"Please treat [Brave New War] as a buffet table and not a five-course meal. Take what you want of my vision of the future and discard the rest with alacrity." - John Robb, preface to Brave New War.
Brave New War is the book that has evolved out of John Robb's blog, Global Guerrillas.First, I'll go over a brief rundown of what I think Global Guerrillas are. Then, it being July 4th, I'll relate it to American democracy, specifically Madisonian conceptions of democracy. Then I'll look at where Global Guerrillas theory can go from here.
1. Brief overview of Global Guerrilla theory, as I understand it
Global Guerrillas describes a new tactical system in which miniature "armies" based around non-state entities are able to use modern technology to attack states, major corporations, and other symbols of the modern world.
Essentially, Global Guerrillas have taken advantage of the same technology that enabled programs like Assault Breaker, Follow On Forces Attack, and Network Centric Warfare and reapplied it to their own social organization. This technology means that it is easy to break things (states, societies, etc.) and difficult to put them back together. The way I see it, Global Guerrillas combine Effects Based Operations with Mao's old idea of insurgency into a kind of insurgency 2.0 (similar to Web 2.0 in that it is more collaborative than hierarchical). The ease with which new Global Guerrilla organizations arise (low barriers to entry in the Bazaar of Violence) leads to a dynamic called open source warfare.
Robb doesn't go into the motivations of Global Guerrilla armies - nor should he. He's been criticized for not delving into the motivations of these new actors. But, as Soob and Shloky get at, as Global Guerrillas are an organizational framework and a theory about war, not an attempt to explain the motivations of individuals. The motivations of Hitler are not crucial to understanding the development of blitzkrieg.
The predicted rise of Global Guerrillas has strategic implications for the United States. While Global Guerrillas are tactical organizations, the communications environment that helps create them means that tactical operations have strategic consequences (the concept of Strategic Compression). On top of that idea, radically new tactics have always required new strategies - if a new tactic renders the forces you've bought obsolete, you need to buy entirely new forces. Future American strategy is the last couple chapters of Robb's book. Robb compares caricatures of two possible futures - that of a knee-jerk police state and a future with dynamic decentralized resilience. I'll give away the ending - a knee-jerk police state is unable to deal with Global Guerrillas.
2. Global Guerrilla theory and its relationship to Madisonian democracy1
In the time since America has been a Great Power, we have rarely been satisfied with our organizations tasked with national security. In times of crisis we've tried to give our national security organizations more power, and in times of relative calm we've tried to rein them back in. There's a long list of distinguished books that argue for or against various reorganizations – for me, the historiography begins with Ideas and Weapons, by I. B. Holley, about the U.S. security establishment's failure to organize effectively to incorporate airplanes.
There's a progression of centralization of power that starts with the National Security Act of 1947 and continues with the reorganization in 1958, Goldwater Nichols in 1986, the creation of a DHS and DNI, and the proposed “Goldwater-Nichols II.” There has been pushback. Recently, Andrew Bacevich proposed the elimination of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. From different perspectives, others (the Church Committee, Cato, other libertarians who are generally seen as crackpots) have argued against centralization of power based on the danger such power can pose to democracy. However those who push back have been swimming against the tide.
That, as much as the terrorism/insurgency context, is the context in which I put John Robb's Brave New War.
Robb argues that in this new era of globalization, the large centralized bureaucracies with anticipatory functions (the same ones that pose dangers to our liberty) will be unable to react to unforeseeable events that disrupt the infrastructure we depend on, whether those events are attacks like 9/11 or natural disasters like Katrina. Instead, he advocates for dynamic decentralized resilience, placing the responsibility for security on small-scale resilient communities connected through open-source networks and platforms, and, crucially, depriving these large-scale organizations of reasons to exist. This model, on the extreme "coordination" end of the spectrum between coordination and centralization, empowers a Madison conception of democracy.
In both Madisonian democracy and in Robb's resilient communities, power is distributed not between the branches of federal government, but is largely devolved to local governments and shared with state and federal agencies. The weakness of this type of organization historically is that it would take forever to get anything done, and in wartime, as Madison himself found out during the War of 1812, centralization can be necessary. For the first time since this country's founding, if John Robb is right, advocates of Madisonian democracy will have an answer to Hamiltonians who have argued that centralizing power in an executive provides for greater security (from outside threats) for the people.
This is not the context in which Robb conceived of his book – I am clearly hijacking Robb's ideas for my own purposes. However I think it fits. The devolution of strategic power2 that Robb believes was necessarily preceded by the devolution of economic power may lead to the devolution of legal power as well, by stripping authority away from an ineffective and clumsy federal government.
3. The ultimate impact of this book
I hope/think that this book will spawn qualitative and quantitative research. Narratively, Global Guerrillas theory makes sense, but to be accepted as a Theory with a capital T, quantitative research needs to confirm GG's various hypotheses. Contrary to Tdaxp, there are crucial elements of Robb's theory that are falsifiable. Here are a few off the top of my head:
- You could look at the start-up costs of creating new insurgent groups (similar to evaluating start-up costs for various companies) to test the “open source” hypothesis.
- You could look at funding sources to see if Global Guerrilla armies really are entirely self-sufficient, or whether successful ones are merely proxies for other states.
- You could look at whether levels of state failure rise perceptibly after attacks on so-called "systempunkts" (one possible example of a systempunkt is the Samarra mosque bombing in 2006).
- You could evaluate various non-state centered conflicts to determine the number of different groups fighting - an increasing number would confirm Robb's hypothesis on open source warfare.
Ultimately Brave New War is a easily accessible and coherent narrative of the future that Robb sees for conflict. It is a large cluster of hypotheses that hopefully will prove fertile ground for research. It leaves you wanting more, and hopefully we will soon get it. Robb has mentioned he's in the early stages of a second book “on superempowered individuals and their ability to change things for the better.” I'm looking forward to it.
For other reviews of Brave New War, see Robb's website, Global Guerrillas, or Soob's rundown. Robb also has a second, less formal blog you can read.
1. This section draws upon a hopefully-soon-to-be-published paper in Defense Horizons - I'll post a link to it when it is published. If people want more information, leave a comment or drop me an email.
2. Robb writes on page 8 that "this threshhold will finally reach its culmination – with the ability of one man to declare war on the world and win.”