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Archive for February, 2008

Putin’s Siloviki Regime at Center but Weimar Russia on the Fringe

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Vladimir Putin occupies so much political space in Russia than healthy, democratic, political competitors cannot take root. Like a great tree, Putin shades out lesser saplings. Unfortunately, poisonous weeds are creeping in the place of normal political fauna. The latest piece at HNN from Dr. Andreas Umland:

The Great Danger If Russia Stays on the Path It’s On

The roots of Russia’s currently rising nationalism are threefold: pre-Soviet, Soviet and post-Soviet. The idea of Moscow as the “Third Rome,” i.e. of a special Russian mission in world history, goes back several centuries. Russian nationalism had been – contrary to what many in the West believed – an important element of Soviet ideology ever since the 1930s. Like in the early 19th century when Moscow’s so-called Slavophiles applied German nativist thought to Russian conditions, ideas of various Russian nationalist movements today are often imported from the West.

….The main difference between Russian and Western forms of nationalism is that, in the contemporary West, the intellectual and political mainstream of a given country usually more or less clearly distances itself from that country’s – sometimes, also rather strong – nationalist movement. While the Russian mainstream is quick to condemn racist violence, its relationship to the world view standing behind such violence is, in contrast, more ambivalent. Thus, authors who, in the West, would be regarded as being far beyond the pale of permissible discourse, such as the ultra-nationalist publicist Aleksandr Prokhanov or ideologue of fascism Aleksandr Dugin, are esteemed participants in political and intellectual debates at prime-time TV shows. The bizarre, pseudo-scientific ideas of the late neo-racist theoretician Lev Gumilev are required reading in Russia’s middle and higher schools. Gumilev teaches that world history is defined by the rise and fall of ethnic groups that are biological units under the influence, moreover, of cosmic emissions.

Russia has always had a deep streak of xenophobic, romantic, mysticism as part of it’s character; a part that comes from it’s Pre-Petrine heritage but one that  has continued to resurface despite the best efforts of Westernizing modernizers or Soviet commissars to extinguish it. This latest resurgence is reminiscient of the wildest rhetoric from the racial lunacy of the 1920’s Volkish far Right in Weimar Germany in which the nascent Nazi Party incubated amidst Freikorps paramilitaries, Bavarian separatists and ultranationalist conspiracies.

In comparison, the siloviki do not look too bad.

Galrahn on NCW, Corbett and Barnett

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

Galrahn at Information Dissemination had a great post recently that tied Naval strategist Julian Corbett in to  NCW and Thomas P.M. Barnett:

The Sin That Will Sink the Strategy

….Julian Corbett believed the object of naval warfare “must always be directly or indirectly either to secure the command of the sea or to prevent the enemy from securing it.” In that spirit we observe Social Network-Centric Warfare to be the cooperative processes that mitigates the disruption of cooperative command of the sea to promote peacetime commerce. As part of a circular theory. Social Network-Centric Warfare responsibilities for the Navy exist both prior to warfare (cooperative partnerships) and after warfare (reconstitution of commerce and security), also described as the periods of time absent warfare. We observe that Social Network-Centric Warfare relies upon the application of Network-Centric Warfare to regain command of the sea when command is lost.

In a retrospective review of the seven deadly sins put forth by Thomas Barnett, we see them not as the devil’s advocate position he initially portrayed them as, rather as an antipodal point in the circular theory of warfare that the Navy is being asked to execute in strategy. We acknowledge up front that warfighting and peacemaking are not diametrically opposite, however we also observe the methods and/or intentions often are.

Read it in full here.

Primary Source Docs: A High Interest FRUS

Friday, February 22nd, 2008

The Department of State recently released Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume XVIII, China, 1973-1976. This volume covers the critical period of the Nixon Adinisrtion’s watershed “China Opening”. I could have used this about ten years ago but better late than never.

Tanji on Orientalism, HUMINT and the IC Bureaucracy

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Blogfriend Michael Tanji weighs in on my “Orientalism” post with the bureaucratic facts of life:

Don’t misconstrue what HUMINT is about though. This is not the FBI and the goal is not to turn Bob Smith into the Islamic Donnie Brasco; the goal is to become the guy who meets, befriends, and manages the Donnie Brascos. Regardless, as tough as some say it is to get into the mix, clearly it does not take a degree in rocket science to make the grade; mostly it is about a willingness to put up with life in the third world.

….A day in the life of an analyst, functionally speaking, is not unlike that of many other cube-dwelling, research/writer-oriented jobs in the world. For a collector though it is in many ways unparalleled in both hazards as well as drudgery. The hazards are fairly obvious, since intelligence work is more or less illegal everywhere; drudgery because for every 30-minute meeting one has there are hours if not days of preparation necessary to help avoid the hazards. Use a car? Gotta document why and where to. Spend money? Gotta document why and who to and how much. Everything requires documentation, which is standard procedure for a bureaucracy, but extremely inconvenient if you are running around the hinterlands with a bunch of guys who would get more than a little suspicious if you started asking for receipts after every meal.

….Setting aside the very real psychological and physical issues involved in such a strategy, consider the equally real bureaucratic issues. This person(s) have to be recruited (creates a file); hired (admin shuffle and more papers to the file); trained far away from N. VA (more expense, admin and paper); and paid (more admin and paper). Now he’s an employee, he’s got all sorts of fun stuff like equal opportunity and ethnic sensitivity training to take, performance evaluations, etc., etc. The system isn’t designed for people or missions like this, so it’s either develop a series of waivers (more admin and paper) or do things off the books (dangerous and, depending on your point of view, more stuff-of-movies).

(In case you were wondering, the references to ‘admin and paper’ allude to both the level of effort involved, the fact that more and more people would know what was going on, and the fact that such a situation invites leaks.)

Read the rest here.

Superempowered Individuals and 5GW

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Interestingly, William Lind, who previously has dismissed 5GW as a premature concept, has returned to the subject to dismiss it once again in the context of superempowered individuals. In regard to the spree of crazed gunmen shooting up schools, Lind wrote:

Is this war? I don’t think so. Some proponents of “Fifth Generation war,” which they define as actions by “superempowered individuals,” may disagree. But these incidents lack an ingredient I think necessary to war’s definition, namely purpose. In Fourth Generation War, the purpose of warlike acts reaches beyond the state and politics, but actions, including massacres of civilians, are still purposeful. They serve an agenda that reaches beyond individual emotions, an agenda others can and do share and fight for. In contrast, the mental and emotional states that motivate lone gunmen are knowable to them alone.

The whole “Fifth Generation” thesis is faulty, in any case. However small the units that fight wars may become, down to the “superempowered individual,” that shrinkage alone is not enough to mark a new generation.

Generational changes are dialectically qualitative changes, and those are rare. Normally, a dialectically qualitative change only occurs after time has brought many dialectically quantitative changes, such as a downward progression in the size of units that can fight. In effect, quantitative changes have to pool behind a generational dam until they form so vast a reservoir that their combined pressure breaks through in a torrent. I expect it will take at least a century for the Fourth Generation to play itself out. A Fifth Generation will not be in sight, except as a mirage, in our lifetimes.

In my view, Lind is partially correct in the sense that actions of superempowered individuals – of whom the school shooters in question, mundanely “empowered” by small arms, are definitely not examples – might not be representative of 5GW or even warfare of any kind. Several commenters have previously raised the possibility of nonviolent, constructive rather than destructive, SEI’s. I can also see SEI’s acting in concert with the objectives (peaceful or otherwise) of national authorities to whom they are loyal; or the advent of technologically upjumped “superempowered soldiers” fighting as part of a larger 3GW action by a state military.

On the other hand, while there is no consensus regarding the nature of 5GW, which would have to be an emergent phenomenon, I can’t buy Lind’s a priori dismissal and assertion of a century of 4GW needing to play out first. Frankly, that’s a figure pulled out of thin air. Why not fifty years? Or five ? Or five centuries? Why would the length between generations suddenly get longer between 4GW and 5GW than between 2GW and 3GW when conventional militaries, states and societies would be trying to adapt to 4GW right now ? Why wouldn’t 4GW and 5GW simply overlap for an extended period of time the way 2GW, 3GW and 4GW military forces have and continue to do so ?
If so, SEI’s, successfully attacking national, regional or global systems ought to at least make the cut for consideration as a form of 5GW.

Lind is on target though, in his discussion of alienation as a psychological factor motivating both 4GW forces and hostile SEI’s.  Characteristically, Lind favors a sociopolitical-moral explanation:

This is not to say that the lone gunman phenomenon, and its increasing frequency, are wholly unrelated to Fourth Generation war. They have some common origins, I think.

At the core of 4GW lies a crisis of legitimacy of the state. A development that contributes to the state’s crisis of legitimacy is the disintegration of community (Gemeinschaft). Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the powerful, highly intrusive state, community has increasingly been displaced by society (Gesellschaft), where most relationships between people are merely functional.

That progression has now gone so far that never before in human history have so many people lived isolated lives. I sometimes visualize a conversation between a Modern man and a Medieval man, where the proud Modern says, “You poor man! It must have been terrible living without air conditioning, automobiles, washing machines and hot showers.” The Medieval man replies, “You poor man! It must have been terrible living so alone.”

Isolation and the alienation, anomie and rage that proceed from it fuel both lone gunmen and a broad sense of detachment from the state. Why give loyalty to the state if the society if governs offers nothing but alienation? In turn, alternatives to the state, such as gangs, offer alternatives to isolation as well.

Lind’s analysis here is rooted in a philosophical tradition for which Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind provides a concise overview and one that probably does not resonate with everyone reading here. One alternative would involve a clinical psychological perspective but in the end, I agree that profound isolation, alienation and disconnection from a larger social network would likely be a common denominator in destructive SEI’s, much like school shooters and lone wolf terrorists like Ted Kacyznski.

John Robb offered a rebuttal of to Lind at Global Guerillas:

 however I do disagree strongly with Bill’s definition of a superempowered individual. Superempowerment is a much richer and more complex phenomenon than a mere reduction in scale (down to a single attacker). Instead, superempowerment describes the process by which individuals and small groups are using;

  • rapidly improving tools (the doubling rate of Moore’s law applied to technologies accessible to the average individual),
  • connectivity to a global community and its resources (how to use those tools from MIT courseware to Jihadi “how to” sites),
  • and newly accessible forms of economic activity that transcend state control,

to radically improve their productivity in warfare. This is definitely a qualitative change in the conduct of warfare, although it is still early. It will become transformational as the technologies of self-replication begin to reach their full potential.

Insofar as SEI’s could be 5GW warriors, I’m pretty comfortable with John’s exposition on the characteristics of superempowerment ( a separate issue from motivation).  You can’t be “superempowered” without some kind of a platform(s) to leverage, adaptively and creatively, against the very complex system of advanced Western society that is providing you with your tools of destruction and decent grasp of what targets could best maximize your leverage. My comment would be that the scalar effect is greater than it seems – as the actor scale is reducing down toward a single individual even as the potential effect of the actor is scaling upward in orders of magnitude to initiate national, regional or even global system perturbations. This too represents a qualitative change.




Empowered individuals – and super-empowered ones! 

What Should Superempowered Individuals Do?

Night of the Lone Wolves

Super-Empowered Individuals and 5GW: Heads or Tails

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