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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Global Blogrillas Discover Victory in Iraq

Interesting discussion over a New York Times gossip column at John Robb.

Comments range from the insightful (mostly subadei) to the banal (mostly everyone else).

This ties in to Bush's discovery of victory in Iraq, and what that means..

16:14 Posted in Iraq, John Robb | Permalink | Comments (7) | Tags: subadei

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Failure of Systempunkt Attacks

Mark of ZenPundit wrote a great post on super-empowerment, which sparked an excellent discussion. It made me think of John Robb's theory of "global guerrillas," which holds that a force can successfully attack a "systempunkt" in order to achieve its political goals. A "systempunkt" is a single point of failure for an economy, so called because words apparently sound more authoritative in German than in English. Leaving aside the idea of guerrilla organization, which is a subset of the problem, it is doubtful a systempunkt attack could work.

Broadly speaking, a systempunkt attack could come in four major varieties: Domestic-strikers to change domestic-policy, domestic-strikers to change international-policy, foreign strikers to change domestic policy, or foreign-strikers to change international policy. Visually:

Two obvious examples of are the 1970s Arab oil embargo (international strikers to effect international change) and the 1980s British coal miners strike (domestic strikers to effect international change)

There have been fewer attempts to fill in the other boxes, but the turn-of-the-century Anarchist movement (which identified politicians as the systempunkt) is a good example of a foreign-attempt to change domestic-policy, while the 1970s SDS / Weather Underground is perhaps the best example of a domestic attempt to change international policy.

They all share one thing in common:

Robb's "global guerrillas" are supposedly "open source," meaning they see what works and act on that. But why would any "open source" warrior attempt a strategy of such unique failure?

11:15 Posted in John Robb | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Nonkinetic "War" is called "Politics"

Despite his own theory's internal incoherency and agenda-driven nature, John Robb nonetheless hosted a great discussion on 5GW, or "SecretWar." In the comments, RyanLuke asked

If 5GW is getting others to do what you want them to do of their own free will (though maybe that is not the best definition?), where is the "war" part?

Purpleslog, a blogfriend who writes at his own site as well as Dreaming 5GW

It is limiting to equate war with just kinetic power and fighting.

War is conflict and competition between global actors to survive, hold, flourish and grow. This can be zero-sum or non-zero sum.

John Robb chimed in

Purpleslog, that's called politics.

and I agreed with John

5GW is the use of meaningful violence to change one's free will. That is, the victim believes he reached the decision through his normal processes, but in reality you are selectively killing, destroying, etc, in a way to bring about that decision.

I agree with John Robb that non-kinetic "war" is called politics. Politics and war are qualitatively different from each other. They should not be confused.

I made a mistake similar to Purpleslog's eighteen months ago. Peaceful politics can be similar to violent war, and there may be a 5GP (5th Generation Politics) that complements 5GW (5th Generation War).

But war and peace are nonetheless distinct activities. They should not be confused.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Global Guerrillas as Advocacy Theory

Recently I was puzzled by an online comment. Responding to something Tanguerna wrote:

It is a tragedy when someone refuses to acknowledge that their baby is dead.

John Robb seconded:

Or stillborn like tdaxp's "secret war."

To me this is strange. My post on 5GW, or SecretWar, attempt to describe something that I see as actually happening. If my thoughts on soundlessness and formlessness, say, are inaccurate, I would expect them to be that way: wrong from the beginning, not wrong the the day they are born (written?). Likewise, if they are accurate, they were no more "born" of me than any process is born of a discoverer -- the researcher outlines what already exists, but does not create anything new.

Then I realized the obvious: Global Guerrillas is an advocacy theory. The reason that "global guerrillas" do not exist is that Robb hasn't invented them yet. For his theory to be "true" he does not have to match the facts on the ground, but create the facts. Robb outlines his unique perspective on war not to describe something that exists but to create something new. For him, his idea could truly be stillborn if no groups can be convinced if the existence of his "systempunkt" and other ideas. This also explains his use of incoherent definitions. Robb's theory becomes "true" if it actually happens, not if his words, deeds, &c agree with each other. "Truth" becomes defined by reality, not by our more traditional scales of veracity. This freedom from the demands of logic, allowing him to claim that the instability of grand coalitions is somehow something new, etc.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

5GW is Closed Source (and Global Guerillas Theory is Incoherent)

One of the most irrititing components of John Robb's pseudotheory of "Global Guerrillas" (GG) is his fast-and-loose attention to terminology. Curtis recently pointed out that while once Robb lumped his imaginary GG's into 4th Generation (or "net-") War, now he wants it to be part of 5GW (or "secret-") War. He later qualifies himself by saying terminology just doesn't matter, and that appears to be the case: in an incoherent pseudotheory like Global Guerrillas, words don't matter, because there is no inner meaning to express in words.

Consider, for example, Robb's discussion of "open source warfare" and 5GW.

Earlier on his blog, Robb discussed open source in something similar to its common meaning: publicly available information

# Release early and often. Try new forms of attacks against different types of targets early and often. Don’t wait for a perfect plan.
# Given a large enough pool of co-developers, any difficult problem will be seen as obvious by someone, and solved. Eventually some participant of the bazaar will find a way to disrupt a particularly difficult target. All you need to do is copy the process they used.

but now he defines open source warfare as:

An ability to decentralize beyond the limits of a single group (way beyond cell structures) using new development and coordination methodologies. This new structure doesn't only radically expand the number of potential participants, it shrinks the group size well below any normal measures of viability. This organizational structure creates a dynamic whereby new entrants can appear anywhere. In London, Madrid, Berlin, and New York.

I addresssd a software development analogy to 5GW more than a year ago, on one of the first blog posts on 5GW:

Prototyping allows for loose, Darwinian networks of projects competing with each other with user-input. For 4GW, this is fantastic. But just as being "fast" is more important than being completely "right" in maneuver war, being secret is more important than being completely "right" in 5GW.

5GW is not open source. 5GW is closed source.

Note how "Open Source Warfare" has gone from a focus on replication of recent, proven, evolving strategies to mere decentralization. (If you disagree, ask what new technique for decentralization could not be found in a list of "new development and coordination methodologies"). The need for this redistribution is obvious, because 5GW relies on secrecy and preventing observations.

5GW is a speculative generation of war and implies new styles of networks. There are important online sources for 5GW on the web, including Coming Anarchy, Dreaming 5th Generation War, Purpleslog, Thomas Barnett, Zen Pundit, and of course tdaxp.

But not from John Robb's mythical Global Guerrillas. At least, not yet.

Update: Curtis Gale Weeks talks sense, at D5GW and TPMB. The best part:

I don't know what Barnett sees, but perhaps 'stronger' for these specific non-state actors is relative to the forces of stability. In GG and similar theories, there appears to be an assumption that approx. 99.9% of the world population (or more!) will just sit back and let the forces of chaos reign, that even the kind of devastation possible by a superempowered individual will outweigh any kind of potential response to such devastation. Chaos is assumed to emerge, but order is not.


Barnett's far too easy on John Robb. GG, in order for it to actually become a reality, has been twisted into a self-sustaining prophesy powered by selective but obstinate ignorance -- i.e., by ignoring large realities. If you believe real demons exist, and moreover that they are entirely unstoppable because no real angels exist, you'll buy into the prophecy being given by Robb.

13:50 Posted in Doctrine, John Robb | Permalink | Comments (0) | Tags: 5gw

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Like CPUs and Operating Systems, Countries Matters

"First Word," by Jim Louderback, PC Mag, 16 August 2006, http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,1895,2003207,00.asp.

"The US economic/social sourcecode vs. the minimalist bootstrap," by John Robb, John Robb's Weblog, 25 August 2006, http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/johnrobb/2006/08/the_us_economic.html.

Strategist John Robb compares states to system components such as Windows, terrorism to web-apps such as google and flickr, and decides that states just don't matter anymore

The globalization we see is organic and minimalist, like the Internet. It is a mistake to conflate it with the US rule-set. The US is very much like Microsoft with its 30 million lines of code in Windows. It's cohesive, closed, and proprietary and much (but not nearly all) of the benefits of its use flows back to the owner. However, you don't need Windows or the US model to use the Internet or Globalization. It is neutral, open, and minimalist.

But does the analogy hold? Is it true that system-level components do not matter?


Hardware and Operating Systems Matter

Back in the early nineties, the launch of a new Intel CPU was cause for celebration. Productivity climbed, new capabilities were unleashed, and everything ran faster. But around 1997, that started to change.

I blame it on the Internet. Innovation shifted from the desktop to the Web, as interface and usability took a back seat to the network model. The big challenges were mostly server-based.

So far, so good. al Qaeda and the Gap as a "server" for terrorism... I can dig it...

Well, I'm happy to announce that chips sud­denly matter again. Never has it been more important to get the latest and fastest from Intel or AMD.


This is a big deal because our computing needs are growing by leaps and bounds. The Internet has become a visual, interactive media. Video and audio are now ubiquitous, which means that transcoding, converting media from one format to another, is suddenly paramount—especially for iPod and handheld media fans. More and more computing cycles are needed to encrypt and decrypt our data and to execute our multilayered security programs. We love Google and Yahoo! so much that we've invited them home to live with us, and their desktop search tools are hungry enough to bring both my ThinkPad and my hand-built Shuttle PC to a screeching halt. What's more, Windows Vista will need a superfast processor in order to shine.

Here is where Robb's analogy falls apart. Human progress is based on social connectivity - transcoding from experience to action. As our societies and networks become increasingly complex and meaningful, the "system-layer" architecture of states becomes increasingly important. That is why verticalization of power is associated with the success of civilizations.

Chaotic, anarchic environments do not breed terrorism and do little to threaten us. This is why the Conglese Liberation Front has not succeeded in flying planes into any buildings. What problems we do have are spawned by bad states -- bad CPUS -- not consequences of regime-neutrality. Terrorists are out-competed by blackmarket businessmen, and an organization that tries to split its core competencies between terrorism and business shares the fate of any organization that is in the middle of the road: roadkill.

States are like operating systems or CPUs: they matter. If you don't believe that, try running google maps on a System 7 or an 80386.

12:34 Posted in John Robb, Software | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Random Links

Today I wiped out on my bike, spent seven hours in class (split between TA and student roles), and began grading 100 exams. So, somewhat eventful. No real blog post today, but some interesting linklets


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Global Guerrillas is 3GW (and not Global)

Purpleslog recently hosted a great discussion on the Global Guerrilla Concept. (For the uninitiated, GG is a theory of war popularized at the Global Guerrillas and John Robb blogs.) Purpleslog himself commented:

They certainly don’t have same goals or 4GW. GG operations are not designed to send 4GW messages like “you can’t win this, you shouldn’t even try”.

The GG are in a way light infantry forces with additional special skills and tactics operating in a specific unique environment.

I usually shorthand to myself 3GW as WW1 Stormtroopers, WW2 Patton/Rommel armored/mechanized maneuver forces, Israel boldness and initiative in the 1967 War or the newer high tech version NCW/EBO.

Is there a reason a Light Infantry variant of 3GW could not appear?

... GG is a 3GW variant.

Curtis Gale Weeks of Phatic Communion also chimed in:

I still maintain, (and would link my prior considerations, if they weren’t so spread out), that Robb’s GG theory makes a very, very big mistake in assuming that no “common motivation” would be behind the GG. My argument against his leap of faith, in this case, would be related to 1) the mistake people make when assuming that the different items being compared in metaphor are identical, when in fact they are not, or 2) mistaking patterns seen via horizontal thinking for real “observable” entities when in fact it is a mish-mash, a mix-and-match.

This “emergence” of GG — call it a phenomenon — is more of a description of a developing environment or milieu than any sort of coherent movement. The name “Global Guerrillas” is therefore misleading, because it implies (to me at least) a commonality between all the different groups which emerge: they are “global” in operation–when in fact, they would most likely be local. If they are not local in a confined geographical sense, they would be local in following limited areas of “ungoverned space” or “ungoverned pathways.” As soon as any combination of groups begin to form factions to have a global reach, they would cease having “no common motivation.”

I have previously written on Global Guerrillas and 3GW, as well as an order-of-magnitude improvement over 3GW, 4GW.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

How To Recognize Good Guys (They Fight Bad Guys)

"Bush Urges Unity in Iraq Government," by Daniela Deane, Washington Post, 28 February 2006, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/28/AR2006022800618.html.

"Security: Power To The People," by John Robb, Fast Company, March 2006, http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/103/essay-security.html (from ZenPundit).

"Sadr City Hit by Wave of Bombings," by Tom Iggulden, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 13 March 2006, http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2006/s1590586.htm.

"With all this defense spending, where is the SysAdmin’s money?," by Tom Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, 13 March 2006, http://www.thomaspmbarnett.com/weblog/archives2/003049.html.

"Sadr City Vigilantes Execute Accused Insurgents," by Paul McGeough, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 2006, http://smh.com.au/news/world/sadr-city-vigilantes-execute-accused-insurgents/2006/03/14/1142098460864.html.

"Al-Qaeda to blame, says Al-Sadr," The Hindu, 14 March 2006, http://www.hindu.com/2006/03/14/stories/2006031404231300.htm.

While George Bush caves into terrorists, Iraq's natural government continues to form. Even while the US gives the green light to terrorists, armed suburbs stand up to protect themselves.

The latest news comes from Muqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army, who apparently have executed four al Qaeda in Iraq terrorists that perputrated the Samara Mosque Bombing. This event, Iraq's 9/11, was predictably greeted with promises of appeasement by US authorities. Iraq's on the ground, who see their religion and life threatened by murderers, where less cowed.

SysAdmin Guerrilla

Obviously, standing up to terrorists has costs -- costs George Bush isn't willing to pay. Sadr City, where the insurgents were executed, was predictably bombed in retaliation.

Because of the incompetent public-sector "reconstruction" of Iraq," we've ended up making Sadr and his City our near-enemies. This is idiotic. We hate al Qaeda and want a self-determining Iraq people. So do they. Unless George Bush succeeds in pulling defeat from the jaws of victory, Sadr will end as a valuable and natural U.S. ally in the region.

Sadr's useless, but not for long. His future is coming on.

08:50 Posted in Iraq, John Robb | Permalink | Comments (13) | Tags: global guerrillas

Friday, October 28, 2005

The Failure of Global Guerrillaism: Democracies Withstand Economic Pain

"Economic Chaos and the Fragility of Democratic Transition in Former Communist Regimes," by Raymond M. Duch, The Journal of Politics, Vol. 57, No. 1. (Feb., 1995), pp. 121-158, http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0022-3816%28199502%2957%3A1%3C121%3AECATFO%3E2.0.CO%3B2-5.

"A Halt to Iraqi Oil Exports," by John Robb, Global Guerrillas, 23 October 2005, http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2005/10/journal_a_halt_.html (also at Strategy Unit).

Under the rubric of systempunkt, John Robb has been pushing the idea that successful guerrillas will go after the schwerpunkt (center of gravity) of Western countries and their allies: money.

The combination of a bad weather and a storm have halted all Iraqi oil exports. Guerrillas hit a systempunkt -- a pipeline gathering point for four fields -- of the northern Iraqi oil network today with four bombs. This has totally shut down production from northern Iraq and the repairs will likely take a month to accomplish. In parallel, bad weather has shut down loading at the Basra offshore oil terminal completely shutting down the only remaining export point for Iraqi oil. It is important to note that not all damage from system disruption occurs as a direct result of attacks. Much of it happens when a stressed system is confronted with additional system perturbations. This incident a classic example of this (so was Katrina on a stressed US oil system).

Not only is this bad strategy generally: wise leaders go after their enemies' weaknesses, not their strength, it is statistically unlikely to produce regime change (bold mine, italics the author's, footnotes removed for clarity):

In the early reform period, perceptions of a declining economy promoted support for both free markets and Democracy in the former Soviet Union. And while there is some evidence in Latin America supporting the association of economic crisis and coups d'etat, the recent wave of democratization in Latin America during a period of economic crisis challenges this economic determinism argument). Political experience of the 1980s indicates that, even in Latin American countries facing serious economic and political crises, citizen attachments to democracy institutions are not undermined by acute economic crisis. Also challenging conventional wisdom, Zimmerman in Sallfeld present European historical evidence for the 1930s suggesting that economic chaos had little direct or indirect effect on the survival of democratic regimes in that period. And while many students of Eastern and Central European democratization have argued that political and economic reforms are seriously threatened by the economic chaos that has accompanied the reform process, the reforms are proving resilient.

Certainly countries with corrupt governments that do not reform might see their public turn against them, but "systempunkt"-style attacks would not be the cause: pre-existing general government paralyze would be.

Global Guerrillaism is the application of 3G ideology to guerrilla wars. It is built to fail.