Smart Power Equalizer (part II): disaggregation

Last week I posted Smart Power Equalizer: finding the mix as the first of a multi-part series on the design and application of “Smart Power” to prevent, lessen, or terminate modern conflict. Mostly focused on counterinsurgency, it has obvious an application in fighting against a particular technique of conflict, terrorism, which generally requires substantial social support. This second part in the series comments on our mirroring and aggregation of the enemy that results in faulty strategy and tactics.

Total information awareness is valuable tactically as, in the context of combat, it tells who what is where. But the oft-repeated vignette by Robert Scales highlights the failure to TIA when he quoted infantry commander returning from Iraq:

“I knew where every enemy tank was dug in on the outskirts of Tallil”, he replied. Only problem was my soldiers had to fight fanatics charging on foot or in pickups and firing AK 47s and RPGs. I had perfect situational awareness. What I lacked was cultural awareness. Great technical intelligence….wrong enemy.”

What is necessary is knowledge, not information, on the enemy. The motivation of the enemy was of less importance strategically as victory required the defeat of the state. Breaking the will or moral of individual units through PSYOP was desire and useful but wasn’t expected to turn the tide or have a substantial strategic impact because of the hierarchical nature of state-based conflict.

Today, we need to know more about the individuals and how they got to be holding a gun or RPG or setting of a bomb, remotely or on or near their person. We need to know why he fights and for whom he fights. The fighter we face today may not be the same as we faced yesterday as groups shift and our geographic focus shifts as well. As David Kilcullen wrote, there is a need to disaggregate the enemy. We must look at how they recruit and what motivates their fighters and supporters. This information, compared with the past, is now of strategic importance while at the same valuable at the tactical level as we focus on the grassroots level of support. This is where AQAM beats us and where we can and must have a greater and positive presence (food for thought).

Insurgents fight for various reasons. Robert Pape delves into the motivations of suicide terrorism and Marc Sageman into the networks of terrorism, both of whom locate specific facilitators of recruitment and encouragement that rely in part on misinformation by the enemy and propaganda coups handed to them by us.

The different aspects of power must be employed collectively as Smart Power under the obvious assumption of intelligent application under an informed guidance counters enemy recruiters and propagandists, if not only by making their more difficult. Information will not win the war, knowledge will. Knowledge of the enemy, his motivation, his cause, and his support systems facilitates the development of appropriate and (hopefully) prevents inappropriate countermeasures.

There is no singular Center of Gravity of this enemy. There are a number of COGs based on differing levels of frustration, selfishness, and community alliance (tribe, clan, criminal, etc) in addition to outside psychological, moral, and physical support systems. Sometimes the same group may have multiple COGs, a feature that further breaks them from our own image of the enemy.

Imagining a new form of warfare emphasizes our perception of violence and imposes a collective high power that is often absent in insurgencies and not monolithic. Theories about netwar and so-called “4GW” and the reliance on Boyd’s OODA Loop impose our own perceptions on the enemy in ways “4GW” says we must not. In addressing American operational art, the combination of time and tempo (popular example: “Shock and Awe”) may win the “war” but not the “peace”, an artificial deconstruction of conflict popular with technological-centered warrior theories.

It is incumbent to incorporate new (to us) understandings of how the enemy organizes and operates into our operational doctrine, or at allow for its insertion on an as-needed basis. Schultz and Dew show that OODA loops don’t matter when the invaded don’t see war as “organized violence” requiring “paper, forms, and documents”, don’t mirror our hierarchy, and have different priorities. The behavior of the enemy is far different from modern Western principles and thus has different levers and pressures points for manipulation. Our focus on whether or not the engine of insurgency is religious or socio-political may ignore the underlying realities of the why and how in specific instances. Like in the West, religion may be a Gramscian distraction and our focus on it blinds us to the levers and pressure points necessary for successful operations and their own disagreements and inconsistencies.

A flexible response that is adaptable to the variety of opposition groups is required for success. The transformation of information into actionable knowledge (a redundant phrase I know but used for emphasis here), is the keystone of knowledge management and a criteria for victory, however it is defined. The intelligence community and other communities must be involved to eliminate blindspots in this area.

Sidenote: the in development ConflictWiki ( seeks to create knowledge from information…