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Are Insurgencies “Antifragile”?

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.
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19 Responses to “Are Insurgencies “Antifragile”?”

  1. larrydunbar Says:

    In engineering, something is unharmed (there is no movement towards change, either positive or negative), when the sum of the forces is zero (when the sum of all forces is zero there is no movement), or, as Thomas PM Barnett would say, the sum of the forces is not zero. Engineering is closely related to physics, so sometimes the opposite means the same thing.

    *
    In an insurgency, all of the force are not zero, because an insurgency represents a movement, not a center of gravity, although a center of gravity that pivots could be fragile.

    Afghanistan represents the center of a religious movement, not the center of a religion. So an insurgency there is not anti-fragile, i.e. it is on the move.

    *
    What a insurgency is, is the opposing force of an incumbent force, and the incumbent force makes the sum of the force in an insurgency zero, when it does harm.


    In Vietnam and Iraq, the US military was able to exert great harm, no problem. What it wasn’t able to accomplish was make the insurgency anti-fragile, and the more harm done to the insurgency the greater the sum of the forces were not zero (more growth towards the insurgency).

    If the sum of the forces equaled zero in an insurgency, then there would be no movement for the generation of diversity in the incumbent forces or the enforcement of conformity in the insurgency, in other words no war.

    *
    If anything, an incumbent force is anti-fragile, because it is able to exert such an overriding force, to eliminate all other forces, that it should be considered an anti-fragile force. 

    *
    An insurgency should be considered an fragile force, until it is out of harms way. 

  2. Madhu Says:

    “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. imperialistSmall Wars, the Cold War, the War on TerrorPop-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.”
    .
    Interesting point.
    .
    It took me a long time to see this tangential (or not?) point but Col. Gentile’s ideas about Afghanistan (“our core military objectives”) are more robust and, perhaps, anti-fragile, than others. The complex pop-centric COIN is extremely fragile in the sense that pretty much anything can disrupt the plan and so much energy is expended on keeping all the plates spinning.
    .
    No, wait, I understood the second part it’s the first that I had a problem with because I didn’t agree always with the COINtra understanding of the dynamics. The brilliant thing is that it doesn’t matter, it might get the job done anyway…. 

  3. Madhu Says:

    Many studies needed to drink deeply of the case study and examining each and every detail high and low, self and other, more than a 360 look around the problem from top down regional dynamics to the detail at the village. Many studies seem to start “in the middle”. Also, culling a group of insurgencies for a study, isn’t the first thing to state inclusion and exclusion criteria? One well known study constantly quoted seemed to pick twenty or thirty random insurgencies. Why did you pick those? Why did you code them that way? What was your rationale? How do these sorts of weaknesses not get picked up by reviewers or whatnot?

  4. Madhu Says:

    Also, the top down regional dynamics are often very poorly examined, assumptions I mean. It’s bizarre.

  5. Grurray Says:

    Pay attention to what Taleb has to say about heuristics. His premise is that it’s mostly impossible to calculate risks, so the time honored rules of thumb win out. They are best because they’ve survived. This may be his most salient point –  The Lindy Effect – the longer something has survived the longer it can be expected to survive. The reason could be positive feedback loops, Matthew Effect, little bit of luck.

     The antifragile corrollary is:   “We can *sort of* measure of conditional antifragility by looking at what went down and bounced back. Things that survive provide information; but things that bounced back from severe hardship provide *even more* information (under some conditions of homogeneity). You are as good as the worst adversity you encountered in your past.”

    The insurgents that lasted the longest with ultimate success that come to mind: Muslim Brotherhood, Burmese KNLA, Viet Mihn. These groups appeared to also gain strength from their ongoing battles with larger more powerful forces.

     Bilateral insurgencies certainly can certainly stabilize wars, but stability isn’t antrifragility, and, according to Taleb, it often masks underlying weakness that can lead to eventual unraveling. Can we learn something from groups that failed?

    Sri Lanka comes to mind – evenly matched opponents that fought for years until, ironically, a black swan for the rebels in the form of the tsunami choked off supplies to the rebels.
    Nicaraguan Contras – similar story except the shifting political winds in the US forced them into the role of the Talebian Thanksgiving turkey

    The ones that win out seemed to have been forced to adapt but also diversify into some civilian structures. This is where I disagree on Hezbollah. It’s made them stronger and more lasting (unfortunately). They’re more careful and measured in their military expeditions because of their social work, not the least of which, is that Israel will pulverize the administrations that they’ve built up.

    This might correspond to Taleb’s barbell strategy:

    “The barbell (a bar with weights on both ends that weight lifters use) is meant to illustrate the idea of a combination of extremes kept separate, with avoidance of the middle. In our context it is not necessarily symmetric: it is just composed of two extremes, with nothing in the center. One can also call it, more technically, a bimodal strategy, as it has two distinct modes rather than a single, central one…
     
    a dual attitude of playing it safe in some areas (robust to negative Black Swans) and taking a lot of small risks in others (open to positive Black Swans), hence achieving antifragility. That is extreme risk aversion on one side and extreme risk loving on the other, rather than just the “medium” or the beastly “moderate” risk attitude that in fact is a sucker game (because medium risks can be subjected to huge measurement errors). But the barbell also results, because of its construction, in the reduction of downside risk—the elimination of the risk of ruin.”

  6. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    Topography is a key ingredient. Tito attacked the Germans knowing their reprisals would drive civilians to the shelter of their forested mountains (the term Balkan seems to derive from a Turkish term meaning “forest mountain”). Tito’s forces renewed themselves with recruits from these refugees. This strategy was useful for Tito because his forces and their potential recruits had forested mountains to flee to. He gained from stress.

     

    If a Belgian Tito had tried the same strategy, his forces and any potential recruits would have been slaughtered by the Germans. Modern Belgium is mostly flat. Its most formidable terrain is sufficient to slow (e.g. the Ardennes) but not stop. Belgian Titoists would lose, not gain from stress.

     

    Topography’s intersection with political markers is also key. The same topography that bestowed an element of antifragility on Tito led Roman recovery from the Crisis of the Third Century. A self-perpetuating Illyrian junta including Claudius Gothicus, Aurelian, Probus, Diocletian, Maximinian, Constantinus Chlorus, Galerius, and finally Constantine (robustly) reimposed the power of the Roman state. While the region was rough enough to produce rugged soldiers, at the time it had a homogeneous political identity that channeled the ambitions of those soldiers into reinforcing the state.

     

    This remained the case until one of the great fragilizers of history, Justinian, ironically from the same region, weakened the Roman presence in the area through fragilizing “reforms” and let in Sclaveni, Bulgars, and other eastern European detritus that turned the region into the proverb it remains today.

  7. Grurray Says:

    thinking of insurgencies on open plains  - Cheyenne & Arrapaho in the mid 1800′s didn’t turn out well. Due to their stable, semi-nomadic culture getting resource starved?

    Mao in China on the other hand fared better. His theory of resistance was the barbel strategy – conventional battles fighting to a stalemate combined with guerrilla tactics against the enemies rear. Of course, he had much more room to maneuver than somewhere like Belgium and was able to draw from a far larger population.

  8. Mr. X Says:

    Zen,

    You quoted the Baron de Rothschild on your Twitter feed (though it wasn’t the ‘give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes its laws’). You are now officially a tin foil hat wearer. Come on in our tin foil hats are warm…

  9. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Not sure topography is a consistent metric. As Grurray points out the open plains example. I believe a large part is the message or the narrative and how it is internalized and how violence is then focused on an oppressor (real or perceived). To a certain extent, many of these terror groups thrive on the deaths of whom they refer to as martyrs.
    .
    Will take this one step further: learning, particularly learning to cope with violence may have an element of NNT’s antifragility. When I read the book last year, I scrawled USMC bootcamp in the margin of a couple of pages. Think about it: the Corps trains these guys to thrive on chaos—and to subdue it. Part of the Mr. X in me believes part of our continued persistence in Afghanistan is to keep our military close to the violence and chaos—so they’re ready to fight a bigger enemy (maybe I’ll need a tin foil hat, now:)). By any metric, China is rising militarily and we’re diminishing. In correspondence with someone today, I point out our navy’s challenge should the Iranians kick up a mess in the Arabian Sea and the North Koreans decide to jump the wire or shake things up—we’d be hard pressed to meet our obligations—–this only gets worse in the out years as we decommission ships.
    .
    The intellectual leadership of our military in peacetime has shown to be very fragile—how many generals/admirals made the transition? At the top, the numbers were few. Our military is robust at the mid levels of the officer/enlisted ranks, so we can fight—-but we’ll have to get past the inevitable firings to find capable GOFOs for the next big scrap. 

  10. Lynn C. Rees Says:

    In 1864, Grant ordered Sheridan to the Shenandoah Valley. His instructions were clear: “Leave nothing to invite the enemy to return…Let the valley be left so that crows flying over it will have to carry their rations long with them.”

     

    Sheridan carried out his orders. The Shenandoah ceased to be able to supply Confederate forces within or without its confines.

     

    Sheridan drew on this experience in ending Indian resistance on the Great Plains. The only advantage the topology of the Southern Plains offered was vastness: with their superior mobility and economy based purely on grass, which the Plains had in abundance, the Indians could vanish easily. The U.S. Army was too small to chase every tribe in those vast spaces. Sheridan’s solution was campaigning in winter: Indians mobility was limited by the terrible weather and availability of forage for their ponies. The U.S. Cavalry fanned out in converging flying columns. Most Indians were caught in their villages. Those that fled had to surrender, starve, or die of exposure.

     

    The tribes on the Southern Plains were effectively broken in the winter campaign of 1868-1869. With their mobility eliminated, the topology of the Southern Plains reverted to form and they were mopped up by conventional forces quite easily.

     

    The Northern Plains Indians took longer. The weather is worse on the Northern Plains (I lived through three Montana winters: snow banks fall from the sky.) and the topography is more rugged. Converging flying columns in a timely fashion was more difficult despite the enhanced mobility provided by steamboats plying the tributaries of the upper Missouri. If the commander of one flying column was reckless, he could lose a significant part of his command (see Custer, George Armstrong). However, the same logic took hold: the Northern Plains tribes were subdued once they had to go through another winter.

     

    That was the sequential portion. The cumulative portion was the decimation of the bison herds accelerated by a deliberate policy of building transcontinental lines like the Northern Pacific through Indian Territory. This proved how fragile the Indians economy was: just as being entirely driven by grass had helped them resist the U.S. government prior to 1868, being entirely driven by grass afterward led quickly to their submission to government authority.

     

    The intersection of political markers with topography makes things even more complicated. For example, the critical event that enabled to Afghanistan’s long suffering was the February 1979 overthrow of the Shah. This denied any potential American attempts to complicate Soviet ambitions in Afghanistan access from the easy western side and routed them through the Hindu Kush girded hard side. If an Iranian regime amenable to American influence had been in power on December 24, 1979, the Soviets may have been more cautious in how they intervened in Afghan affairs.

     

    The same issue complicates U.S. efforts in Afghanistan: our supply lines run through enemy territory which also happens to be topographically ideal for irregular warfare. Our intervention there exists on sufferance. If Pakistan had proved as resistant to U.S. pressure after 9/11 as Iran has since 1979, intervention in Afghanistan would have been much more complicated than it was. Even now, much of the complexity of the Afghan operation comes from the limited transportation infrastructure coming in and out of Afghanistan and the increased cost that results.

     

    The primary source of Afghan disorder is insurgent-friendly topography. The solution to Afghanistan’s disorder is similar to the solution to the Plains Indian tumult: more and better railways and road to drive down the cost of applying politically mediated violence to its now topographically remote regions. Particularly from the west.

     

    Hopefully the American taxpayer will leave the costs of that solution to someone else.

  11. zen Says:

    hi Gents,
    .
    Impressive convo. A few comments:
    .
    Grurray – I categorized Hezbollah as “robust” because their structure is very compartmentalized and activities diversified, giving them capabilities and roots in the government, as a political party, a shia religious network, a social welfare org, a militia, as an Iranian-Syrian proxy, as an intel/transnational criminal org/terror group, in the Lebanese diaspora etc.  Agree with you about heuristics & like the barbell strategy
    .
    Mr. X – no tin foil hat, just a former diplo history guy taken through the mill for a year by two econ historians. I have a healthy respect for the parameters of central banking (de facto like the Rothschilds or JP Morgan’s cartel, or de jure like the Fed) to do good or ill.
    .
     LC and JS – will have to give topography some thought.
    .
    Larry – not sure robustness in physics sense lines up with the engineering dynamic you presented. A question for Shane Deichman to comment on if he is reasding
    .
    Doc Madhu –  t took me a long time to see this tangential (or not?) point but Col. Gentile’s ideas about Afghanistan (“our core military objectives”) are more robust and, perhaps, anti-fragile, than others. The complex pop-centric COIN is extremely fragile in the sense that pretty much anything can disrupt the plan and so much energy is expended on keeping all the plates spinning. “
    .
    I think that is right. 
    .
    Lynn – From what I have studied of the decision making process – such as it existed – in the USSR over Afghanistan, a US presence in Iran would have strengthened the hands of the ardent interventionists (Suslov, Ponomarev, the GRU chief (an old Stalinist), the deputy KGB chief (Kryuchkov), several senior and influential Soviet marshals on the general staff, including the guy who commanded the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 68). They already seemed to believe the CIA had a vast, omnipotent presence in Afghanistan and that the Marxist PM Gen. Hafiazullah Amin was “a CIA agent and homosexual”, based largely on Amin’s days as a student fellow in New York in the late fifties. The Marxist President of Afghanistan, Mohammed Taraki had lobbied hard for the Soviets to a) let him kill Amin b) more and more military aid and c) Soviet intervention. Brezhnev, who was sick and addled said no to a) and c) but Taraki tried to kill Amin anyway and Amin used that assassination attempt as an excuse to kill Taraki in some horrific fashion (different tales are alleged of varying gruesomeness and personal involvement by Amin) and assumed power which helped precipitate the invasion

  12. T. Greer Says:

    Quick note on Native American great plains tribes –

    .

    The article to read:

    .

    The Rise and Fall of the Plains Indian Horse Cultures
    Pekka Hamalainen. Journal of American History. December 2003.

    .

    I summarized this article a few years ago over at my place as follows:

    .

    “In sharp contrast to Diamond’s exaggerated description of ecological collapse is the more balanced account found in Pekka Hamalainen’s discussion of the North American Plains Indian tribes. Hamalainen’s thesis rejects the one paradigm that has defined historical discussions of Native Americans since Americans began writing history books  – mainly, that the central event in the history of the American Indian was the white man’s Westward expansion. Hamalainen contends that this is false. If you wish to tell the tale of the Great Plains tribes, you should not be “facing East from Indian Country“, but facing South from buffalo country. The most important event for the Comanche, Shoshone, Kiowa, or Sioux tribes was not the arrival of American pioneers from the West, but the arrival of horses from the Spanish lands in the South.

    .
     
    Hamalainen description of the horse’s effect on the plains tribes is fascinating. The horse allowed tribes like the Comanche to transform from autonomous bands of hunter-gatherers tagging behind buffalo herds into a unified “empire” of pastoral nomads with the power to terrorize European powers and sedentary tribes for the better part of two centuries. Yet the new plains powers could not last indefinitely – their empires were built upon a contradiction that ultimately proved their downfall. The source of the plains tribes’ wealth and power were their horses, which depended on large open grasslands to survive. This put the great Indian horse herds in direct competition with the one resource plains Indians depended on for subsistence: the buffalo. By the late 18th century the system could no longer sustain itself, and buffalo populations begin to crash. By the time the Americans came to the scene the tribes were but a shadow of their former glory, horrifically reduced by disease and famine. It was a simple matter for the U.S. Army to sweep in an remove the last vestiges of the Plains Indians’ old way of life.”
    .
    .

    Points relevant to this discussion: 1) I am not sure the Plains Indians fighting force counts as an “insurgency” if the term is used with any intellectual rigor. I’ve read a bit more history since writing the summary above, and have been intrigued with how similar the dynamics of warfare on the Great Plains were to those on the Eurasian steppe before the Mongol Empire, or between the Germanic barbarians and the Roman Empire during the latter’s heyday. All three cases – Plains Indian tribes, Turkic, Mongolic, or Manchurian nomadic confederations, and the tribal chiefdoms of prehistorical Germany – fought the war of the raid. Both the military and political system of these tribal groups were built around raiding sedentary peoples and distributing captured goods (or extortioned goods, when the enemy tired of defending against the tribal attacks) to political allies of import. I see little evidence that this style of war changed when the United States arrived on the scene. 2) As Hamalainen makes pretty clear, the Southern plains Indians – particularly the Comanche – were spectacularly successful for the first 200 years of their confederation. During this time they faced off against a world empire – Imperial Spain – and consistently came out on top. Alas, the Comanche (and plain Indians generally) had a demographic crisis close to 1800 that they never recovered from. If we are searching for anti-fragility, it is the earlier period we must turn to. 3) Geography is a compelling explanation for nomadic success. In reference to his own nomadic foes, mastermind Chao Cuo (200-150 BC) observed:

    .

    “The configuration of terrain and fighting ability of the Hsiung-nu differ from those of China. Going up and down mountain slopes, and crossing torrents and streams, the Hsiung-nu horses are better than the Chinese. On dangerous roads and sloping narrow passages they can both ride and shoot arrows; Chinese mounted soldiers cannot match that. They can withstand the wind and rain, fatigue, hunger and thirst; Chinese soldiers are not as good. These are the qualities of the Hsiung-nu. However, on a level terrain in the plains, using light chariots and swift cavalry, the Hsiung-nu rabble would easily be utterly defeated. Even with strong crossbows that shoot far, and long halberds that hit at a distance, the Hsiung-nu would not be able to ward them off.” (Quoted in Nicola di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies, p. 203). 

    .

    Sima Qian echoes Chao Cuo when he he writes about the Xiongnu. Sima Qian’s brevity emphasizes the point:

    “[Emperor Jing] appointed Zhang Xiangru as general in chief… and Luan Bu as general and sent them to fight the Xiongnu. The Xiongnu fled from the land.

    .

    (Sima Qian, Shiji 11 ['Basic Annals of Emperor Jing'] in  Records of the Grand Historian: Han Dynasty, vol I. trans. Burton Watson. 301-302).

     

  13. Mr. X Says:

    “Mr. X – no tin foil hat, just a former diplo history guy taken through the mill for a year by two econ historians. I have a healthy respect for the parameters of central banking (de facto like the Rothschilds or JP Morgan’s cartel, or de jure like the Fed) to do good or ill.

    No problem. I just had to mock the ‘everything’s a conspiracy theory’ crowd a bit. They’ve had a lot of egg on their face this week what with it being revealed the Obama Administration really has been going after tea partyers and even demanded via the IRS the content of Iowa pro-lifers prayers.

    Nonetheless, it’s not so much that I think the Obamanistas are capable of establishing a trains running on time tyranny — no, their level of competency suggests something closer to the lines of the Kirchners Argentina.

    Rather, it’s that demanding to know Christians prayers from an IRS bureaucrat just seems to be the kind thing DESIGNED to piss as many ‘bitter clinger’ types off as possible in hopes for a kind of Fort Sumter moment. It’s right up there with the infamous Small Wars Journal Tea Party Insurrection of 2016 piece, which Zen has convinced me was an isolated case and not a designed trial balloon or provocation.

    Call it a strategy of endlessly ‘trolling’ one’s domestic enemies until they do something stupid. To the point that we have groups like the SPLC running around labelling darn near everyone on the Right who says the 2nd Amendment was installed as a check on tyranny a seditionist/insurrectionist (euphemisms for suggesting they should be at the very least spied upon if not rounded up). It’s dangerous.

  14. Mr. X Says:

    Also the first thing that occurred to me was the OT reference, that may be of interest to Charles Cameron: Psalm 137. For the wicked who carried us away into captivity, required of us a song [of Zion], but how can we sing the Lord’s song, in a strange land?  That is of course Psalm 137 by way of Bob Marley. In any case the point is the commentaries on the Psalms both Christian and Jewish agree that the Babylonians demanding the exiled, humiliated Jews sing a happy song of Zion was just another act to belittle them. And IRS demanding the content of a prayer could be seen as a kind of similar ‘casting pearls before swine’, though I know there believers inside the IRS who were no doubt disturbed by what they saw…perhaps one was the source of this leak.

  15. Mr. X Says:

    If Skolkovo’s Lev Ponomarov is any relation, he’s carrying on the family silovik tradition :)

  16. joey Says:

    Comanche fertility was very low due to a lifetime on horseback.  They would take children under the age of ten and raise them as there own,  they were doting parents.  
    Spanish soldiers considered them to be the finest light cavalry in the old world or the new.  
    It was the repeating pistol used by the Texan Rangers that proved to be the real leveler.  The Comanches lost the war against the Rangers.  20 years later the federal troops had to relearn all the lessons again.   
     

  17. Grurray Says:

    I think it’s safe to say that the Plains Indians were too centralized to take on a superior force, benefit from whatever advantages (if any) the terrain may have provided, or avoid weapons of mass destruction.

    So how do we apply these lessons to counterinsurgency? Something is antifragile when it benefits from disorder. To end the benefits then, stop the disorder. This would imply smaller forces and fewer supply lines and reacting to their initiatives rather than taking the offensive.

     

  18. Grurray Says:

    I was following you on twitter and saw the comment comparing antifragility with Boyd’s concept of entropy. I think it’s a good analogy. His “Dialectric Engine” could compared to the mechanism that makes a system antifragile.

    In biology there’s a quality of certain systems called degeneracy. An unfortunate term that is a special case of redundancy which describes many different parts that can perform the same function under certain circumstances (and different functions in other instances).

    The advantage of a system with degeneracies is:

    the core or aggregate function of the entire system is distributed such as to maximize the expression of the core function.

    If part of the system is damaged then the functionality of that part is preserved because it can be offloaded to other parts.
     
    The separate parts can stay lean and nimble through specialization and decentralization. 

    Pertinent to antifragility and Boyd’s destruction and creation cycle is the fact that, because the parts are unique, they are more robust to targeted attack. By the time re-aggregation occurs, this uniqueness creates more sophisticated interdependencies, and the system grows stronger. This is evolution.

    Pertinent to COIN is how to neutralize this powerful mechanism. At the basic level the system has many different parts capable of one function. The counter strategy may be to avoid becoming vulnerable to that function. Engaging it in some different way on a different playing field.
    Another may be concentrating on preventing re-aggregation or  forcing the same configuration that was destroyed previously.

  19. Grurray Says:

    You’ll have to excuse the syntax & typo errors. My autocorrect has gone all HAL 9000 on me. 
    It’s an interesting theory that Afghanistan has turned into some kind of readiness proving grounds or endemic warfare gamescape.
    Part of it I wonder could be the mentality of the current crop of “Saviour” Generals. It could be too tempting to stop.
    Look at Petraeus – he mopped up Iraq and it was a ticket to the cushy upper echelons and into the arms of the freakiest Valkyries they had to offer. The guy who subdues the Taliban could come back as the latter day Alexander the Great.

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