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“Trust in Govt” DoubleQuote from John Robb

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — I’d like to define “thinkers” as those who make us think, John Robb being a prime example ]
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**

Assuming that in this case correlation just might be evidence of causation, what remedy would you suggest?

I imagine a wide swathe of people will think reducing the size of the bureaucracy could well increase confidence in government — but my own hunch, perhaps counterintuitive, would be to increase confidence in government & watch it cleanse itself of those in various offices who serve no helpful purpose.

Of course, there may be feedback loops involved, so I don’t consider this a sure-fire remedy. I’m foolish, I was being just a tad optimistic. And besides, correlation doesn’t prove causation, though it may alert us to its possibility.

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John juxtaposes two images there, though, in a thought-provocative way, as is his wont. From a DoubleQuotes point of view — and this is a fine example of what I call “DoubleQuotes in the wild” — the juxtaposition neatly demonstrates the potential benefits of reading DQs both from left to right and from right to left, or more generally, of checking analogies for possible meanings both ways, despite the fact that they often have their own directionality, real or implied.

**

What I mean to imply when I say “my own hunch, perhaps counterintuitive, would be to increase confidence in government” is that we need to increase the actual trustworthiness of government, the degree of alignment between words and deeds, the sincerity of its practitioners, the degree to which that Gettysburg phrase, “of the people, by the people, for the people” is reflected in actual practice.

That must work primarily at the level of the human individual elected to govern: honesty, decency, and humility rather than self-serving, surely, are the primary values called for — a little dignity would be appreciated, too.

Is 4GW Dead?: Point-Counterpoint and Commentary

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

4GW theory has always attracted overenthusiasts and  raging haters ever since the concept emerged way back in 1989, so debates about the merit of 4GW are nothing new; in fact, the arguments became so routine that they had largely gone sterile years ago.  After T.X. Hammes published his excellent  The Sling and the Stone and John Robb  went to the next level with Brave New War , it seemed that  little new was left to be said. In the late 2000’s, intellectual energies shifted to arguing the nuances and flaws of Pop-centric COINwhich proved in time to be even more bitter than those about 4GW.

Generations of War Theory Visualized by Chet Richards

What is different recently is that the person taking the affirmative on the question “Is 4GW dead?” was Dr. Chet Richards, who for years ran the premier but now defunct 4GW site, D-N-I.net, now archived here by the Project on Government Oversight.  Richards is no Clausewitzian true-believer or Big Army MBA with stars, but a former collaborator with John Boyd and a leading thinker of the 4GW school who had written several books with that strategic theme.

Therefore, not a critic to be dismissed lightly. Here’s Chet:

Is 4GW Dead? 

….The first thing to note is that 4GW is an evolution from 3GW, which they equate to maneuver warfare and the blitzkrieg as defined in MCDP 1 and Boyd’s Patterns of Conflict. These are styles of warfare conducted by state armies against other state armies, although the paper does invoke the notion of transnational terrorists near the end.

At some point in the late 1990s, the theory bifurcated. Bill Lind and Martin van Creveld began to emphasize the decline of the state and focus on transnational guerrilla organizations like al-Qa’ida. Tom Barnett called this the “road warrior” model. T. X. Hammes, on the other hand, characterized 4GW as “evolved insurgency” and envisioned the techniques described in the paragraphs above as also useful for state-vs-state conflicts.

….The 9/11 attacks, by a transnational guerrilla movement, seemed to confirm 4GW in both of its forms. In the last few years, however, everything has gone quiet. Transnational insurgencies, “global guerrillas” as John Robb terms them, have not become a significant factor in geopolitics. “Continuing irritation” might best describe them, whose primary function seems to be upholding national security budgets in frightened western democracies. The state system has not noticeably weakened. So it might be fair at this point to conclude that although 4GW was a legitimate theory, well supported by logic and data, the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it proposed.

A prominent critic of 4GW, Antulio J. Echevarria, may have been correct:

What we are really seeing in the war on terror, and the campaign in Iraq and elsewhere, is that the increased “dispersion and democratization of technology, information, and finance” brought about by globalization has given terrorist groups greater mobility and access worldwide. At this point, globalization seems to aid the nonstate actor more than the state, but states still play a central role in the support or defeat of terrorist groups or insurgencies.

Why? I’ll offer this hypothesis, that the primary reason warfare did not evolve a fourth generation is that it didn’t live long enough. The opening of Sir Rupert Smith’s 2005 treatise, The Utility of Force, states the case….

Chet’s post spurred a sharp rebuttal from William Lind, “the Father of Fourth Generation Warfare”:

4GW is Alive and Well 

So “the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it (4GW) proposed”? How do you say that in Syriac?

The basic error in Chet Richards’ piece of April 19, “Is 4GW dead?” is confusing the external and internal worlds. Internally, in the U.S. military and the larger defense and foreign policy establishment, 4GW is dead, as is maneuver warfare and increasingly any connection to the external world. The foreign policy types can only perceive a world of states, in which their job is to promote the Wilsonian nee Jacobin, follies of “democracy” and “universal human rights.” They are in fact, 4GW’s allies, in that their demand for “democracy” undermines states, opening the door for more 4GW.

In most of the world, democracy is not an option. The only real options are tyranny or anarchy, and when you work against tyranny, you are working for anarchy. The ghost of bin Laden sends his heartfelt thanks.

Third Generation doctrine has been abandoned, de facto, if not de jure, by the one service that embraced it, the U.S. Marine Corps. The others never gave it a glance. The U.S. military remains and will remain second generation until it disappears from sheer irrelevance coupled with high cost. That is coming much sooner than any of them think.

….In many of these cases, including Egypt and Pakistan, the only element strong enough to hold the state together is the army. But the “democracy” crowd in Washington immediately threatens aid cut-offs, sanctions, etc., if the army acts. Again, the children now running America’s foreign policy are 4GW’s best allies.

Fourth generation war includes far more than just Islamic “terrorism,” and we see it gaining strength in areas far from the Middle East. Gangs have grown so powerful in Mexico, right on our border, that I predict the state will soon have to make deals with them, as the PRI has done in the past. Invasion by immigrants who do not acculturate is a powerful form of 4GW, more powerful than any terrorism, and that is occurring on a north-south basis (except Australia) literally around the world. Remember, most of the barbarians did not invade the Roman Empire to destroy it. They just wanted to move in. In fact, most were invited in. Sound familiar?

What should concern us most is precisely the disconnect between the internal and external worlds. Externally, 4GW is flourishing, while internally, in the US government and military, it does not exist. This is the kind of chasm into which empires can disappear….

Fabius Maximus – who is a both a pseudonymous blogger and a group blog, also responded:

Update about one of the seldom-discussed trends shaping our world: 4GW 

One of the interesting aspects of recent history is the coincidence of

  1. the collapse of discussion about 4GW in US military and geopolitical circles,
  2. victories by insurgents using 4GW methods over foreign armies in Iraq and Afghanistan, &
  3. most important, the perhaps history-making victory by Bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

The second point is important to us, but the usual outcome since WW2 (after which 4GW became the dominate form of military conflict; see section C below).  The third point is the big one. Based on the available information, one of Bin Laden’s goals was to destabilize the US political regime. Massive increase in military spending (using borrowed funds). The bill of rights being shredded (note yesterday’s House vote to tear another strip from the 4th amendment). Our Courts holding show trials of terrorists — recruited, financed, supported by our security services. Torture and concentration camps.

….We — the Second American Republic — have engaged in a war with nationalistic, Islamic forces using 4GW.  So far we are losing.  For various reasons we are unable to even perceive the nature of the threat. In DoD the hot dot is again procurement of high-tech weapons — new ships, the F-35, the hypersonic cruise missile, etc.  All useless in the wars we’ve fought for the past 50 years, and probably in those of the next 50 years….. 

A few comments.

4GW has been heavily criticized – and accurately so – for making selective use of history, for unsupported maximal claims, for an excessively and ahistorically linear argument and for shifting or vaguely defined terms. Presented rigidly, it is relatively easy for critics to poke holes in it simply by playing “gotcha” (some of the criticism of 4GW did not get beyond ad hominem level garbage, but more intellectually serious detractors made very effective critiques of 4GW’s flaws).

That said, there were a number of useful elements or insights in the body of 4GW writings that retain their utility and I think are worth recalling:

  • Whatever one thinks of 4GW as a whole, the school drew attention to the threat of non-state irregular warfare, failed states and the decline of state vs. state warfare and did so long before it was Pentagon conventional wisdom or trendy Beltway talking head spiels on Sunday morning news programs.
  • While the state is not in decline everywhere in an absolute sense, it sure is failing in some places and has utterly collapsed elsewhere. Failed, failing and hollowed out states are nexus points for geopolitical problems and feature corruption, black globalization, insurgency, tribalism, terrorism, transnational criminal organizations and zones of humanitarian crisis. Whether we call these situations “irregular”, “hybrid”, “decentralized and polycentric”, “LIC”, “4GW” or everyone’s favorite, “complex” matters less than using force to achieve political aims becomes increasingly difficult as the interested parties and observers multiply. Some of the advice offered by the 4GW school regarding “the moral level of war”, de-escalation and the perils of fighting the weak in such a conflict environment are all to the good for reducing friction.
  • The emphasis of the 4GW school on the perspective of the irregular fighter and their motivations not always fitting neatly within state-centric realpolitik, Galula-ish “Maoist Model” insurgency, Clausewitzian best strategic practice or the Western intellectual tradition, were likewise ahead of their time and contrary to S.O.P. Even today, the effort to see the world through the eyes of our enemies is at best, anemic. Red teams are feared more than they are loved. Or utilized.
  • The bitter criticism the 4GW school lodged of the American political elite being allergic to strategic thinking and ignorant of strategy in general was apt; that American strategy since the end of the Cold War has been exceedingly inept in thought and execution is one of the few points on which the most rabid 4GW advocate and diehard Clausewitzian can find themselves in full agreement.

The lessons of 4GW will still be relevant wherever men fight in the rubble of broken societies, atomized communities and failed states.

Are Insurgencies “Antifragile”?

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

I have been reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s latest book,  Antifragile . It’s a highly intriguing book and I will give it a full review soon, but Taleb’s core concept of antifragility is important  and lends itself to wide application. Here’s Taleb on what constitutes “antifragility” – things that gain or improve with disorder – which he was careful to distinguish not just from “fragility” but also from “robustness” and “resilience”:

Almost all people answer that the opposite of “fragile” is “robust”, “resilient” , “solid”, or something of the sort. But the resilient, robust (and company) are items that neither break nor
improve, so you would not need to write anything on them – have you ever seen a package with
“robust” stamped on it? Logically, the exact opposite of a “fragile” parcel would be a package on which one has written “please mishandle” or “please handle carelessly”. It’s contents would not just be unbreakable, but would benefit from shocks and a wide array of trauma. The fragile is the package that would be at best unharmed, the robust would at best and at worst unharmed. And the opposite of fragile is therefore what is at worst unharmed. [31]

Italics in original.

Taleb uses a number of metaphors – the Phoenix, the Hydra – as well as examples to get across the point that an antifragile entity overcompensates in reaction to stress/damage/disorder by becoming better, growing stronger, more powerful, adaptively improving itself. Think of the effects of weight training in building muscle or a wildfire spurring bountiful growth in an ecosystem. There’s more to Antifragile than this but the gist is sufficient for now.

Which brings me to the question, “Are insurgencies antifragile?”

The study of insurgency, terrorism and revolution, while important and useful tend to suffer from several drawbacks. One is compartmentalization and academic specialization. As Robert Bunker pointed out in Narcos Over the Border,  a problem like “criminal-insurgency” attracts very different reactions from Law enforcement, intelligence analysts, the military, counter-terrorism officials and other experts (to say nothing of politicians) which makes consensus over a common analytic framework very difficult. Sometimes even defining the problem across domains is frustrating. As a result, many studies are too narrow and the few admirably ambitiously broad ones are deeply stamped in the political lens of the era in which they were researched and written – i.e. imperialist Small Wars, the Cold War, the War on Terror, Pop-centric COIN of Iraq and Afghanistan wars etc.  It is a subject that requires both more (and more intellectually creative) scholarship and a greater degree of synthesis.

In the meantime, I’d like to offer some speculation in an effort to answer the question:

  • The characteristics of “antifragility” in terms of at least some kinds of insurgency bears a striking resemblance to that of “wicked problems“, which has also been used to categorize some enduring irregular conflicts. Particularly in the sense of not having natural stopping points , manifesting complex interdependencies and resistance to simple, silver bullet solutions that could destroy it.
  • Moreover, most successful insurgencies are not, contrary to Maoist theory, autochthonous  – they draw many resources from external sources – black globalization, foreign patrons, legitimate trade, fundraising – and from the very state waging counterinsurgency warfare against them. The Afghan Taliban would be a much poorer military force without the vast amount of American aid passing through the hands of Pakistan and the Karzai regime
  • An insurgency’s claim to being “antifragile” may rest as much or more upon the general political and socioeconomic environment being relatively chaotic than on the nature of the insurgent organization itself.  The Chinese, Russian and Lebanese civil wars, Mexico’s narco-insurgency, West Africa and Afghanistan in the 1990’s, the Congo basinand Iraq in the 2000’s all had polycentric and disorderly environments that allowed  irregular groups to rapidly rise and fall on a local and regional basis. By contrast, “bilateral” insurgency vs. state dynamics can stabilize conflict for decades
  • An insurgent organization may lose antifragility as it restructures itself over time to become either more robust (ex. -Hezbollah) subnational entity or to accept greater fragility in order to acquire state-like hierarchical advantages ( political discipline and specialization). Note that “fragile” does not mean “weak”, it means “vulnerable”. States can be very strong and concentrating massive amounts of resources and coercive force, yet be strangely vulnerable to internal coups, popular uprisings, economic collapse, strategic myopia or even natural disasters. One of the great dangers today are complex systems that combine epic power with extreme fragility – small disruptions by irregulars yield huge ROIs.
  • States might be able to seek a strategic advantage over insurgencies by improving their robustness and smother the relatively ineffectual kinetic attacks of guerrillas or terrorists with inertia, refusing to “feed” the growth of an antifragile insurgent opponent, starving them of material resources and political oxygen. India has trucked along with something like seventeen ongoing insurgencies and episodic acts of major terrorism for decades without the Indian state remotely being in jeopardy of being overthrown by, say, the Naxalites, Sikh extremists or Kashmiri Islamists. Compare that with the rapid collapse or retreat of the state in places like Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Mali, Syria and so on.
  • The effects of globalization and information technology, the ability to have  John Robb’sopen source” decentralized, fast-evolving, insurgencies, give an an impetus to insurgencies becoming antifragile. At a minimum, it improves the odds.
Comments welcomed

Robb on the Networked Age

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

John is en fuego today:

Life in a Networked Age

.….In the last thirty years, we’ve seen a shift in the technological substrate.  This new susbstrate is increasingly a family of technologies related to information networks.

As this new substrate begins to take control, we’re going to need new management forms.  Both bureaucratic and market systems are proving insuffient solutions to the challenges of a networked age.  

In both cases, the emergence of a global network is eroding the efficacy of bureaucracy and markets as solutions.  How?  One reason is scale.  

A global network is too large and complex for a bureaucracy to manage.  It would be too slow, expensive, and inefficient to be of value.  Further, even if one could be built, it would be impossible to apply market dyanmics (via democratic elections) to selecting the leaders of that bureaucracy.  The diversity in the views of the 7 billion of us on this planet are too vast.  

In terms of markets, a global marketplace is too unstable.   Interlinked, and tightly coupled markets are prone to frequent and disasterous failures.  Additionally, a global marketplace is easy for insiders to corrupt and rig, as we saw with the 2008 financial melt-down.   Given instability and unmitigated corruption, markets will fail as a decision making mechanism.  

So, what’s going to replace bureaucracy and markets?

Read the rest here.

In very strong agreement with John. I like markets and think they produce efficient and optimized results for many things ( not all things) but free markets currently face massive (and sadly bipartisan) efforts to rig them by the oligarchy here at home, much less in autocratic states where the  practice of state socialism, kleptocracy and government by mafia or tribal/sectarian minority is the norm.  People will seek work-around structures to adapt, thrive and evade extortionate schemes by elites that have hijacked the state.

Hat tip to Lexington Green

Rethinking Fortification

Monday, August 13th, 2012

John Robb now has a Facebook page for Global Guerrillas, where he posts quick snippets of big ideas. It seems to be a replacement for his old, informal, personal blog which served a similar purpose some years back. In any event, John had a spectacular picture of Mexico City and an intriguingly dystopian caption:

Mexico City. 

Future of warfare. Megacities + millions of drones.

I wandered into a Mexican shantytown once, back in the 1990’s . Not sure I would care to repeat the experience at the present time.

Robb’s facebook post started me thinking. If drones of all sizes and functions become ubiquitous someday, it creates a great incentive for the powerful, at least to safeguard their privacy, to apply human ingenuity toward concealment, countermeasures and postmodern “citadels”.

All the moreso, if “megacities’ are all girdled in vast seas of slums. Imagine the LA or London riots with 20 times the underclass population. The bloody experience of the New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War taught the Robber Barons of the Gilded Age to support the building of public and private armories to defend the gentle classes from the great uprising that never came.

Fortification is something of a lost art, but it was up until recent history, a critical military capability. After castles went into a temporary decline with the advent of cannons blasting apart their high walls, post-renaissance architects redesigned European fortifications to endure the new bronze siege guns and defense again triumphed over offense. Military engineers like Vauban were more valuable than field marshals and kings staked their strategies on the strength of chains of fortifications and arsenals.  Obsolete by the time of the Napoleonic wars, massive fortresses nonetheless enjoyed a long twilight march to military irrelevance, ending in WWII with the ignominious capture of Belgium’s mighty Eben-Emael fortress by 75 lightly armed Germans and the utter uselessness of the extremely expensive Maginot Line during the Battle of France.

Fortification began to receive renewed interest as governments sought defensive measures to allow their leadership to survive a nuclear attack, such as the Cold War era secret bunkers for USG officials at Greenbrier or Raven Rock or efforts by rogue dictatorships to build facilities carved deep into a mountain to protect their leadership or nuclear weapons programs from American attack. The ancient arms race of defense and offense continues with the designers of “bunker-busters” as a peripheral military activity.

Governments and occasionally corporations and superwealthy individuals will continue to build and tweak these doomsday bunkers but as strategic investments they do not offer very good ROI. For one thing, if your national leadership is cornered fifty stories underground, it will be little comfort to you and your fellow citizens as the nuclear bombs are exploding; the game is pretty much over at that point. Secondly, the ultimate risk they are hedging against is far more remote and the benefits infinitesimal compared to what rethinking fortification as a concept would do to minimize more mundane and probable risks faced by the rest of us.

A great fortress conjures the idea of impregnability and, ironically, usually achieves eternal fame for falling or being breached – the walls of Constantinople,  the Great Wall of China, Masada, Alamut, Murud-Janjira and the aforementioned Maginot Line. “Impregnability” is a misnomer, what a good fortification really does is raise operational costs for adversaries, hopefully high enough to discourage them from making the effort to attack in the first place. Raising costs for those who bear us ill-will by adaptation and a priori design should be our paradigm.

What are the primary risks we will face in coming years as individuals and societies? Erosion of privacy and the security of our persons, property and data at the hands of criminals, avaricious elites, government and private surveillance and bouts of civil disorder, all in a number of forms. For example

  • Drones: As John Robb suggested in his FB post and at Global Guerrillas, drone usage could potentially become ubiquitous by governments, corporations and individuals with an axe to grind or an interest in stalking, terrorism or committing mayhem.  Imagine the Unabomber or Osama bin Laden with a drone swarm controlled from a laptop – superempowerment will go robotic.Drones will/are becoming semi-autonomous. They are easily modified to carry cameras, recording/SIGINT devices, imaging systems, weapons, toxic substances or explosives.
  • Civil Unrest: The UK Riots were an excellent reminder that, as with the LA Riots, in the case of dangerous criminal-class rioting, elites will be unable to reestablish order or rescue law-abiding citizens until their reticence becomes a political debacle (and they may, as in Britain, initially restrain law enforcement personnel from suppressing the rioters). This contrasts with elite willingness to mobilize vast police and paramilitary forces against mere embarrassing political protests.
  • Cybersecurity: This adds a new dimension to fortification that is not limited to a physical space and place, even securing your home networks, but to your identity.

How might we adapt individually and collectively to these risks?

First, we are managing risk within reasonable costs and means while living a normal life. If you imagine something to hold off  an angry mob indefinitely or that will allow you to defy the US government then you need to come out of fantasyland or have a Bill Gates budget to play with. Here are some more practical possibilities:

Privacy architecture: Building design embedded with the idea of  promoting privacy, adjusted to the surrounding environment, which today includes thwarting advocates of a panopticon society. You want a structure that breaks clear fields of vision from the outside to the interior. Overhangs, angled exterior surfaces, material surface to reflect heat and light, ornaments/catwalks/netting and  landscaping to break up spatial fields. Perhaps layered walls of different materials to diffuse or mislead spectral/thermal imaging. This could be incorporated in public spaces in neighborhoods or campuses improving both aesthetics as well as privacy.

Underground: Increasing useful space by building down to sub-basement level gives you more possible points of egress, protection from surveillance technologies, storage and living quarters while concealing the true extent of your property from street level view. Best of all, it usually does not count toward your property tax assessment. Substreet complexes, like the system at Disneyworld, could easily planned into the development stage of residential and commercial construction.

Unobtrusive but Unconventional:  Attracting large amounts of attention is helpful in commerce or branding but generally disadvantageous to security. A home should be designed to frustrate opportunistic predators and delay determined ones with the most interesting elements reserved for the interior and (if possible) the rear with the street view presenting a target that is visually more bland than adjacent structures and also unattractive for forced entry. Windows should be treated to make it more difficult to see in or observe when residents are home vice away.

Defensive Security: This is something to consider individually and cooperatively. I once lived in a house in a town with a modestly high crime rate but never had a problem because the house was in a cul-de-sac with a wide oblong court and a long bottleneck entry. The neighbors knew one another and it was impossible (unlike on a conventional street) to not notice a strange car or pedestrian as every home faced the court.  Aside from alarm systems, simple things like better quality doors and locks buys you time to react. If multilevel, you should have at least two ways to escape from an upper floor (when I designed my second home, there were three) which also increases the interior complexity for an unfamiliar intruder. First floor windows should be out of easy reach from ground level.

Manage your Connectivity: Aside from normal cybersecurity precautions, you might consider managing, blocking or at least being aware of your geolocational activity by being selective about tracking devices (like smart phones) and your exposure to “the internet of things”. Do you really need to hook your fridge up to the internet or pay for everything with a debit card?

Fortification is largely about thinking ahead to put objects and systems between yourself and the world.


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