I’ve been thinking a lot about what Wikileaks, Anonymous, Tunisia, and Egypt mean for force structure of the military. Increasingly, I see conventional forces as modern day fusiliers, used to pin down an enemy while other types of forces maneuver around. Where as back in the Napoleonic era the maneuver forces were cavalry or lighter troops, today I view ‘other forces’ to be forces that do not even participate in actual combat. Where I see the most maneuver occurring is in the battlefield of ideas. After all, isn’t that the whole premise behind winning hearts and minds? I see this becoming difficult for leaders in that communication has to occur on two fronts at once – domestic and international. A lot was made over the claims that the Commander of NTM-A in Afghanistan was conducting psyops against Senators. This episode is evidence of this emergent nature of conflict – not because of what may, or may not have actually occurred. But, because that this event was even plausible to have occurred. When I was in Afghanistan, I had as much contact with my family as I did in the States (I know, I’m not a very good son, I don’t call home often enough). Being deployed isn’t being all that far away from home any more, maybe not in a literal sense, but in a cognitive and communicative sense it isn’t that far at all. How is a commander supposed to handle that connectivity?
Mao said that ‘political power comes from the barrel of a gun’, or something to that effect. While I don’t refute this fact completely, I will submit that the barrel of a gun no longer holds a monopoly on generating political power. Organizations are no longer required to organize people. It can be done nearly ‘automatically’, as evidenced by Tunisia, Egypt et al. political power now emanates as much from the tip of the Ethernet cable as it does from the gun. Woe unto the government which uses guns against those who wage a campaign with information, as well (e.g., using the internet to generate force does not warrant kinetic force in return). I’m sure that a lot of you are thinking that what I am saying here is all just apart of 4th generation warfare. But, I think this is beyond 4th generation. This is the 5th generation.
Sun Tsu talked about formlessness – how a general must keep his true disposition of forces concealed from his enemies. Anonymous is the epitome of such an axiom. Thousands of individuals motivated by all kinds of different things: For the lulz, political persuasion, a sense of belonging, to be cool, or even viewing organizations as their enemy. You can’t pin down a single cause, nor can you remove a single person and the organization collapses, you can’t point to a single type of person, you can’t name them all, they don’t even have a single raison d’être or cause célèbre. However, they do have a center of gravity, which is the ambiguous nature of ethics today. Any threat that emerged over the last year has done so in the moral and ethical gray areas created by the information age. The notion that information is now free is at the heart of the entire information revolution, the most extreme example of this being Wikileaks.
As a society, we are so far behind the curve in deciding and setting precedent for what ethics are now that information and communication are so ubiquitous that we are hurting ourselves. This too is a larger problem than what the military can fix, which is why we are left to hold the line while other more nimble forces must maneuver around to decide the outcome. Amazingly enough, I think these forces will culminate in the average citizen. It will be their interaction with others online that decide the outcome of this. However, I do not think it will be a simple affair, more formalized organizations will resist change and the debate will create more events like Egypt, in extreme cases. More common will be organizations like anonymous, not all of them will be hackers. But, will organize similarly and possibly cause much more difficulties for whomever they organize against.
I’m not completely sure what this is going to mean for force structure, but I know we can’t buy our way out of it. Nothing that any contractor can, or could, sell us will adapt the military to these challenges. What the Army has done to change from Division based deployments to Regiment based didn’t impress me much when I was in Afghanistan. My view of it was that it just caused a lot more confusion between the units (It was amazing to me to see such cultural differences between the different patches worn out there). The jury is still out (and will be for some time) on whether or not the modular concept for ships will work (I believe it will, but we’re learning it the most painful way possible). However, these initiatives are in the right spirit. It is that they just don’t strike at the heart of what we need to change. In reality, for us to adapt to the nature of modern conflict we’re going to have to change our culture. Medals, ribbons, uniforms and our organizational methods are all centuries old concepts. It was from the Prussians that we got our concept of the Flag Staff. It’s been nearly 100 years since Prussia ceased to exist (for all intents and purposes). Nothing I am proposing, or have said is ‘new’ is a revolution in any sense. All change that has occurred has been evolutionary in nature, and all change that must occur in the military must too be evolutionary. Directly working towards creating a Revolution in Military Affairs is like trying to grab a cloud. The whole of the military doesn’t need to evolve into some Wikileaks-Anonymous hybrid. But, their effectiveness needs to be noted and emulated. Bullets can’t kill ideas, only debate and dialog can.