Category Archives: John Robb

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,

Security: Power To The People,” by John Robb, Fast Company, March 2006, (from ZenPundit).

Sadr City Hit by Wave of Bombings,” by Tom Iggulden, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 13 March 2006,

With all this defense spending, where is the SysAdmin’s money?,” by Tom Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett :: Weblog, 13 March 2006,

Sadr City Vigilantes Execute Accused Insurgents,” by Paul McGeough, The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 March 2006,

Al-Qaeda to blame, says Al-Sadr,” The Hindu, 14 March 2006,

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.

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.

EBO: Effects-Based Operations

Effects-Based Operations and the Excersize of National Power,” by David Pendall, Military Review, January – February 2004,

More reading for the International Law paper. Note the generally psychological tone, and compare with John Robb’s opinion.

Clearly, future capabilities of combined and standing joint task forces (SJTF), coupled with specialized strike elements, will leverage the power of kinetic and nonkinetic weapons in future battlespace. Some battlespace will be located within sprawling urban environments and some will be against state and nonstate entities or both. Some of the capabilities used to achieve future desired effects might not be classed currently as weapons. Other battlespaces might be in the spaces between neurons or electrons. The cutting, burning, irradiating, poisoning, piercing, and concussion effects that enlivened combat in the 20th-century will persist, and other forms of engagement and effects will be added. Some weapons will be nonkinetic and will substitute for some of the fire and maneuver of times past.

Kinetic weapons, as defined here, are weapons whose effects are transmitted by the motion of a substance, such as a projectile, a shock wave, or heat. Departing from the conventional definition, nonkinetic weapons include—

l Sticky foams.
l Graphite bombs.
l Cyber weapons.
l Microwaves.
l Directed energy.
l High-energy radio frequency strikes.
l Calmatives.
l Acoustic weapons.
l Stink bombs.
l Antitraction and antireaction chemicals.

These items will be transformational once they become available, although they are less interesting as technologies and more interesting because of their capacity as surrogates

The battlespace in which the United States engages its adversaries are longer defend its interests and provide its citizens security by being “over there.” Defending the United States is now as much about local lawenforcement officers patrolling and protecting critical infrastructure nodes in Omaha, Nebraska, as it was during World War II when U.S. servicemen stormed Omaha Beach.

Like it or not, preemption is recognized as a legitimate form of self-defense. Future engagements are merely the branches and sequels flowing from what is being executed today. The variables are the degree of engagement, the methods of engagement, and how explicitly engagements become known to those not directly involved. Warfare can no longer be characterized as the conventional forces of a nation-state engaging in the delivery of munitions and destruction in pitched battles on land, sea, and air. Operations are no longer merely focused against an opposing nation-state’s forces and means to make and sustain the fight.

What are the national thresholds and attack-classification schemes that will compel national elements of power to respond in the future? How will the United States implement the newest national security strategy in the broader terms and environments this century presents rather than those of the 20th century?

Envision the construct of effects-based operations applied by or to nonstate adversaries. Operating globally and within a loose, confederated-network construct, these actors coalesce either for ideological reasons or for profit motive (perhaps both). The United States should explore its capability to deconstruct the network properties of its organizations and limit their attractiveness to new players. A range of human-based operations, whether classed as nationbuilding, foreign aid, media campaigns, or psychological operations (PSYOPs), might achieve both. A catch-and-release program for suspected operatives might create reluctance or distrust in such suspects and prevent them from further acts or, perhaps more important, create distrust in the cell leaders of these individuals in the future.16 The captor would determine when to name names and whento remain silent. Multidisciplined intelligence operations would help understand and sense adversarial network operations.

Finally, here are two out-of-order references to John Boyd’s OODA loop.

A reduced observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop at the joint unit-of-action level, enabled by superbly trained, technology enhanced and empowered teams will achieve the results the newest nationalsecurity strategy envisions. The United States will engage adversaries in unexpected ways, leveraging new weapons and techniques and deploying forces from existing and future—perhaps even commercial— platforms to reach remote areas of the world. The United States will act with effects, rather than weapons, in mind.

Sensor links to delivery platforms, using knowledge-based applications to speed information to the point or points of decision, will reduce the “D” time in the OODA loop, which in effect, will allow us to cycle through engagements and operational Go/No Go criteria with unprecedented speed. Decisions will be enabled at the lowest evels of operation.