John Robb's long anticipated book is finally out, and I have to say that I think it's an important contribution to anyone trying to make sense of today's evolving security challenges. It's a rather brilliant synthesis of Fourth Generation Warfare, net war, swarming and global insurgency. For those of you who not routinely read the Global Guerillas blog, Robb is a former counter-terrorism officer with the U.S. Air Force, and is now based out of Boston as a consultant. His blog has been highly regarded by forward thinking analysts as evidenced in the warm foreword written by the prescient James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly. For those who are familiar with Robb's main themes Brave New War offers a book length treatment of the problem and a number of recommendations for dealing with today's religiously inspired, globally networked urban terrorists.
The author's major projection in Brave New War is a world facing a "global bazaar of violence" as terrorists and would be insurgents around the world learn from and adopt the tactics, techniques and procedures of success in Iraq. The concept of a bazaar is part of Robb's conception of future terrorism and irregular war. In this interconnection bazaar individuals are continually trading techniques, sharing past experiences or recipes, adopting original ideas from one group and merging them with plans or weapons from another era or another theater. In the marketplace of the global guerrilla, there is a lot of trading and few copyright laws being enforced. Rapid adaptation by the community and mimicking is not only condoned, it is often encouraged. In some ways, Robb's conception is very similar to the Wikipedia encyclopedia.
The fast growing informal encyclopedia operates like a large cooperative with many contributions and improvements from a community of interest, which self-polices itself but constantly improves the product. In conflicts around the globe, Robb sees these same phenomena occurring regularly which he calls Open Source Warfare. In the computer development world in business, open source (sometimes called open architecture) is a means of both designing and building systems using common or free software and components that are not copyrighted or tightly controlled. Instead, anyone can use the code and system pieces to create and constantly adapt new programs or capabilities. For Robb, Open Source Warfare is available for any actor interested in adopting, adapting, and improving on new tactics and techniques, globally and in real time. Obviously the World Wide Web and other collaborative tools are facilitating Open Source Warfare or what might become known as Wikiwar. Maybe Tom Friedman is right, and that collaborative tools will create a truly flat world. I just suspect, as in most of the New York Times journalists latest work, is that the dark side of collaboration is going to become more and more of a problem for us.
As evidenced by 9/11 and in Iraq part of the kit bag of today's global insurgent is the deliberate targeting of critical infrastructure or systems to inflict incremental damage and cumulative economic costs on a government. Robb calls this approach systems disruption, as the global guerrillas' fundamental strategy for bringing nation states to their knees. Our increasingly interconnected society and our vulnerable tightly coupled networks afford any terrorist many relatively easy targets. Today's guerrilla is becoming adept at identifying the key nodes in these systems, and generating large cascading effects. But the global guerrilla tries to operate beneath the threshold of a punative or overwhelming governmental response. Partial disruptions, as opposed to catastrophic destruction, maximizes the long term economic attrition against the state, paralyzes the government and undercuts it legitimacy.
For devoted readers of Robb's popular Global Guerrilla blog, this text will serve as an integrated summation and extension of his key themes. For new readers, Brave New War offers a tightly organized and concisely packaged course in modern irregular warfare. Rather than looking backward and trying to graft old models to new times, the author has intelligently recognized what today's thinking enemy has harnessed from our own technology. Robb deftly synthesizes a number of concepts drawn from the old Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) literature with the fresh insights of John Arguilla, David Ronfeldt, and Colonel Thomas Hammes. Robb offers a great list of recommended readings, to which I would add Professor Bruce Hoffman's updated Inside Terrorism and any of Ralph Peters' insightful anthologies (Beyond Baghdad, Beyond Terror, and Never Quit the Fight). Rupert Smith's The Utility of Force is also a necessary addition. These authors would add depth to the human motivations underlying the actions and behaviors Robb captures so succinctly. The latter's grasp of the dueling narratives of competing commander's and the literal "theater" of operations nicely complements Robb's systems disruption. The importance of the imagery of acts of violence today cannot be separated from the acts themselves.
Iraq and Afghanistan have showed how effective our enemies are at learning. They've ruthless proven to be cunning and opportunistic in every dimension of the fight, and they are completely —to share their ideas and success in real time. On the other hand, we are still catching up, even as they constantly exploit Open Source Warfare's long menu of lessons learned. There are still folks in the Pentagon who think that transformation, RMA's and Shock and Awe are still relevant and deserving of additional funding. State on state warfare may not be entirely a thing of the past, but Open Source Warfare and deliberate partial systemic disruption is as well. Without reservation Brave New War is for professional students of irregular warfare and for any citizen who wants to understand emerging trends and the dark potential of 4GW.
Frank Hoffman is a retired Marine and Washington-based national security consultant.