Category Archives: John Robb

5GW + Shrinking the Gap: The Money/Fantasy Machine

Mountainrunner’s review of Brave New War was greeted thusly by John Robb:

Knew it was going to happen. Oh well. To tell you the truth, I kinda expected more push-back to an outsider like me from the “conference crowd” guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in Washinton. This guy is the only one to do so publicly.

Respondingly publicly, MR wrote:

I don’t know that I am trying to protect the “money/fantasy machine”, mostly because I don’t know what he means (a little help?). However, it does sound bad and I would probably agree the “money/fantasy machine” needs to be whacked based on name alone. Whatever it is, my issue with the book pivots on his failure to include and factor in purposes and support systems into the analysis of his guerrillas. Insight into these two not insignificant data sets can’t be dismissed or ignored, but that is just what BNW does.

At the time, I noted this was a humorous way to turn the other cheek. However, MR is wrong. The “money/fantasy machine” is a vital part of shrinking the Gap.


Earlier, Curtis commented on Tom Barnett’s view of 5GW:

he resolution to the Barnettian paradox is not something Barnett himself has offered: a true 5GW approach. Although he speaks in the language of co-optation, he uses the term when addressing inter-national relations; e.g., that Iran can be co-opted. Barnett does not descend to the street level although he does support improving the lives of the persons on the street; [Tom Barnett] has yet to formulate a clear plan for co-opting the many individuals of which nations and corporations are comprised. For the most part, he seems to assume that nation-states and corporations, if they only do the right things, will be received as benevolent dictators — or, scratch that term, as benevolent superempowered entities.

He may be half right. Many people seek saviors of one sort or another; many are happy to delegate responsibility for the things they themselves cannot touch or do not have the time or motivation to fix themselves — or do not understand, themselves. The crux of the Barnettian paradox involves the manner and method of assigning these delegations so that the general man-on-the-street can rest easily knowing his prosperous future is assured. Even within the Core, much doubt about this process of delegation exists; various superempowerments within and without the Core threaten to upset faith in the systems of the Core.

For his theory of 5GW, Barnett needs to reduce the footprint of his preferred superempowered entities, and this will require a re-think about how they operate — in fact, perhaps also about who they are.

In an unrelated post, Mountainrunner himself says much the same thing:

To this end, when operating in conflict/post-conflict environments were the host state needs to be rebuilt, certain tools are missing from our tooklit that demonstrates our commitment to the mission to the host, facilitates capacity building, and deepens host nation commitment, and capability, to the mission, and perhaps most importantly, enlists the locals into their own success.

Both posts can be summarized like this: America needs to subvert her own population, to enlist Americans, to shrink the Gap. Most thinkers are stuck in a low-G paradigm, so obvious solutions are for “everyone to pitch in” (0GW), “organize everyone to shrink the gap” (1GW), write harshly-worded letters (4GW), etc.

However, a 5GW solution is wiser. If shrinking the Gap is a public policy option, it could be rejected. Shrinking the Gap is a long-term process, and should be insulated from politics as much as possible. We have a model of how to proceed.

The Global War Against Communism was a successful, multigenerational effort by the United States to defeat the Communist world, to spinter the Soviet Union’s support, and ultimately to turn the USSR’s constuent republics against themselves. This was done by institutionalizing the war, building up a military-industria complex for the leviathian … what John Robb describes as a “money/fantasy machine” and Tom Barnett decries a generation after the Cold-War ended.

Think about that.

The anti-Communist 5GW that was built up at the beginning of the Cold War is still functioning in spite of widespread recognition that is has been obsoleted by its own success.

The anti-Disconnectedness 5GW that must be built up at the beginning of this Long War must be similarly durable. Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, globalists and internationalists, they come-and-go. They’re electoral defeats and victories are as rational as which town is hit by which tornado, which Senator uses an anti-asian slur that was current among North African Jews a lifetime ago, and other quirks of fate. Shrinking the Gap is too important to be left to chance.

Rather than decy a “money/fantasy machine” we need to build our own.

We need to build a Military-Industrial-Systems Administration-Complex.

We need a Virtual Department of Everything Else.

We need to Shrink the Gap.

Science and War, Conjectures and Refutations

One of the reasons I believe that John Robb’s work is general unhelpful is that it too easily reaches for emotionally charged appeals. If Robb used more precise and objective in his writings, he could add a good deal to the vertical domain of sub-state conflict study.

To take a recent example, Mountainrunner’s recent review of Brave New War was met with an odd attack on “the ‘conference crowd’ guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money-fantasy machine in Washington” (emphasis Robb’s). This unfortunately set a pattern, as Mountainrunner’s follow-up was met with this from Amendment Nine:

It seems the critique leveled against Robb is unfair and misplaced. I care more about that latter as fairness in critiquing works has never been a strong suit of mine. The criticism to date, if I can generalize, is thus: John Robb doesn’t explain the motivation of his guerrillas, he doesn’t go into what makes them tick, so therefore his theory of how to deal with them and where they are taking history is unhelpful. A few tastes of this here, here, and here.

So far, so good. AIX‘s Phoicon idenitifes a specific criticism he disagrees with, and cites sources relating to that disagrement. Immediately after this, though, he reaches for a simplistic and uninformed counter:

This is sad. An entire generation of Americans seems devoted to nothing but Freudian apologetics. Why do these “thinkers” care so much about the “motivations” of guerrilla warriors? Because Freud said thats important. And what Freud says is the Gospel truth, never mind the evidence to the contrary.

Its true! These neo-conservative, neo-liberal, grand world visionaries are so used to sucking off the milky tit of Freud and the thoroughly discredited academics who espouse Freud’s doctrine in the quiet confines of literature departments across the US that they no longer realize Freud has infected all parts of their thought.

We care about the guerrilla’s motivations less than we do Billy Budd’s. Or is it more? I can’t remember. You see my mommy didn’t love me enough when I was a boy and so ever since then I’ve been attracted to the smell of ivory tower feces and a dog’s ass.

Robb’s writings (cannot speak for his book) are unconcerned with motivations because motivations are spiritual. They aren’t really important in a historical context. What are important are the consequences of their actions.

What were the motivations for the US Civil War? The list goes on. I’m sure Sigmund would relate it all to the Lincoln’s sexual attraction to negro males. Just as I’m sure Dan, Mountainrunner, and the rest of these “thinkers” would opine endlessly on the sexual aggression of suicide bombers, their orgasmic climax of climaxes, and their aspirations to make love to multiple virgins. But what of the consequences? What of the real world?


Phoicon asks “what of the real world,” but his knowledge for how the real human world is studied is about a century out of date. Freud may live on in The Sopranos and pop wisdom everywhere, but real social sciences are based on matching independent variables to dependent variables. Real psychology, real political science, real study of society is based on explanations — the conjectures and refutations without which science is impossible.

Sigmund Freud, like John Robb, does not make falsifiable predictions. Neither can be considered scientific, and it would require a great mind to retrofit their ideas into something that can be scientifically useful. Examples of real areas of potential research include Tom Barnett’s theories as well as actual, instead of brave and new, studies of guerrillaism.

Ultimately, Phoicon’s statement that “motivations are spiritual. They aren’t really important in a historical context” is a plead to the God of Gaps.

To tie this all back to Robb: his “global guerrillas” do acts of great altruism (going out of their way to hollow out the state) while ignoring the rewards (money, power, ideology) that would accrue from becoming the state. So what is the motivation, if not these things? What knowledge is psychology missing that could explain these people?

Global guerrillas act as sub-state balance-of-power realists. Yet this political motivation has not been seen before. What has changed? I agree with Curtis that Robb would answer “technology,” but that’s just saying that the cost of capital has fallen vs. the cost of labor. So “technology” isn’t an answer at all, because if it was then there should have been global guerrillas in the past… but global guerrilla forces that used more people.

Brave New War, Aftermath: Mountainrunner’s Review

Mountainrunner wrote a great review of Brave New War yesterday, in which he emphasized that John Robb doesn’t bother explaining the motivation for “global guerrillas”:

When Robb does go into the Why, he, like William Lind and Martin van Creveld who he cites and builds upon, oversimplifies motivations and goals to the extent of ignoring fundamental realities. Not all groups he builds his case on seek to “hollow out” the state. These little details tell us how threats grow and expand and how to shut them down. The details show that in many, if not most, of Robb’s cases it isn’t an attempt to bring down the state or hollow it out, but by a variety of reasons that built up over time. The Why is messy business and he chooses to ignore the causes behind the guerrilla movement, leading to his own catastrophic superempowerment of groups in his examples.

I agree completely. Global guerrillas are two-bit realists more concerned with bothering a government than actually winning. To my knowledge, Robb has never satisfactorily addressed the issue of the motivation of “global guerrillas.” Mountainrunner’s words were the perfect opportunity for Robb to fix this error and address real concerns.


Brave New War, by John Robb

Instead. he pens this:

Knew it was going to happen. Oh well. To tell you the truth, I kinda expected more push-back to an outsider like me from the “conference crowd” guarding the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in Washinton. This guy is the only one to do so publicly.

Now, to the best of my knowledge Mountainrunner is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, and presumably not in a position to “guard the walls around the counter-terrorism money/fantasy machine in Washington.” However – demonstrating his grace — Mountainrunner’s answer is devestatingly funny:

I don’t know that I am trying to protect the “money/fantasy machine”, mostly because I don’t know what he means (a little help?). However, it does sound bad and I would probably agree the “money/fantasy machine” needs to be whacked based on name alone. Whatever it is, my issue with the book pivots on his failure to include and factor in purposes and support systems into the analysis of his guerrillas. Insight into these two not insignificant data sets can’t be dismissed or ignored, but that is just what BNW does.

Brave New War combines insight into a hurtful but ultimately harmless form of terrorism with selective use of buzzwords that flatter potential reviewers. Ultimately, however, it fails to address the issue of motivation (as MountainRunner points out). It has other problems, as well, but those are posts for another time…

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.

Federalism, Counterinsurgency, Christianity, and the Klan

Barnett ponders Brave New War

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

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

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


Losers

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

symbol of early christianity

Winners

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

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.”

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

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


Brave New War, by John Robb

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

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

They are the highlight of the book so far

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

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

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

Global Guerrillas as Petty Realism

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s it.

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

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.