Globalization’s Double-Edged Sword

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We have entered the age of the faceless, agile enemy. From London to Madrid to Nigeria to Russia, stateless terrorist groups have emerged to score blow after blow against us. Driven by cultural fragmentation, schooled in the most sophisticated technologies, and fueled by transnational crime, these groups are forcing corporations and individuals to develop new ways of defending themselves. The end result of this struggle will be a new, more resilient approach to national security, one built not around the state but around private citizens and companies.

John Robb, Brave New War, June 2007.

John Robb has an unusual resume: he went from being an Air Force officer in a counterterrorism unit coordinating Delta Force folks and Navy Seals in the late 80s to working as one of the first Internet technology analysts in the mid-90s. Since then, as the world has gotten more wired and no less bloody, he’s been putting these two disparate strands of experience together, writing and arguing that globalized connectivity and democratized technology will lead not just to increased productivity and creative possibility but to sophisticated attacks and chaotic disruptions. That, in other words, the bad people people out there are just as wired as the good ones.

Robb’s contention is that in our near future, when non-state actors commit cheap but effective network attacks (think internet, electricity, oil, water, transportation, etc.), our lugubrous, inefficient, centralized states won’t be able to help us (think Katrina, or Iraq). Instead, we’ll have to get resilient. Rich corporations and individuals will lead the way:

Security will become a function of where you live and whom you work for, much as health care is allocated already. Wealthy individuals and multinational corporations will be the first to bail out of our collective system, opting instead to hire private military companies, such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, to protect their homes and facilities and establish a protective perimeter around daily life. Parallel transportation networks — evolving out of the time-share aircraft companies such as Warren Buffett’s NetJets — will cater to this group, leapfrogging its members from one secure, well-appointed lily pad to the next.

John Robb, Security: Power To The People, Fast Company, March 2006.

But his real call to action is more public, and more local. He’s looking for a 21st-century self-sufficiency, with community food production, a more supple and sophisticated power grid, and an underlying assumption that the only way to survive attacks in a globalized world is to be able to survive locally.

I should have mentioned that Robb was also an Eagle Scout. Are you prepared?

John Robb

Author, Brave New War

Blogger, Global Guerrillas

Richard A. Clarke

Advisor to Presidents Reagan, Bush (I), Clinton, and Bush (II)

National Coordinator for Counter-terrorism, National Security Council, 1998-2001

Author, Against All Enemies and, most recently, Breakpoint

Chairman, Good Harbor Consulting

Moisés Naím

Editor-in-chief, Foreign Policy

Author, Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy

Former Venezuelan Minister of Trade and Industry

Extra Credit Reading

John Robb, Security: Power To The People, Fast Company, March, 2006: “This terrorist-criminal symbiosis becomes even more powerful when considered next to the most disturbing sign coming out of Iraq: The terrorists have developed the ability to fight nation-states strategically–without weapons of mass destruction. This new method is called “systems disruption,” a simple way of attacking the critical networks (electricity, oil, gas, water, communications, and transportation) that underpin modern life.”

Michael Tanji, Brave New Review, Haft of the Spear, April 22, 2007: “Comparisons are going to be drawn between Robb’s work and that of Tom Barnett of Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action fame… Suffice it to say that their work is complimentary in many areas save for issues related to the roles of government and the long-term. Tom is Pooh Bear, John is Eeyore.”

Grim, COIN: The Gravity Well, BlackFive, April 23, 2007: “Give me ten minutes, and I’ll tell you everything you need to know to understand this new model of insurgency. Plus, I have a little addition of my own — a way to visualize David Kilcullen’s “disaggregation.” Ten minutes, and you’ll both understand how the Global insurgency works, and how to fight it — even in those times and places when we have no combat troops to devote to working it.”

Chris Monasterski, Most powerful force in the international economy?, Private Sector Development Blog, March 21, 2007: “Naim painted a picture of transnational criminal networks of “specialists in logistics” operating as independent cells. He warned of the growing criminalization of politics and the politicization of crime in many corners of the world.”

Dan tdaxp, Guerrillas as Petty Realism,, April 24, 2007: “Unable to hold territory, and unwilling to join a minimal winning coalition capable of achieving victory, all global guerrillas can do is generate violence. All they can do is make some other group even more attractive, if that group promises to end or reduce the violence.”

Richard Clarke, Breakpoint, Powells Books Blog, January 23, 2007: “In Breakpoint, somebody is attempting to destroy the technological facilities making scientific advances. They are using the vulnerabilities that exist today in cyberspace, in our computer controlled networks.”

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