatever you call ti)is an example of political defense-in-depth. By making it possible for insurgencies to win local vicotires, it discourages them from attacking the entire system. Further, the fact that the insurgents might actually win forces the local political elite to actually care about defeating them. Otherwise, regional governors will think that "I will leave, then this place will be someone else's problem."

Two fate of variations of Christianity, early Christianity as preached by Jesus and Paul and the Ku Klux Klan as devised by Nathan Bedford Forrest, show this well. The Christians were attacked by a centralized system where no limited victory was possible. However, their local opponents were only lukewarm in their opposition. This attitude went back to the Crucifixion, with both Governor Pilate and King Herod generally unconcerned about Jesus's fate. The centralized nature of the Roman state meant that Christians would be persecuted until they took over the whole country. So they were persecuted for a long time. And then they took over the whole country.


The United States government, however, abandoned its war against the Klan after about a decade. While militarily defeated, the political wing of the Ku Klux Klan (in the form of local Democratic Parties) soon gained power across the South and were able to implement their policies. Then the violence against the State stopped. This was unfortuante for the victims involved. However, while the centralized Roman persecution of Christians meant that time was on the side of the insurgents (just wait long enough and some mircale will happen), the decentralized American system meant that time was against the insurgents (the nothern states merely waited until they were politically powerful to reinvade with minimal bloodshed).

symbol of early christianity


Read the rest of Tom's thoughts on his blog.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Brave New War, Part II: Global Guerrillas: The Long Tail of Warfare Emerges

This is my second initial reactions post on Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, by John Robb. The second section is called "Global Guerrillas," and contains three chapters: "The Long Tail of Warfare Emerges," "Systems Disruption," and "Open Source Warfare."

This post focuses on the fourth chapter of the book, "The Long Tail of Warfare Emerges."

Brave New War, by John Robb

"The Long Tail of Warfare Emerges" is a split effort, containing solid counterinsurgency with a definition (I think) of "global gurreillas." The solid section covers "Paramilitaries," or what could be thought of as an Extended Systems Adminitration Force. Both loyalty militias and security contractors are discussed in this section that runs from page 86 to 89. Sadly, the section ends with one of the one-way claims that detract from Robb's work generally:

For every local or global failure of nation-states to address critical problems, corporate participants in general and PMCs in particular will continue to gain ground. It's inevitable

Note in the above quote non-national states/devolutionary possibilities are not discussed (particularly gauling for an American author, who should be readily familiar with 50 quasi-sovereign states that are not nations), and that no possibility of states gaining ground on corporate service-providers is mentioned.

Right on the heels of that quote is a discussion of "Third Generation Gangs" theory," whose quixotic use of "generation" may be of interest to 4GW and 5GW theorists.

When I first heard of the "generational gangs" concept, I wrote:

Read more ...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Brave New War, Part I: The Future of War is Now

I started reading Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization, by John Robb. I've defined global guerrilllas before, a topic John Robb often blogs about, so I am interested in what he has to say.

Brave New War, by John Robb

This post is not a review of the book, but rather contains my initial thoughts on the first three chapters of the book. Chapter 1, The Superempowered Competition, presents his theory that due to technology and globalization the forces of disorder are more individually powerful than ever. Chapter 2, Disorder on the Doorstep, presents an introduction to 4GW and the generations of warfare. Chapter 3, A New Strategic Weapon, focuses on systems disruption as a key to victory.

The last few pages of Part I (particularly, 60-63) are well written. Robb presents a realistic summary of the partial victory options that remain for the United States in Iraq.

They are the highlight of the book so far

Brave New War averages something like 1 false or questionable fact per page in the early part of the book. These range from strange statements ("Unlike previous insurgencies, the one in Iraq comprises seventy-five to one hundred small, diverse, and autonomous groups of zealots, patriots and criminals alike," page 2 -- is Robb implying that all previous disorder has bene uniform?), to undefined terms (especially "global guerrillas" and "bazaar of violence" on page 15, though hopefully these will be rectified by the end of the book), to questionable assertions (consistent with what he was written before, Robb denies that al Qaeda is totalitarian and implies that al Qaeda leaders are free from the normal human impulse to centralize power that characters most previous revolutionary groups -- see page 18 for the first occurance of this).

So far, Brave New War would be better written if it refrained from claiming things were "new" when they weren't. On page 27, for example, Robb claims that "Unlike early guerrilla wars of the twentiy century, the guerrilla wars we saw in the latter half of the twentieth century were substantially harder to defeat due to a combination of superpower sponsorship and innovation in method... As we progressed into the 1980s and the cold war faded, smaller states began to adopt the use of proxies to fight their enemies as well." Of course, the analysis falls apart completely when one remembers Britain was in a long counterinsurgency against German-backed Afrikaners in South Africa, that only "ended" with the establishment of an independent South Africa, nominally loyal to the Crown, but ruled by the former insurgents.

I'm writing this in the floor of Chicago O'Hate, as I wait for my flight to be re-scheduled. Presumably, I'll be done by Part II by the time I land.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Global Guerrillas as Petty Realism

John Robb's new book is the talk of the town (see this review over at Haft of the Spear, for example). While I still have not read his work, I did read "Hollow States" from John's blog, Global Guerrillas.

The post reinforces my notion that "Global Guerrillas" is a generic term for those who seek to maintain a balance of power on the sub-state level. They sacrifice wealth and prestige in order to prevent the emergency of a leader and retain freedom of movement. "Global Guerrillas" are well known. They are called realists.

The problem, of course, is that Realism can only work when geography trumps movement. Realism worked in Europe, for example, because the mountains and peninsulas of that continent prevented maneuver warfare until the late modern era. However, Robb's talk of a virtual state amounts to little other than the fact that geography doesn't matter. And so global guerrillas -- these petty realists -- have no hope.

Unable to hold territory, and unwilling to join a minimal winning coalition capable of achieving victory, all global guerrillas can do is generate violence. All they can do is make some other group even more attractive, if that group promises to end or reduce the violence.

On an individual level, global guerrillas can break things kill people.
On a state level, global guerrillas can make non-guerrilla groups more politicall attractive.

And that's it.

Global guerrilla theory is rightfully interesting to those who to study how people die or how insurgencies end. Likewise, Robb's book will surely be interesting to those who are interested in the personalities of our little niche of the blogosphere, which is why I plan to buy it. But "global guerrillas" as some sort of self-sustaining phenomenon, and they are in no way new.

12:14 Posted in John Robb | Permalink | Comments (5) | Tags: hollow states

Monday, February 05, 2007

Working definition of "Global Guerrillas," Try 2

My first proposed definition for "Global Guerrillas" received some amazing feedback, so I thought I try once more. The new version attempts to incorporate reader suggestions, such as explaining how g.g.s are "global" and dropping the required connection to a "bazaar of violence."

global guerrillas (n. pl) are non-state actors who violently oppose a state. They attempt to preserve domestic anarchy and prevent the formation of a national government or state-level hegemon. Compare with balance-of-power realists, who attempt to preserve international anarchy and prevent the formation of a world government or system-level hegemon. Contrast against insurgents, who are non-state actors who violently oppose a state in order to replace or modify a government. Also constrast against anarchists, who reject any form of government. [ > Global, total, Guerrilla, anti-government actor].

For background, read my posts on the elements of global guerrilla theory, as well as the contested (though non-gibberish) nature of John Robb's collected writings. Additional information is available from Dreaming 5GW, Shloky, and Soob.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Not Gibberish

Several blogfriends have thumped me for terming Robb's theory "gibberish." They are right.

I criticized John Robb that way because of its internal validity (any part of John's writing can be used to help inform any other part) and external invalidity (the theory does not seem to predict actual behavior or describe what is really going on). Such a combination is not typical of a crazy man. It is typical of a good theorist who happens to be wrong.

As I commented on Shloky, I am not criticizing Global Guerrllas Theory with vitriol -- only enthusiastic skepticism.

In that context, I am happy that John Robb has taken the time to comment on the original thread. Some excerpts:

The reality is that we are getting beaten in Iraq and Afghanistan (and there are signs that it won't stop there as in Nigeria). The model I provide answers many of the questions as to why this is so and as a result it is being sought after by those that are in decision making positions to make a difference, which I am more than happy to provide...

In terms of approach, I do take a "red team" approach to how I write, but I think that is the most effective way to get across the message. My thinking is that unless the threat and the environment is accurately defined, you can't build effective solutions. So far, the solutions I am finding appear to bottoms up in a way that parallels the threat, which seem incompatible with what the existing bureaucracies can accept. We'll see who is right.

So I thank John for his comment, and for his time. I apologize for the too-hot rhetoric and the departure from my "otherwise scholarly style." The discussion continues (now at 56 comments!), and hopefully a good time is being had by all.

07:05 Posted in John Robb | Permalink | Comments (1) | Tags: global guerrillas

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Working definition of "Global Guerrillas"

Robb, J. (2005). Journal: Insurgents or global guerrillas?. Global Guerrillas. November 30, 2005. Available online:

My post criticizing John Robb's theory of "Global Guerrillas" as "Coherent Gibberish" is one of the most popular things i have ever written. The post's talk-back thread is currently at an incredible 46 comments. Even better, I have learned a lot from commentators, and their contributiosn to the conversation are certainly more valuable than mine. As a result of feedback I have sharpened my own understanding of John Robb's theory and its important elements, such as the bazaar of violence, open source warfare, and the systempunkt.

However, the discussion is problematic as Robb has not been clear as to what global guerrillas actually are. Perhaps he is saving his best thoughts for his upcoming book (Brave New War -- available on April 27th). But I'm too interested to wait that long. Therefore, taking Aherring's "working definitions" of 5GW as an inspiration and Robb's Novemer 2005 post on global guerrillaism as a starting point, I provide the following definition:

global guerrillas (n., pl.) are non-state actors who violently oppose a state. They seek to create and maintain a bazaar of violence and lead the state to extreme weakness or failure. Contrast against insurgents, who are non-state actors who violently oppose a state in order to replace or modify a government.

As I said before, I do not believe that the global guerrilla concept is valid. In a world where states alliances of states are the primary exporters of security, there is little for guerrillas to do. They can kill and they can destroy, but they cannot rule.

PS: Many thanks to Chiasm and Purpleslog, who both linked to the original article And, talking of super-empowered individuals, congratulations for Catholicgauze for being noticed by the USC Center on Public Diplomacy!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Elements of Global Guerrilla Theory

In a comment to my post criticizing John Robb's Global Global Theory as coherent gibberish, TDL break down Global Guerrillas Theory into three elements: systempunkts, open source warfare, and the bazaar of violence. Below are excerpts from TDL's summary, as well as posts by John Robb, on these three comments. I then summarize each idea individually, and provide a final overview at the bottom of this post.

Concept: bazaar of violence

TDL's view: "it has been around for a long time and is not a new manifestation"
Robb's view: "This bazaar is where a combination of local and global "hot" money is funding a diverse set of groups, each with their own methods of operation and motivations. Groups engage in co-opetition to share resources, intelligence, and funds (see the attached simplified diagram)... Through this funding, terrorist violence, and infrastructure disruption; global guerrillas create conditions ripe for the establishment of a bazaar of violence. In essence, the bazaar is an emergent property of global guerrilla operations within a failed or collapsed state. Once established, it builds on itself and creates a dynamic that is almost impossible to disrupt."
My View: A bazaar of violence refers to a distributed set of security providers, analogous to the software bazaar of Eric S. Raymond. Continuing the analogy, most states feature a "Cathedral of Violence" where security is provided by a relatively stable set of official authorities and organized crime. Bazaars of violence are highly unstable, as a large security providers typically exploits economies of scale to become a de facto government.

Concept: open source warfare
TDL's view: "Open source warfare also seems a useful analytical framework to understand some of the threats we face today; there seems to be a lot more sharing and a lot less top down control among terror groups (networks, stand alone actors, etc.) occurring today than were ten years ago."
Robb's view: "Open source warfare, like what we see in Iraq and increasingly in other locations, relies on networks of peers rather than the hierarchies of command and control we see in conventional militaries. This structure provides an open source movement with levels of innovation and resilience that rigid hierarchies can't match. Unfortunately, these attributes are likely not constrained to merely local tactical activity. Open source movements can exhibit emergent intelligence that guides the movement's collective actions towards strategic goals."
My View: Open source warfare exists when the tragedy of the commons with regards to violence-related marketable information does not. It requires security providers to value the destruction of the market leader more than their own existence. Open source warfare is thus more likely to be used by zealous organizations and less likely to be used by criminal enterprises. As this gives organized crime an unfair advantage in the security arena, open source warfare tends to kill-off organizations that practice it.

Concept: systempunkt
TDL's view: "a systempunkt can erode the credibility of a government agency and eventually force that agency to give up its power and yield to it to private entities (although I think it would be extremely difficult to do so.)"
Robb's view: "It is the point point in a system (either an infrastructure or a market), always identified by autonomous groups within the bazaar, where a swarm of small insults will cause a cascade of collapse in the targeted system. Within infrastructure, this collapse takes the form of disrupted flows that result in immediate financial loss or ongoing supply shortages. Within a market, an attack on the systempunkt destabilizes the psychology of the market to induce severe inefficiencies and uncertainties. The ultimate objective of this activity, in aggregate, is the collapse of the target state and globalization."
My View: The systempunkt is the right bomb, in the right place, at the right time, that can collapse an otherwise stable and emergent complex adaptive system. As no such strike has ever been observed, the systempunkt is a theoretical construct of global guerrillas theory.

Final thoughts: The systempunkt does not exist, open source warfare is suicidal for groups that practice it, and bazaars of violence are regular but unstable features of social life in unstable countries. For this reason, Robb's theory rely on super-altruistic global guerrillas, who practice open source warfare despite its high costs in order to extend the life of violence bazaars.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Coherent Gibberish

Robb, J. (2007). Davos Irrelevant? John Robb's Weblog. January 17, 2007. Available online: [also at Davos Conversation and Free Press].

Nothing sums of the internally-consistent nonsense of Global Guerrillas and John Robb (the blogs) more than this post:

With global economy running itself (where it is going, nobody has a clue), bottoms up organizations are forming to solve local and global needs, and states being pushed to margins, you can't help but get the sense that Davos is hideously anachronistic -- from a seemingly long ago time when big ideas, big people, and big states ruled the world.

Like most of the rest of what John Robb writes, this is fourth-rate gibberish.

Consistency is a virtue, and Robb (the theorist) should be praised for it. While other writers might be tempted to change what they write to reflect something of what goes on in the world, global guerrillas (the theory) betrays no such reflex. Global Gorrillas Theory, like Aristotle's theories, are completely free from worldly matters like observation, explanatory power, and falsification. Like some ancient philosophy free of empirical observations, Global Gorillas is a gift to the ages, because it remains equally worthless in all times in all places.

To go back to the post mentioned above: the World Economic Forum typically held in Davos, Switzerland, is a yearly gathering of influential and powerful people, and the obligatory hangers-on. It may be as benign as an place for debate and discussion among people who can operationalize ideas in the real world, or as hideous as a kleptocratic conclave of the rich and powerful. A basic understanding of human nature implies it is probably both.

In the real world, people can be motivated by learned goals. But not in Robb's. After all, big ideas are hideously anachronistic. In the real world, some people are supernodes who hold greater influence than others. But not in Robb's. After all, big people are hideously anarchistic. In the real world, the actions of powerful countries can set regional and system-level rules. But not in Robb's. After all, big states are hideously anachronistic.

Again, such gibberish is perfectly consistent with the rest of what Robb has written. His "global guerrillas" exist entirely free of motivation and economics, altruistically sacrifice their lives, times, and materials to wear down the economies of big states. Why would they do this? How can they succeed, as they are putting their west point (lack of resources) against the strongest point of their enemies (the wealth of resources owned by the now-anachronistic big ideas, big states, and big actors). It doesn't matter.

This is fully consistent with other aspects of "global guerrillas theory." In scientific usage, "theory" implies some prediction should be made. But GGT doesn't make predictions. In regular usage, "theory" implies the ability to explain something that has already happened. But GGT doesn't explain the past. A full and complete understand of global guerrillas theory neither explains the past nor predicts the future. Global Guerrilla theory is, in the truest sense of the word, useless.

I have never read anything that implies that Global Guerrillas Theory is anything other than coherent gibberish. Perhaps Robb's book will begin the process of matching his theorizing with real events in the real world. But I doubt it.