The NYT's David Brooks talks about a new book that outlines why nation states are at a structural disadvantage when fighting the insurgencies of today.
Some excerpts: (TimesSelect)
Over the past few years, John Robb has been dissecting the behavior of these groups on his blog, Global Guerrillas. Robb is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and Yale University, and he has worked both as a special ops counterterrorism officer and as a successful software executive.
In other words, he’s had personal experience both with modern warfare and the sort of information management that is the key to winning it. He’s collected his thoughts in a fast, thought-sparking book, “Brave New War” that, astonishingly, has received only one print review — distributed by U.P.I. — in the month since it’s been published.
Robb observes that today’s extremist organizations are not like the P.L.O. under Yasir Arafat. They’re not liberation armies. Instead, modern terror groups are open-source, decentralized conglomerations of small, quasi-independent groups.
There are between 70 and 100 groups that make up the Iraqi insurgency, and they are organized, Robb says, like a bazaar. It’s pointless to decapitate the head of the insurgency or disrupt its command structure, because the insurgency doesn’t have these things. Instead, it is a swarm of disparate companies that share information, learn from each other’s experiments and respond quickly to environmental signals.
For example, the U.S. has spent billions trying to disrupt attacks from improvised explosive devices, but the I.E.D. manufacturing stream has transmogrified and now includes sophisticated metallurgy, outsourcing and fast innovation cycles. The number of I.E.D. attacks has remained pretty constant throughout the war. …
Robb is pessimistic (excessively so) that top-heavy, pork-driven institutions like the Defense Department or the Department of Homeland Security can ever keep up with open-source insurgencies. Since 9/11, he believes, big government institutions have engaged in a process of hindsight re-engineering designed to reduce future risk, when in fact, the very nature of the threat is that it’s random and cannot be anticipated. …
… Nation-states are inefficient learning organizations, at least compared to their feudal and postnational foes. If the Iraqi insurgents defeat the U.S. then every bad guy on earth will study and learn their techniques. The people now running for president will find themselves in bigger heaps of trouble than the current one now is — trouble that this presidential campaign hasn’t even dealt with.