Jun 30, 2009, 9:36 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, South Asia | 1 Comment
We’re so obsessed with Islamic insurgency – see Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla – that we risk ignoring other types of insurgency. Like the Naxalite Maoist revolt in central and eastern India.
Michael Spacek, at India’s Forgotten War, writes about how the Naxalites recently took control of a large district in West Bengal, albeit briefly – “the Maoists have successfully been exploiting the seething resentments against West Bengal’s communist government and have steadily been increasing their influence in the state”.
I may be going out on a limb here, but like evangelical Christianity, Maoism is going to have a big future in violent and poor places in the 21st century. Maoism and Christianity are revolutionary creeds which have successful and adaptive operating systems. Both have simple but effective messages which speak powerfully to the dispossessed in society. Both have many disciples who aggressively preach and die for the cause. Both exploit local grievances and traditions to the max.
Jun 27, 2009, 3:58 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, Influence and networks | Comments Off
Six years ago I wrote a thriller, “Death Ground”*. Set in a dystopian 2019, the manuscript’s protagonist was Jeff Strangford, a burnt out undercover operative who infiltrates an eco-terrorist cell. This turns out to be an al-Qaeda front operation run by a renegade but hot Frenchwoman. Along the way Strangford is aided by a gifted hacker called Alec Sulco, erstwhile member of a clandestine cyberwarfare team known as “Spectre Force”…
“Spectre was a black ops outfit, an outlandish mishmash of hackers, programmers, cryptographers, financial analysts, safe-breakers and demolitions experts – young whizz-kids and criminals who could spy and skirmish in cyberspace, hack into a satellite, a corporate database or the computer system of a stock exchange, and take down a country’s grid or a city’s water supply in a matter of hours.”
No publisher would touch “Death Ground”. For years I wondered why. Now perhaps I’m starting to get the picture. The UK government has announced that it plans to set up an Office of Cyber Security and a Cyber Security Operations Centre, to counter cyber-attacks made by hostile regimes, terrorists and criminals. Cyber security minister Lord West said that the government is turning for help to former illegal hackers…
“You need youngsters who are deep into this stuff… If they have been slightly naughty boys, very often they really enjoy stopping other naughty boys.”
Good idea that, hiring naughty boys (and girls). Who better to catch poachers than other poachers? But hackers + government bureaucracy doesn’t sound like a good match. What’s the bet that lone wolf hackers would not thrive in a regimented bureaucracy run by managers and HR advisers. That sounds like North Korea’s approach to cyber-war.
The Russians and the Chinese appear to run a decentralized model, outsourcing cyber-war to shadowy civilian groups. The advantages of this approach include deniability, flexibility, access to the latest tactics and weapons, and being able to draw on the best talent available (hackers, IT workers, online gamers). As John Robb at Global Guerrillas has noted…
“Given the rapid decay/turnover in skills, high rates of innovation, high compensation, and the value of real-world expertise, the best people for cyberwarfare don’t work (nor will they ever) in the government. The best you can do is rent/entice them for a while.”
So, rather than set-up a hierarchical government unit, a better strategy for countering cyber-attack could be to form a flat network of experts, set a general operational framework, give people the resources they need, then let them to go for it. And keep the managers and the HR people well away.
Oh, and if you hear the name “Spectre Force” mentioned anywhere, well, you’ll know why my promising career as a writer was nipped in the bud.
* Sun-tzu: “Where without a desperate struggle, we perish. That is death ground”.
Jun 22, 2009, 10:12 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, Cooperation and coherence | 7 Comments
What do you do if you’re fighting a counterinsurgency campaign and you run out of troops, western troops that is?
According to David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (pp 269-71), the answer is to enlist villagers in “local security forces such as neighborhood watch organizations, concerned citizens groups, local security guard forces, auxiliary police and the like”. Use these local security units to do the vital but labour intensive work of protecting communities from insurgents, with support and backup from western troops.
Kilcullen uses the Iraq “surge” of 2007-08 to support this argument. The success of the surge was due to the large number of Iraqis (“mostly former Sunni insurgents or former members of local community or tribal militias”) who were recruited to local security units. This approach put a large number of people, who had expert local knowledge, to work patrolling their communities. There was no need for large headquarters and forward operating bases, line of communication troops and logistics support “since all these recruits live and work out on the ground”. And recruiting Iraqis to the government’s cause had a major impact on the insurgents’ ability to recruit and field fighters.
This is an idea that could be adapted to countering criminal gangs in rundown parts of western cities. I agree with Dean at Travels with Shiloh that…
“The first priority must be to restore order and not with the ‘drive by policing’ system we have now. In many communities the public safety sector is viewed as indifferent (at best) to hostile (at worst) and trust can be non-existent.
Law enforcement and emergency services therefore should be permanently stationed (and adequately staffed) in the worst areas and not just drive through on patrol.”
Why not take this a step further? Give trusted local partners in local communities the training, resources, backup and legal authority to provide their own basic security – as community patrols, neighbourhood watches, special constables? Free up law enforcement agencies for specialist tasks, like emergency response, investigations, surveillance, and intelligence collecting and analysis. Build this on a foundation of urban regeneration programmes that, for example…
- buttress the authority of grassroots leaders and community groups;
- create jobs through, as Dean suggests, microfinancing for small businesses, tax subsidies for industry, and intensive local food, water and energy production;
- provide education opportunities to local people, especially youth, through inter alia ICT hubs and ‘computers in homes’ initiatives.
To paraphrase Kilcullen (p260), the main aim would be to gradually restructure the social, economic and political environment so as to deny the gangs a role in it.
Jun 16, 2009, 9:45 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Cooperation and coherence, Economics and development, Global system | 2 Comments
After reading Alex’s post about Kiva, I decided to sign up with the web-based micro-credit lender. I lent money to a woman in the Philippines who wants to buy organic fertilizer for her farm.
Alex made the point that with Kiva “aid can go directly from a miniscule aid donor (like me) to a miniscule recipient (like Nguyen thi Dieu) without having to pass through the giant cogs of the international aid bureaucracy”.
From time to time I’ve considered donating money to international charities that do aid work in Asia and Africa. This is usually when a celeb appears on the TV asking me to give a dollar a day to help villagers get goats and clean water. What’s put me off is knowing that a chunk of my money would never get to the villagers, but would be siphoned off to pay for administration overheads – an aid bureaucrat’s salary, their office expenses, the SUV they drive and so on.
As Alex says, Kiva avoids that problem. You lend direct to the applicant. You can choose to make a donation to Kiva’s admin costs, or not. Some other observations: the process of lending is simple and fast – it would’ve taken me 15 minutes tops to make a loan. The information about the applicant and the field partner was succinct yet enough to make an informed decision. And the facility for individuals to lend in small amounts, which are aggregated with other loans, lets you spread risk while providing the entrepreneur with a substantial sum of money.
I’d be interested to see if Kiva starts offering portfolios which lend for specific purposes, like organic farming and micro-power generation. And if the micro-credit concept can be applied in developed countries for people who can’t get business loans from commercial banks because they lack collateral.
Jun 13, 2009, 2:31 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, East Asia and Pacific | Comments Off
Australian army signaller on patrol in East Timor, 2007 (photo: David Axe).
American strategist Tom Barnett thinks that Australia’s Defence White Paper is “a true work of goofy strategic paranoia”. He’s perplexed by Canberra’s “recent mental shift” and “sudden fear-mongering”.
I’m not sure why Barnett’s perplexed. Maybe it’s to do with the White Paper’s starting point, that over the next few decades Australia faces an uncertain and risky strategic situation. Or that Australia plans to buy 12 new submarines, 100 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and sea-based land-attack cruise missiles.
I’ve read the White Paper and I don’t sense a “recent mental shift”. Canberra’s attitude towards Asia has long been one of guarded optimism: engage actively with regional powers, and thereby benefit from Asia’s growing prosperity, but be ready to defend Australia if things go wrong. It’s hard to quarrel with the idea that Australia’s strategic situation is uncertain and risky. Key dynamics include China’s rise as a great power, the greater reach of its military forces, the reaction of other Asian powers to China’s rise, and the relative decline of American power in the region.
Australia also faces the prospect of further turmoil in the island chain to its north – the so-called Arc of Instability – which stretches from Indonesia to Melanesia. Over the past 20 years this archipelago has seen a lot of conflict, with Australian forces intervening in East Timor, Bougainville, Solomon Islands and Tonga.
While Australia places great stock in its alliance with the US, self-reliance is the cornerstone of defence policy. Australia needs to be able to deter potential enemies and defend itself from attack. Hence the emphasis on enhancing maritime, strike, intelligence and surveillance capabilities.
With this in mind, Canberra’s stance doesn’t look like goofy paranoia and fear-mongering. It just seems cautious and prudent.
Jun 10, 2009, 9:25 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, North America | Comments Off
I love a gritty internet takedown. At Travels with Shiloh, Dean tears apart a Small Wars Journal article by John P Sullivan on ‘criminal insurgencies and gangs’…
“I don’t know how but Sullivan somehow manages to sucker me into reading his stuff every time and every time I’m disappointed. The paper is a motherload of unexamined assumptions, outdated information and self promotion (17 of his 24 footnotes cite himself). I don’t know Sullivan and I’m sure he’s a great guy but if this is the sort of thinking that’s driving policy…we’re in big trouble. Sullivan has been promoting essentially the same idea for over 10 years, that gangs are going to politicize and become the major threat to the nation state system as these modern day barbarians storm the gates and plunge us into a new dark age.”
This is an excellent post. Where I part company with Dean is the idea that urban counter-gang strategy should be modelled on counterinsurgency doctrine. In Dean’s words, “Restore order, establish you’re there for the long haul and rebuild infrastructure, opportunity and trust”.
In theory this sounds like a good plan. But in practice, how many American municipal authorities have the resources to do this justice? And how would they sustain progress for the long haul? Success ultimately depends on people having secure jobs in legit economies. That in turn relies on industry returning to inner cities. There are good reasons why industry left – like changing patterns of demand, new means of production, the lure of cheap offshore labour – and that will be impossible to reverse.
Jun 5, 2009, 1:35 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, Europe and Central Asia, Influence and networks | Comments Off
Last week Alex mentioned that Global Dashboard is a “hotbed of David Kilcullen fandom”. Bravo! I’m a fan too, and I’ve been reading Kilcullen’s The Accidental Guerrilla over the last couple of weeks.
In the book Kilcullen writes at length about counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq. He also looks at guerrilla warfare in East Timor, Pakistan and southern Thailand (the long-running Malay separatist struggle). Another interesting section deals with Islamic radicalization in Europe. “Europe has no remote ‘safe havens’ outside state control”, Kilcullen writes. “But it does have ‘micro-havens’ – urban undergrounds, alienated ethnic groups, and slums where the writ of government does not always run”.
Kilcullen argues that Europeans should take a counter-subversion approach to Islamic radicalization (rather than counter-terrorism). The authorities should work with vulnerable communities to “rebuild community cohesion and authority structures”, so as to marginalize and drive out radical elements. Attacking radical networks would be a secondary and defensive measure “designed to create a breathing space in which the construction of friendly, trusted networks can proceed”.
I believe that an added benefit of this strategy is that it creates situations for governments to tap the knowledge that migrants have of their homelands – knowledge of society, culture, languages, politics, the economy, business and so on. Such information could, for example, greatly benefit intelligence agencies (who study and interpret developments in other regions), military units deploying to foreign countries, and corporations and trade delegations pursing business deals overseas.
Kilcullen rightly says that we should see Europe’s Muslim communities as a target of terrorist-sponsored subversion, not as a source of threat to European society. But let’s take that a step further and consider the opportunities that strong and integrated Muslim communities (and other migrant groups) might offer society.
Jun 2, 2009, 11:39 pm | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, East Asia and Pacific | Comments Off
Oh dear, what has Robert D Kaplan been smoking? Here he is writing about Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s recent aggressive actions and the strategic situation in North Asia…
“And so Kim lives in dread of the Chinese slowly, methodically undermining his regime in a way that will lead to him being replaced—in a palace coup, perhaps—without the implosion of the North Korean state.
His only hope is to draw America into direct talks, with Washington implicitly recognizing his regime, so that he can leverage Washington against Beijing. Nuclear tests and missile launches are his own warped way of trying to get the attention of the new Obama Administration. He needs to be enough of a problem that Washington will have no choice but to deal with him directly, rather than merely as one party among several in the multilateral talks that have characterized negotiations with North Korea since 2003.”
Two issues here.
Firstly, how the hell does Kaplan know what Kim thinks? Reclusive tyrant, secretive society – enough said.
Secondly, the notion that Kim’s trying to snuggle up to the Americans by threatening war seems contrived. Another explanation that’s been bandied about, that Kim’s acting tough as part of a plan to ensure the succession of youngest son Kim Jong Un, also sounds fanciful. With both explanations, it’s hard to see the connection between (a) diplomatic manoeuvre / internal succession issue and (b) firing test missiles, detonating a nuclear device and threatening war.
Here’s a simpler interpretation of North Korea’s actions. Kim and his generals live in a militarized, tightly controlled and isolated society. They’re conditioned to see the outside world through a thick ideological lens. This includes the belief that all foreign powers are implacably hostile to the regime’s interests. Displays of aggression, to scare off enemies, are standard reactions when North Korea feels threatened.
In this case, just what the threats are – real or perceived – is anyone’s guess.
Jun 1, 2009, 4:42 am | by Peter Hodge | Posted in Conflict and security, East Asia and Pacific | Comments Off
For the last 15 years I’ve studied strategic developments in the Asia Pacific region. But until fairly recently North Korea has been something of a blind-spot for me, a regional flashpoint that I haven’t paid much attention to.
The current crisis, in which North Korea has detonated a nuclear device, test-fired missiles and threatened war, has grabbed my attention. Perhaps this is because I’ve realized that several interesting strategic issues hinge on the communist regime’s stability and its relations with other powers in North Asia. For example, a bellicose North Korea armed with nuclear weapons could prompt Japan and South Korea to go nuclear as well. Regime collapse could trigger a flood of migrants to China, South Korea and the Russian Far East.
But what’s really captured my imagination is the sheer weirdness of the ‘Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’. When I look at North Korea I can’t help but think of Airstrip One in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. While the rest of North Asia has embraced varying degrees of political freedom and various forms of capitalism, North Korea is a totalitarian state and a command economy. It is militarized, brutalized and impoverished. The regime is ruled by an aging tyrant, Kim Jong-il, who, with his late father Kim Il-sung (the ‘Great Leader’), is the centre of an elaborate and pervasive personality cult. Unlike most North Koreans, who at best have spartan lifestyles, Kim enjoys a life of luxury. He reportedly has 17 palaces, hundreds of flash cars, and spends $650,000 a year on Hennessy VSOP cognac.
In my … err, research, I’ve come across some fascinating resources. Like the DPRK’s Twitter page, which has lots of links to illuminating articles, such as “Kim Jong-il gives field guidance to Namhung Youth Chemical Complex”. There’s this photo set of long-range shots peering into North Korea. And this very cool Google Earth map of North Korea, which details everything from nuclear missile test sites and monuments for revolutionary martyrs to submarine bases and gulags for political prisoners.
(Photo: bryanh: Revolutionary Martyrs cemetery, Pyongyang.)