Information and Organizations

I am generally a fan of Evgeny Morozov‘s op-eds, articles, and blogs critiquing “techno-utopianism.” I myself wrote a critical analysis of the techno-hype about the Iran election crisis. I think his latest op-ed in the Wall Street Journal is also right on in its critique of uncritical “information wants to be free” themes:

“Will the oppressed masses in authoritarian states join the barricades once they get unfettered access to Wikipedia and Twitter? This seems quite unlikely. In fact, our debate about the Internet’s role in democratization—increasingly dominated by techno-utopianism—is in dire need of moderation, for there are at least as many reasons to be skeptical. Ironically, the role that the Internet played in the recent events in Iran shows us why: Revolutionary change that can topple strong authoritarian regimes requires a high degree of centralization among their opponents. The Internet does not always help here. One can have ‘organizing without organizations’—the phrase is in the subtitle of ‘Here Comes Everybody,’ Clay Shirky’s best-selling 2008 book about the power of social media—but one can’t have revolutions without revolutionaries.”

I think, however, that the basic point has been made well enough: the Internet is not a panacea. In fact, this point was made very well in David Ronfeldt’s original paper on “cyberocracy”–which I plug at every opportunity because I think that it set the basic parameters of debate about information revolutions that many discussions today unwittingly echo. The real debate is not necessarily on technology per se but organizational structure and leadership. What kind of organizational structure is best? How should strategy be devised? What is the role of leadership? Once we answer these central questions the role of information becomes relatively clear because information is ultimately an appendage of more fundamental and structural questions.

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Black Swan and Toyota

This is an excellent post by Kotare:

“Toyota is a global institution. It enjoyed a global reputation as an innovative manufacturer of automobiles that are safe, reliable, and, with the development of the Prius petrol-electric hybrid, clean. No doubt it seemed like a safe bet, for company employees, auto-workers, investors, dealers, car buyers and so on. Then came the black swan – Fortune’s KO.The crisis shows that one Black Swan triggers other Black Swans, at different levels. Imagine, for instance, the panic among Toyota auto-dealers as the crisis deepened, with thoughts turning suddenly to the impact on future sales, bonuses and livelihoods. The more extensive and influential an institution is, the greater the ripple impact when disaster hits.

Most people try to avoid the Black Swan by playing it safe. You take a job in a safe organization, like a bank, a bureaucracy, or a corporation. You put money in a safe investment. You buy a safe family car. Generally, this strategy works, at least for a while. But if disaster hits, the psychological impact on the person who plays it safe must be disproportionately greater than on the person who is accustomed to coping with a measure of uncertainty and risk in their lives.”

Even if you don’t buy into the Black Swan idea the words he writes here are still valuable. Mitigating risk is one of the most basic aspects of life. Merely getting into your car to drive to work or see your girlfriend could kill you.

Campaign Planning and Strategy

I’ve got a new piece with Starbuck of Wings over Iraq in the Small Wars Journal examining campaign planning and its relationship to strategy. We collaborated previously on looking at the utility of science fiction in thinking about national security. While there are no Jedi here, you can learn about equally arcane topics such as Effects-Based Operations, Centers of Gravity, and Logical Lines of Operation.

FM 3-24: “Active Defense” 2.0?

Often times a post's comments are more interesting than the post itself. This is the case with a SWJ link to Tom Ricks discussing David Kilcullen's metrics for COIN. Gian P. Gentile makes the most interesting analogy here:

It is time for FM 3-24 to be deconstructed and put back together in a similar way as the American Army’s Active Defense Doctrine was between 1976 and 1982. That previous operational doctrine was thoroughly debated and discussed in open (not bureaucratic) forums and the result of that debate was a better operational doctrine for the time commonly referred to as Airland Battle . In short, FM 3-24 today is the Active Defense Doctrine of 1976. It is incomplete and the dysfunction of its underlying theory becomes clearer and clearer every day. We need a better and complete operational doctrine for counterinsurgency.

The "Active Defense" doctrine Gentile refers to is the 1976 version of Field Manual 100-5 Operations. Informed by the 1972 Yom Kippur War and General Trevor N. Dupuy's largely quantitative study of military history, "Active Defense" emphasized the tactical level and winning the first battle of the opening World War. Of course, given the deep echelonment of Soviet forces winning the first battle might not count for much. The heavily tactical and attrition-based orientation of the manual didn't really play well to NATO numerical weaknesses as well. The linear defense methodology, though virtually ordained by European defense commitments (we could not use an elastic defense) was also problematic. So (as the mostly hagiographic histories state), we moved on to the AirLand Battle Concept and the 80's versions of FM 100-5.

People have made all kinds of accurate criticisms of the manual but I think the larger problem of FM 3-24 is that it doesn't really reflect the kind of conflicts the US is involved in. The Galula 1960s Maoist insurgency template is largely gone. Insurgencies today are much more fractured and the likely role of the US in future conflicts is much different than the kind that Galula wrote about.

The problem is drawing the line between the theoretical faults of the manual and ingrown problems of Policy that have migrated into it. The heavily tactical approach of "Active Defense" for example, was an important result of not being able to utilize an elastic defense because of the harm it would do to NATO's harmony. Similarly, when Policy changes (as I suspect it is due to the present administration's different approach to defense), the doctrine may change as well.