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New Book: The Violent Image by Neville Bolt

Friday, December 14th, 2012

The Violent Image by Neville Bolt 

Columbia University Press just sent me a review copy of The Violent Image, by Dr. Neville Bolt of King’s College vaunted War Studies Department.  Initially, I was amused by the colorful book jacket, but flipping through, it belies a very weighty, heavily footnoted, academic exploration of the iterative relationship between propagandistic imagery and insurgency. Even a casual perusal indicates that The Violent Image is a book many readers of ZP will  like to  get their hands on.

From the jacket:

….Neville Bolt investigates how today’s revolutionaries have rejuvenated the nineteenth century “ptopaganda of the deed” so that terrorism no longer simply goads states into overreacting, thereby losing legitimacy. Instead the deed has become a tool to highlight the underlying grievances of communities

A small sampling of some of the section titles:

Strategic Communications:the State
Strategic Communications: the Insurgent
Networks in Real and Virtual Worlds
Images as Weapons
POTD as Insurgent Concept of Operations
Anonymity and Leaderless Revolutions
The Arab Uprisings and Liberation Technology
POTD as Metaphor

Endnotes run slightly over 90 pages and the bibliography tips the scales at 50, for those interested in such things.

Looking forward to reading this and seeing how Bolt presents his case.

Two Cheers for the State?

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

An excellent post from Adam Elkus – strongly recommended!

The State Problem In National Security Policy

….The report makes a lot of comments about the rise of individual autonomy, the empowering of regional network-cities, and technology’s acceleration of the power of non-state actors. Wired interpreted part of this as signaling a decline of the statewhich has been a popular theme since Martin van Creveld’s work on theTransformation of War. I think that is an accurate characterization of the parts of the 2030 report that talk about the empowerment of non-state actors and the rise of international networks. I’m less interested in the report, though, than in the general narrative of state decline in national security policy discourse.

We’ve heard that states are in decline, and both benign and malign networks and private actors are on the rise. This isn’t a new theme—if you look back a few decades the rise of multinational corporations and the multilaterals prompted a similar debate about sovereignty and power in the modern world. The state-centric defense practitioner is enjoined to move beyond caring about states and embrace a new reality.

…. What we have been dealing with, however, is an unfortunate tendency to write the non-state actor and transnational network out of the last few centuries of history. But he (or she) stubbornly refuses to go away. We can talk about some of the reasons why this might be the case in the international environment but it is also worth talking about why we often assume much more coherence and cohesion in our domestic environment than reality may justify.

….In Charles Tilly’s book Democracy, he argues that four processes are necessary to create and sustain a democratic state: the growth of state capacity by suppressing alternative sources of power, the reduction of categorical inequalities, and the integration of strong tie-based trust networks into public life. Warlords and kingpins that predate make it difficult for rights to be guaranteed. Categorical inequality lessens the ability of the people to meaningfully control their own destiny. And strong trust networks that cannot express themselves in political and social life also have the potential for predation and the erosion of state authority. Tilly casts these processes as never-ending in scope, and states are capable of backsliding on any one of them.

Very rich food for thought.

Trust networks are an interesting way to look at broader social networks and discern, at times, the presence of modularity (and therefore specialized skills, capacities, knowledge etc.) within a looser network structure (weak ties and links vs. highly interconnected sets of hubs with strong ties). We tend to graph these things in simple diagrams, like concentric circles with “al Qaida hard core” in the center, but really, they are more akin to clumping or clotting or uneven aggregation within a less dense field of connections.

Adam is also right that the irregular, the illegal, the tribal, the secret society, the rebellious peasant was largely ignored by nationalistic  historians in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century – and when they came back in vogue in the 1960’s with revisionist, labor, social, cultural etc. schools of historians, they tended to groan under the heavy yoke of dogmatic Marxist class analysis and then later the radical academic obsessions with race, gender and sexual orientation “oppression”. Too seldom, were these people and their doings found to be interesting in themselves so much as puppets for a very tortured, abstract passion play to exorcise demons and pursue petty grudges against other scholars.

In any event, Adam is worth reading in full.


A Handy intro to Networks

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Blogfriend Rob Paterson has two concise posts up on understanding networks and network theory. If this is a subject you want to know more about, they are must-reads.

My Network Revealed – Now what can you learn about yours?


….Here is my social network as created by the Mapping tool on Linkedin. It’s not the 100% true picture but it looks like 90% to me. You can use their mapping tool by going here.

If I am right and we are moving to an economy that depends on our networks, then it is essential that we learn what each of our networks means and what we can do to make them healthier. So, with that in mind, let’s look at mine and I will share some lessons with you.

Next week, I will post a podcast that I recorded yesterday with the Master of Networks, Valdis Krebs. Anything I know is because of him. He will go much deeper than I – so this is an introduction.

Diversity – In nature diversity is a good thing – so it is with our social networks. You can see that I am connected to a series of worlds. PEI , Public Media, Network Thinkers, Family and I have 2 outside nets of New Military Thinkers and my legacy Corporate connections.

I think that this does not look too bad – I have good links into many fields. How does your world look? 

Our networks are like gardens, we can always make them better. We can always add and remove. We can always pay attention. ….

Read the rest here.

Human Networks – A masterclass by the Master Valdis Krebs – Podcast #networks

This is Valdis Krebs – The Galileo of human Social Networks – ie the person who shows us what they look like, when before they were invisible, and who shows us the simple rules that drive them. 

The few nations that were early into navigation and exploration in the 16th century, did very well. As we ourselves move into a world where all the advantages will accrue to those that understand Networks, I think it is vital that we understand how to navigate in the Network world. 

The problem that many of us have is that when we hear the work “Network” we think of TV networks or Telephone networks that are driven by the old rules of engineering. What Valdis talks about mainly are Natural Networks, of which human social networks are a part. These are driven by the rules of Emergence and Nature and NOT by the rules of the CEO.

The good news is that the Rules of Nature in this regard are simple to understand and to operate. 

Network copy
This is the “Map” that we are now going to explore.

Read the rest here.

Valdis Krebs is indeed the master of network-mapping and leveraging social networks


David Ronfeldt’s TIMN video

Friday, May 25th, 2012

[ posted by Charles Cameron ]

Blogfriend David Ronfeldt posted this video on his own Visions from Two Theories blog, and I’m cross-posting it here with his permission. It’s an excellent short introduction to David’s ideas about social evolution and the development of the quadriform TIMN (Tribe-Institution-Market-Network) social environment in which we find ourselves.

David writes:

The presentation proceeds in three segments. Segment One is about how TIMN got started. It provides background and a basic description of TIMN.

Segment Two is about how TIMN works. It relates my sense of TIMN’s system dynamics, emphasizing general propositions that hold across the evolution of all four TIMN forms.

Segment Three is about where TIMN is headed. It focuses on the rise of the network (N) form and prospects that a new sector may develop around it. It reflects recent posts at this blog about Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, as well as about Red Toryism, P2P theory, and monitory democracy.

My presentation indicated that there would be a slide about follow-up readings at the end of the video, but it’s missing from this somewhat shortened version. So I’m inserting it here:

There is still much to be discerned and said about all these matters. And I am lagging way behind on my intended arc of postings. Yet, for now, the video provides a good update, and points in the right direction — or so I hope.

The video was originally offered as David’s contribution to the Highlands Forums.

Ullman’s Strategic Revolution?

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

Strategist Dr. Harlan K. Ullman (best known for the concept of  “Shock and Awe“) had a piece up at Atlantic Council about which I have a mix of opinions, so I am going to break it down with some excerpts and comment:

Needed Now: An Intellectual Revolution in Strategic Thinking 

Toward the end of the Cold War, Soviet military thinkers coined the phrase “Military-Technical Revolution.” Based on a combination of extraordinary advances in precision strike and in information and surveillance technologies, the MTR was successfully transformed by the Pentagon into the “Revolution in Military Affairs.”

Meant to defeat the Red Army, the RMA was a real military revolution proven in the first Iraq War in 1991 when US arms pulverized Saddam Hussein’s army; in Afghanistan quickly routing the Taliban in 2001; and again smashing Iraq two years later.

There’s more than just a semantic difference here.

A “Military Revolution” is a rare thing in history, an epochal event, like the transformation of warfare in early modern Europe , which also dovetails with the Marxist-Leninist  economic deterministic conception of what constituted a world-historical “revolutionary” event in Soviet ideology. A “Military-Technical Revolution” was a terminological effort by Soviet general officers to reduce the ideological scope of the event discussed away from a sphere predominantly governed by the supreme authority of the Party (and in practice then, by politburo ideologist, Mikhail Suslovwho was deeply suspicious of any kind of reform) to one that emphasized that radical changes in warfare originated in or would flow from purely technological innovations and could therefore be safely managed by military professionals without encroaching upon political matters.  Self-interest and institutional interest of the Red Army general staff at work.

American defense intellectuals repackaged the Red Army’s “Military-Technical Revolution” as the  “Revolution in Military Affairs” – a much narrower concept than “Military Revolution” yet broader, more flexible and open-ended than it’s Soviet parent. Eminent strategist and military historian Colin S. Gray described RMA thusly:

Military Revolutions are preceded, implemented, and succeeded by RMAs. RMA refers to a radical change in the character of war. The engines of such change include, but are by no means limited to, technological innovation. Scholars note that most historically plausible RMAs have not obviously been led by new technologies [1].

The American RMA unlike the Soviet version was more closely tied to the force-multiplying effects of the information revolution and Moore’s Law  that was to reshape the global economy, and came to be shorthanded, under Rumsfeld, as “transformation“. However, like the Soviet MTR, RMA suited the growing fascination of American military officers with operational art as the acme of professional identity and a substitute for strategy and troublesome questions of policy and politics. While “transformation” was good for making the military more efficient at applying violence, the focus on technological magic in operations tended to anesthetize senior generals from the need to attend to the vital strategic-policy dimension of war.

Back to Ullman:

….Today, American and certain allied militaries are exhausted by a decade of war. All face large and looming defense cuts meaning far less money for defense. Under these circumstances, readiness and morale become early casualties.

With the exception of North Korea (or to some states in Europe, Russia), few hostile armies are around to fight in a conventional conflict making the case for defense more diaphanous. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrated that while military force may have been necessary, it could not make either country more governable, hardly the best argument for defense spending.

The omission of China is simply weird. I am neither a ‘Panda hugger” or a “Panda mugger” and I don’t think China should be shoehorned into the role of near-peer competitor, which it is not yet, except in the fantasies of hypernationalistic Chinese and maybe blogger/salesmen from the Lexington Institute. But how do you ignore a nation like China and the PLA in in a military-geopolitical strategic analysis?

….How can militaries deal with these facts of life? The answer is that a new revolution is desperately needed. Given the bleak funding outlook, this revolution can only be accomplished through intellect and rejuvenating strategic thinking.

British Gen. Rupert Smith’s “The Utility of Force” skillfully interpreted war in the 21st century to be about and over people — to protect and defend them or to defeat or disrupt them rather than as modern armies squaring off against one and other.

Many assumptions to unpack from few words.

I welcome Dr. Ullman’s call for an intellectual renaissance in strategic thinking which, if badly needed among the professional military class, is even more urgently required in our political class who – with some exceptions – were largely AWOL from their responsibilities of senior partnership in fashioning strategy and grand strategy with the uniformed military in the past ten years. Perhaps in a generation or two, the proliferation of grand strategy programs at elite universities that are increasingly feared by anti-American intellectual leftists, will produce a large cadre of statesman with real strategic competence.

Regarding the second paragraph, while I am sympathetic to the assumptions that 4GW environments will increase with the erosion of state sovereignty and legitimacy, the future of warfare may very well be extremely “hybridwith well-financed polities, corporations and networks fielding impressively high tech military capabilities alongside atavistic and disorganized insurgencies wallowing in blood and entrails. The latter will invite intrusion by the former and the former are sometimes going to clash with one another, as well as against postmodern warlords, superempowered individuals, urban guerrillas and networked jihadis.

….Some 15 years earlier, the concept of “shock and awe” was created in which the goal was to affect, influence and ultimately control the will and perception of an adversary (hence Smith’s “people”) with the use or threat of military force. “Shock and awe” was inspired by the Chinese philosopher Sun Tzu eons ago when he wrote that the really brilliant general wins without having to fight a battle.

Shock and awe posited four criteria: control of the environment, rapidity, (near) perfect knowledge and brilliance in execution.

The last two, combined with the realities and uncertainties of today’s international environment, form the foundations for this much needed intellectual revolution in strategic thinking.

If so, then the revolution fizzles out here.

Rapidity and brilliance in execution – or at least excellence – can be trained for, but in control of the environment, the enemy gets a vote (and so, for that matter, does the environment) and “(near) perfect knowledge” is a transient comparative advantage held (if at all) during the initial moments of a complete surprise attack. While it would be nice to have, “(near) perfect knowledge” cannot be a foundation for a strategic revolution as it is a largely unachievable standard in unhurried conditions of perfect peace, much less during the fog and friction of war.

….No one can be certain about the nature of future conflicts as the requirements for defense, once equated in largely military terms, have expanded to cover security with a far broader aperture extending well beyond armies, navies and air forces.

In future conflict, military force may or may not be necessary. But they have not been sufficient to achieve the strategic and political aims of bringing stability and security to Iraq, Afghanistan and so far Libya for example.

Further, given defense cuts, preparations for major conventional operations will be severely curtailed as both weapons and systems for those engagements as well as training will likewise be reduced, possibly dramatically. The strategic question that forms the heart of an intellectual revolution rests on how militaries can prepare for a future so filled with uncertainty while preserving traditional war fighting skills with far less money.

Ullman is correct that public expectations of “security” have expanded beyond military strength to encompass more of the DIME spectrum with, arguably, law enforcement, immigration/assimilation and cyber issues as well.

Disagree that the current political class dominated by aging Boomer fantasists will recognize that sharply curtailed military budgets mean fewer operations.It certainly has not worked that way in Britain where harshly punitive budgetary cuts to the British Army and Royal Navy have scarcely curbed Her Majesty’s government’s appetite for military intervention.  American politicians and Atrocity Boards will simply require the Pentagon eat it’s seed corn to pay for intervention piled upon intervention and when that runs dry, Congress will look at cutting veteran health benefits and pensions and hollow out the force until it breaks.

….First, militaries and strategic thinking must be oriented about obtaining (near) perfect knowledge not merely about traditional operations and employing weapons systems with far greater creativity. There must be far more learning about other, non-military tools and other regions and states round the world of import or interest to assuring national security.

The part  about creativity is spot on, but in a military where majors, colonels and brigadier generals feel they cannot sign off on something as mundane as a platoon, a company or a battalion using ATVs on patrol in Afghanistan without risking their careers, then bureaucratic micromanagement has already reached the state of military rigor mortis. Strategic thinking in the ranks cannot begin until the climate of fear is removed and the incentives for promotion changed to reward risk-taking. Just like the State Department, the Pentagon’s antiquated personnel system is out of alignment with the needs of American national security and  represents a systemic bulwark against positive change.

Pursuit of near perfect knowledge should be dropped. When Admiral Art Cebrowski helped conceive of network-centric warfare,  there was an opportunity present, through real-time sharing of  information across a military “system”, to maximize individual and unit initiative within their understanding of the commander’s intent and accelerate the operational tempo vis-a-vis the enemy. Instead, information technology, as I see it imperfectly from my far remove as a civilian kibbitzer, has empowered micromanagement with three and four star generals playing company commander, colonels playing squad leader and lawyers and powerpoint-inebriated staff officers hundreds  of miles away blocking artillery or air support requested by units under fire.

Perfect knowledge as a doctrinal benchmark encourages organizational paralysis in the face of uncertainty, rather than the fluidity, creativity and adaptiveness that Ullman seeks.

….Second, new means and methods must be created or strengthened that contribute to maintaining fighting skills that enable brilliance in operations. For example, as the British navy and air force lose both carrier and anti-submarine capacities for an interim period, units should be assigned to the US or French navies that will employ these weapons systems. The British army could deploy units to serve in Korea or Pakistan and India where conventional combat is central to those forces to maintain these skills. And new generations of war games and simulators must be invented and fielded so that many scenarios can be played out to keep skills at acceptable levels of readiness.

These are useful ideas, especially the wargames. I don’t think the British will bite though, except for “model” partnerships with the French. There’s really no good reason why there should not be an “Anglospheric” (UK, US, ANZUS, Canada) combined naval warfare planning staff and regular joint exercises.

….Third, to achieve these aims, a further revolution in military education from bottom to top is essential. Officers and troops must be prepared intellectually in order to obtain near perfect knowledge about a future that at best is opaque. And simultaneously, keeping combat skills sharp in an era of austerity when weapons and training will be in shorter supply is best done as Bobby Jones, perhaps the greatest golfer ever observed about that game — it is played in the 6-inch space between the ears!

Militaries will be reluctant to accept new or any revolutions when they are fighting for subsistence. Politicians find governing hard enough. And few are prepared to impose a revolution let alone make tough decisions.

If an intellectual revolution is to be wrought, it must come from within. But who will listen? And who will lead?

As of now, no one is leading and few understand the need to do so.

1. Colin S. Gray. Another Bloody Century. Orion Books Ltd. London. 2005.  117..

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