All 3 entries tagged Asymmetric Warfare

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August 01, 2005

Discussion Primer: the new al–Qaeda

Follow-up to Discussion Primer: Understanding terror networks, asymmetric warfare from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

A response to Peter Taylor's BBC documentary.

Not much to say really, and not much of a discussion primer either. All I can say is "so what?". The journalism was conventional and unimaginative – looking for physical connections when only distant connections would suffice, and making suppositions based on fragments of evidence. He barely addressed the really important issue:

al-Qaeda and other new terrorist networks may well be quite different to the terrorist organisations of the past

The connection to organized crime was made, and should be explored a great deal more. But the strange motivations of the terrorists, the most important thing to understand, was barely mentioned. Interestingly, we were told that at least two of the suspects lived 'double lives' as both 'criminal playboys' and Jihadists – that is fascinating and highly significant. There are strange subcultures of violence, criminality, and male power behind this, but that doesn't quite fit with the Islamic conspiracy theory.

Sadly this documentary failed. We need journalists with imagination, capable of creating adequate concepts to match the innovations of the terrorists and the forces behind them.

This raises an interesting question about the purpose of TV documentaries. The BBC are wrong in thinking that even a good investigative journalist is capable of creating a solid and thorough case of evidence in such a complex situation as this. Too much detail is required, hence the high degree of supposition and grasping at connections. In reality it is so complicated and difficult that national governments, judiciaries and intelligence agencies struggle. Why then does the BBC think it can do the job?

I would argue that the role of TV documentary is to come up with alternative ways of seeing the world, examining the implications, and suggesting ways in which those theories might be tested. Unfortunately, TV journalists are either not brave enough or just not up to that challenge. It's easier to play the role of the detective.

Comments welcome.

July 12, 2005

Discussion Primer: Understanding terror networks, asymmetric warfare

Follow-up to Discussion Primer: War on terror from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

An interview with Lord King and an American whose name I missed on the Today programme (Radio 4) this morning demonstrated how there are in fact people outside of party politics with a more sophisticated understanding of the current situation.

Tom King has much experience of terrorism. He has a detailed and personal knowledge of Irish terrorism, having been Northern Ireland Secretary during some of the worst times. His response to the recent attacks on London is that of an informed and intelligent expert. The American interviewee seemed equally infiormed, and I think had held a senior post in the US government. Here's a list of some of the points that I think they made:

  • terrorist networks work in a very different way to conventional armies;
  • al-Qaeda and other new terrorist networks may well be quite different to the terrorist organisations of the past;
  • civil society is now so complex and so big that defending against terrorism using conventional approaches may be impossible (although of course not entirely futile);
  • Tom King stated that responding in the wrong way could in fact make the situation much worse (he cited internment in Nothern Ireland as such a mistake);
  • we need new concepts and models to describe this situation;
  • one such concept mentioned was 'asymmetric warfare', which I take to mean conflict between radically different types of force. (this is a useful but unimaginative definition).

The task then is to understand each side of the asmmetrical engagement, and then how the sides feed-off each other positively and negatively, how they learn from each other, and how they may form a symbiotic relationship locking each other into an ongoing engagement.

July 07, 2005

Discussion Primer: War on terror

Follow-up to Research Notes: Naive Deleuzianisms, the war on terror, the valorization of self–organizing systems from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

In response to today's attacks. The response from the politicians will be immediate, but potentially deeply flawed. Those flaws may make the situation much worse. These mistakes stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of the threat that is attacking us.

Following on from what I have previously written, we can see that:

  • it may be that al-Qaeda are not an 'organisation' in the traditional sense;
  • they may well be a loose confederation, network or even just a set of ideas (a meme);
  • each of these possibilities must be met with a radically different strategy;
  • for example, conventional wars are fought between organisations, with definite territories delimiting quantifiable victories and defeats, this may not apply to terrorist networks;
  • responding with a conventional military campaign against such a force may actually offer them easier targets, propoganda, recruits and most significantly a systematic and coordinated set of learning processes;
  • the tactic of trying to draw a terrorist organisation into a conventional campaign, through the destabilisation of a marked territory (as attempted by the US in Iraq), is a high risk, and likely to fail.