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Archive for the ‘4GW’ Category

U.S. Strategy and the New Medievalism

Posted by macengr on April 16, 2014

I’ve noted before that I’ve done some work with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  Dr. Phil Williams, a noted scholar on transnational security threats, was the director, and was also a visiting scholar at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, and for them he wrote several monographs.  One in particular that caught my eye was “From the New Middle Ages to a New Dark Age: The Decline of the State and U.S. Strategy“.  At the time (two years ago) I toyed around with the possibility of a book-length expansion on this, going as far as working up a table of contents and listing some extra things that the book could cover that the monograph did not.
Real life intervened, as it often does, and I found myself back at work as an engineer, so I never got much further with the book.  Still, I think Dr. Williams’ paper deserves more consideration, and I’d still like to explore some of the ideas in the monograph in further detail.  Given the Arab Spring, Ukraine, and Syria, as well as the situation in the South China Sea, I think Dr. Williams foresaw a lot of things in this publication.  At the end of it, he gives some recommendations which are interesting in light of the cutbacks to the U.S. military that we are seeing.
I’ll explore different areas over the next few weeks – I’m aiming for one blog post per week.  For today, here is a synopsis of the monograph taken from the SSI website.  I encourage you to download and read it.
From the New Middle Ages to a ... Cover Image
“Security and stability in the 21st century have little to do with traditional power politics, military conflict between states, and issues of grand strategy. Instead they revolve around the disruptive consequences of globalization, declining governance, inequality, urbanization, and nonstate violent actors. The author explores the implications of these issues for the United States. He proposes a rejection of “stateocentric” assumptions and an embrace of the notion of the New Middle Ages characterized, among other things, by competing structures, fragmented authority, and the rise of “no-go” zones. He also suggests that the world could tip into a New Dark Age. He identifies three major options for the United States in responding to such a development. The author argues that for interventions to have any chance of success the United States will have to move to a trans-agency approach. But even this might not be sufficient to stanch the chaos and prevent the continuing decline of the Westphalian state.”

Posted in 4GW, counterinsurgency, future, history, Open Source Warfare, security, strategy, tactics, Uncategorized, war | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Quote of the week

Posted by macengr on March 27, 2013

“Clausewitz’s claim to contemporary relevance has more than the prevalence of civil wars and of conflicts between non-state actors with which to contend…those who now reject Clausewitz, like all those who have done so in the past, do so on the basis of a selective reading of a vast body of material. On War is itself unfinished: the text which we have is a work in progress and its judgments are not consistent. That is the very source of its enduring strength.”

—Hew Strachan

Posted in 4GW, counterinsurgency, history, Uncategorized, war | Tagged: , | 2 Comments »

A review of Steven Pressfield’s The Profession

Posted by macengr on August 10, 2011

(Spoiler free!)

I’ve read most of Steven Pressfield‘s books, and The Afghan Campaign was the one that really made me realize that we couldn’t win in Afghanistan.  I had no idea that the tribes had been around since before Alexander’s time, and if Alexander, the British, and the Soviets couldn’t subdue them, how would we?

Since then I’ve followed Mr. Pressfield’s blog where he discussed the tribes and how an understanding of those tribal groups was a key to the fight in AfPak.  I looked forward to reading his newest novel, The Profession, because it combined three things that I have an interest in: the classics, futuring, and modern warfare.

By 2032, most land warfare is fought by mercenaries.  These range from Marine MEU-sized groups complete with logistical support such as intelligence and communications to Apache helicopters owned and operated by individuals.  Most of the action in this book takes place in the Middle East and the United States.  The events in the book cover the gamut from the tactical level – ambushes and so on – to the geostrategic level.

The story is well done, and I did get a pretty good feel for the characters.  There’s enough action to keep things moving but Pressfield also gives a sense of the geopolitical background and the history that has led to this world.  The book excels in portraying the brotherhood between warriors – the knowledge that above all else you are fighting for the man beside you.  You are left with no doubt that these men would die for each other.  Pressfield also does a good job of portraying what it takes to lead such men, at least in the character of Gentilhomme.  I also liked how he worked in quotes from and references to the classics such as Thucydides, Alexander, Xenophon, and others.

As for the geopolitics, personally, I hope Pressfield’s wrong about this becoming a world where nations and corporations hire their armies to do their dirty work.  One of the complaints I have about the book is that mercenaries are portrayed as honorable – in real life, some are, but many aren’t.  For example, in the Sudan, it has been noted that:

“among those in the counterinsurgency accused of war crimes were “foreign army officers acting in their personal capacity” – that is, mercenaries, presumably recruited from armed forces outside Sudan.  The involvement of mercenaries in perpetrating gross violence has also been seen…in Iraq.”(1)

Another thing that disturbed me – although I think Pressfield’s portrayal is spot on – was the utter amorailty of the characters.  For the most part, each one seemed to feel that the ends justified the means and it seemed many of them had values that changed with their circumstances.  As one of the characters notes, this is how things are done in 75% of the world.  My question is, if we abandon what makes us the other 25%, what makes us any different than those we fight?  It’s a tough question and I certainly don’t have the answer.  For a mercenary, it’s probably not as big an issue.

I was also interested in how much this reminded me of the Hammer’s Slammers series by David Drake – I wonder if Mr. Pressfield is aware of that series, which has a tank regiment of mercenaries that is employed by different groups on other planets to fight – you guessed it – other mercenary armies, and often is based on historical themes such as the odyssey or Xenophon.  A collaboration by these two authors would be outstanding (hint, hint)!

Overall, this was a good if disturbing read, and I highly recommend it.

(1) Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror – Mahmood Mamdani, Pantheon Books, NY, NY 2009. p.43.

Posted in 4GW, Book reviews, counterinsurgency, future, history, iraq, strategy, tactics, Uncategorized, war | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Review of Linked: The New Science of Networks

Posted by macengr on April 11, 2011

As I’ve noted previously, I’ve been exploring the science of complexity these last few months, trying to get a feel for the different subfields and how it can be applied to various real world issues. One of the areas in the field of Complexity is that of Network Science.

Linked:  The New Science of Networks by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi is a useful overview of the field.  It’s an easy read that covers a broad amount of the field and is a good layman’s introduction to network theory.  He shows that the world around us can be described in terms of Networks, and comments on how they are formed, what forms they take, and how they grow.  Note:  This is one of my longer reviews, and I left a lot out!

Barabasi starts off with one of the most famous network problems of history: the bridges of Konigsberg.  He shows how the problem can be solved using nodes and links, which was discovered by Leonhard Euler.  This segues into a discussion of graph theory and its history. Graph theory describes a network as a collection of links and nodes.  How to connect these nodes and the relations between them, as well as how the network grows in the first place, is the focus of the book.  Hr runs through a history, starting with random networks which although helpful in formulating basic laws, do not really describe real world networks.  He describes Stanley Milgram’s famous six degrees experiment and how Barabasi and his team researched it and found similarities in other networks of small worlds, where any node can reach any other node in a small number of jumps no matter how large the network.  He also talks about the strength of weak ties.

Clustering – each of us has a small number of close friends – is a key structure in networks and Barabasi talks about these and how a few links between them reduces the length between distant nodes.  Still, the nodes are all egalitarian and this is not how it works in real life.  Barabasi refers back to Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, talking about connectors and hubs – which means they have more than the average number of links which the egalitarian model doesn’t allow.  Hubs are apparent in the Kevin Bacon Game and in airline networks, among others.  The distribution follows a Power Law rather than a bell curve.  These networks are “scale-free” since there is no average node.

A discussion Of Pareto’s 80 / 20 law and a discussion of “phase transitions” follows, and how understanding them helps us to see how hubs appear in networks.  He notes that networks grow and are not static, and that counterintuitively just because a hub is old doesn’t mean it will get the most links – although that does play a role.  There is “preferential attachment” – nodes prefer to link to nodes that already have a lot of links.  Google today is a perfect example.  In other words, the rich get richer…

A basic prediction of scale-free networks is that the first mover will have an advantage in forming the most links.  In real life networks, however, this isn’t the case.  This is because contrary to the assumption that all links are the same, they instead are all different with different intrinsic properties.  This is defined as fitness.  More fit nodes will end up with more links.  This is complementary to preferential attachment which only examines the number of links.  It also shows that the number of links is therefore independent of when the node joins the network.

In an intriguing chapter,  Barabasi then turns to the weaknesses of a highly-interconnected network.  Most networks in nature are highly interconnected and are also highly robust in that the failure of one component won’t take down the whole network.  Barabasi and his team investigated this phenomenon.  They found that for these networks, removing a large number of nodes typically had little or no effect on the functioning of the network.  This is due to the hubs model – removing nodes randomly eliminates a large number of tiny nodes and not very many hubs, which preserves the integrity of the network since the tiny nodes aren’t very interconnected.  However, if the Hubs are specifically AND simultaneously targeted, the network will quickly break apart.  This, then is the primary weakness of these networks.  they are not vulnerable to accident, but are highly vulnerable to attack.  This applies to both man-made and natural networks from the internet to food webs.  Cascading failures can happen when the load from a failed node is shifted to other nodes that are unable to handle the load, whereupon they fail and pass it on to yet more nodes that cannot handle the load, and so on.  This is what happens during blackouts and rolling power failures and in denial of service attacks on routers.  These happen in dynamic networks and still need researched.


Using these findings of network theory, Barabasi discusses the spread of ideas, fads, and viruses, using as examples AIDS, computer viruses, jokes, and hybrid corn.   Malcolm Gladwell covers some of this in The Tipping Point.  One of the more surprising findings was that the rate of spread does not depend on virulence.  The solution is to target the cures to the hubs.  In AIDS, this would involve targeting the people who are most likely spreading the virus (those with many partners) as opposed to those who don’t (people with only one or two partners).  There are, obviously, ethical questions associated with this course of action.  Barabasi also examines the resilience of today’s internet (the physical infrastructure as opposed to the World Wide Web).  Instead of being a mesh as it was originally designed inj the 1950s, the Internet is more of a hub and spoke model that has grown organically.   This is why the Internet, too, is vulnerable to an attack on Hubs, rather than being perfectly resilient.  It also enables “parasitic computing,” where your computer can be “hijacked” and used to perform functions for a computer thousands of miles away – this is done with spam, for example.  It can also be used voluntarily, as in SET@Home or research into protein-folding.  Another question asked is that as the Internet continues to grow across the planet as it is connected to computers and sensors and cell-phones, will it eventually become self-aware?

One surprising thing about the World Wide Web is how difficult it can be to find information, even though theoretically the amount of information is limitless.  Google, surprisingly, indexes less than 25% of all the pages out there!  Worse yet, despite the fact that most webpages are separated by an average of nineteen links, due to the architecture of the Web, only 24% of pages can be reached by surfing from one to the other.  This is due to the structure of the Web: it is a Directed Network.  Barabasi describes this in detail.  Also, due to these properties, sections of the web can be partitioned off – providing a tool for control of access.  However, the topology of the Web as described here is much more effective than a government at keeping a website hidden!  Barabasi notes that the Web is little understood and a great deal more time and attention should be paid to understanding it.


Networks are common, and especially so in biology.  Barabasi also discusses how network theory can be applied to business and the economy.  He posits that to compete organizations need to go from a tree hierarchy to a web or network instead.  They will also participate in ever interconnected webs with suppliers and customers.  He shows how members of boards of corporations are ever more interconnected with hubs – 20% of them serve on more than one board.  The degree of separation of boards of directors is only three!


In conclusion, Barabasi summarizes:  “…though real networks are not as random…as envisioned, chance and randomness do play an important role in their construction.  Real networks are not static, as all graph theoretical models were until recently.  Instead, growth plays a role in shaping their topology.  They are not as centralized as a star network is.  Rather, there is a hierarchy of hubs that keep these networks together, a heavily connected node followed by several less connected ones, trailed by dozens of even smaller nodes. ”  There is no center, or controller, in the middle of the network that could be removed to destroy the web.  They are instead self-organized with emergent behavior.  Al-Qaeda is an example of a web organization, which is why the United States military – a hierarchical tree organization – has had trouble battling it.  Barabasi suggests that “We must eliminate the need and desire of the nodes to form links to terrorist organizations by offering them a chance to belong to more constructive and meaningful webs.”  We can do this by attacking “…the underlying social, economic, and political roots that fuel the network’s growth.”  Barabasi sees the future of network theory as understanding complexity and “move beyond structure and topology and start focusing on the dynamics that take place along the links.”


Posted in 4GW, Book reviews, Business, counterinsurgency, future, Open Source Warfare, security, social networking, strategy, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Does Language Affect Culture? Part 2

Posted by macengr on February 8, 2011

In a previous post, I noted that I was exploring the notion of whether or not the language you speak can influence the way you think.  For example, our concept of justice may be completely different from what someone who speaks a different language uses their equivalent of the word to refer to.  Currently, most linguists will tell you that there is no difference, and that all languages are the same.

Guy Deutscher disagrees.  In some ways, he sets out to prove, culture CAN make a difference in the way we see the world.

In Part I of Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages, Deutscher notes that in both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey as well as Old testament Hebrew, there is no use of the color blue to describe things.  For example the sea (blue) is referred to as wine colored (red!).  In the Bible, heifers (brown) are referred to as red.  Theory once held that their eyes hadn’t evolved the ability to see those colors, but this was proven false when the same type of thing turned up in modern tribal langauges.  These languages – speakers of which are still alive – often refer to things as black, white, and maybe red, but not green or blue.  Brightness of the color seems to indicate which bucket it goes in.  Yet their eyes are identical to ours!  Further tests showed that they easily distinguish that blue and green are different – they can see the colors.  So the reason is cultural, not physical; i.e., it’s nurture, not nature.

In Part II, the author notes that although not all languages express all ideas, they are capable of expressing any idea and the speakers are able to comprehend them.  He then states his main point:

“The real effects of the mother tongue are rather the habits that develop through the frequent use of certain ways of expression.”

He gives three examples (I’m seriously oversimplifying these; read the book for more):

 

1) Spatial coordinates and orientation and memory:  Certain groups, rather than saying turn left or right, use north, east, etc all the time.  They are much better at knowing which way is north than someone who doesn’t.  It also affects the way they remember an event since they can’t say they jumped back, they jumped south.

2) Gender – In English, gender is gone from most of our words.  But in German and other world languages, each noun is either masculine, feminine and neuter.  And lest you think that’s simple, remember that most words for females in German are neuter, but many inanimate objects are feminine!

3) Color – as above, but also note that even the definition of each color can vary – for example, in Japan, green goes further into the blue area than in the United States.

There is much more in the book including how these examples can affect thought patterns.  Deutscher also notes that research is really just beginning on this area and that one of the major roadblocks right now is our lack of understanding of the brain works.  How language processing and thought take place is pretty much a black box.

This will be an interesting area to keep an eye on in the future! In related news, I have The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett in my antilibrary, so keep an eye out for that review coming up…

Posted in 4GW, Book reviews, counterinsurgency, future, Languages, Open Source Warfare, security, strategy, tactics | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Learning from history

Posted by macengr on February 1, 2011

A piece in Foreign Policy Magazine this month made me think. Quote first:

THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA
Last but not least, discredited ideas sometimes come back to life because societies simply forget important lessons about the past. Political psychologists generally agree that personal experiences have a disproportionate impact on our political beliefs, and lessons learned by older generations rarely resonate as strongly with their successors. And besides, as the years go by it becomes easier to argue that circumstances have changed and that “things are different now,” encouraging the wrong-headed view that previous wisdoms about how to deal with particular problems might no longer hold. Of course, sometimes those arguments will be correct — there are few timeless verities in political life — and even seemingly unassailable truths might someday be seriously challenged if not discredited. All this just further complicates the problem of learning and retaining the right lessons from the past.
(Me again) It’s all fine and dandy to talk about learning from the past, and we all know the Santayana quote about being condemned to repeat it if we don’t. Still, I wonder if we truly try.

I read a lot of books. What I’ve noticed is that many people…don’t read at all. On the internet is an exception, and I think a lot of bloggers forget that since many of them read. Most of the bosses I’ve had didn’t, even if they were CEOs. They say that you can’t learn anything out of a book. I disagree with this, and my example is simply that I wouldn’t trust a doctor who had never cracked open an introductory anatomy text. There’s no substitute for experience, yes…but background knowledge can indeed be gained from books.

Over the last few months, as I’ve been working in the field of international security, I’ve had occasion to think about this as applied to the United States armed forces. I’ve read David Kilcullen’s Accidental Guerillas. And lately, I’ve read these two books (both good descriptions of small unit tactics in counterinsurgency):

 

Seven Firefights in Vietnam, by John Cash, John Albright, and Allan W. Sandstrum

The Defense of Jisr Al-Doreaa by Michael Burgoyne and Albert J. Marckwardt with E.D. Swinton’s Defense of Duffer’s Drift

The question is, how many of our United States soldiers have? How many have been exposed to these ideas? Yes, we have a whole Field Manual dedicated to counterinsurgency, but have you ever actually tried to read an army field manual? We have a well trained, professional force. So we say. But I think the army would do well to either encourage it’s troopers to read these books, or else present the main ideas in classes – before they ship out to fight a counterinsurgency.

The average guy doesn’t read history. He reads sports. Right now, the big news in Pittsburgh is the fact that we’re in the Super Bowl (Go Steelers!). Most guys I know (Yes, I know that the plural of anecdote is NOT statistics) can quote Polamalu’s stats from memory, but would be hard pressed to tell you who Hosni Mubarak is. Or what happened at My Lai. Or who Thucydides is.

So how are we supposed to learn from history? Maybe it can’t tell us what the right thing to do is or help to predict the future (See Nassim Taleb’s books) but I think it can help us to keep from repeating the same mistakes. What are your thoughts? Do we need a stronger curriculum for schools? If not, or if that’s not possible, what do you suggest?

Thanks!

Scott

Posted in 4GW, future, Open Source Warfare | 2 Comments »

Does Language Affect Culture? Part 1

Posted by macengr on January 25, 2011

As I’ve been working with the Matthew Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, I’ve been amazed at the way so many fields are interlinked together and that are applicable to this area.  One subject area I recently discovered was that of linguistics and whether or not it can affect your view of the world.  I picked up some books on linguistics, and then I found that the February issue of Scientific American had an article on the very subject I was exploring entitled “How Language Shapes Thought!”  Such  serendipity has been occurring often as I go deeper into the field of security studies…

I haven’t really taken any English courses since grade school, so I decided a refresher course on linguistics was in order – especially after seeing the new Star Trek movie where Uhura mentions Xenolinguistics as her major.  To that end, I checked out Language, The Big Picture by Peter Sharpe because I wanted a book that was a general introduction to the field.

This was not that book.

It IS a good survey of the research in the field.  Sharpe begins with the origins of language and how our anatomy is related, and then moves on to why language change over time and variations by culture.  He discusses Noam Chomsky, who was the biggest influence on linguistics in the Twentieth Century, and various theories of how language is structured.  This is followed by a survey of semantics - how meaning is formed, and a discussion of semiotics, the symbols and signs of culture.  His final wrap-up talks about the mental representation of language.

This book is probably very good for use in a classroom, but not by someone who has little or no background in linguistics.  To be honest, I was looking for more detail on, as Jim Kirk said, “MorphologyPhonologySyntax.”

I’ll be tackling Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages next.  I also found this video by Lera Boroditsky to be quite fascinating.  In the meantime, does anybody have any good suggestions for an introductory text on Linguistics?

Scott

Posted in 4GW, future, Languages, Open Source Warfare | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Open Source Warfare, Urban Takedowns, and Pittsburgh

Posted by macengr on November 14, 2007

Ryan Clark Holiday recently did a post on 4th Generation Warfare on the Internet(link), which lead me to a post on Global Guerillas that talked about Urban Takedowns in India, as well as this IEEE Spectrum article.

Back in the eighties a friend of mine read a book (the title and author are lost to memory) about a guy who did guerilla warfare against New York City.  One of the exploits was poisoning the reservoirs.  Around the same time, the Tommy Lee Jones movie “The Park is Mine” came out where one man was able to defend Central Park against a host of law enforcement types long enough to make a statement.  I often wondered at the time when it would really happen here.

Big shows by terrorists like the WTC or Oklahoma City get a lot of attention but fade pretty quickly.  Even the effects of the WTC, which is now six years in the past, are fading.  People are pretty much back to business as usual.  Global Guerillas makes the case that:

  • Singular terrorist events (black swans), like 9/11, do not impact city viability.  The costs of a singular event dissipate quickly.  In contrast, frequent attacks (even small ones) on a specific city can create a terrorism tax of a level necessary to shift equilibiriums.
  • In the labor pooling model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 7% will cause a city to collapse to a lower equilibrium.  Labor pooling equilibrium reflects the benefits of aggregating workers in a single location.  Workers get higher wages and more choices.  Firms get stable wages (no one firm can deplete the market) and more candidates.
  • In the core-periphery model of city formation, a terrorism tax of 6.3% will push a city to a lower equilibrium.  The core-periphery model is based on transportation costs.  Firms generate transportation savings by concentrating in a single location next to suppliers and customers.  Customers and workers glean the benefit of lower transportation costs by locating near jobs and goods.

Back in the day there was a novel by Thomas Harris and a movie called Black Sunday, where a guy attempted to crash the Goodyear Blimp into the Super Bowl where the Steelers where playing.  I write stories and one idea I fooled around with was a terrorist cell operating in Pittsburgh.  Consider the possibilities:

-          Tunnels

-          Bridges

-          The airport

-          Stadiums

-          Reservoirs and water towers

-          Cyber attacks on stoplights and such

Route 376, the Parkway, is the major route in and out of the city on the east side.  It has a bottleneck at the Squirrel Hill Tunnels.  Let’s say at about 5 AM, an active terrorist cell brings two trucks laden with explosives from opposite sides of the tunnel.  They coordinate their attacks using throwaway cell phones.  They park the trucks, jump out and get into (stolen?) cars following the trucks, and once clear of the tunnels use the phones to detonate the bombs.  That artery is now closed and many thousands of people are re-routed through suburban arteries with stops signs and lights.

The next day the same terrorists drop the Fort Pitt Bridge, a major artery out of the city to the west, into the Monongahela River.  Note that many terrorists are engineers, so this isn’t too far out of the realm of possibility, especially if they do it at night.

Over the coming days, they put anthrax in several reservoirs and water towers, launch a Stinger at aircraft taking off from the airport, and use cyber attacks to play with traffic signals causing accidents and snarling up traffic even worse.  Perhaps a few smaller bombs at shopping malls.

And then they quietly evac out of the country over the open Canadian border.

They’ve gotten major media attention, every attack is posted to Youtube, and now several other cells mount attacks in other cities, using the lessons learned from this first group.

And suddenly, it isn’t so safe here in the US anymore.  And no nukes were required.

So how do we defend against something like this, without declaring martial law?  That’s complicated, I think.

First, better protection at the borders.  We have over 12 million illegals here in the United States.  Who’s to say if some of them are not here for a better life?  How do we protect those borders?  Well, there’s a whole bunch of well-trained, experienced soldiers getting shot at in Iraq….

Regular patrols and electronic surveillance of public infrastructure targets like reservoirs, water towers, tunnels and bridges.  One question is who would handle this?

-          Police – obviously, this would require a lot more manpower as well as being expensive.  The police are not really meant to be used for this sort of application anyway.

-          Army or the like

-          Mercenaries like Blackwater.  If this option were used there would need to be strict Rules of Engagement to avoid shooting of innocent civilians, as has happened in Iraq.

Jammers around public infrastructure – this would inconvenience people with cell phones, and would only be supplemental.  After all, a timer can be used to detonate explosives, requiring no radio signal.  But it might be helpful anyway.

There are ways around each of these, of course, and I’m sure there are many other solutions I haven’t noted.  There are no easy answers, but in the Flat World this sort of thing is a danger that we’ll eventually have to grapple with.

 

Scott

Posted in 4GW, Open Source Warfare, Pittsburgh, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

 
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