MIT has become my go-to publication for understanding how new models of conflicts are emerging. I highly recommend their latest article on events last year in Libya.

Motivated individuals were able to lend support and comfort to the rebels in Libya during the conflict. From giving instructions on first aid, to providing bandwidth and archiving services for the rebels messaging and other things, ‘civilians’ from Europe and elsewhere were able to support the rebels.

The phrase I find most interesting in the article is that the conflict was “fought with global brains, NATO brawn, and Libyan blood.” On this side of the pond, a lot of ink has been spilled for how the approach utilized by the Allies is a new model for conflict intervention. While I see that as certainly being a possibility, the conflict model for Libya writ large (encompassing much more than just NATO’s role in Libya) is much more likely to become the archetype for contemporary conflicts.

There are a lot of implications for civilians being able to personally intervene in conflicts:

  • Are such motivated (could we term them super-empowered?) individuals still considered non-combatants in a conflict if they give support or aid to a side in a conflict?
  • Does a civilian’s actions towards supporting a side in a conflict make them a legitimate military target by the opposing side?
  • What is the threshold to where a nation is no longer neutral in a conflict because their citizens are directly supporting a side in a conflict?

Lastly, there is an increasing sense that the Westphalian notion of nation-states is being challenged by the ability for individuals to act globally. Generally, this has been characterized in economic terms. However, it now seems that nations are additionally losing their exclusivity on conflict intervention. New organizational paradigms seem to be emerging, where definition by citizenship is at best the penultimate criteria used by an individual for self identification.

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Foreign Policy, Soft Power

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  • Andy (JADAA)

    Two quick thoughts: “Individualized” intervention will be permitted so longs as the means of dissemination from input to download remain diffuse. One “kill switch” can stop that, at least at the information choke points. So long as nation-states approve of the individual efforts, then the model remains in play.

    Second, I’m sure your peers have also mentioned the concept that at least for the US, we tend to always say “wow, that way of doing things worked in this instance, it must be the way all future events of this nature should be addressed.” IOW, we will be ready to fight the next war the same way the last war was fought. That’s always worked out well, now hasn’t it?

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III


    One of the first anecdotes from the article is how Mohammed “Mo” Nabbous was able to restore some connectivity to the outside World. I doubt there is such a thing any more like a ‘one kill switch’ when it comes to telecommunications any more.

    To your second point; no I don’t think this is a model for the US in terms of future conflicts. Nor do I even consider this a ‘script’ to be followed in future conflicts. Rather, I only view this as demonstrating the amount of entropy in modern conflicts. Not only is there some semblance of chaos in the AO, but now that chaos can spread across the globe and involve what amounts to random individuals.

    Going forward I think the only thing that can be predicted is some random permutation of what civilians did in Libya and an iterative process that will cause the end state to differ significantly from the initial conditions.

    What concerns me is what this means for the nationstate and our understanding we have of what a nationstate’s responsibilities are regarding the actions of their citizens. To me those remain largely unanswered questions both in terms of international treaties and domestic law enforcement.

  • Andy (JADAA)

    Point well taken. However, in this specific case, and in others throughout last spring, the nation-state entities did not possess the sophisticated infrastructure and technological expertise to stifle all means of cross-national digital communication. Now I would agree that for the most part that is indeed true, but others have retained very firm control on the main trunks of digital interface and, in at least one case, have used threats of economic interference with extra-state provider income streams to coerce compliance with national goals of control of user communications.

    We are, however, in very strong concurrence that the effects of individual/NGO virtual activity in the actions and affairs of nation states must be examined and considered, especially when trying to derive any useful insights into potential scenario outcomes. This is where it will be very useful to try variations of game theory and crowd sourcing to play out these possibilities.

  • YN2(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III

    What I focus on in this is not the specifics of what happened. Rather, I focus on the ability that people have to interveine in conflicts. That, to me, is a game changer in many respects, and especially in low intensity conflicts–even in things short of war.