Total war is a war in which a belligerent engages in the complete mobilization of all their available resources and population.
In the mid-19th Century, “total war” was identified by scholars as a separate class of warfare. In a total war, there is less differentiation between combatants and civilians than in other conflicts, and sometimes no such differentiation at all, as nearly every human resource, civilians and soldiers alike, can be considered to be part of the belligerent effort. -General Ludendorff, Clausewitz, General Lemay
Netwar is a term developed by RAND researchers John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt to describe an emergent form of low intensity conflict, crime, and activism waged by social networked actors. Typical netwar actors might include transnational terrorists, criminal organizations, activist groups, and social movements that employ decentralized, flexible network structures.-wikipedia
Very cool and this was by far the most interesting article I have read about netwar or networks in this current war. Bravo to General McChrystal for writing this and sharing. It is food for thought, and I highly recommend reading this thing.
Probably what really jumped out at me after reading this, is that mimicry strategy is what McChrystal is talking about here. Funny how this pattern continues to repeat itself in war fighting. It also really complements what John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt talked about with Netwar. But most importantly, McChrystal and the authors of this concept both agreed that the best way to defeat a network, is with a network.
Now this is where I want to add my little angle to the whole concept. I personally think that the US military is not nimble enough or organized properly to act like a network. Even these leaders and strategists mentioned have agreed on that point. Sure, maybe some of the special forces units within the military might be able to accomplish this, but will there be enough SF teams to keep up with all the cartels, pirates, terrorists, and cyber-hackers?
What about the police, both federal and state? With transnational terrorists, criminal organizations etc., are there enough law enforcement to keep up with the deluge? In both the military and police examples, I do not think that they can match the size, spread and scope of today’s miscreants. An example is the drug war against the cartels. It is overwhelming the Mexican government, and the US is not doing that great of a job either, despite all the efforts of law enforcement.
In the war against these folks like Al Qaeda, pirates or the cartels, I have doubts that there are enough military, police or intelligence assets to keep up with the formation of all of these networks. And the simple fact that Osama Bin Laden is still free to move around in this big world of ours, indicates to me a problem. When trying to locate a needle in the haystack, the more folks you have participating in that process, the higher the chance of finding the thing or person you are looking for. Many hands make light work, so to speak.
So what is missing is scalability of the current netwar that governments are waging against these viruses of society. What I propose is that what is missing is an equally decentralized and flexible network that can compete with the growth of these non-state actors and their enterprises. What I think is missing in this war, is a licensed and regulated market that profits from our enemy’s destruction. One created to promote netwar (or whatever works). That last part is crucial.
I have talked about the concept of the Letter of Marque and Reprisal in the past, and of how important privateers were to early America. I have also highlighted what makes the drug cartels or modern day pirate industries so strong–and that is the drive of monetary gain or profit. With terrorists, their profit is a different currency that is spiritually based. A suicide bomber profits from their act, because they are told and belive that they have secured a better life in heaven (or whatever place they go). Everyone does what they do, because of personal gain. It could be monetary gain, spiritual gain, political gain, etc. The point being is that this gain or profit, is what fuels their enterprise. In order to defeat that enterprise, you need an enterprise that is equal in size and scope and vitality.
I believe that a purely government venture is a half measure. The full measure of war against these non-state actors, is to include private industry in the process of destroying these folks. Today’s private industry is not used in this way, and the resistance against such a thing indicates the ego and naivety of today’s war planners and law enforcement leaders. No one likes to admit that they are overwhelmed and they certainly do not want to compete with private industry.
It’s kind of like how the Postal Service viewed companies like Fedex or UPS in the beginning. But of course the government postal system and private industry are still in existence today, and they co-exist just fine. If anything, they learn from each other and the competition drives innovation in each group. If you go into a Post Office today, they look and feel like a Fedex or UPS store, and their prices and even customer service are comparable.
Now to apply this example to the war effort, imagine a company like Dyncorp capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden? I mean after Gary Faulkner did his thing in Pakistan, all types of feathers were ruffled, and everyone in government, military and the media were all balking at the idea of an individual without any government guidance going after OBL? Talk about ego…. I think most Americans, and most of the world wouldn’t care who nabbed this guy or how it was done–just that he was captured or killed–end of story.
And this is the point I am trying to convey. I think a private company or individual could be quite effective in this war, if given the license and legal authority to do so by their government. But what is most important to this relationship between private industry and government, is that once given the approval, a company can organize, hire the talented people, find the most suitable ideas for the task, purchase the best equipment and weapons, and create a winning strategy to gain profit. That is a very powerful concept. Those companies that are not innovative or are hard working, will not succeed. But those companies that get it, and have the flexibility needed to do what they got to do, will be rewarded by profit, and that profit will drive that engine of innovation for the fight.
Not only that, but once successful companies come onto the scene–whether small or large, then others will copy what they are doing. Pure mimicry strategy, but at the business/war fighting level. You see the same pattern with today’s pirates, cartels, and terrorists. They too use mimicry strategy, and copy the models of operation that give them the most profit and reward. Money or spiritual reward is what fuels the engines of these industries, and as a result, they are unstoppable. Piracy and the drug trade are prime examples, and following the rules of mimicry strategy, it would take an industry to stop these industries. Or at least keep up, because in the end, not only do you want to copy what they are doing, but add one or two things to the model of operation that gives you the edge.
Now for those that are reading this and saying, ‘what happens if these privateer companies, turn into pirates’? Funny, that is exactly the argument that the US government used after they wanted to get rid of the privateer concept and develop a fully functional navy. The war planners used all sorts of excuses to get rid of the competition of private industry.
Of course there were privateers back then that went on to be pirates, but to me, this very small percentage of possible outcomes of this industry, are far outweighed by the positives of using private industry in this way. I would also suggest that out of the thousands of security contractors that have cycled in and out of today’s security contracting industry, that a few might have gone on to commit crimes back home and abroad–but that is the 1 percent of 1 percent. To me, I have yet to see this ‘privateer to pirate’ phenomenon that folks continue to use as an argument against private security.
Most have served honorably, and most do not sell their services to criminal organizations. Of course there are few, and of course there are also corrupt cops or unethical and immoral military folks that do crimes as well. Criminal acts and bad behavior are things that happen in all organizations. And even during the Revolutionary War, most privateers went back home to be fishermen or work in shipping. Piracy was a crime that attracted criminals, pure and simple, and to classify all privateers as criminal because of the acts of a few, is dumb.
So going back to the Letter of Marque and Reprisal, which happens to be a law that the US congress has the right to use, would be just one way of licensing and regulating this private industry designed to destroy our enemies. If that is too unsettling to the powers that be, then modify the ITAR and issue license that way. I would also require companies to be bonded, and I would reopen Prize Courts so that asset seizures could be another way that companies could profit from the destruction of our enemies.
Another argument that I continue to hear against the concept, is that the Hague forbids privateering and the issuing of Letters of Marque and Reprisal. In my view, it is not the Hague that stops us from doing this–it is a lack of political will and courage to toss out old and outdated treaties and do what is most important. That is to win the war that is of national interest, and of the interest of the people. If winning wars is the priority, and the current war has a virus in the form of networks, then in order to compete with such networks will require an equal amount of networks–plus whatever innovation/edge.
Finally, there is another point I wanted to make, and that is today’s ‘Defense Industry’ profits off of creating weapons and equipment for the war effort, or providing defensive or logistics services in the war zones. In terms of war fighting, all companies benefit from the war continuing, and there is not a market mechanism in place to put a stop to that process. Winning a war stops that process though.
To me, what makes better sense is to create an ‘Offense Industry’, which is purely focused on destroying the enemy as quickly and as efficiently as possible, and essentially working itself out of a job. I compare it to the commercial hunting of the Buffalo in the wild west–when there was no more buffalo left (or enemy), the hunters worked themselves out of a job. What fuels a ‘Defense Industry’ is war, and what fuels an ‘Offense Industry’ is the destruction of an enemy. Or at least that is the goal when you create, regulate and license an ‘Offense Industry’.
Also, it should be the goal of politicians and war planners to win the war as quickly as possible, once a war has been deemed necessary to fight. As time drags on, the enemy will learn how to compete against you, because they too have learning organizations and continuous improvement as part of their plan. To me, if winning a war is a priority, then it should also be a priority to send everything you got at the problem to finish it as soon as possible.
The current war is coming up on the ten year point, and I have yet to see Osama Bin Laden’s head on a pike. Nor have I seen any ‘Closing Business’ signs in front of cartel businesses in Latin America. Nor have I seen today’s pirates whimpering back to their countries because piracy sucks. And we are definitely not seeing today’s lone wolf hackers or state sponsored cyber criminals receiving any threats that would give them pause. Total war (and netwar) require the strategic use of all available manpower of a nation, and/or world effort, and that requires both a vibrant Defense Industry and a well regulated and licensed Offense Industry among the fielded armies in this endeavor. Or we can continue to depend upon the few and the overwhelmed to win these wars. –Matt
It Takes a Network
The new frontline of modern warfare.
BY STANLEY A. MCCHRYSTAL
From the outset of my command in Afghanistan, two or three times each week, accompanied by a few aides and often my Afghan counterparts, I would leave the International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul and travel across Afghanistan — from critical cities like Kandahar to the most remote outposts in violent border regions. Ideally, we left early, traveling light and small, normally using a combination of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, to meet with Afghans and their leaders and to connect with our troops on the ground: Brits and Marines rolling back the enemy in Helmand, Afghan National Army troops training in Mazar-e-Sharif, French Foreign Legionnaires patrolling in Kapisa.
But I was not alone: There were other combatants circling the battlefield. Mirroring our movements, competing with us, were insurgent leaders. Connected to, and often directly dispatched by, the Taliban’s leadership in Pakistan, they moved through the same areas of Afghanistan. They made shows of public support for Taliban shadow governors, motivated tattered ranks, recruited new troops, distributed funds, reviewed tactics, and updated strategy. And when the sky above became too thick with our drones, their leaders used cell phones and the Internet to issue orders and rally their fighters. They aimed to keep dispersed insurgent cells motivated, strategically wired, and continually informed, all without a rigid — or targetable — chain of command.
While a deeply flawed insurgent force in many ways, the Taliban is a uniquely 21st-century threat. Enjoying the traditional insurgent advantage of living amid a population closely tied to them by history and culture, they also leverage sophisticated technology that connects remote valleys and severe mountains instantaneously — and allows them to project their message worldwide, unhindered by time or filters. They are both deeply embedded in Afghanistan’s complex society and impressively agile. And just like their allies in al Qaeda, this new Taliban is more network than army, more a community of interest than a corporate structure.
For the U.S. military that I spent my life in, this was not an easy insight to come by. It was only over the course of years, and with considerable frustrations, that we came to understand how the emerging networks of Islamist insurgents and terrorists are fundamentally different from any enemy the United States has previously known or faced.
In bitter, bloody fights in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it became clear to me and to many others that to defeat a networked enemy we had to become a network ourselves. We had to figure out a way to retain our traditional capabilities of professionalism, technology, and, when needed, overwhelming force, while achieving levels of knowledge, speed, precision, and unity of effort that only a network could provide. We needed to orchestrate a nuanced, population-centric campaign that comprised the ability to almost instantaneously swing a devastating hammer blow against an infiltrating insurgent force or wield a deft scalpel to capture or kill an enemy leader.
WHEN I FIRST WENT TO IRAQ in October 2003 to command a U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force (JSOTF) that had been tailored down to a relatively small size in the months following the initial invasion, we found a growing threat from multiple sources — but particularly from al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). We began a review of our enemy, and of ourselves. Neither was easy to understand.
Like all too many military forces in history, we initially saw our enemy as we viewed ourselves. In a small base outside Baghdad, we started to diagram AQI on white dry-erase boards. Composed largely of foreign mujahideen and with an overall allegiance to Osama bin Laden but controlled inside Iraq by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, AQI was responsible for an extremely violent campaign of attacks on coalition forces, the Iraqi government, and Iraqi Shiites. Its stated aim was to splinter the new Iraq and ultimately establish an Islamic caliphate. By habit, we started mapping the organization in a traditional military structure, with tiers and rows. At the top was Zarqawi, below him a cascade of lieutenants and foot soldiers.
But the closer we looked, the more the model didn’t hold. Al Qaeda in Iraq’s lieutenants did not wait for memos from their superiors, much less orders from bin Laden. Decisions were not centralized, but were made quickly and communicated laterally across the organization. Zarqawi’s fighters were adapted to the areas they haunted, like Fallujah and Qaim in Iraq’s western Anbar province, and yet through modern technology were closely linked to the rest of the province and country. Money, propaganda, and information flowed at alarming rates, allowing for powerful, nimble coordination. We would watch their tactics change (from rocket attacks to suicide bombings, for example) nearly simultaneously in disparate cities. It was a deadly choreography achieved with a constantly changing, often unrecognizable structure.
Over time, it became increasingly clear — often from intercepted communications or the accounts of insurgents we had captured — that our enemy was a constellation of fighters organized not by rank but on the basis of relationships and acquaintances, reputation and fame. Who became radicalized in the prisons of Egypt? Who trained together in the pre-9/11 camps in Afghanistan? Who is married to whose sister? Who is making a name for himself, and in doing so burnishing the al Qaeda brand?
All this allowed for flexibility and an impressive ability to grow and to sustain losses. The enemy does not convene promotion boards; the network is self-forming. We would watch a young Iraqi set up in a neighborhood and rise swiftly in importance: After achieving some tactical success, he would market himself, make connections, gain followers, and suddenly a new node of the network would be created and absorbed. The network’s energy grew.
In warfare, you make decisions based on indicators. When facing the enemy, you estimate its tactical strength and intuit its planned strategy. This is much simpler when the enemy is a column advancing toward you in plain sight. Our problem in both the Iraq of 2003 and the Afghanistan of today is that indicators popped up everywhere, unevenly and unexpectedly, and often disappeared as quickly as they emerged, flickering in view for only a moment.
We realized we had to have the rapid ability to detect nuanced changes, whether the emergence of new personalities and alliances or sudden changes in tactics. And we had to process that new information in real time — so we could act on it. A stream of hot cinders was falling everywhere around us, and we had to see them, catch those we could, and react instantly to those we had missed that were starting to set the ground on fire.
SHORTLY AFTER TAKING COMMAND of the JSOTF, I visited one of our teams in Mosul, the largest city in northern Iraq, which was at that time under the able command of then-Maj. Gen. David Petraeus and the troops of the 101st Airborne Division. Although Mosul was still less violent than some other areas of the country, it was clear that al Qaeda was organizing to aggressively contest control of the city — and, from there, all of northern Iraq.
Our special operations force there was small: about 15 men, supported by a single intelligence analyst. They were set up in a corner of a larger base, operating quietly from a modest white trailer. Although they coordinated with the military forces and civilian (particularly intelligence) agencies on the base, operational security procedures and cultural habits limited the true synergy of their effort against AQI and the fight for the city that lay outside the base’s gates.
Moreover, the few antennas that adorned the trailer’s roof were unable to pump enough classified information between them and our task force headquarters (or other teams in Iraq) with any timeliness. It wasn’t a marooned outpost, thanks to the remarkable team that manned the effort. But it felt like one.
That night, on the plane back to Baghdad, I drew an hourglass on a yellow legal pad. The top half of the hourglass represented the team in Mosul; the other represented our task force HQ. They met at just one narrow point. At the top, our team in Mosul was accumulating knowledge and experience, yet lacked both the bandwidth and intelligence manpower to transmit, receive, or digest enough information either to effectively inform, or benefit from, its more robust task force headquarters. All across the country — in Tikrit, Ramadi, Fallujah, Diyala — we were waging similarly compartmentalized campaigns. It made our hard fight excruciatingly difficult, and potentially doomed.
The sketch from that evening — early in a war against an enemy that would only grow more complex, capable, and vicious — was the first step in what became one of the central missions in our effort: building the network. What was hazy then soon became our mantra: It takes a network to defeat a network.
But fashioning ourselves to counter our enemy’s network was easier said than done, especially because it took time to learn what, exactly, made a network different. As we studied, experimented, and adjusted, it became apparent that an effective network involves much more than relaying data. A true network starts with robust communications connectivity, but also leverages physical and cultural proximity, shared purpose, established decision-making processes, personal relationships, and trust. Ultimately, a network is defined by how well it allows its members to see, decide, and effectively act. But transforming a traditional military structure into a truly flexible, empowered network is a difficult process.
Our first attempt at a network was to physically create one. We convinced the agencies partnered with the JSOTF to join us in a big tent at one of our bases so that we could share and process the intelligence in one location. Operators and analysts from multiple units and agencies sat side by side as we sought to fuse our intelligence and operations efforts — and our cultures — into a unified effort. This may seem obvious, but at the time it wasn’t. Too often, intelligence would travel up the chain in organizational silos — and return too slowly for those in the fight to take critical action.
It was clear, though, that in this fusion process we had created only a partial network: Each agency or operation had a representative in the tent, but that was not enough. The network needed to expand to include everyone relevant who was operating within the battlespace. Incomplete or unconnected networks can give the illusion of effectiveness, but are like finely crafted gears whose movement drives no other gears.
This insight allowed us to move closer to building a true network by connecting everyone who had a role — no matter how small, geographically dispersed, or organizationally diverse they might have been — in a successful counterterrorism operation. We called it, in our shorthand, F3EA: find, fix, finish, exploit, and analyze. The idea was to combine analysts who found the enemy (through intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance); drone operators who fixed the target; combat teams who finished the target by capturing or killing him; specialists who exploited the intelligence the raid yielded, such as cell phones, maps, and detainees; and the intelligence analysts who turned this raw information into usable knowledge. By doing this, we speeded up the cycle for a counterterrorism operation, gleaning valuable insights in hours, not days.
But it took a while to get there. The process started as a linear, relatively inefficient chain. Out of habit (and ignorance), each element gave the next group the minimum amount of information needed for it to be able to complete its task. Lacking sufficient shared purpose or situational awareness, each component contributed far less to the outcome than it could or should have.
This made us, in retrospect, painfully slow and uninformed. The linear process created what we called “blinks” — time delays and missed junctures where information was lost or slowed when filtered down the line. In the early days of the effort, we had multiple experiences where information we captured could not be exploited, analyzed, or reacted to quickly enough — giving enemy targets time to flee. A blink often meant a missed opportunity in an unforgiving fight.
The key was to reduce the blinks, and we did so by attempting to create a shared consciousness between each level of the counterterrorism teams. We started by sharing information: Video streamed by the drones was sent to all the participants — not just the reconnaissance and surveillance analysts controlling them. When an operation was set in motion, information was continuously communicated to and from the combat team, so that intelligence specialists miles away could alert the team on the ground about what they could expect to find of value at the scene and where it might be. Intelligence recovered on the spot was instantly pushed digitally from the target to analysts who could translate it into actionable data while the operators would still be clearing rooms and returning fire. This knowledge was immediately cycled back through the loop to our intelligence and surveillance forces following the results of the raid in real time.
The intelligence recovered on one target in, say, Mosul, might allow for another target to be found, fixed upon, and finished in Baghdad, or even Afghanistan. Sometimes, finding just one initial target could lead to remarkable results: The network sometimes completed this cycle three times in a single night in locations hundreds of miles apart — all from the results of the first operation. As our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan intensified, the number of operations conducted each day increased tenfold, and both our precision and success rate also rose dramatically.
Although we got our message out differently than did our enemies, both organizations increasingly shared basic attributes that define an effective network. Decisions were decentralized and cut laterally across the organization. Traditional institutional boundaries fell away and diverse cultures meshed. The network expanded to include more groups, including unconventional actors. It valued competency above all else — including rank. It sought a clear and evolving definition of the problem and constantly self-analyzed, revisiting its structure, aims, and processes, as well as those of the enemy. Most importantly, the network continually grew the capacity to inform itself.
From its birth in Iraq, both the actual network — and the hard-earned appreciation for that organizational model — increasingly expanded to Afghanistan, especially as our nation’s focus turned toward that theater. When I became the commander there, we set about building a robust communications architecture and worked to establish relationships with key actors, moving frequently around the country to instill the shared consciousness and purpose necessary for a networked modern army. But that was only the first part of the task. As we learned to build an effective network, we also learned that leading that network — a diverse collection of organizations, personalities, and cultures — is a daunting challenge in itself. That struggle remains a vital, untold chapter of the history of a global conflict that is still under way.
Retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal led the Joint Special Operations Command from 2003 to 2008 and served as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010. He is currently writing his memoirs and a senior fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs.