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Brave New War

25 Aug 2008


Robb elegantly puts together a summary of the concepts of 4th-generation warfare and how to deal with it. It’s easy to read, not longer than it needs to be, and has lots of nifty anecdotes to follow the numbers. The style is good.

The gist of the book is that the nation-state is on the way out. Centralized governments and services are simply too complicated for terrorists not to find a weak spot to attack. He’s got example after example after example of this in Iraq, as insurgents cause a half-billion dollars worth of damage for about two large and other such shenanigans.

The last third of the book are actual suggestions on what we need to do–something the other disaster-hawkers have precious little of. He talks about turning our infrastructure components into platforms, decentralizing security and disaster response, and doing away with large swaths of government.

This book was unnecessarily cheerful for me–for all the drab future it portends, the light on the other end of the tunnel–governments less involved in our lives–is an important one to me. Maybe the thousands of unaffiliated terrorist groups, together, will force us into a more productive societal mode after a few states collapse under the weight of their knee-jerk police states. We’ll have to see.

I also had one very grim thought reading this. A big part of 4GW and the treatise of this book is superempowerment: individuals have much, much, much more power than they ever did before. Robb, who evidently has a good deal of experience as a military analyst, remarks on this trend, and notes that it is true for both sides. That’s not a traditional military viewpoint, not by a long shot. The question, and the thought I had: is individual or employment-based conscription something we’ll see on the nation-state’s way out? China recently told airplane pilots that they’d be liable for a year in jail if they quit their jobs to get better deals elsewhere. The US military already kind-of practices this with ‘stop loss’–the most valuable profession they could draft right now are people with military experience. On the other hand, the increased use of private military forces and contractors says that the need/acceptability for actual conscription should remain low.

Robb talks a lot about how public relations is a serious part of winning wars–particularly on the home front. He’s taken a step back from the whole thing and spends a lot of time talking about how we are at much greater risk of financial apocalypse from over-spending in an attempt to contain terrorism than from terrorism. One of the things involved with that is public opinion, and its strange–although 100% correct–to see someone write about it so plainly thus.