What is The “First Tool of 21st Century Warfare” and What Can We Do About It?

What is The “First Tool of 21st Century Warfare” and What Can We Do About It? by Charlie Dunlap - Lawfire

In recent years there has been much discussion about the “weaponization” of social media.  This past week my friend, retired Special Forces colonel Dave Maxwell (who is now a Georgetown University professor), has weighed-in on this phenomena with several incisive observations. Most importantly, he offers something of a challenge to today’s youth as to what to do about it.

A little background: last week an article in Defense One (“Social Media is ‘First Tool’ of 21st-Century Warfare, US Lawmaker”) quotes Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va) as quipping  that while America may have “the best 20th-century military that money can buy,” we are “increasingly in a world where cyber vulnerability, misinformation and disinformation may be the tools of conflict.”  Warner adds that “What we may have seen are the first tools of 21st-century disinformation.”…

So what are Professor/Colonel Maxwell’s ideas about how to deal with this challenge, particularly in the security realm?  He begins by cautioning that that social media “is just a tool” that can only be understood in the context of the “strategy that exploits it.”  The task then becomes exposing and countering that strategy.  He explains:

The open societies of the US and free and democratic nations are being subverted by active measures and propaganda to undermine political processes and sow cultural and political divisions to allow the closed societies of revisionist and revolutionary powers to dominate in international affairs.  

The way to counter this effort is through a grass roots resistance movement that consists of an educated, activist, energetic, and empowered youth who seek to be part of something larger than themselves and validate their self-worth as disruptors of the status quo.  

However, the closed societies are challenging their ability to disrupt because active measures and propaganda have taken away their initiative.  A new grass roots movement, a cyber-underground, organized around special operations principles could create a nationwide and global network that will seek out, identify, understand, and expose active measures and propaganda from closed societies in order to protect free and open societies…

Read on.

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I believe that it is exceptionally important to address here, re: the first quoted paragraph from Kennan's "Long Telegram" that I provide below, that Kennan -- in noting that "much depends on health and vigor of our own society" -- that what Kennan appears to be talking about here is that we must use "every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society" and to, otherwise, promptly and adequately deal with the "deficiencies of our own society."

Thus, while COL Maxwell's approach might help to prevent Moscow, et al., from (for example, via social media) aggravating and exploiting these such "internal problems of our own society"/these such "deficiencies of our own society," this such approach would not seem to do what Kennan actually wants done; which is, again,

a. To "fix" these problems and these deficiencies; this,

b. So that our enemies cannot -- by whatever means -- so easily and so effectively exploit same.

Thus, is it not this (the internal problems of our own society/the deficiencies of our own society) that Kennan is talking about when he says "much depends on the health and vigor of our own society?"

If this indeed is the case, then might not COL Maxwell's suggested dynamic force -- "of an educated, activist, energetic, and empowered youth who seek to be part of something larger than themselves and validate their self-worth" -- in addition to:

a. Being employed "defensively"/"reactively" -- to "seek out, identify, understand, and expose active measures and propaganda from closed societies in order to protect free and open societies" -- also, and as importantly,

b. Be employed "offensively"/"proactively;" this, to help "fix" the "internal problems/the deficiencies of our own society"?

(Thus, rendering whatever subversive means and measures that our enemy might seek to use against us -- for example social media -- less-capable/less-effective/useless?)

Or are Kennan's thoughts here, re: "getting our own house in order first"/"fixing the deficiencies within our own society," are these such thoughts rather idealistic and, in fact, rather ridiculous and irrational; this, given that the people of the United States/the West, if offered a choice between:

a. Fixing these internal deficiencies (and, thereby, maintaining our way of life, our way of governance, our values, etc. [and, thus, our security?]) and

b. Not fixing same (and, thereby, becoming exceptionally vulnerable to "foreign" ways of life, "foreign" ways of governance, other "foreign" influences, etc. [and, thus, massive insecurity?])

Will -- quite willingly -- choose the latter?

This such understanding allowing us to see that while Kennan's suggested approach makes the most sense from a security point of view, only COL Maxwell's approach makes sense from a practical standpoint; this, given the U.S. [and the West in general?], today, appears to value, shall we say, parochialism over security?

From the end -- the very last part -- of George Kennan's "Long Telegram." Note here the guidance -- which might well be applied to such things as "subversion" -- and the best way to effectively "counter" same:

a. Get one's own house in order first.

b. Effectively "sell" one's own way of life, one's own way of governance, one's own values, etc. And, finally,

c. Do not allow ourselves to become like our enemies.

BEGIN QUOTE

(3) Much depends on health and vigor of our own society. World communism (today: world authoritarianism?) is like malignant parasite which feeds only on diseased tissue. This is point at which domestic and foreign policies meets. Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow worth a thousand diplomatic notes and joint communiqués. If we cannot abandon fatalism and indifference in face of deficiencies of our own society, Moscow will profit -- Moscow cannot help profiting by them in its foreign policies.

(4) We must formulate and put forward for other nations a much more positive and constructive picture of sort of world we would like to see than we have put forward in past. It is not enough to urge people to develop political processes similar to our own. Many foreign peoples, in Europe at least, are tired and frightened by experiences of past, and are less interested in abstract freedom than in security. They are seeking guidance rather than responsibilities. We should be better able than Russians to give them this. And unless we do, Russians certainly will.

(5) Finally we must have courage and self-confidence to cling to our own methods and conceptions of human society. After Al, the greatest danger that can befall us in coping with this problem of Soviet communism (now: world authoritarianism?), is that we shall allow ourselves to become like those with whom we are coping.

END QUOTE

(Words in parenthesis above are mine.)

http://nsarchive2.gwu.edu//coldwar/documents/episode-1/kennan.htm

Thus, if "The First Tool of 21st Century Warfare" is, shall we say, "subversion" (in whatever old, new, novel, etc., form[s] this may take), then is not the first order of business -- again today -- to (a) get our own house in order first, to (b) adequately "sell" our own way of life, our own way of governance, etc., and to (c) not allow ourselves to either (1) condone or (2) become like our (today more-authoritarian?) enemies?

(Nearly ALL of the above being thoroughly disregarded/blatantly disobeyed by President Trump today; thereby, "opening up" the U.S./the West -- as never before -- to enemy subversive activity and success?)

If this indeed is the case (re: countering our enemies' subversive activities and approaches, we need to follow George Kennan's thoughts above; this, rather than President Trump's often seen as diametrically opposed such thoughts?), then might not COL Maxwell's "grass roots movement, consisting of educated, activist, energetic and empowered youth -- who seek to be part of something larger than themselves and validate their self-worth" -- might not this such dynamic force best be employed in the manner suggested by George Kennan? [In this regard, see (a) - (c) in the paragraph above.]

Or, indeed, might not this dynamic force, which COL Maxwell describes above, be employed to help achieve BOTH COL Maxwell's ("seek out, identify, understand, and expose active measures and propaganda from closed societies in order to protect free and open societies") AND George Kennan's requirements; these, re: (a) the general problem of subversion and (b) the general necessity to effectively counter same?

Focusing on technological capabilities is a proven necessity in the global war on terror and in the mainland battle for Iraq.
However, we still do not fully accept the dimension of the threat that is both internal and external nd issues that are relevant when discussing war crimes and crimes against humanity and how they are explained by Marxist/Islamists or analysts like Kilcullen who focus on environmental issues and the effects carbon emissions might have on the littoral regions of the world.
But the real problem might be even more pressing than we believe. In the littoral mega cities are already disintegrating and beyond the control of the Government, San Pedro Sulu and Kingston two examples of drug gangs becoming the governments ruled by drug "Dons".
Kilculen's analysis suffers from a few omissions whether it is the genuine threat Islamist's and Marxists can pose for no other reason than ideological belief systems. But more at risk is whether or not Chicago, and other cities with dramatically high murder rates are already disintegrating beyond the USG's control?
In southern nations drug gangs run the sports venues gangs have their own teams and I can not help but feel this NFL Sunday that players taking a knee and thumbing their noses at the police the tax payers pay to protect them and their stadiums, are not exhibiting the same sort of influence. An activist ideological version of third party politics and counter culture.
Social media is just a tool? I think in some instances too many really it is more than a tool it is a symptom and a means of something more sinister.