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War, the Individual, Strategy and the State

Sunday, July 31st, 2011


One of the nicest things about ZP is the quality of the commenters. In a post by Charles Cameron, 2083 – Breivik and the Qur’an, deception and warfare, there was this exchange between Joseph Fouche and Seydlitz89 after the latter disputed the utility of looking at the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik through the lens of strategy:

Joseph Fouche:

From Clausewitzian perspective, Breivik’s actions are the conjunction of the three poles of the Trinity, two of which have nothing to with Breivik’s rationality. If CvC can’t be applied to madmen, criminals, mass murderers of children, or men trapped in their own little world, then Van Creveld’s contention that the actions of madmen can’t be considered political (in noted Clausewitzian Christopher Bassford’suse of the word) is correct. War would be “nontrinitarian“.

The words and ideas of murderous stooges have consequences as well as their actions. CvC can shine as much light on them as he can on any other field of human conflict.

Can Breivik’s actions can be considered war? Can an individual wage war? By his own sinister lights, Breivik considered himself at war, the Pied Piper of a host of other Breiviks born and unborn, even if that host only existed in his fevered imagination.

Can an individual have a strategy? Or can an individual only have a strategem? Breivik had a plan that had a tactical expression and apolitical effect (as here we comment on the doings of an otherwise obscure Norwegian). Does the jumbled mass of tissues that connect his evil ends with his evil means rise to the level of strategy?

In her recent book The Evolution of Strategy, noted CvC scholarBeatrice Heuser examines the modern history of the word strategy since Guibert revived it in the mid-eighteenth century. Even the core understanding of the word, the art of connecting political ends with (operational or tactical) military means, has shifted since CvC as the scale and ambitions of campaigns increased. Heuser herself chooses to refer to strategy as understood by Clausewitzians (connecting political ends with military means) with a capital S to differentiate [it] from other current uses.

In that light, was Breivik a Strategist or a strategist? Where do we put the raid on Harpers Ferry or the Beer Hall Putsch, two events that were equally ridiculous and equally consequential? What’s the cutoff point between crime and war? What’s the cutoff point between Strategy and strategy? John Brown’s 21? Herr Hitler’s 100? Or Breivik’s one?

Fouche, who it must be said, is no fan of eminent Dutch-Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, is referering to MvC’s theory of the decline of the state and “non-trinitarian” warfare of non-state or non-Westphalian entities that van Creveld articulated in The Transformation of War, The Rise and Decline of the State and other books and articles since the 1990’s.  The 4GW school adopted van Creveld’s ideas of state decline and to significantly varying degrees, his critical attitude toward Clausewitzian theory (van Creveld’s own assessment of Clausewitz also seems to vary in his works).

Seydlitz89, himself a noted Clausewitzian, responded:

You’re mixing apples and oranges.  Clausewitzian strategic theory pertains to collectives, all concepts pertain to collectives – victory, defeat, strategy, tactics . . . and a very particular collective at that – political communities.  “War” does not consist of one individual fighting against a political community, that is criminality, and always has been.  This is the very definition of what being a criminal, an outcast, or a traitor is all about .  .  . “War” on the other hand is organized violence within or between political communities which involves once again collectives.  These collectives would have to enjoy both moral and material cohesion within them which in turn allows them to use violence as an instrument in their political actions.  The Nazis, as repugnant as they were, did gain “legitimacy” (yet another collective concept) over time and formed a political community around them of Germans dissatisfied with the “system” of their time, and their political takeover did constitute a revolution. 

ABB is all about ABB and nothing more.  Assuming that his “message” or rather mad rant is going to draw an audience and a following is an assumption, based on what exactly?  Great knowledge of how “Europeans” feel about immigration?  Define “Europeans” and how this act is going to mobilize concerted action against immigrants, draw a political community around it?

Even if he did appeal to a selection of alienated loners who bought his sorry soap, that would not constitute them as a political community nor make their struggle war.

If ABB is a “warrior” fighting a “war”, than so was Charles Manson.     

[ Sidebar: Seydlitz has, BTW, previously undertook a formal two-part paper at the old DNI site on this subject, one very much worth reading, that serves as a Clausewitzian rebuttal to van Creveld :The Decline of Strategic Theory – the Influence of The Transformation of War  and part II. The Continued Existence of the State: The Clausewitzian Concept of Cohesion ]

The discussion of whether or not an individual can wage “war” is interesting because it takes place largely at the level of fundamentals. Politics, polities, policy, the State, war. All terms with somewhat different meanings depending on the philosophical tradition brought to the table. Or lack thereof. Strategic discussions are frequently impoverished because of the extinction of systematic education in the Western canon in this country, it is almost dead, even at the university level, which means that those interested in matters of strategy and diplomacy need to dedicate themselves to personal programs of professional reading and reflection.  Some things need to be read firsthand and more than once to be understood.

Can an individual “wage war”? Can they have ” a strategy”? Some very meandering thoughts from me on the subject [Joseph Fouche and Seydlitz are cordially invited to guest-post here in response, if they so desire]:

Historically, this was usually a moot point. The ability of private individuals to use violence that could have a strategic effect on a whole political community was virtually nil – with one exception – assassination. While seldom fully successful, tyrannicide or regicide was celebrated and feared in the ancient world because in highly personalized polities with absolute rulers, such a decapitation attack could paralyze a society as heirs of the ruler struggled for succession or plunge it into anarchy and civil war. Walter LaQueur devotes the first part of his Voices of Terror to examples of ancient assassination for this reason.

Assassination, it should be said, is still more likely to be associated with personal grievance, mental illness or political protest than strategic intent. Brutus and Cassius and their fellow conspirators had a strategic intent in assassinating Julius Caesar, namely reversing the fortunes of civil war as well as the political intent of ending Caesar’s Dictatorship as a regime and restoring the Republic under the dominance of patrician Optimates. By contrast, Charles Guiteau who assassinated President Garfield was merely insane, while Soghomon Tehlirian’s motive for killing Talaat Pasha was vengeance for the Armenian Genocide.

However, as the potential for using assassination at a strategic level exists, then the possibility that an individual may do so of their own accord, instead of as an agent of a state or out of personal grievance, also exists. It’s just quite rare once a society ascends from the Hobbesian hunter-gatherer stage of development to true chiefdoms or kingdoms because two things change: first, a chiefdom or kingdom is a political community that creates and enforces all kinds of constraints, incentives, rules and specialization of tasks related to warfare on individuals in the tribe. Secondly, the scale of society in a chiefdom or kingdom or state vs. a hunter-gatherer band makes an individual’s one-man war impractical. Society has grown far too large. Even if the head is willing, the reach exceeds the grasp.

Now, this truism of war being a collective endeavor, which Seydlitz rightly identifies as being the case and has been so for thousands of years, is now in jeopardy with the acceleration of technological capabilities and ever cheaper productions costs disseminating them into many hands. This is the theory of  the “superempowered individual“, that technology that can permit one person to inflict damage on an enormous scale was becoming too common, as is information about where such technology could be leveraged to best effect. We are not quite there yet, but we have had some serious foreshadowing of SEIs with Ted Kaczynski, the unknown Anthrax mail terrorist and the partially successful WMD terrorist efforts of the Aum Shinrikyo cult. Right now, it is still collectives that are the likeliest culprits for waging a mass casualty attack but those collectives have gotten uncomfortably small in size. Nation-states are far more dangerous and versatile entities, if slow moving and obvious, but they are no longer required if your intent is to inflict strategic damage and eventually, all you will need is one unusually resourceful and intelligent individual.

With individuals and, more commonly, very small substate groups waging war, the nature of warfare will change from the culture of warfare that typified the era of Westphalian nation-states with their centralizing hierarchical bureaucracies, mobilized industrial economies, conventional armed forces and populations bristling with nationalism. Smaller entities that lack the vast resources of states are going to be idiosyncratic in their approach to warfare because their capacity to sustain conflict, what motivates them to stand, fight and die, how they conceive their “Ends” differs from that of states.

Can you use Clausewitz’s general theory to  analyze them? Sure, Clausewitz proposed, after all, a general theory of war, but if you operate with the implicit assumption that the non-state adversary will “do strategy”just  like a state your analysis is likely to be off. The utility of van Creveld’s theory is his emphasis on their non-Westphalian characteristics of these combatants and their blurring of war with crime, religion, culture and politics which goes to the heart of what might be the nature of warfare in this epoch; where the irregulars are no longer marginal players but represent the new normal and interstate conventional war among great powers is the outlier.

My Asynchronous COIN Debate with Dr. Bernard Finel

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Actually, we are probably not that far apart, really.

Originally, in a past year, Dr. Finel wrote this.

I am not wholly convinced as a matter of ontology that there exists a coherent phenomena that can be termed “insurgency.” My sense, instead, is that there are various sub-state armed threats that exists to states, several of which we usually lump in together under the rubric of insurgency, but which have very different causes and consequences, and hence require different strategic approaches.  I am not just referring, by the way, to the various motivations for “insurgency” – i.e. religious vs. leftist vs. ethnic – but also that there are at least some groups that have strategic orientations quite at odds from the image of an organized group with ambitions to replace the existing government.

My curiousity piqued, I responded here:

Why are submaximum strategic goals (i.e. something < regime change) an indicator of “non-insurgency” ? I think this standard would eliminate most of the popular uprisings in recorded history – for every Taiping Rebellion or Emelian Pugachev, there’s a dozen smaller, hopeless, desperate, peasant revolts.

Why the implicit use of the Maoist model as the defining characteristic of “insurgency”? That is, to the extent Bernard considers insurgency to exist

Dr. Finel replied yesterday with this ( I will intersperse my comments to make it easier on the readers):

I guess I should have been clearer.  I have no interest in debates over semantics. My interest is in ensuring that terms we use actually have a useful and coherent meaning and analytical utility.  You want to call the “Maoist model” a “war of national liberation” rather than insurgency, go ahead.  You want to call narcoviolence, “insurgency,” fine go ahead.  But don’t call a Maoist model and narcoviolence by the same name because if you, you confuse the issue.  I really don’t care what terms is applied to the various phenemena under consideration, but I do care that before we lump things together we make sure the analytic containers are, in fact, meaningful.

I am all for analytical clarity. Narco-cartels in Mexico were originally engaged in purely economically motivated violence, mostly against each other and corrupt officials in their pay. That is in my view, criminal activity. When the narcos changed their goal to encompass establishing TAZs that supplant the political authority of the Mexican state and engaged in systematic campaigns of assassination, intimidation and infiltration of local, state and Federal Mexican goverment entities they evolved from organized criminals into an insurgency.

Is there a calculated political challenge to state power by non-state actors manifested in organized violence? If so, that to my mind is an insurgency, regardless of whether they seek to topple the state or carve out some sort of niche where they can dominate.

Why is this relevant? Because, as a practical matter there are actually insurgencies that grow out of legitimacy gaps and that are best fought – perhaps – by population-centric counter-insurgency measures designed to provide good governance. But not all forms of sub-state violence are that sort of insurgency, and as a result, not all forms of sub-state violence require (or are even usefully addressed) by the sort of clear-hold-build model of integrated military operations and development initiatives.

We are facing a world with a great deal of sub-state disorder. The mistake is assuming that all of this reflects a unified dynamic (e.g. insurgency) that can be addressed with a single response (e.g. population-centric counter-insurgency).

Tend to agree with Bernard here, but with a more generous inclination to Pop-centric COIN. It isn’t a silver bullet but it has some uses. Frankly, if a regime lacks all moral scruples, democidal assault against probable supporters of insurgents (i.e.  death squads, reigns of terror) is often successful in short order. Not always. Rwanda’s genocide of the Tutsi contributed to the overthrow of the radical Hutu government by Tutsi rebels but it worked in Guatemala in the 1970’s, in French Indochina and El Salvador in the 1930’s.

Or there is a middle ground. El Salvador in the 1980’s fought a brutal war against the Communist FMLN with a focus on kinetics and extrajudicial murder but the government abandoned an oligarchical military junta for a representative democracy, addressing concerns about legitimacy. Colombia in the 1990’s combined unleashing vicious loyalist paramilitaries with an aggressive effort to establish competent governance, in order to push back against the marxist rebels of  FARC and the ELN. At a minimum, if counterinsurgents want better intelligence, they need to win the trust of locals, at least some of them, most of the time.

This is not just a theoretical critique. The situation in Iraq was not an “insurgency” in the classic meaning of the term.  Indeed, much of what we considered insurgency was actually little more than a terror campaign aimed at maximizing political leverage.  Other parts involved contestation for power between various Shi’a factions.  And a third, was a simple, and straight-forward sectarian conflict over a relatively small slice of contested territory. None of those conflicts required a comprehensive COIN/Development strategy to manage.

The classic insurgency, the “Maoist model”, should probably have ceased being regarded as definitive twenty years ago. Decentralized, quasi-anarchic “open source insurgency” as conceptualized by John Robb, are more probable in multicultural, weak states with artificial borders drawn by long dead colonialists.

Just to be clear. I am not, as a matter of analytical commitments, always a “splitter.” It is not my desire to disaggregate these domestic conflicts simply for the sake of disaggregating them. Personally, coming out of a mainstream political science orientation, I actually prefer to be a “lumper.” Lumping is how you get the most powerful and parsimonious theories.  But in this case, we’re lumping too many dissimilar concepts together into the basket of insurgency and it is hurting both the academic study of the phenemenon as well as leading to inappropriate policy recommendations.

Insurgency, like terrorism, is both a tactic and a categorical classification. Some movements will combine insurgency with terrorism, peaceful political activities and economic development. Or with criminal enterprises. But does the violence in sum have a political objective? Is it directed against the state?

These are the key questions.

A light-hearted, dark-hearted DoubleQuote

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — cross posted from Infocult ]

For your ghoulish winter entertainment…

Guest Post: Shipman on Boyd and Beyond, 2010

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

J. Scott Shipman is the owner of a boutique consulting firm in the Metro DC area that is putting Boyd’s ideas into action.

Boyd and Beyond, 2010

by J. Scott Shipman

Boyd & Beyond 2010, 15-16 October 2010

Mr. Stan Coerr (GS-15 Marine Corps, LtCol, USMCR), coordinator. Hosted by the USMC Command and Staff College at the Marine Corps University, Quantico, VA.

This was my first Boyd conference. I discovered Boyd in early 2005 through Robert Coram’s book, BOYD, The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War. I did not know what to expect of the conference, and was anxious to meet guys I’d corresponded with over the last couple of years (the ones who made it: Robert Coram, Fred Leland, Don Vandergriff, and Adam Elkus); so my thinking going in was at least I’d get to meet these guys regardless, and besides Quantico is right down I-95 from my home.

As others have already observed, Boyd 2010 exceeded any expectation. It was a pleasure to be in the same room with such an impressive collection of talent and intellect and listen to what they have done and continue to do with Boyd’s work and ideas. At the end of the first day, I felt my head was going to explode—and heard many others echoing similar sentiment. I told a friend, those two days were like drinking from a fire hydrant.

As many readers are probably already aware, the reaction to the conference has been universally positive, and calls for a 2011 event have been heard and is scheduled for 14-15 October 2011 at Quantico, same location. Stan Coerr and the USMC University deserve our gratitude for this recent event and the opportunity to reconvene next year. The bar, has indeed been set high.

What follows is from my notes, and I apologize in advance if I leave out something I should have remembered. I will try and avoid repeating too much of Adam Elkus’ excellent review, so all presenters are not covered—while all presenters provided valuable and enlightening insights. At the conclusion, I’ve added the references of books and online links that I heard (there were many more) recommended, and books and articles I recommended during the conference.

The day began with a colorful introduction to Boyd by Robert Coram. He related the circumstances of how he came to write BOYD, and shared several stories of the evolution of the book and the people he met. Coram reported that as of the conference, 73,000 copies of BOYD are in print—not bad for a book about someone most people have never heard of.

Ray Leopold, PhD, (the third acolyte) gave a touching and penetrating retrospective of how he came to be associated with John Boyd, and how that association changed his life for the better. Of interest, Ray shared a common introduction that he and Boyd used when they visited other Air Force officers. They would write the following on the blackboard:


They would then cross these familiar words out, and replace with:

Pride, Power, Greed

From Boyd’s perspective, the military industrial complex and the inherent bureaucracy had (and in my humble opinion, continues) corrupted the original intent of those core principles military members are taught to embrace.

Don Vandergriff followed with a fast-paced explanation of his continuing efforts within the US Army to advocate Outcome Based Training and Education (T&E). He follows with successful practical examples of allowing his student to think and adapt-“off-script.” Vandergriff also recommended the work of Dr. Robert Bjork, Dean of the School of Psychology at UCLA, particularly his presentation “How We Learn Versus How We Think We Learn: Implications for the Organization of Army Training.”

General Paul Van Riper (LtGen, USMC, Ret) was the keynote and gave a compelling address on mental models and systems theory. Throughout his talk, he added insight into how John Boyd’s ideas found a home in the USMC. Gen Van Riper made the distinction between informational knowledge and transformational knowledge, and the “eloquent schema” that is OODA. He also discussed systems theory, and distinguished between linear systems (cause & effect), complex systems, and interactive complex systems. Of the later, he reminded that these systems are non-linear and unknowable using a deductive approach, and one output is emergent behavior(s).

Marcus Mainz (Major, USMC) provided insight into how he is using Boyd’s ideas in the training and development of young Marine officers and how he and his colleagues are creating the desire to learn. LtCol Mike Grice (USMC) provided our group with insight into how Boyd’s ideas translate in the field—having just returned from Afghanistan and a tour in one of Iraq’s more dangerous provinces. Both of these officers reflect well on the USMC—and if this caliber of leadership and thought is any indication, the USMC is in good hands in the years to come.

On the second day, Linton Wells, PhD, (CAPT, USN, Ret) gave a talk on naval maneuver warfare. Dr. Wells was providing a preview of his update to a seminal article of the same title he wrote for Proceedings in December 1980. Dr. Wells also provided one of the best quotes of the two days: “make knowledge accidents happen.”

Fred Leland’s presentation revolved on how he has used Boyd’s work to teach law enforcement personnel how to make good decisions. Fred began his talk with an absolutely frighteningly disturbing video from the dash-cam of a young police officer caught in a dangerous place. Fred lives his curricula, as he is an active duty police lieutenant, so his presentation had a resonance unique to our gathering.

Terry Barnhart, PhD, (Pfizer R&D) provided unique insight into how he is using Boyd’s ideas (OODA, to be specific) in his company’s R&D efforts. Barnhart, in my estimation, is onto something very powerful. He repurposed Boyd’s OODA from the traditional vernacular into: See, Reframe, Experience, Grow—but the intent remains. Dr. Barnhart placed great emphasis on “SEE” where his definition is: “assume it is wrong” and see without prejudice. He reported exciting results from using this and another model derived from Boyd’s work.

Chip Pearson, Managing Partner of a software company in Minnesota, gave an impassioned recounting of how he used/uses Boyd’s concepts to start and successfully operate his software company. His philosophy, “we make meaning, not money.” Chip focused on values, capability, and objectives. On his management philosophy, he remarked, “complete independent action scares the hell out of people”—which is how he wants his organization to operate.

Jussi Jaakonahon, from Nokia, travelled the furthest, coming from Norway, to give his talk on his experience using OODA in IT security exercises. He confirmed Boyd’s emphasis on sharing information of validity and integrity, and adapting on the fly to the mission. During this exchange someone remarked: “companies die because they do the right thing too long.” We hope he will be able to join us for both days next year.


I was contacted by Jussi Jaakonaho, I misspelled his name—this is the correct spelling. He came from Finland, not Norway. This quote should be attributed to Jussi: “companies won’t die because of their false actions. they die because of the continuing of the same actions for too long (which once were right).”

My sincere apologies for the inaccuracies. 
There was a language barrier, and as a Southerner, English is my second language:))

Dave Foster provided an introduction to his draft paper on portfolio complexities in the fog of war. One goal of his paper is helping to shrink the knowledge-doing gap. Foster is on to something, and I’m guessing this forum will help him advance his ideas.

TJ Jankowski (Col, USMCR) was the anchor man for our two days. His talk, COIN Technology and Universal Structures of Technical Knowledge, dealt with emerging theories of a taxonomy of technologies. His ideas are based on the work of Dr. Rias van Wyk which advances the idea of “a fundamental structure of technological knowledge, based in part on a very precise definition of technology and a functional  classification of all technological knowledge.” (TJ Jankowski follow-up email) The implications of these ideas could be revolutionary in our ability to conduct macro technology analysis.

Alan D. Beyerchen, Clausewitz, Nonlinearity ?and the Unpredictability of War http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/Beyerchen/CWZandNonlinearity.htm

DoD Command and Control Research Program (CCRP) by Tom Czerwinski: http://www.dodccrp.org/events/13th_iccrts_2008/CD/library/html/pdf/Czerwinski_Coping.pdf

Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography


John Shook, Managing to Learn: Using the A3 Management Process


Nik Gowing, “Sky Full of Lies and Black Swans” (free registration required to access whole article)


Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers


A few titles I recommended:

Seen recently here at Zenpundit comes with a hearty recommendation:

Magic and Mayhen, The Delusions American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan by Derek Leebaert


Jim Storr, The Human Face of War. Storr does not hold Boyd and OODA in high regard, however there is much in this excellent book to admire and much to learn—it is worth the $100 price tag.


Robert Leonhard, The Principles of War For the Information Age. Again, Leonhard is not a Boyd fan, but an important contribution to how we think—his IT ideas are dated, but the core is thought-provoking.


Michael Van Nooten, The Law of the Somalis. The late Mr. Van Nooten married into a Somali tribe and used his training as an attorney to propose innovative ideas for the peaceful coexistence of Western jurisprudence with systems based on tribes or clans.


Fredrich Hayek, Economics and Knowledge.


Fredrich Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society.


Many thanks to Mark for making this venue available, and I hope to see you next year at Boyd & Beyond 2011.

Tinkering our Way to the Singularity

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Artificial savants? Savant augmentation? The path to mentats?

Imagine the effects of  fine-tuning this crude stimulation with precision, then additionally doing “x”so as to amplify the remaining abilities, not simply suppress the contraindicative cognitive process.

Now imagine the potential effects of doing it on a systemic, societal, basis for a generation or two.

Hat tip to The Eide Neurolearning Blog.

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