10. What Next for Networks and Netwars David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla



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Organizational Level

To what extent is an actor, or set of actors, organized as a network? And what does that network look like? This is the top level—the starting point—for assessing the extent to which an actor, or set of actors, may be designed for netwar.

Nowadays, many writings about terrorists, criminals, and activists observe that one grouping or another is organized as a network. But the analyst should be able to specify more than simply that. Among other things, assessment at this level should include showing exactly what type of network design is being used, whether and how members may act autonomously, where leadership resides and/or is distributed, and whether and how hierarchical dynamics may be mixed in with the network dynamics.

As noted earlier, networks come in three major typologies: chain, hub, and all-channel. There are also complex, sprawling hybrid shapes involving myriad nodes and links—if highly structured, a “grid,” if loosely structured, a “spider’s web.” There are also designs that amount to hybrids of networks and hierarchies. In many cases, an important aspect may be the variety of “structural holes” and “bridges” that exist within and between networks—and whether “short cuts” exist that allow distant actors to connect with only a few hops across intermediates, as in a “small world network”.19 Mintzberg (1981) suggests that short cuts may be facilitated by the rise of “mutual adjustment” practices in cross-disciplinary teams. He notes this in the context of business organizations, where the “adjustment phenomenon” will break down “line and staff as well as a number of other distinctions” (p. 5).

Netwar analysts writing for policymakers and strategists should be able to identify and portray the details of a network’s structure—as well as they traditionally do at charting an adversary’s leadership structures, especially for analyzing terrorist and criminal outfits.

In an archetypal netwar, the units are likely to resemble an array of dispersed, internetted nodes set to act as an all-channel network. Recent cases of social netwar by activist NGOs against state and corporate actors—e.g., the series of campaigns known as J18, N30, A16, etc.—show the activists forming into open, all-channel, and multi-hub designs whose strength depends on free-flowing discussion and information-sharing. The chapters on Burma, Mexico, and the Battle of Seattle substantiate this.

In addition, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a case of a social netwar developed by NGO activists whose network eventually included officials, in a campaign that one prominent organizer, Jody Willliams, would call “a new model of diplomacy” for putting pressure on the U.S. and other recalcitrant governments:
It proves that civil society and governments do not have to see themselves as adversaries. It demonstrates that small and middle powers can work together with civil society and address humanitarian concerns with breathtaking speed. It shows that such a partnership is a new kind of “superpower” in the post-Cold War world. . . . For the first time, smaller and middle-sized powers had not yielded ground to intense pressure from a superpower to weaken the treaty to accommodate the policies of that one country.20
This campaign had no central headquarters or bureaucracy. Instead, it had a netwar design—a pattern of constant, open communication and coordination among a network of national campaigns that worked independently but coordinated constantly with each other on behalf of their common goal (also see Williams and Goose, 1998).

Such flatness and openness may be impossible for terrorist, criminal, and other violent netwar actors who depend on stealth and secrecy; cellular networks and/or hierarchies may be imperative for them, along with hybrids of hierarchies and networks. Consider, in addition to the case studies in this volume, the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a radical environmental group of unclear origins. The ELF may in fact have only a small core of true believers who commit its most violent acts, such as arson and vandalism at new construction sites in naturally wild landscapes (e.g., Long Island, New York). But according to ELF publicist, Craig Rosebraugh, the ELF consists of a “series of cells across the country with no chain of command and no membership roll.” It is held together mainly by a shared ideology and philosophy. “There’s no central leadership where they can go and knock off the top guy and it will be defunct.”21 In other words, the ELF is allegedly built around “autonomous cells” that are entirely undergound. This is different from the “leaderless resistance” doctrine discussed later, which requires a mix of above- and underground groups. This is also different from those terrorist networks discussed in Chapter Two that are characterized by horizontal coordination among semi-autonomous groups.

In netwar, leadership remains important, even though the protagonists may make every effort to have a leaderless design. One way to accomplish this is to have many leaders diffused throughout the network who try to act in coordination, without central control or a hierarchy. This can create coordination problems—a typical weakness of network designs—but, as often noted, it can also obviate counterleadership targeting. Perhaps a more significant, less noted point is that the kind of leader who may be most important for the development and conduct of a netwar is not the “great man” or the administrative leadership that people are accustomed to seeing, but rather the doctrinal leadership—the individual or set of individuals who, far from acting as commander, is in charge of shaping the flow of communications, the “story” expressing the netwar, and the doctrine guiding its strategy and tactics.

We often posit that it may take networks to fight networks. Yet, government interagency designs for waging counternetwar against terrorists, criminals, and other violent, law-breaking adversaries will have to be built around hybrids of hierarchies and networks. Governments cannot, and should not, attempt to do away with all hierarchy.22 Earlier chapters, especially the ones on dealing with terrorists, criminals, and gangs, expanded on this point.



Narrative Level23

Why have the members assumed a network form? Why do they remain in that form? Networks, like other forms of organization, are held together by the narratives, or stories, that people tell.24 The kind of successful narratives that we have in mind are not simply rhetoric—not simply a “line” with “spin” that is “scripted” for manipulative ends. Instead, they provide a grounded expression of people’s experiences, interests, and values.25 First of all, stories express a sense of identity and belonging—who “we” are, why we have come together, and what makes us different from “them.” Second, stories communicate a sense of cause and purpose and mission. They express aims and methods as well as cultural dispositions—what “we” believe in, and what we mean to do, and how.

The right story can thus help keep people connected in a network whose looseness makes it difficult to prevent defection. The right story line can also help create bridges across different networks. The right story can also generate a perception that a movement has a winning momentum, that time is on its side.26

Doctrinal and other leaders may play crucial roles in designing winning stories and building organizational cultures around them. This has long been recognized for executives in corporate systems.27 It is also true for netwar actors.

All the netwar actors examined in this volume engage in narrative assurance, and use old and new media to do so. All are very sensitive about the stories they use to hold a network together and attract external audiences. For terrorists, the stories tend to herald heroic deeds, for criminals their adventures in greed, and for social activists their campaigns to meet human needs. If it sounds odd to cast criminals this way, note that Colombian (not to mention Mexican and other) drug traffickers have no problem viewing and presenting themselves in a positive light as archnationalists who do good for their communities, for example through financial donations to churches, hospitals, and schools, as well as through legitimate investments in sagging local economies.

On this point, Manuel Castells (1998, pp. 196-201) discusses cartel behavior in Colombia to underscore his thesis (p. 197) about “the importance of cultural identity in the constitution, functioning, and strategies of criminal networks.”


The attachment of drug traffickers to their country, and to their regions of origin, goes beyond strategic calculation. They were/are deeply rooted in their cultures, traditions, and regional societies. Not only have they shared their wealth with their cities, and invested a significant amount (but not most) of their fortune in their country, but they have also revived local cultures, rebuilt rural life, strongly affirmed their religious feelings, and their beliefs in local saints and miracles, supported musical folklore (and were rewarded with laudatory songs from Colombian bards), made Colombian football teams (traditionally poor) the pride of the nation, and revitalized the dormant economies and social scenes of Medellin and Cali—until bombs and machine guns disturbed their joy. (p. 199)
In the abstract, his points might apply as well to some leading terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Writings about social activism are especially keen about the narrative level. Keck and Sikkink (1998, citing Deborah Stone) observe that it is crucial for social campaigns to follow the lines of a “strategic portrayal” based on a “causal story.” Rutherford (1999) relates the growth of the ICBL to the story it choose to tell: “By controlling the agenda—what was to be discussed and how—the ICBL established the context of the landmine debate as humanitarian rather than military.” Also, Otpor (“Resistance”), the netwar-like underground movement to overthrow Milosevic and democratize Serbia, adopted a doctrine of nonviolence, not simply because that was the ethical thing to do, but because it would help provoke the regime into resorting to force in ways that would undermine its authority and give Otpor the high ground regarding whose story should win (Cohen, 2000).

Military campaigns also depend on whose story wins. For example, the highly networked Chechens won their military campaign against Russia during the 1994-96 war—and they also won the battle of the story, portraying themselves as plucky freedom fighters ridding their land of the last vestiges of a tottering, evil old empire. But in the second war, beginning in 1999, the Russians not only improved their own ability to fight in small, dispersed, networked units, but also mobilized Russian society, including many organizations that opposed the first war in Chechnya, by portraying this second round as a war against terrorism. This story, advanced in the wake of urban bombings in Russia in 1999, even played well in the industrialized West, which has given the Russians a free hand in Chechnya this time, with no threats to withhold new loans because of what might be going on in the transcaucasus region.

In the current intifadah, both the Palestinians and the Israelis have waged an ever-shifting “battle of the story.” The Palestinians have depicted the Israelis as having abrogated the Oslo Accord, while the Israelis have depicted Arafat and his advisers as unwilling to make any—even reasonable—concessions. Moreover, the Palestinians have portrayed the Israelis as using excessive force—though this thrust is vitiated by the Palestinians own violent acts. Meanwhile in cyberspace, both sides have reached out successfully to their ethnic diasporas, for moral as well as financial support. Both have also successfully encouraged distributed denial of service (DDOS) attacks on each other’s information systems, the Israelis going so far as to provide a Web site for encouraging average Israeli citizens to join the cause by downloading and using various computer attack tools. The Palestinians have used a narrative-level twist on this—they have invoked a “cyber jihad” against Israel, which has resulted in much participation in the cyberspace aspects of this conflict by Muslims from Morocco to Pakistan. Hezbollah in particular has articulated a strategy that includes both computerized swarming attacks on Israeli information infrastructures and selective attacks on commercial firms doing business with Israel.28

Disinformation, misrepresentation, and outright lying are eternal downsides that should not be overlooked at the narrative level. Some actors may be unscrupulously cunning about the story lines they unfold in the media.29 Nonetheless, many of the major trends of the information age—e.g., the continued growth of global media of all types, the proliferation of sensors and surveillance devices, the strengthening of global civil society—imply that the world will become ever more transparent. This may well be a mixed blessing, but it should be to the advantage of democratic state and nonstate actors who can thrive on openness. (Florini, 1998, Brin, 1998).

As this occurs, a premium will be placed on using public diplomacy to advance one’s messages. As Jamie Metzl (1999, p. 178, 191) explains,


. . . the struggle to affect important developments across the globe is increasingly an information struggle. Without winning the struggle to define the interpretation of state actions, the physical acts themselves become less effective. . . . [T]he culture of foreign policy must change from one that along with protecting secrets and conducting secret negotiations recognizes that openness—achieved through the development of broad information networks and multiple temporary mini-alliances with both state and nonstate actors—will be the key to foreign policy success.
This may give presumably weaker actors, like NGOs intent on social netwar, a soft-power edge in dealing with presumably stronger actors, like states. As Martin Libicki (1999-2000, p. 41) argues,
The globalization of perception—the ability of everyone to know what is happening in minute detail around the world and the increasing tendency to care about it—is another way that the small can fend off the large.

Many approaches are being developed for analyzing the narrative level—for example, by scholars who study soft power, political discourse, narrative paradigms, story modeling, agenda setting, metaphors, frames, messages, and/or perspective-making. Some approaches reflect established social-science efforts to understand psychology, propaganda, ideology, and the media, and, in the field of political science, to develop a norm-oriented “constructivist” paradigm as an alternative to the dominant “neorealist” paradigm.30 Other approaches reflect the rise of “postmodernism” in academia (as in the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari). They all show the importance of this level of analysis and practice—but we shall not venture to pick and choose among them in this study.



Doctrinal Level

What doctrines exist for making best use of this form? This level of analysis is very important for explaining what enables the members to operate strategically and tactically, without necessarily having to resort to a central command or leader. The performance of the multi-hub and all-channel designs in particular may depend on the existence of shared principles and practices that span all nodes and to which the members subscribe in a deep way. Such a set of guiding principles and practices—a doctrine—can enable them to be “all of one mind” even though they are dispersed and devoted to different tasks. It can provide a central ideational, strategic, and operational coherence that allows for tactical decentralization. Overall, this is a looser approach to decisionmaking and operations than traditionally found in right- or left-wing movements—compare, for example, to Mao Zedong’s maxim that “command must be centralized for strategic purposes and decentralized for tactical purposes.”

So far, two doctrinal practices seem particularly apt for netwar actors. One is to organize and present a network in a way that is as “leaderless” as possible, by having no single leader who stands out, by having (or appearing to have) multiple leaders, and by using consultative and consensus-building mechanisms for decision-making.31 This principle is quite evident in several cases in this book. The second is to use swarming strategies and tactics, by having myriad small units that are normally kept dispersed turn to converge on a target from all directions, conduct an attack, and then redisperse to prepare for the next operation. This second principle—swarming—has not been explicitly espoused or adopted by the actors we have looked at, but it is implicitly there, awaiting refinement in many of them—from Middle Eastern terrorists seeking to enter the United States from different directions in order to converge on a bombing target, to NGO activists who swarmed into Mexico in 1994 and Seattle in 2000.

An example of the first principle is the doctrine of “leaderless resistance” elaborated by right-wing extremist Louis Beam. It downplays hierarchy in favor of organizing networks of “phantom cells.” It reveals a belief that the more a movement conforms to a networked organizational style, the more robust it will be defensively, and the more flexible offensively:


Utilizing the Leaderless Resistance concept, all individuals and groups operate independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters or single leader for direction or instruction . . . participants in a program of Leaderless Resistance through Phantom Cell or individual action must know exactly what they are doing, and exactly how to do it. . . . Organs of information distribution such as newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc., which are widely available to all, keep each person informed of events, allowing for a planned response that will take many variations. No one need issue an order to anyone (Beam, 1992).
The underground element of Beam’s doctrine originally called for four types of secretive, decentralized cells: command, combat, support, and communiqué cells. Each should consists of about eight “minutemen” and have its own leader. But late in the 1990s, practice diverged from this doctrine, allowing “lone wolves” to instigate violent acts, like bombings, seemingly on their own initiative.32

The “leaderless resistance” doctrine has permeated far right circles in the United States (see Burghardt, 1995a, 1995b, and Stern, 1996). In addition, it has reached hate groups in Germany, some of which are stockpiling weapons and explosives and posting death lists on Web sites.


“What we are seeing is a very worrying trend in the organization of far right groups with a view to committing terrorism,” says Graeme Atkinson, European editor of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. “They are talking about creating a ‘leaderless resistance’ of terrorist cells—and of ensuring the creation of liberated zones, with foreigners driven out from rural areas and smaller towns.”33
By itself, a tenet like “leaderless resistance” is only a partial step toward having a doctrine for netwar. What operational behavior may in fact be most effective for small, dispersed, mobile forces that are joined in net­works? The short answer is swarming (for elaboration, see Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1997, 2000). If the optimal organizational form for netwar is the dispersed network, the corresponding doctrine must surely consist of swarming. Swarming may well become the key mode of conflict in the information age. But swarming doctrines and strategies have barely begun to emerge for the conduct of terrorist, criminal, and social conflicts.

In this volume, the Zapatista and Seattle cases show swarming in action. Today, one of the most sophisticated doctrines for social netwar comes from the Direct Action Network (DAN), which arose from a coalition of activists dedicated to using nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to halt the WTO meeting in Seattle.34 Its approach to netwar epitomizes swarming ideas. Participants are asked to organize, at their own choice, into small (5-20 people) “affinity groups”—”self-sufficient, small, autonomous teams of people who share certain principles, goals, interests, plans or other similarities that enable them to work together well.” Each group decides for itself what actions its members will undertake, ranging from street theater to risking arrest.35 Where groups operate in proximity to each other, they are further organized into “clusters”—but there may also be “flying groups” that move about according to where needed. Different people in each group take up different functions (e.g., police liaison), but every effort is made to make the point that no group has a single leader. All this is coordinated at Spokescouncil meetings where each group sends a representative and decisions are reached through democratic consultation and consensus (in yet another approach to leaderlessness).

This approach generated unusual flexibility, mobility, and resource-sharing in the Battle of Seattle. It is discussed at length in Chapter 7, but here is another eyewitness account:
In practice, this form of organization meant that groups could move and react with great flexibility during the blockade. If a call went out for more people at a certain location, an affinity group could assess the numbers holding the line where they were and choose whether or not to move. When faced with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and horses, groups and individuals could assess their own ability to withstand the brutality. As a result, blockade lines held in the face of incredible police violence. When one group of people was finally swept away by gas and clubs, another would move in to take their place. Yet there was also room for those of us in the middle-aged, bad lungs/bad backs affinity group to hold lines in areas that were relatively peaceful, to interact and dialogue with the delegates we turned back, and to support the labor march that brought tens of thousands through the area at midday. No centralized leader could have coordinated the scene in the midst of the chaos, and none was needed—the organic, autonomous organization we had proved far more powerful and effective. No authoritarian figure could have compelled people to hold a blockade line while being tear gassed—but empowered people free to make their own decisions did choose to do that.36
This is very much a netwar doctrine. It is not quite an explicit swarming doctrine—but almost.

An unusually loose netwar design, one that is eminently leaderless yet manages to organize a large crowd for a rather chaotic, linear kind of swarming, is found in the pro-bicycle, anti-car protest movement known as Critical Mass (CM) in the San Francisco Bay area. Since its inception in 1992, CM’s bicycle activists (sometimes numbering 2000) have converged on the last Friday of every month from around the Bay area to disrupt traffic at peak hours along a chosen route. They slow and block traffic, while handing out pamphlets about pollution and other detriments of the automobile culture. CM riders are proud of their lack of formal organization and leadership, and constitute what they call a “xerocracy,” which amounts to governance by distributing copies of an idea online or on the scene, say for a ride route, and letting a vote by the assembled decide. A key doctrinal tenet is “organized coincidence,” by which “CM rides simply ‘materialize’ every month even though there are no leaders or organizational sponsorships.” This way, “No one need take responsibility but everyone can take credit.”

The aim is to ride en masse. The preference may be for “keeping Mass” (riding in a single, large, spread-out mass), but for safety or other reasons a ride may splinter into “minimasses” (multiple, dense small groups). Group decisionmaking about when and where to alter the route of a ride may occur on the fly, as a function of “dynamic street smarts” among the bicyclists up front. A “buddy system” is used to watch out for each other within a mass. Whistle signals are used for some command and control (e.g., stop, go, turn). “Cell phone contact” is used for communications between minimasses, which is particularly helpful if riders want to regroup splinters into a single mass. Tactics during a ride may include “corking” an intersection and “swarming” around a lone car. For much of the 1990s, there were tendencies for confrontation—if not by the riders then by police who came to “escort” and “herd” them. But by 1999, CM became “a ride dominated by creative self-governance and celebratory experimentation—with little or no ill will, and an eye out for avoiding confrontation.”37

In netwars, swarming often appears not only in real-life actions but also through measures in cyberspace. Aspirations for a leaderless swarming doctrine, beginning with a rationale and a capability for “electronic civil disobedience,” show up among hacktivists who advocate the usage of online tools to flood (i.e., overwhelm) a target’s computer systems, email inboxes, and websites, thereby disrupting and even defacing them (see Wray, 1998). Virtually anybody can log into one of these tools and, with a few commands, mount an automated Distributed Denial of Service DDOS) attack. For example, a device called Flood Net, developed by a collectivity named the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), has been used since the late 1990s against government and corporate sites in Mexico, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States (e.g., against Etoys). Hacktivists associated with the EDT would like to create a new device named SWARM (after our writings), in order to move “digital Zapatismo” beyond the initial emphasis on Flood Net and create new kinds of “electronic pulse systems” for militant activism.38

A newer device, called Tribal Flood Net, evidently programmed by a German hacker named Mixter, is technically more powerful. It can enable a lone anonymous individual to mount a far more massive DDOS attack than is the case with Flood Net, which requires publicly-announced mass participation (a virtual sit-in) to function well. Tribal Flood Net gained notoriety for its usage in shutting down Yahoo and other U.S. sites early in 2000. But since then, the contrast between the two systems has led to an ideological controversy. Hacktivist proponents of Flood Net—not only in the EDT, but also in the Electrohippies and, to a lesser extent, the Cult of the Dead Cow—prefer to assert “the presence of a global group of people gathering to bear witness to a wrong.” They criticize the Tribal version for being undemocratic and secretive.39

Technological Infrastructure

What is the pattern of, and capacity for, information and communications flows? What technologies support this? How well do they suit the organizational design, as well as the narrative and doctrinal levels? The new information and communications technologies are crucial for enabling network forms of organization and doctrine. An ample, blossoming literature speaks to this (e.g., DeSanctis and Fulk, 1999). Indeed, the higher the bandwidth and the more dispersed the means of transmission, reception, storage and retrieval, the better are the prospects for success with network-style organization. The multi-hub and all-channel designs in particular depend on having a capacity—an infrastructure—for the dense communication of functional information. Current advances in peer-to-peer computing (as seen with Napster, Publius, and Freenet) may give netwar actors an even greater technological edge in the future.40

Yet, as noted in Chapter One, netwar can be waged without necessarily having access to the Internet and other advanced technologies. This level may mix old and new, low- and high-tech capabilities. Human couriers and face-to-face meetings may still remain essential, especially for secretive actors like terrorists and criminals.

Many of the papers in this volume speak to these points. Additional evidence comes from other interesting cases of netwar. Consider the development of the ICBL. Its protagonists got the movement off the ground in the early 1990s by relying mainly on telephones and faxes. They did not turn to the Internet until the mid 1990s, using it first for internal communication, and later to send information to outside actors and to the media. Thus, it is “romanticized gobbledygook” that the Internet was essential for the ICBL’s early efforts—email and web technologies were not widely used until late in the development of the campaign, and even then usage remained quite limited, rarely including government officials. Nonetheless, the late turn to the new technologies did improve communication and coordination and helped the ICBL create, and present to the world, a sense that it was a close-knit community on the move, with an important story for the world to hear. A leading academic analyst of the ICBL’s use of technology, Ken Rutherford (1999)41 concludes,


One of the most significant aspects of the ICBL case, is that it shows how NGO coalitions can use communications technologies in order to increase their opportunities for success in changing state behavior. It highlights the importance of how NGOs might be able to address security and social issues that states have thus far proven unable to manage. . . . [T]he role of communications technologies in future international NGO coalitions will be more important than they were in the landmine case.
And that’s in the case of a well-organized movement. The new technologies can also have a catalyzing effect for the rapid, unexpected emergence of a spontaneous protest movement. Evidence for this—and for the further spread of the netwar phenomenon—appeared during a wild week in Britain in September 2000, when about 2,000 picketing protesters, alarmed by soaring gasoline prices, quickly organized into dispersed bands that blocked fuel deliveries to local gas stations. The protestors were brought together by cell phones, CB radios, in-cab fax machines, and email via laptop computers. They had no particular leader, and their coordinating center constantly shifted its location.  Will Hutton, director general of Britain’s Industrial Society (a pro-business group), called it “a very 21st-century crisis made possible by information technology”:  
Old organizational forms have been succeeded by a new conception, the network. . . . Using mobile phones, people with no experience of protest were able to coalesce around common aims while never actually meeting.42
An earlier example of the use of advanced communications in support of a protest movement can be found in the Polish Solidarity movement of the 1980s. In the wake of the imposition of martial law, mass arrests and some brutality, Solidarity had difficulties keeping its members mobilized and informed. The United States, which was actively trying to undermine communist rule, went to great lengths to provide the movement with sophisticated communications equipment that could not easily be monitored or located. The new gear re-empowered the movement, giving it the ability once again to mount strikes and demonstrations that repeatedly took the government (and the KGB) by surprise.43

Social Underpinnings

The full functioning of a network also depends on how well, and in what ways, the members are personally known and connected to each other. This is the classic level of social network analysis, where strong personal ties, often ones that rest on friendship and bonding experiences, ensure high degrees of trust and loyalty. To function well, networks may require higher degrees of interpersonal trust than do other approaches to organization, like hierarchies. This traditional level of theory and practice remains important in the information age.

In this book, the chapters on terrorist, criminal, and gang organizations referred to the importance of kinship, be that of blood or brotherhood. Meanwhile, news about Osama bin Laden and his network, Al Qaeda (The Base), continue to reveal his, and its, dependence on personal relationships he formed over the years with “Afghan Arabs” from Egypt and elsewhere who were committed to anti-U.S. terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. In what is tantamount to a classic pattern of clan-like behavior, his son married the daughter of his longtime aide and likely successor, Abu Hoffs al-Masri, in January 2001.44

The chapters on activist netwars also noted that personal friendships and bonding experiences often lie behind the successful formation and functioning of solidarity and affinity groups. And once again, the case of the ICBL speaks to the significance of this level, when organizer Jody Williams treats trust as the social bedrock of the campaign:


It’s making sure, even though everybody was independent to do it their own way, they cared enough to keep us all informed so that we all had the power of the smoke-and-mirrors illusion of this huge machinery. . . . And it was, again, the follow up, the constant communication, the building of trust. Trust, trust, trust. The most important element in political work. Once you blow trust, you’ve blown it all. It’s hard to rebuild.45
The tendency in some circles to view networks as amounting to configurations of social capital and trust is helpful for analyzing this level. But there are other important concepts as well, notably about people forming “communities of practice” (Brown and Duguid, 2000), “communities of knowing,” and “epistemic communities” (Haas, 1992). In a sense, all these concepts reflect the ancient, vital necessity of belonging to a family, clan, or tribe and associating one’s identity with it.

Meanwhile, the traditions of social network analysis and economic transaction analysis warn against the risks of having participants who are “free riders” or lack a personal commitment to teamwork. Indeed, compared to tribal/clan and hierarchical forms of organization, networks have more difficulty instilling, and enforcing, a sense of personal identity with and loyalty to the network. This is one of the key weaknesses of the network form—one that may affect counternetwar designs as well. It extends partly from the fact that networks are often thought to lack a “center of gravity” as an organization.

The Practice of Netwar (and Counternetwar)

Netwar actors that are strong at all five levels are, and will be, very strong indeed. Netwar works—and it is working for all types: good guys and bad guys, civil and uncivil actors. So far, all have done quite well, generally, in their various confrontations with nation-states. A significant question, then, is whether one or the other type could predominate in the future? Will NGOs proselytizing for human rights and high ethical standards reshape the world and its statecraft? Or will violent terrorists, criminals, and ethnonationalists have greater impact—in a dark way? Or will all types move ahead in tandem?



Growing Recognition of Netwar’s Dark Face

Practice has been outrunning theory in one area after another where netwar is taking hold. Most commentaries and case studies about organizational networks (and networked organizations) have concerned competitive developments in the business world. However, the year 2000 brought an advance in U.S. government thinking about networking trends among our adversaries, and in the consideration of new options for dealing with them. Government- and military-related research institutes paid the most attention (e.g., see Copeland, 2000),46 but high-level offices and officials were not lagging far behind.



The first landmark was the annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999, released by the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in April 2000. It provided the strongest statement yet about networking trends:
U.S. counterterrorist policies are tailored to combat what we believe to be the shifting trends in terrorism. One trend is the shift from well-organized, localized groups supported by state sponsors to loosely organized, international networks of terrorists. Such a network supported the failed attempt to smuggle explosives material and detonating devices into Seattle in December. With the decrease of state funding, these loosely networked individuals and groups have turned increasingly to other sources of funding, including private sponsorship, narcotrafficking, crime, and illegal trade.47
By December 2000, observation of this trend—and of the links growing between crime and terrorism—became even more pronounced in the report of a U.S. interagency group on global crime. While noting that most criminal organizations remain hierarchical—they still have leaders and subordinates—the International Crime Threat Assessment found that:
International criminal networks—including traditional organized crime groups and drug-trafficking organizations-—have taken advantage of the dramatic changes in technology, world politics, and the global economy to become more sophisticated and flexible in their operations. They have extensive worldwide networks and infrastructure to support their criminal operations; . . . . Much more than in the past, criminal organizations are networking and cooperating with one another, enabling them to merge expertise and to broaden the scope of their activities. Rather than treat each other as rivals, many criminal organizations are sharing information, services, resources, and market access according to the principle of comparative advantage.48
Also in December, a forecasting report with a fifteen year outlook—Global Trends 2015—was produced by the National Intelligence Council, based largely on conferences sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency for consulting nongovernment experts.49 The report often uses the word “network,” and observes that the world and many of its actors, activities and infrastructures are ever more networked. Nonetheless, network dynamics appear more in a background than a foreground role—the report does not do much to illuminate network dynamics. Moreover, where this future outlook highlights the growing power and presence of networked nonstate actors of all varieties, it mostly plays up the perils of terrorists, criminals, and other possible adversaries, along with the challenges that activist NGOs may pose for states. The report has little to say about the promising opportunities for a world in which civil-society actors continue to gain strength through networking and where states may learn to communicate, coordinate, and act conjointly with them to address legitimate matters of mutual concern, from democracy to security.

Nationalism, Globalism, and the Two Faces of Netwar

Which face of netwar predominates will depend on the kind of world that takes shape. The key story lines of the 20th century are almost all wrapped up. Imperialism, for example, has been virtually extirpated. Over half the world’s landmass was under colonial control in 1900,50 but only a few tiny colonies are left now. The world’s major totalitarianisms are also passé. Fascism has gone from being the preferred form of governance among half the great powers and many lesser states in the 1930s, to near extinction today. Communism has moved from being a world threat in 1950, to a mere shadow of itself at the turn of the millennium.

The major old force that remains strongly in play at the dawn of the 21st century is nationalism, particularly its violence-prone ethnonationalist variety. A good measure of the continuing power of nationalism, and of the attractiveness of the state as a form of organization and a focus of nationalist loyalty, is the number of states in existence. When the United Nations was organized after World War II, almost every nation in the world joined, for a total of 54 members. Half a century later, membership has more than tripled, and is closing in on 200. People without state status want it—and will often engage in terrorist actions to pursue it. Indeed, the majority of terrorist groups, for a long time, arose from nationalist motivations (Hoffman, 1998).51

Playing against the old, persistent, often divisive force of nationalism is the new, more unifying force of globalism. It is, to an extent, a reincarnation of the 19th century “Manchester Creed,” which held that the growth of industry and trade would create a unified, peaceful world governed by a harmony of interests (see Carr, 1939, pp. 41-62). But today’s concept of globalization has many new elements and dynamics, particularly in its de-emphasis of the state and its association with the information revolution.52

Both nationalism and globalism will continue to coexist, much as the Manchester Creed coexisted with classic power politics.53 Both will continue to galvanize all kinds of netwars around the world. While many of the violent terrorist, criminal, and ethnic netwars have mainly nationalist origins and objectives, most social netwars have strong globalist dimensions. Thus, the two forces in play in today’s world—nationalism and globalism—mirror significant aspects of the two faces of netwar. This is worth pointing out, partly because many current discussions about networked actors and information-age conflict treat them as being mainly the products of globalization, and downplay the enduring significance of nationalism. However, it is important to note that some “dark netwarriors” (e.g., criminal networks) have little or no nationalist motivations.

An eventual question is whether a new “harmony of interests” based on the rise of global civil society actors relying on soft power will erode the dominance of hard-power, nation-state politics. To some extent, developments in the theory and practice of netwar will affect both these world tendencies. That is, learning better how to build networks against crime and terror may tamp down some of the problems that attend ethno- and hypernationalism. Also, states that learn to nurture nonstate civil society actors may help reduce some of the “demand” for terror, and some of the quests to create ever more nation-states. Whichever path unfolds, it will be one in which netwar will surely be found at every turn.

The duality of Janus, first discussed in our introductory chapter, reapplies here. According to a modern interpretation by Arthur Koestler (1978), Janus symbolizes the eternal human tension between the need for individual self-assertion and the progress that comes with integration into larger, ultimately global groupings.  When kept in equilibrium, in a system allowing individual striving but encouraging connectedness to the world as a whole, the bright face of this dual spirit moves ahead.  Today, that tendency is represented by activist NGOs waging social netwar on behalf of human rights and political democracy; they aim to integrate the world around a model of civil society based on common, world-wide values. But “under unfavourable conditions, the equilibrium is upset, with dire consequences” (p. 58).54  Trouble, for Koestler writing in the 1970s, arises especially when the individual is suborned in a totalitarian society—he gives the examples of Stalinist excesses, Nazi atrocities, and the infamous Milgram “authority experiments” of the 1950s. The modern-day netwar equivalent corresponds to the dark-side terrorists, criminals, and ethnonationalists who pursue self-assertion for parochial purposes.

Two Axes of Strategy

The chapters on terrorist, criminal, and gang networks ended with observations and recommendations for strengthening counternetwar. The chapters on the social netwars—Burma, Mexico, and Seattle—did not end this way, though they mentioned the countermeasures taken by the Burmese and Mexican governments and the City of Seattle. Instead, these latter case studies implied that social netwar could pressure authoritarian regimes to become democratic, and impel democracies to become more responsive and transparent. In other words, netwar is not a uniformly adverse phenomenon that can, or should, always be countered. It is not necessarily a mode of conflict that always gets in the way of government aims.

States have a range of plausible strategies for dealing with networked nonstate actors. And, which strategies are pursued can make a difference as to whether the dark or the bright face of netwar predominates. The dark face—with its terrorists, criminals, and virulent ethnonationalists—must be countered by the United States and its allies. But, at times and in particular places, social netwar may complement a government’s strategies. Who may benefit from which face depends on what government is being discussed.

In a basic sense, strategy is the methodical art of relating ends and means to deal with other actors. We view the general field of alternatives for strategists as consisting of two axes: one based on military and economic hard power, the other on idea-based soft power. The principal axis for most strategists, and the easy one to describe, is the hard-power one—ranging from active opposition at one pole, to material support at the other. In today’s parlance, this axis runs from containment and deterrence at one end, to engagement and partnership at the other. This axis, for example, permeates most U.S. discussions about China today.

But that is not the only axis, the only way in which strategists think. There is also an axis for soft-power strategies, where using military and/or economic means to oppose or support another actor is deliberately avoided. At one extreme, the soft-power axis means thoroughly shunning another actor, perhaps because of being disappointed in it, or deploring its behavior without wanting to take active measures against it, or even in the hope of arousing it to show positive interest in oneself. At the other pole, this axis consists of trying to influence an actor’s behavior, rather indirectly, by holding out a set of values, norms, and standards—”dos” and “don’ts,” and hopes and fears—that should determine whether or not one may end up materially favoring or opposing that actor in the future. This might be viewed as the “shining beacon on the hill” approach to strategy.55 The midpoint of this axis—and of the hard-power axis, too—is the origin point, where no action at all is yet taken, perhaps because of having little or uncertain interest in an actor.

These dual axes frame the range of alternative strategies that states use in dealing with each other. Over time, the United States has used them all, often in hybrid blends. For example, during the Cold War era, U.S. strategy revolved mainly around the hard-power axis, with emphasis on containing the Soviet Union and strengthening the NATO alliance. Lines were drawn around the world; actors were obliged to take sides. In today’s loose, multipolar world, however, the soft-power axis is more in play. It is now feasible just to shun some states that once required rising degrees of containment (e.g., Cuba). Much of U.S. strategy is now more intent on using soft-power measures to exposit our standards and to attract a target (e.g., like Vietnam) into affiliation with us. Meanwhile, some states, such as Mexico and Canada, have long been subjected to a broad array of alternative strategies—depending on the times and the issues, the United States has ignored and beckoned, supported and even cautiously opposed our neighbors on occasion.


Figure 10.1. The Two Axes of Strategy



[NOTE TO REVIEWERS AND TO EDITOR: MODIFY FIGURE BY MOVING THE WORD “Ignore” TO THE CENTRAL INTERSECTION OF THE AXES, AND PUTTING “Shun” IN ITS PLACE AT THE BOTTOM. THE VERTICAL AXIS SHOULD BE RELABELED “Soft-power axis,” WHILE THE HORIZONTAL AXIS SHOULD BE RENAMED “Hard-power axis.” WE DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT PROGRAM TO CHANGE THIS OURSELVES.]
Nonstate actors of all types—especially the kinds of civil and uncivil actors analyzed in this volume—are now so powerful around the world that they cannot be dismissed by national security strategists. As strategists increasingly turn to address them, particularly the ones intent on netwar, this dual-axis perspective on strategy seems likely to frame the options usefully, with each having different implications for the future of netwar.

Each strategy has its merits, but also its costs and risks. For example, trying to stamp out criminal networks—the preferred strategy of the international community today—entails a heavy investment, including the cost involved in trying to achieve a level of cooperation among nations sufficient to deny the criminals (or terrorists, for that matter) any useful “safe havens.” Choosing this strategy pre-supposes that the balance of forces between states and these networks still runs heavily in favor of the former, and that firm action must be taken before criminal networks grow beyond control. For some dictatorships, of course, the target networks are not the criminal ones, but rather the local and transnational NGOs that aim to expand civil society and promote democracy.

A strategy of neglect is quite characteristic of many states’ approaches to NGOs—basically ignoring them but also allowing them to grow, to engage state actors, sometimes even to pressure states into action (e.g., as in the antipersonnel landmine campaign, and the effort to establish an international criminal court). This strategy holds out the prospect of keeping the various costs of dealing with nonstate civil society actors to a minimum, by responding to them only when necessary. It also reserves states’ options, either to act directly against NGOs at some future point, or to turn to actively embrace them. A preference for this strategy may be based on an assumption that state power still dwarfs the energy and efficacy of nonstate actors; but it differs from the previous strategy in the belief that this gap in relative power seems unlikely to be narrowed anytime soon. For some states, this pattern of behavior may also apply to criminal networks in their midst.

Thirdly, states could pursue a “beacon” approach, by proclaiming standards that will determine whether active opposition or support becomes the eventual recourse. This approach holds great promise for the United States, which has often practiced it without being analytically explicit about it. It is an expression of what, in another writing, we term “noopolitik” (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1999). And actually it has been a regular practice of human-rights and other NGOs, more than of U.S. policymakers and strategists. An exception is George Kennan, whose life and work have offered up exemplary forms of both axes in practice—from his blueprint for active, hard-power containment during the Cold War (see his famous “long telegram”) to his call to rely principally on passive, soft-power ideals and values in the new era.56 For an example elsewhere, one could note that Colombia’s government has been resorting to aspects of this strategy—i.e., shifting from a principally hard to a soft power approach—in its newest efforts to deal with the guerrilla organizations that control much of the national territory.

Finally, states could actively embrace and nurture favorable nonstate actors and their networks, encouraging their growth, enhancing their potency, and working with them in a coordinated manner. This may prove a boon to statecraft, when the goals of both coincide. But the risk of such a strategy is that states might unwittingly assist in the creation of a new, networked fabric of global society that may, in the end, be strong enough to constrain states when there are conflicts of interest. This may well be an acceptable risk; but it is one that has to be thoroughly assessed.57 As we look around the world today, we see little sustained embrace of networks of civil society actors, and only faint hints that some states may be reaching out to transnational criminal and terror networks.58

Individual state strategies toward nonstate networks have in practice tended to feature some mixing and blending of these approaches. The United States, in particular, has pursued confrontation against criminal and terror networks, while trying to ignore NGOs when their aims conflict with government policy (e.g., as in the anti-landmine movement and the international criminal court initiative). With regard to the intifada waged by the Palestinians, American strategy can be characterized as comprised of active support for the “rights” of the Palestinians (not to mention Israeli rights), but also of “shunning” those who are associated with violent acts—on both sides.

Much more can and should be done to shift to a strategy of both cultivating and cooperating with NGOs. As U.S. policymakers have tended to emphasize the threats posed by emerging nonstate actors,59 it is not hard to see how the potential opportunities of engaging and helping to build a global civil society may have been overlooked so far. But the cost of inattention to this issue is already substantial (e.g., political opprobrium suffered because of lack of U.S. support for the anti-personnel landmine ban), and will grow.

Learning not only to live but also to work with NGOs in order to create new governance schemes for addressing social problems is becoming the cutting edge of policy and strategy.60 It would seem advisable for the United States to take the lead at this—possibly in connection with newly emerging concepts about “information engagement.” However, the states that may be more willing to engage NGOs may well be the ones that possess less “hard power,” and are less interested in competitive realpolitik. Sweden, a good friend to nonstate actors, has not been in a shooting war for 200 years. So perhaps the third and fourth strategies toward nonstate actors that we have articulated will have to diffuse, from the periphery of the world political system to its core actors—slowly and over time—if the greater powers cannot advance the process themselves.

This concluding discussion could no doubt be made more thorough and nuanced. But, brief and selective as it is, it serves to underscore what we think is the important point: The rise of netwar, and its many early successes, imply the need for statecraft to adjust to—perhaps be transformed by—these civil and uncivil manifestations of the information revolution. Most central concepts about national security are over half a century old now. Containment, mutual deterrence, coercive diplomacy, all seem ever less relevant to the types of challenges confronting nation-states. Netwar—with its emphasis on empowering dispersed small groups, its reliance on the power of the story, and its suitability to leaderless networks adept at swarming—should call forth a strategic renaissance among those who would either employ it or oppose it. This conceptual rebirth, if allowed to thrive, will undoubtedly take us all far from the old paradigms. Deterrence and coercion will not disappear entirely as tools of statecraft; but, more and more often, suasion will have to succeed where the use or threat of force will only confuse the issue and foster resentment.

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