The Networked Enemy; The New Way of War

Everyday people are studying the actions and commands of the forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, trying to understand not only the American forces but also those of the enemy. One such idea that does not seem to be going away is that of the age of information. When used correctly it can be the deciding factor.

John Arquilla, writer at Foreign Policy, took a look into this very issue:

Even the implications of maturing tanks, planes, and the radio waves that linked them were only partially understood by the next generation of military men. Just as their predecessors failed to grasp the lethal nature of firepower, their successors missed the rise of mechanized maneuver — save for the Germans, who figured out that blitzkrieg was possible and won some grand early victories. They would have gone on winning, but for poor high-level strategic choices such as invading Russia and declaring war on the United States. In the end, the Nazis were not so much outfought as gang-tackled.

Nuclear weapons were next to be misunderstood, most monumentally by a U.S. military that initially thought they could be employed like any other weapons. But it turned out they were useful only in deterring their use. Surprisingly, it was cold warrior Ronald Reagan who had the keenest insight into such weapons when he said, “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Which brings us to war in the age of information. The technological breakthroughs of the last two decades — comparable in world-shaking scope to those at the Industrial Revolution’s outset two centuries ago — coincided with a new moment of global political instability after the Cold War. Yet most militaries are entering this era with the familiar pattern of belief that new technological tools will simply reinforce existing practices.

In the U.S. case, senior officials remain convinced that their strategy of “shock and awe” and the Powell doctrine of “overwhelming force” have only been enhanced by the addition of greater numbers of smart weapons, remotely controlled aircraft, and near-instant global communications. Perhaps the most prominent cheerleader for “shock and awe” has been National Security Advisor James Jones, the general whose circle of senior aides has included those who came up with the concept in the 1990s. Their basic idea: “The bigger the hammer, the better the outcome.”

Nothing could be further from the truth, as the results in Iraq and Afghanistan so painfully demonstrate. Indeed, a decade and a half after my colleague David Ronfeldt and I coined the term “netwar” to describe the world’s emerging form of network-based conflict, the United States is still behind the curve. The evidence of the last 10 years shows clearly that massive applications of force have done little more than kill the innocent and enrage their survivors. Networked organizations like al Qaeda have proven how easy it is to dodge such heavy punches and persist to land sharp counterblows.

While it is a good article, the one thing it does not address is the ability for a force as large and complex as that of the United States to utilize the ability to use the network-based communication idea and apply it against the enemy.

That is the one advantage the Taliban and Al-Qaeda have over the American forces. They are smaller and network, or communicate, better between each other while American forces are left to wait for information to filter down through its complex command structure. The current age of technology has been proven as an avenue to dispense information. Social media sites have taken over as an informal way to share information, and it is only a matter of time for a more secure means to surface.

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