Thursday, January 07, 2010

Reading :: War and Anti-War

War and Anti-War: Making Sense of Today's Global Chaos
By Alvin and Heidi Toffler

Reading through the network warfare literature some time ago, I was a little startled to see that Alvin and Heidi Toffler wrote the foreword to Arquilla and Ronfeldt's In Athena's Camp and that their own book on war, War and Anti-War, was mentioned. I had heard of their other books, but not this one. But as I subsequently learned, David Ronfeldt was influenced by the Tofflers' work early on. I soon picked up this book and read it over Christmas break - and spotted some familiar themes.

Just as their later book Creating a New Civilization focused on applying Third Wave concepts to politics, this book applied those concepts to warfare. That is, the Tofflers have latched hold on a big idea and have explored various permutations in their later books. In this particular instance, they were inspired to write the book after learning that "a group of American generals were busy reading our 1980 book, The Third Wave" (p.8). They argue that the shift from second- to third-wave civilizations means a shift to a new kind of economy and a new kind of warfare (p.3, 9). Indeed, they say, we get a military revolution only when a new civilization challenges the old and changes occur at every level simultaneously (p.34).

They develop these themes, postulating that "Throughout history, the way men and women make war has reflected the way they work" (p.35). First Wave warfare was about agriculture: annexing more land and labor, or else devastate the agriculture of the enemy (p.38). Second Wave warfare involved standardizing everything - military training, organizational doctrine, weapons, people - and massing for the counterpart of mass production: mass destruction (p.43). But third-wave warfare is about knowledge. That means de-massification, heterogeneity, speed. More specifically, it means activating the entire battlefield instead of sweeping linearly, and it means closely integrating air and ground forces (p.60). Exhibit A is the Gulf War, in which the US used both Second-Wave and Third-Wave actions to defeat a Second-Wave force. For instance, the US used both Second-Wave attrition bombing and Third-Wave pinpoint bombing (smart bombs) (p.76). The US deepened the battlefield in all dimensions: distance, altitude, time (p.78). The emphasis was not on hitting the "front" but on hitting command and communication points, sidelining backups so that they couldn't get to the point of battle, synchronizing the US' combined operations, and establishing total battlefield awareness (p.78). (For a discussion of how the Iraqis learned from this encounter, see John Robb's Brave New War.)

The Tofflers emphasize that Third Wave warfare resembles its work: the workforce and war force change in tandem (p.87). For instance, decision authority gets pushed to lower levels, which in the Gulf War meant field commanders. (See John Arquilla's argument in Worst Enemy that command could be pushed even lower.) But they also expect a radical diversification of kinds of wars (p.95) and niche threats, just as we have niche products (p.104). For instance, they mention terrorists and narco-warlords, against which a country cannot massively retaliate (p.122); spoofing satellite information to make it impossible for Third Wave forces to distinguish between friends and enemies (p.121); and robot wars that automate the battlefield just as they have the factory (p.125), leaving human soldiers as the "varsity squad" of war (p.128). All these scenarios have either come true or are in the works.

Third Wave armies, like Third Wave workers, must emphasize de-learning and re-learning as well as using knowledge to substitute for other resources (p.172). "Spin" or propaganda becomes incredibly important (p.194; see Arquilla's Worst Enemy again, as well as Bullets & Blogs). In particular, they foresee decentralized media (which are realized today in blogs and tweets) and "telecomputers" (which are realized in today's smart phones) could vastly multiply a Rodney King moment (p.199; see Bullets & Blogs for a concrete example).

And like Castells, Drucker, Arquilla & Ronfeldt, and others, the Tofflers caution that the state will not be the only player in Third-Wave security. Althoughe the UN is a club of nation-states, world events will be influenced by non-national players (p.250). The nation-state has lost its monopoly on violence (p.270), so the kinds of conflicts multiply, and military forces must be tailored - and must partner with nonstate actors such as non-governmental organizations (p.271; 291).

Overall, like many of the Tofflers' books, this one concentrates on the grand sweep rather than the details. At points it is quite speculative. But it syncs surprisingly well with the networked warfare literature of the time and of the present. If you've developed an interest in how warfare is practiced, especially beyond nation-states, check this book out.

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