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,

A Halt to Iraqi Oil Exports,” by John Robb, Global Guerrillas, 23 October 2005, (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.

10 thoughts on “The Failure of Global Guerrillaism: Democracies Withstand Economic Pain”

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

    Interesting…I had been thinking of the GG idea as a specilaized 4GW, but GG as 3G+Guerilla makes more sense.

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for commenting!

    The confusion is pretty common, even Barnett[1] and Safranski[2] classfied GG as 4GW. But as I wrote[3]:

    “Robb's Global Guerrillaism is not a 4GW philosophy. If anything, it is a new form of 3GW.

    First, 4GW is fought in the moral sphere. The purpose of 4GW is not to physically destroy your enemy (except in extreme circumstances), but remove your enemy's will to fight. 3GW's actions, by contrast, focus on removing an enemy's ability to fight. Robb criticizes 4GW.

    Global Guerrillaism's flaw is that it is Clausewitzian: it wants to attack the strong-point of rich states — money and technology — with money and technology. See here for money, here for tech.

    3GW, by contrast, focuses on decisive battles (which means attacking the schwerpunkt, even when 3GStrategists dissemble) and the physical sphere.”

    Robb compares GG with 4GW, but I don't think he ever said the terms were identical.

    [1] [2]

  3. Hey, 3GW? 4GW turns strengths into weaknesses. It's a central tenet.

    Your right in that classic guerrillas wars (the proxy guerrilla wars we fought and the recent ones with proto-states) is primarily fought in the moral space. However, what we are seing in the evolving landscape is different. GG fights in moral, psychological, and physical spheres simultaneously. It's multi-mode.

    I appreciate your defense of Barnett. However, I am not sure he needs the help.

  4. John,

    Thank you for your comment. I would like to discuss this at some length, if you have the time.

    Any type of “take-down” warfare (subdue in John Boyd's PISRR stages of victory), the purpose is to convert strengths into weaknessess. Likewise, in any form of “take-over” war (what Boyd called “subvert”), the goal is to turn the enemy's strengths into your strengths. It doesn't matter which “generation” of war you describe.

    That said, Clausewitz-style 3GW /reduces/ the Enemy's strength into a weakness, while Sun Tzu-style 4GW /goes around/ the Enemy's strengths to hurt his weaknesses. This difference is why the Western way of war searches for a “decisive battle” (the final destruction of the Enemy's strengths) while non-western ways often focus on bleeding the enemy (the final draining of the Enemy through his weaknesses).

    Seen this way, Global Guerillaism fits in with other Western/Clausewitzian/3GW solutions. It is not a form of 4GW.

  5. Hey Dan,

    Honestly I've been a bit rusty on warstudies and have turned my attention to Russian foreign policy, as you may notice in my blog. That said, I'd still like to take a stab at this very interesting posting of yours…

    First off are the definitions:

    I agree that 3GW is after the opponent’s Clausewitzian center of gravity and sees things in a more Westphalian state-centric view of the world with a centrally organized force v. a centrally organized force.

    I agree that 4GW is an attack via the moral sphere, but I also see it more as per

    – *In a stereotypical confrontation, its asymmetrical 4GW against 3GW (slightly tautological definition I know)
    – Non linear battlefield
    – No distinction between civilian or associated combatants
    – Goal against adversary is more moral – “bleed the enemy to death” – rather than decisive battle
    – The 4GW group is usually not a organized state force nor a traditional guerilla that holds territory

    Problem about the debate is that 4GW and 3GW are not symmetrical opposites. They are two different beasts entirely, but not exclusively to each other.

    That said, I see global guerilla as 4GW not 3GW. Why?

    In addition to what I defined as 4GW above, Global Guerilla (my interpretation of it) has a certain “secret sauce” that traditional Clausewitz/3GW does not anticipate.

    The Secret Sauce: Global Guerillas is an organic amorphous non-state network, where the pattern of attack by the GG is multi-dimensional and dictated by the “market”. If attacking pipelines gain tractions for the GG then more resources will flow to that direction. If more attacks by Sunni elements of the Iraqi GG against Shiites is seen as providing an opening to civil war the more resources will flow in that direction. And so on.

    Its an adaptive decentralized network based on feedback from the environment, which I do not think that traditional Clausewitz (while not necessary against the concept) explicitly endorses as GG does by definition. 4GW is far closer to GG than 3GW.

    If John Robb seems placing his focus on the systempunkt, its due to two reasons: 1) it’s a far more transparent and easier thing to measure than “moral” or “will of the adversary” 2) the GG has been consistently targeting pipeline.

    *That said – has anyone ever explored GG v. GG? Would that just fall into tribal warfare?

  6. hi Dan,

    Good post, good comment thread.

    First as a personal aside, I've been meaning to mention this for a while but have you considered that your intellectual interests are really gravitating toward a degree in Strategic Studies than standard Poli Sci ? You'd have far more room for creative analysis in that discipline and you won't be tied down in to a goofy Liberal vs. Realist school clash that interferes with academic job seeking and/or tenure ( should you ultimately be headed in that career direction). Nothing wrong with Poli Sci per se though, just a thought on my part from reading tdaxp.

    Secondly, I want to work off of John's comment to make a general historical point:

    John Robbb wrote:

    “GG fights in moral, psychological, and physical spheres simultaneously. It's multi-mode”

    That goes toward addressing the great variance in societal *resilience*. A particular kind of attack that makes one society crumble like a house of cards may have no more effect than a gentle spring on another. Or worse, rebounds dramatically to the attacker's strategic disadvantage. Vulnerabilities vary widely.

    An example:

    In imitation of Luftwaffe terror bombing attacks, the Allies dropped considerable payloads of bombs on Germany in WWII, mounting 1000 plane daylight raids and enjoying, at least late in the war, relative command of the skies.

    The Strategic Bombing Survey conducted after the war discovered that neither Dresden type raids nor targeting of specific industrial facilities like Krupp or the Ploesti fields had any long-term effect. Exactly the opposite in fact, German war production steadily *increased* up until the day of Nazi Germany's surrender, in some categories of armaments the increase in production was statistically dramatic.

    The Germans would have run out of some critical raw materials in the late spring of 1946 but that had to do with the progress of Allied and Russian armies, not air power which would have been far more usefully employed against German armies than German cities. German governmental resources were strategically mobilized to neutralize the effects of Allied bombing and the Nazis ended up better off than if they had not been attacked in this manner at all.

    Another example from WWII would be the collapse of France in 1940.

    The French on paper held a number of very significant advantages nor were the French general staff unaware of the ideas behind what we call “3GW” – they had been for years and just watched the Wehrmacht 's spearhead units employ these tactics. The Defense ministry simply rejected their consideration intellectually and were as an institution, morally paralyzed by the deep political and social divisions inherent in the Third Republic. The French effectively collapsed before a single German soldier set foot in the Ardennes as the paralysis of the Sitzkrieg demonstrated.

    It is highly likely that Nazi Germany would have still defeated the French with 2GW armies as they had in 1870 and very nearly did in WWI. It would have just taken longer. France's true vulnerability in WWII was not in the physical sphere.

    ….admittedly, there are some excellent historians who would vigorously dispute that contention of mine but they are, of course, wrong ;o)

  7. StrategyUnit,

    Thanks for stopping by, and for the links on your blog.

    I don't think there's anything particularly 4GW about “Global Guerillas is an organic amorphous non-state network, where the pattern of attack by the GG is multi-dimensional and dictated by the “market”.” That definition includes several attributes

    1. A GG force is evolved more than it is created
    2. A GG force attacks targets of opportunity
    2. A GG force reinforces success, not failure

    Particularly, reinforcing success seems to be all that Robb's “market-based” approach means. In other words, it's emphasis what effects it can generated rather than believing that any particular ground is sacred.

    Well, that's wise, but that's nothing that SunTzu hasn't already described. Arguing that from that triple definition that GG is a form of 4GW is similar to arguing that any form of guerrilla warfare is a form of 4GW.

    “Its an adaptive decentralized network based on feedback from the environment, which I do not think that traditional Clausewitz (while not necessary against the concept) explicitly endorses as GG does by definition.”

    True, Clausewitz wouldn't appreciate decentralization.

    It's interesting to thin that perhaps GG is even more decentralized than 4GW, because 4GW at least requires an ideology while GG appears to involve any fighters operating in Robb's “open source” milieu. Indeed, if there's no centralization, no motive, no goal, nothing except a distributed means of exchanging tactics and objectives, this might place GG as a form of 5GW…. but still not in the line of Mao, Ho, Ortega.

    “it’s a far more transparent and easier thing to measure than “moral” or “will of the adversary””

    True, but if GG abandons or deprecates moral will, for whatever reason, this further argues that it is not a form of 4GW.

    “That said – has anyone ever explored GG v. GG? Would that just fall into tribal warfare?”

    Hmmm… as there is no central control anyway in a GG war, would this be possibe?

    Competitor peaces of open source software either become equally adapt at the same job (the vi and emacs text editors, varying in style not effectiveness) or melt into each other (KDE and Gnome)….

    Remembering GG's insistence on Clausewitzian wearing actions, we might expect the opposing GG's to find the strong-point of each other (“open source” collaboration) and attack that — so we'd see GG attacks aimed at disconnecting the other from modern communications. I'd imagine both would quickly be successful, and you'd see some sort of Pre-Modern (tribal), 4GW, or fusion movement rising in the vacuum.

    GG is a dead-end for an insurgency. It's a form of nihlism that's Leviathan-heavy, SysAdmin-light. The application of 3GW's inability to win the peace to guerrillaism.

  8. Mark,

    Several good points. Thank you.

    Your strategic bombing remarks reminded me of Boyd's work on “moral warfare.” German aerial attacks on British industry seemed to have been an effective form of moral warfare, while analogous Allied attacks on Germany helped little, if at all. So perhaps GG fits closer to Boydian “moral warfare” that the Lind/Hammes generations of war?

  9. Globe Guerillas what a novel idea. I couldn’t have come up with a better idea myself or if I did I couldn't have expressed it as well as you. Great job on your postings as usual. Your strength is in your ability to bring an idea into clarity and the ability to attract commentators like Mark Safranski to your blog. Congrats!

  10. Larry,

    Thank you for the kind words. John Robb developed the concept of “Global Guerrillas,” and develops it on his formal[1] and informal[2] blogs.

    An interesting way to think about GG is as “stateless blitzkrieg.” In particular, if you read John Boyd's “Patterns of Conflict” [3], and assume that his “blitkrieg” and “moral warfare” fighters aren't being directed by a government, that looks a lot like Global Guerrillas!

    I don't know about my clarity, but I know commentators are the best part of blogging! 🙂


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