Lifted from http://www.infowar.com/mil_c4i/mil_c4i5.html-ssi
The Essence of Warfare: A Return to First Principles
Michael Wilson - The Nemesis Group
Heraclitus noted that a man cannot walk in the same river twice, for it was not the same river, and he was not the same man. Less eloquently, things change. It stands to reason that conflict, at once the driving force for change, the method of change, and the fall-out from change, would itself change in nature over time. As things change, and we are able to observe more of it, certain patterns begin to arise; distance, in space and time, certainly lends perspective.
Once Man thought the Earth was the center of the Universe; then Galileo worked out a theory of motion, and paid the price; Newton comes along, and given some room for contemplation, generalizes a number of principles; Einstein catches some flaws and postulates an even more generalized set of theories. We all stand on the Shoulders of Giants.
No surprise, then, that some basic principles behind the Art or Science of War are becoming more evident as we once again transform our ways of thinking on the subject.
Approaches to conflict in the world fall into a four-quadrant grid, passive-active on one axis, defense-offense on the other. Passive defense stems from the assumption that a situation is 'friendly,' while active defense assumes 'hostile.' American activities tend to fall into this first category, while those of the Cold War Soviet Union fell into the later. Passive defense is a lethal conceit--no wonder that America has found itself playing catch-up on every conflict it has ever engaged in. The inherent danger of active defense is
seen in the fall of the Warsaw Pact and sponsor: total collapse from exhaustion as they actively tilted every windmill, unable to afford the expense of continual vigilance bordering on paranoia.
The other grid half is the realm of the active and passive use of force. Active offense, primarily the unnecessary bifurcation into attrition and manoeuvre warfare, is an area of excellence for the United States. Passive offense is an area that eludes the military establishment, although, as I will explain, this isn't necessary with a deeper understanding of what conflict is about.
Life is the struggle for the free energy in a system; even the most basic organisms are primarily 'concerned' with metabolism and reproduction. As a political economy progresses and evolves, interesting things happen, as you would expect in any system where complexity can be measured by the combinatorial interactions of the aggregate sub-systems. Political economies, social structures if you will, can be defined by the depth of what can be called 'dependency infrastructure,' or the 'value add' chain.
The most basic political economy is that of the Agrarian society, The Age of Bread. Such social structures have a very short 'material' value chain (phases in a process where the receiver of the process experiences a net gain in value or performance because of the prior process), and a short 'informational' value chain. For example, the material value chain of hunter-gatherers is minimal, just the raw labour involved in the acts of hunting and gathering, and the informational value chain is foodstuff identification and processing knowledge. Slightly more complex is a feudal society, where already the material-based labour component was being advanced by the informational--blacksmithing and tack to create plows, knowledge of planting seasons, milling grain for bread, animal husbandry. This period is still preoccupied in the struggle for the basics of life--food, shelter, warmth, procreation (Maslow's Hierarchy); resource, labour, and capital are King (usually quite literally, trapped in a zero-sum game, hierarchical political economy).
The next phase of development is the Industrial Age, The Age of Mass Production. This phase has long value chains in material resource (systems to build systems to build systems...; tools to build tools to build tools...), and a steadily growing value chain in informationals. Additionally, considerable effort is dedicated to the social contract, another example of spontaneous order, which allows the complexities of a political economy to function. The human species, not content to let such systems be self-regulating, has wasted enormous resource in the attempt to govern (in a cybernetic sense) the process, not realizing that where there is free competition, there is no dependency, something most groups claim to desire.
The current phase of development is what has been termed the Information Age, the Age of Patents. Material value chains are beginning to die back, while the informational value chain is increasing; this reflects the situation that embodied thoughts can have value (and in fact are replacing the resource-labour-capital triad), while still being dependent upon the infrastructure. Western civilizations, the most advanced of this phase, are fumbling with the new informational value chain that progresses data into information into knowledge into wisdom; most effort actually goes into simple shuttling of raw data and a little information from here to there. The social contract is more confused than ever; specialization has been forced by the
complexities of getting to this phase, yet most of the critical basis for interaction is being undermined. It is still increasingly an age of positive-sum games, heterarchies, etc.
Interestingly, extrapolation of this trend leads to a further or complete decay in the material value chain, possibly because of advances in space exploration or nanotechnology. We'll have to wait to get there-then to see which it is.
Now to return to conflict. In the Agrarian Phase, direct control of the means of production through possession was necessary; from this phase we have centuries of examples of 'conventional' warfare, attrition style. As advances were made into the Industrial Age, devastation of the dependency infrastructure was no
longer a viable option--what was broken couldn't work for the winner's benefit. This led to progress in manoeuvre warfare, where control became important, rather than devastation. Other than a decidedly significant side-trip because of atomic and then nuclear weapons, this remains the guiding principle of modern warfare. In fact, it demonstrates (incidentally satisfying the correspondence principle) a more fundamental nature of 'warfare' oriented around the dependency infrastructure (DI):
-- Conventional warfare seeks victory by overwhelming or through forcing a failure of the opposition's DI.
-- Manoeuvre warfare seeks victory by taking control of key elements of the opposition's DI, essentially imparting control.
-- Guerrilla warfare orients around opportunistic attacks on the opposition's DI, making the energy cost of conflict too great to maintain.
-- Political warfare is control of the members of a political economy through (establishment and) control of a DI, coupled with media manipulation, propaganda.
-- Terrorism is a case of actions taken against the social contract to attract media attention to a conflict when the media is (perceived to be) controlled by the opposition.
A dependency infrastructure is composed of widely varied elements of the social contract of the political economy--command-control bodies, social services, education, the workings of an economy, communication systems, spiritual leaders, anything that supports the value chain of the phase, directly and collaterally.
Warfare, then, is about the control of the dependency infrastructure; some forms of warfare need not require a single shot to be fired, instead seeking victory through establishing control of the dependency infrastructure. This cognitive tool explains many things:
-- Gandhi was successful in large part by his demonstration that the infrastructure of the raj was actually in the control of the Indian people (consent of the governed), and they reasserted themselves in this fashion.
Other strategies of Gandhi bear study, including his self-creation as a media symbol and deliberate infliction of harm upon that symbol as a method of war, whether through his being arrested, or fasting to the point of personal bodily harm.
-- The problem of Iraq for the West, post-Gulf War, is that the Iraqi dependency infrastructure was left intact, and in the hands of Saddam Hussein. This does not question the validity of the conflict itself, which has been claimed to be in the 'national interest.' The rule of thumb to see if something is a national interest? Does it have an effect on your dependency infrastructure to a dangerous degree. Any singular control of significant OPEC resources can be viewed as a weapon in the making.
-- Social unrest occurs because of a failure of the dependency infrastructure for those suspended and dependent inside it; riots are a symptom of this problem, by people who suffer from a cultural disease we have no name for.
-- The odd relationship the U.S. has with terror; access to the free media market has become important to support for a cause, while the blind eye the U.S. turns on certain issues makes it a target. Any group who feels a media bias on an issue, Palestinians versus Zionist occupation, Ireland versus United Kingdom
rule for example, will be caught trying to have it both ways.
-- The problems the U.S. faced in Viet Nam, such as the inability to control a dependency infrastructure with air strikes, or the total corruption of the allied infrastructure, driving anyone adversely effected to the alternative infrastructure supplied by the Viet Cong and NVA.
This cognitive tool also suggests a new form of warfare where victory comes from the establishment of alternative dependency infrastructures in a political economy, in conjunction with propaganda efforts (which would be useful in the Former Soviet Union, Central and South America, or North Africa for example).
Let me also add that it is going to be a serious failing in areas such as Gaza/West Bank where no infrastructural development is being undertaken, the greatest threat to peace in the region.
Following this chain of reasoning, even new areas of thought on conflict make sense, such as the special case of information warfare--at one end of a 'force spectrum' it can be used as a weapon of mass destruction (WMD) just as nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons which overwhelm the dependency infrastructure
of an opponent, and at the other end it can be used in guerrilla, terror, or political warfare to selectively destroy or surreptitiously control the dependency infrastructure. Seen on these terms, it makes perfect sense in terms of doctrine; it also explains why it is an increasing and soon to be critical threat to the nations of the West.
Conflict in this 'advanced' world is not getting any easier. To understand what is occurring in Bosnia or Somalia, you have to put them in their context; to understand future conflicts, with guerrillas, terrorists, propagandists, hackers, cyberpunks, et al, we will have to search for the basic essence of conflict--because only by understanding those basic principles will we be able to prevent the world from falling apart around us, or at least not be caught out by it when it does.
Copyright 1994. All rights reserved. May be freely distributed as long as this notice and authorship byline are intact.