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In this process of frontier integration, we faced a choice: focus on preventing bad things from happening, or accept that a certain amount of bad things were going to happen and focus instead on spreading the networks of security, transportation, and legal rules. America chose to focus on the latter, accepting a certain level of risk, and mitigating that risk with a security approach that was selectively agile (various campaigns against various local bad actors) but systematically ponderous (the slow but steady extension of forts and then settlements and then towns and then admitted states, plus the progressive elimination of off-grid areas). Our greatest asset in this process was the individual resilience of the friendly non-state actors involved—the pioneers and settlers and early-adopting companies that drove economic activity. As they carved out nodes and eventually networks of control, their efforts were legally recognized through property rights (e.g., the Homestead Act promulgated by Lincoln). Until then, it really was Deadwood-like.
And if you want to see the modern version of that show, go visit China today.
I bring up this historical example because of the ethos and perspective it presents. Yes, we want to make all necessary efforts to hunt down the bad guys and prevent their nefarious acts, but overall our focus remains on the extension of governance—rules. So we should be generous to any and all “homesteaders” in this process, recognizing that their positive example is more likely to “drain the swamp” or reduce the pool of potentially negative non-state actors than edicts from above, or a posse that swoops in from outside, or fantastic attempts to apply motivational therapy to those who’ve already gone over to the dark side (No, Osama, I am your father!).
Understanding globalization’s division of labor in settling frontiers both real and virtual You need to visualize globalization’s historic advance as a series of successful replications.
Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace The original globalization structures of the modern world began in Europe with the rise of nation states in the 17th century, followed by an unprecedented infrastructural build-out that linked those states and economies in profoundly synergistic ways, facilitating the original Industrial Revolution there. That globalization structure was then replicated via Europe’s colonial extensions: somewhat successfully to south Asia, less so to Africa, “thinly” to South America, late and with deliberate shallowness to the Middle East.
The only place where the globalization model truly flourished was in North America and especially in the United States, which subsequently emerged, thanks more to the second Industrial Revolution, as an alternative source code for globalization—different from Europe’s colonial brand.
Following the self-destruction of Europe’s empires in the two World Wars spanning the first half of the 20th century, American-style globalization found successful replication—along with adaptation to local values—in East Asia (e.g., Japan, South Korea, the other “tigers,” then China, India and increasingly Pakistan—despite its political unrest).
As we look to the future of globalization’s successful penetration into, and integration of, the remaining off-grid locations (e.g., the Middle East, Africa, Central Asia—all sources of violent non-state actors galore) will be driven largely through the efforts of Asians—not Westerners.
The logic here is relatively simple: those “last in” the global economy serve as its most natural near-term purveyors. India and China, for example, are the countries driving the current commodity boom, given their relatively recent income elevation and productive growth. Their models of development are likewise far more appropriate to the regions in question, far more so than the more resource-intensive models pursued previously by Europe and North America.
So when we approximate the cyber sphere with the globalization process, and speak about each in the vein of frontiers to be integrated through the progressive extension of rules and governance structures (to include resistance to that rule-set spread—both violent and nonviolent), it should come as no surprise that the rising, “invasive species” in both realms are those cultures who’ve most recently and aggressively embraced globalization. They have the surfeit of bodies and ambition and needs and necessitated creativity.
For an America considering the cumulative challenges of postwar and post-conflict and postdisaster responses in these less integrated, “gapped” regions, it’s only natural that it eventually come to the conclusion that it’s future best allies in this frontier-integrating process are those cultures currently engaged in such activity at home, where domestic frontiers consist primarily of a vast sea of rural poor (a rough equivalent of my Gap strategic construct), for these countries are closest, in historical terms, to this challenge.
In contrast, Europe and Japan are far beyond their colonizing periods, and America’s days of frontier integration are—by some measures—anywhere from 70 to over 100 years past (our last big internal nation-building efforts involved the taming of the West and the “New Deal” response to the Great Depression). In our scaling of the industrial production ladder, we’ve largely priced ourselves out of this activity, both economically and demographically speaking.
Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace So when we speak of trying to tame or marginalize violent non-state actors, whether it’s in worlds virtual or real, it’s important that we remember that the cultures likely to lead this process will not be Western, but Eastern, and that Asian values will likely flavor this advance of rule sets more than Western values will.
How does this play out in the cyberspace? The West favors both unlimited connectivity and unlimited content flows. The East does not, favoring the former but not the latter, hence the extensive use of censoring and firewall technologies in many of the states there. When we consider the fears of Westoxification (read, pornography) that drive many violent non-state actors in Gap regions, this compromise seems inevitable in the cyber world—at least for some period of time.
Accepting the reality that as connectivity spreads, so too will “irrationality” There is the general assumption that familiarity breeds trust and that connectivity—especially trade connectivity--breeds peace. Over the long haul, this is clearly the case in international affairs. But in the short-term, especially under conditions of rapid ramping up of said connectivity, the usual reaction from all sides is heightened nationalism. Moreover, when there is heightened connectivity between societies of different levels of modernity, we tend to see a rise in religious sentiment in the less advanced society as individuals there reach for religion as a way to maintain collective cultural identities that are perceived as being put at risk through the exposure to outside, foreign influences (the essence of the globalization process).
The only advanced society given to increased bouts of religiosity when opening up to the outside world is the United States, belying its status as cultural source code for today’s globalization.
Having said that, globalization’s rapid advance around the planet, when combined with the individual-empowering communication technologies of the Information Revolution, means that the early 21st century is likely to be far more religious than the latter half of the 20th century. It will also feature more “clashes” of civilizations and more youthful rebellion (the Gap regions are naturally skewed toward the youth), along with more nationalism. All these coping skills will be applied to the universal task of retaining identity in a seemingly homogenizing world, the end result being that localization barely beats out globalization in most matters of cultural content.
In the cyber world, this dynamic speaks to the Balkanization scenario, which, to some, signals a “chaotic fragmentation” that subverts the Internet’s promise of creating a global culture or village. But to others, this dynamic merely signals that the Internet will largely conform to real world cultural contours—at least in the foreseeable future. It also signals that the resulting cyber sphere will more likely resemble the sloppy, cultural mash-up that is the United States than any clearly demarcated civilizations—again recognizing the rising Asian quotient to that global mix.
So think more “Blade Runner” than “Mayberry RFD,” but keep in mind the globalization of Hip Hop.
Dealing with non-state actors isn’t about diminishing demand but meeting it Part of the unreasonable ambition of the national security community with regard to moving as far “left of boom” as possible on violent non-state actors stems from the belief that, even if root Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace causes cannot be addressed through the cyber realm, effective therapy can somehow be administered through “strategic communications” and information operations in general. Two varieties are found: 1) the Oprah-like, “if they only knew us better they’d like us more” approach; and 2) we’ll-disinformation-them-to-death approach. Neither is very realistic given the tendency of believers of all stripes to self-select their cyber sources of news and information.
In other words, pissed-off individuals look for rationalizations on the web, not conversions.
Underlying these approaches is the notion that if demand can be turned off, then the pool of potential violent non-state actors can be reduced to those already lost to an aggressive stance—in effect, the at-risk population is depopulated.
The problem with this mindset, besides the aforementioned self-selection tendency, is that it seeks to reduce the demands of targeted individuals instead of simply meeting them—e.g., promoting secularism over religiosity when the former denies the search for reinforcing cultural identity and the latter enables it. Until, for example, it becomes clear to an individual that their religious identity can be maintained under the new conditions of heightened connectivity with the outside world, any communications pushing the desirability of religious freedom comes off as a non-too-subtle assault on existing local tradition—as in, “let my version of non-/religion enter into your culture and compete with yours--or else!” To truly reduce the pool of potentially violent non-state actors is to meet their demands for identity protecting cultural “tariffs,” not reducing them. If we expect these traditional cultures to let globalization in, then such generational trade-offs are inevitable. In the end, only the locals can ostracize violent non-state actors.
Only non-state actors can tame non-state actors Let me end with two pleas.
First, let me argue that whatever you write should assume a relatively humble tone regarding the utility of driving too far “left of boom.” Now, when it comes to the question of trying to find bombers before they are armed with bombs, I’m not saying you don’t use the cyber sphere for all it’s worth. I’m just saying that the national security community shouldn’t entertain fantastic ambitions to win “hearts and minds” through the cyber realm. Simply put, Americans don’t trust our own government, so I really don’t see why we’d expect foreigners to, especially those already given to disliking us.
Second, realize that the best change agents when it comes to flipping non-state actors (potential or realized) are other non-state actors, especially when it comes to young people and even more so for this current generation raised under conditions of hyper- and/or radically ramping connectivity. In general, young people respond to peer pressure better than authority figures, and authenticity here cannot be spoofed.
Deterring VNSA in Cyberspace
2.B Life in the Interconnected World: Globalizing Effects of the Cyber Domain by Rob Axtell, George Mason University and the Santa Fe Institute I have been asked to provide a short ‘think piece’ on this topic, so I shall attempt to take your thinking in some new directions while, due to space constraints, avoiding any pretense of comprehensively treating all facets of the problem.
Let me start by saying that I do not like the sub-title of this workshop—“Promoting and Protecting US Interests in the Cyber World.” I would be happier if it were less ‘normative’ and more ‘positive,’ in the conventional sense of these terms in the social sciences—‘normative’ meaning ‘what should be done’ while ‘positive’ asks ‘how does it work.’ Too often policy is put in place to solve real problems before the actual connections between the policy levers and the problem space are sufficiently well understood to promise success. I fear this may be the case for our subject, for the ‘cyber domain’ is sufficiently powerful and ‘plastic’ that its most pernicious use by actors antithetical to the West are surely yet to come, and it is almost certainly true that policy prescriptions we might author today will primarily treat symptoms instead of the problems themselves.
Violent non-state actors are certainly not a new phenomenon. Violence against the state by loosely organized antagonists has roiled every empire since the dawn of history. The boundary of the Roman Empire, for instance, was essentially determined as the distance at which the Empire’s reach was matched by one or another ‘barbarian’ group, of which there were probably thousands over the better part of a millennium, all engaged in more or less violent action against the Romans and their minions. These groups varied greatly in their organizational forms, some being proto-states whose names we know from history, while surely the vast majority were more loosely knit, temporary coalitions of tribes, many of which, when not fighting the Romans, would have been competitors for resources, land and so on. In the same vein, consider pirates in the 17th and 18th Centuries. Operating on the fringes of competing European empires, these (largely European) non-state actors were incredibly violent, plundering and pillaging all manner of treasure being expropriated to old Europe, often with shocking violence (Pennell, 2001).