Tag Archives: global guerrillas

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.

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:

Sounds a bit buzzwordy.

“1 GEN” gangs are suppliers of public goods, mainly security. They earn a profit through taxation.

“2 GEN” gangs are suppliers of private goods, mainly drugs. They earn a profit selling these goods to customers.

“3 GEN” gangs would appear to be a sub-contractor of “1 GEN” gangs. For instance, a number of brothers who join a “1 GEN” gang together would, presumably, be in their own “3 GEN” gang among themselves.

Thus, as I think the “global guerrilla” idea itself is a bit buzzwordy, I was pleased to see that Robb writes “Third generation gangs fit the model of global guerrillas perfectly” (93). Right or wrong, at least I’m consistent in my criticism.

Robb ends the section describing global guerrillas — these subcontractors of gangs — thusly:

One thing that these hundreds, growing to thousands, of global guerrilla groups have in common is an affinity for systems disruption.

Personally, I think that one thing these gangs have in common with each other — and indeed, with all gangs — is a desire to make money. What Robb is adding to the this “3rd Generation Gang” format without mention is a belief that global guerrillas are realpoliticians, unconcerned with money except as it relates to power. Humans are so perfect though. Global guerrillas, like all men, are vulnerable to greed, pride, and vanity. Thus all angelic dreams — utopias and dystopias — are crushed on the rocks of reality. The System has cash, the State has cash, and for all their petty nuisances gangs make more money by free-riding on the State than by fighting it.

Good for the State and the System. Bad for anarchy and “global guerrillas.”

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.

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.

Working definition of "Global Guerrillas"

Robb, J. (2005). Journal: Insurgents or global guerrillas?. Global Guerrillas. November 30, 2005. Available online: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/globalguerrillas/2005/11/journal_insurge.html.

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!

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.

Coherent Gibberish

Robb, J. (2007). Davos Irrelevant? John Robb’s Weblog. January 17, 2007. Available online: http://globalguerrillas.typepad.com/johnrobb/2007/01/davos_irrelevan.html [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.

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.

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.

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.