war in Iraq came at a strange moment in technological history. The 21st century
saw mass proliferation of affordable cellular telephony, altering not simply
the way people kept in touch, but did business and waged war. For the U.S.
military, cell phones posed a potentially dangerous problem. In addition to
enabling a new generation of remotely-controlled IEDs, they helped insurgents
coordinate larger and more complex groups, extending mobile C3 to any group
with a tower in range and minutes bought.
Yet, as Jacob Shapiro and Nils Weidman argue in a fascinating study, booming cellphone use cut against insurgencies. Rather than enabling more IED attacks, they made it easier for civilians to inform on insurgents. Cellphones could even fill gaps in counterinsurgent communication networks while exposing insurgent communications to U.S. superiority in electronic warfare. Looking at a systemic level rather than narrowly at one actor’s applications of a technology, mobile telephony’s expansion more likely helped than hindered counterinsurgents.
The dynamic between new technology, conflict, and social systems frequently lends itself to oversimplification. Cell phones neither made nor broke U.S. operations in Iraq, and although the Taliban appears to recognize their threat, they do not determine the course of the war there either. Despite the rapidly proliferating quantity and falling price of many new technologies, technical military dominance remains and incredibly expensive affair.
While it is not incredibly difficult to probe the DoD’s cybersecurity or even penetrate its networks, launching computer network attacks sophisticated enough to significantly degrade the U.S.’s overwhelming strength requires not just a built-up IT infrastructure for computer network attack, but a wide spectrum of electronic warfare capabilities and enough conventional punch to exploit the gap. Even in these scenarios, states such as China, Russia, the U.S. and Israel continue to enjoy massive advantages over non-state groups and poor or weak states when it comes to information warfare. The costs in human and technological capital significantly mitigates the disruptive effects of the technology.
Similarly, with remotely-operated and robotic weapons, rudimentary capabilities vastly proliferated but constraints remain on their ability to substitute for or supplement inadequate conventional capability. Basic, cost-intensive issues of physics and logistics, such as size, payload, and the availability of military-grade air-launched munitions limit the lethality of “personal” aerial drones, while even state actors without adequate C4ISR infrastructure or the conventional means to enable drone operations will find it difficult to radically change their means.
It should be unsurprising that until the mid-20th century, a major narrative in Western thought was not technology getting the barbarians closer to crashing the gate, but fueling the rise of an ever vaster and more terrible Leviathan. Increasing technical complexity and costs to waging war indeed promoted the ascent of the modern state. As the trend continued, bureaucracies and state power grew even in the most liberal states, while the Soviet Union and fascist Europe pointed towards state power, economic advancement, and military-technical strength going hand in hand. Even before totalitarianism, fin de siècle Britons such as Halford Mackinder, Leo Amery, and H.G. Wells saw new technology militating towards stronger and larger states. This was a trend the experience of the World Wars and Cold War only seemed to reinforce, until the fall of the USSR and heightened concern with disruptive technologies, anarchic failed states, and the power of individuals.
Despite the obvious oversights of those who took the writings of Orwell and Burnham a bit too far to heart, it’s important to remember that many of the technologies thought to be rolling back state power came about through state action and operate most powerfully with the state’s resources behind them. The glut of small arms and light weapons in conflict zones are frequently legacy of state-backed mass production and proxy war supplies, or states toppled with the aid of conventional power.
Keil Lieber ably demonstrated the errors of confounding technical systems with undue political attributes in his dissection of offense-defense balance in IR theory. For issues of state-building and insurgency, a similar look at how disruptive technologies require enabling and support from a wider variety of social and political factors makes it much easier to explain why some technology erodes the power of one state while vastly bolstering another. At a broader, systemic level, though, asking whether this or that technology bolsters or erodes state authority is likely asking the wrong question.
To note the increasing sophistication of non-state groups is not to imply the erosion of the state or even an adverserial relationship between state authority and other forms. Instead, given that assemblages of state power remain the dominant territorial and political forms (even if they deviate from our expectations), investigating the parasitic, commensalist, and symbiotic relationships between them will likely be the best way both to assess the political impacts of proliferating technology and the emergent shape of world order.
Jonathan Jeckell, a plans and operations officer at the Army Sustainment Command at Rock Arsenal, is one of my favorite Twitter interluctors. You see, Jonathan and I both love talking about robots. Giant robots, small robots, any robots. We often talk about robotics and future military doctrine, and I prevailed upon him to write a guest post laying out his ideas about robotic military roles and doctrine. This is some serious thought about the future of military operations, not HAL and the pod bay doors. As always, Jeckell's opinion is his own.
Differentiating between different forms of innovation and implementing them accordingly can greatly enhance military innovation. Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation elucidated in The Innovator’s Dilemma is a particularly useful and important model for innovation. This model breaks innovation down into two types, sustaining and disruptive. The difference between them is more about the purpose of the technology (which can include processes, not just physical products) and its relationship with the other components of the system (including the user) than the nature of the technology itself.
A Brief Primer on The Innovator’s Dilemma
Sustaining innovation encompasses most new technologies, and almost all improvements in existing technologies. Some forms of discontinuous innovation are mistaken for disruptive innovations, such as new technological S-curves, radical technological breakthroughs, or other types of architectural changes.[i] Sustaining innovations are not necessarily evolutionary or incremental. They are far more common and can have consequences no less profound than disruptive innovations. For example, the introduction of continuous-aim naval gunfire improved accuracy by 3,000 percent, but was a sustaining innovation.[ii] Well-run organizations are very good at exploiting sustaining innovation because the improvements fit with existing metrics valued by the organization.
Despite the connotations of the term, disruptive innovations do not necessarily constitute revolutionary change, or use cutting edge technology. They usually perform worse in the near term and are typically cheaper, simpler, more convenient, or have features that appeal to niche users.[iii] Well-run organizations usually miss disruptive innovations because they do not fit with established performance metrics or the organization’s resources, processes and values. Disruptive innovations frequently require creating a new organization or exploitation by an organization that values its attributes, which is why it is often associated with entrepreneurs. While disruptive innovations often fall short of the performance of existing technology on established metrics in the near term, they often open up opportunities for new classes of users over-served by the performance of the existing technology. Also, first movers in this form of innovation often gain advantages over rivals because they gain insight and experience (much of it tacit) with the new linkages. Sustaining innovations are much easier to mimic or steal since their value is readily recognized and easily plug into competing established organizations. Established organizations have an advantage with sustaining innovations over smaller new entrants because they are motivated and able to apply resources to the innovation to win.
Applying the model to military innovation: Armored Warfare
This model can help explain the relative success in different organizations incorporating new technology and other forms of military innovation. The same technology can fall into either category depending on how and where it is implemented, which can have dramatic consequences for its success. For example, the French Army incorporated tanks within their existing organizational structure as a sustaining innovation, which led to it merely serving as an infantry support vehicle. Infantry was the dominant branch, and thus dominated the values of the army as a whole. This determined the performance metrics valued in the platform, and determined how the tank was designed and used. Hence French tank doctrine was a linear progression of their experience with tanks in World War I. Because French tanks were added into an existing organization, they were evenly distributed across the Army as just another tool to do their traditional tasks. They were expected to cross the kill zone between trench networks and breach enemy defenses or fight from relatively static positions in support of WWI style trench warfare. As such, French tanks such as the Char B were slow (since they did not need to outpace the infantry they supported) with heavy frontal armor and a large, heavier cannon than turret technology could support at the time emplaced in the hull.[iv] Lacking a mechanism to traverse the gun, the whole tank had to pivot to aim. French tanks were not designed to shoot moving targets, nor were they designed to fight and maneuver at the same time.
Conversely, the German Army developed mobile warfare doctrine (colloquially referred to as Blitzkreig) by focusing on the relationship between the tank and other elements of their army in new ways to create a combined arms team.[v] The new organization was free to develop its own processes and values to exploit attributes of the tank ignored by the French. While French tanks were superior in armor and firepower, German tanks had better mobility (including both speed and range), communications, and fire control, allowing them to actually run rings around French tanks and hit them in vulnerable locations or bypass them altogether and attack their logistics and leaders. German doctrine used tanks in a completely different way for a completely different purpose, concentrating them to provide overwhelming force at a decisive point to achieve massive local superiority to overcome their technical shortcomings.
Applying the model to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The disruptive innovation model also provides important insights into many other forms of military innovation, and demonstrates how Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (aka Remotely Piloted Vehicles, colloquially referred to as drones) can fall into either category of innovation depending how and where it is implemented, and how that choice can have dramatic consequences.
Despite professional literature as far back as the 1970s highlighting possibilities facilitated by unmanned platforms, the U.S. Air Force has resisted deploying unmanned aircraft in roles other than target drones and decoys.[vi] Sure, they famously deployed MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reapers, but because it was driven by external demand and competition against enormous institutional opposition. The Air Force is still trying to figure out how incorporate drones into their institution, particularly regarding the career paths of their pilots, who usually bitterly resist leaving manned aircraft status. Drone programs currently being implemented in the U.S. Air Force compete against their key resources and do not fit well with the processes and values of the organization, causing the entire organization to resist and undermine their success. It is also fixating the organization on the technical performance of the component rather than novel ways to use it or its relationship with other systems. Most Air Force drones are similar in size to manned aircraft, and it’s no accident they continually compare their performance directly against manned aircraft with a similar role.[vii] They have failed to exploit the advantages of freeing an aircraft from human limitations. Instead, head-to-head competition with manned platforms has led their advocates to counter-attack and make improvements on their platforms to keep pace. This is why the Air Force is spinning the RQ-4 Global Hawk program as a fiasco. Despite new possibilities and attributes, it is still being compared directly to the U-2 on the same performance metrics.[viii] Meanwhile the Navy is much more enthusiastically pursuing nearly the identical platform for their MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance System and value it for very different reasons.[ix]
A series on Time’s “Battleland” exemplifies the weird, contorted logic many in the US Air Force are using to compare drones to manned platforms along conventional metrics favoring (surprise) manned aircraft[x] (using very faulty analysis, as pointed out by James Hasik on his blog[xi]). In contrast to the Global Hawk, external demand and threat of competition from other services and agencies keep the Air Force plugging along with the Reaper and Predator, much as it did with the A-10 Thunderbolt II (aka Warthog).[xii]
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates rejected repeated bids by the US Air Force to become the lead service for drones (and failing that, they continually painted small drones as a dire safety hazard). This allowed the U.S. Army, Special Operations Command, and Marine Corps, the former constrained in the type of aircraft it could operate by the Key West and subsequent agreements[xiii], to pursue drones in a disruptive manner. Soldiers and Marines in remote outposts enthusiastically embrace the RQ-11 Raven, RQ-7 Shadow, and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs because they provide them with aerial surveillance and reconnaissance almost on demand, in contrast with the availability of alternatives, such as a manned fighter or helicopter. Moreover, these units are vastly over-served by performance of these alternatives, which are designed for much more demanding tasks. Army and Marine Corps units are highly motivated to use and improve their UAVs, regardless of growing pains or technical shortcomings. Disruptive innovation theory predicts, however, that placing the MQ-1C Gray Eagle in Army Combat Aviation Brigades could result in the same type of institutional pushback endemic in programs in the Air Force. Army and Marine Corps units have asymmetric motivations to move upward to include capabilities provided by UAVs than the Air Force or Combat Aviation Brigades have to move downward to compete with them.[xiv]
This model can be applied to many other ways with military technology and doctrine. The Innovator’s Dilemma offers methods to recognize disruptive technologies and handle them successfully. The main lesson of this model is the danger of focusing on a technology or method in isolation, although the ability to develop new technologies and identify the best way to use it in a broader context are equally important. The US development of precision guided munitions allegedly began without a concept that could exploit the technology, while the Soviets developed doctrines based on a reconnaissance/strike complex, but could not develop the technology to realize it.[xv] Uncritically inserting a new technology into an existing organization, even if it superficially seems to fit its existing capabilities, can be as bad as not having it.
[i] Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, Harper Business, NY 1997, pg xviii
[ii] Morison, Elting E., Men, Machines and Modern Times, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 1966, pp 17-44, excerpt available as Gunfire at Sea: A Case Study of Innovation available online at http://cs.gmu.edu/cne/pjd/TT/Sims/Sims.pdf
[iii] Christensen, Clayton M. The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business, Harper Business, NY 1997, pg xviii
[iv] Macksey, Kenneth, Tank Versus Tank: The Illustrated Story of Armored Battlefield Conflict in the Twentieth Century, Barnes and Noble, NY, 1999, pp 66-67 Other tanks, such as the Somua S35 had a one man turret.
[v] Murray, Williamson, Military Innovation in the Interwar Period, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1996, Chapter 1: “Armored Warfare: The British, French, and German Experiences”, pp 6-49. Captain Terry C. Pierce (US Navy) provided his view of this event using the disruptive innovation model in Chapter 2 (pp 56-79) of his book Warfighting and Disruptive Technologies: Disguising Innovation, Frank Cass, New York, 2004 though I disagree with the way he used it in many places. Note: the tank was only a part of the new German mobile warfare combined arms doctrine, along with other innovations such as Auftragstaktik.
[vi] Bingham, Major Gene (USAF), “The Future of Drones: A Force of Manned and Unmanned Systems,” Air University Review, November-December 1977 available at http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1977/nov-dec/bigham.html
[vii] Wheeler, Winslow “5. Revolutionary…Or Routine?” Time Magazine Battleland, part 5 of the series summarizing the argument made over the previous 4 installments, 2 March 2012, http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2012/03/02/5-revolutionary-or-routine/
[viii] Beidel, Eric, “U-2, Global Hawk Advocates Square Off in Budget Battle,” National Defense Magazine, May 2012 http://www.nationaldefensemagazine.org/archive/2012/May/Pages/U-2,GlobalHawkAdvocatesSquareOffinBudgetBattle.aspx
[ix] Connolly, Michele, “Northrop Grumman Unveils U.S. Navy's MQ-4C BAMS Triton,” Navy website, 14 June 2012 http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=67815 and “MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAS, United States of America,” naval-technology.com http://www.naval-technology.com/projects/mq-4c-triton-bams-uas-us/
[x] Wheeler, Winslow “5. Revolutionary…Or Routine?” Time Magazine Battleland, part 5 of the series summarizing the argument made over the previous 4 installments, 2 March 2012, http://battleland.blogs.time.com/2012/03/02/5-revolutionary-or-routine/
[xi] Hasik, James, “Affordably Unmanned: A Cost Comparison of the MQ-9 to the F-16 and A-10, and a Response to Winslow Wheeler's Criticisms of the Drone,” http://www.jameshasik.com/weblog/2012/06/affordably-unmanned-a-cost-comparison-of-the-mq-9-to-the-f-16-and-a-10-and-a-response-to-winslow-whe.html 20 June 2012
[xii] Farley, James, “Over the Horizon: The A-10 Battle and Military Turf Wars,” World Politics Review, http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/11415/over-the-horizon-the-a-10-battle-and-military-turf-wars 8 February 2012
[xiv] The sarcastic comment made in this article about “Airpower is really just airborne artillery” exemplifies the frustration vented numerous times in the press by US Air Force and Navy pilots about moving down market to support ground units. http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/dear-boss-i-dont-just-quit-i-give-up Airpower theories founded by Giulio Douhet and promulgated by the air services have stressed the importance of strategic bombing, deep strike, and interdiction, with close air support as a necessary, but unfortunate waste of resources. As such during major combat operations air assets available for CAS dwindle. Likewise, Army combat aviation progressively moved up market to compete with low end Air Force capabilities, until their fascination with Deep Strike doctrine culminated in the unsuccessful attack on the Iraqi Medina Division near Karbala by the 11th Attack Helicopter Regiment on 23 March 2003. On Point: The United States Army in Operation Iraqi Freedom, by COL(R) Gregory Fontenot, LTC E.J. Degen, and LTC David Tohn, Combat Studies Institute Press, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2004 Pg 89 and 179-192 also available online at http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/cgsc/carl/download/csipubs/OnPointI.pdf
[xv] Ogarkov, Marshal N. V., “The Defense of Socialism: Experience of History and the Present Day,” Красная Звезда [Red Star], May 9, 1984; trans. Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Daily Report: Soviet Union, Vol. III, No. 091, Annex No. 054, May 9, 1984, p. R19. Watts, Barry, The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, 2011, http://www.csbaonline.org/publications/2011/06/the-maturing-revolution-in-military-affairs/ Adamsky, Dima, The Culture of Military Innovation: The Impact of Cultural Factors on the Revolution in Military Affairs in Russia, the US, and Israel, Stanford University Press, 2010, pg 138-143
DARPA is looking to alter the military's reliance on global positioning systems (GPS) lest it be felled by enemy jamming and denial capabilities. The solution? The All Source Positioning and Navigation System (ASPN), an all-in-one system that will incorporate a host of GPS alternatives ranging from radio beacons to stellar navigation systems. W.J. Rue, howerver, tweeted an alternative solution: a map and compass. While this should be contextualized within the perspective of the writer (Rue served with the Marines, a service that places less stock in complex technology than the other services), the GPS to ASPN issue deserves wider comment.
Why is the idea of a map and compass such an radical idea, as opposed to another set of sensors? The answer lies in technological autonomy, a well-known concept in science and technology studies. No, I'm not talking about autonomous killer robots. Rather, the idea, as popularized by Langdon Winner, is that technology is not solely a neutral tool. As the good folks at Cyborgology noted, Winner argues that technology creates networks of dependency:
Technological autonomy is a shorthand way of expressing the idea that our technologies and technological systems have become so ubiquitous, so intertwined, and so powerful that they are no longer in our control. This autonomy is due to the accumulated force of the technologies themselves and also to our utter dependence on them. …Advanced technologies require vast networks of supportive technologies in order to properly function. Our cars wouldn’t go far without roads, gasoline, traffic control systems, and the like. Electricity needs power lines, generators, distributors, light bulbs, and lamps, together with production, distribution, and administrative systems to put all those elements (profitably) into place. A “chain of reciprocal dependency” is established, Winner says, that requires “not only the means but also the entire set of means to the means.”
Each successive layer of technology creates another layer that locks an actor, organization, or nation to further dependence on mutually interlocking technological assemblages. Each new technological innovation (especially complex military platforms!) rest on a supportive network that is simply difficult to uproot. GPS and other similar systems for mapping, targeting, communication, and coordination are the root of present American military advantage. As previously noted, even new technologies that seem fairly simple when compared to capital-intensive platforms, such as drones and cyber, are underpinned by complex technological and organizational networks. From counter-IED efforts to high-end conventional warfare, we are wedded to network-enabled C4ISR.
But this isn't any different from the variety of ways we experience technological autonomy and implicit trust in complex systems in everyday life. Let's take a more mundane point of reference--the car. Very few people understand all of the inner workings of their automobile, but find themselves placing a great deal of implicit trust in its operation when they take to the highway. We commit to trusting various complex systems in life, basing our activities around the assumption that they will work the way they are designed. When trouble occurs, we ask experts (the Apple "Genius Bar," for one) to fix them. Technological autonomy and the reality of dependence gradually crowd out alternatives. Netflix, for example, has along with Hulu so dominated the rental market that it displaced brick-and-mortar stores. The remaining physical rental services, like Redbox, have incredibly limited selections.
When facing less technologically advanced enemies, complex technological systems can limit freedom of maneuver. In the Millennium Challenge wargame, Red Team commander Lt. Gen Van Riper reacted to electronic warfare platforms frying his comms by relying on motorcycle messengers and coded messages broadcast from mosque minarets. Van Riper was not rejecting technology, but relying on technologies less vulnerable to adversary disruption. But complex technology also has its benefits against less advanced foes: both manned aircraft and drones entered into American service the same way: intelligence, surveillance, and reconaissance against violent non-state actors. The way Airland Battle-era technologies demolished Iraqi ground and and anti-air forces in 1991 may be exaggerated but still deserves some credit.
We can't undo the set of technological networks our precision-strike and network-centric operations are based on, nor would it be wholly advisable to forgo the advantages such systems bring us. However, one future factor to consider when investing in military technologies is whether increased complexity (and thus layers of dependence) is worth the qualitative edge provided. The suite of technologies we utilized to build the Offset Strategy yielded ample military benefits from 1991-2003. It is less clear, as Bernard Finel observes, whether we can gain similarly disruptive qualitative advantages with new platforms today. Moreover, increased complexity, particularly in tightly coupled systems, brings increased operational risk.
I have an op-ed on Bloomberg View on the way in which the profusion of camera phones and other new-ish technology has caught the U.S. military off-guard.
The proliferation of camera phones and social-media networks has caused problems for the U.S. military as an institution. Much of this has to do with the generational divide in understanding technology. Most of the men and women serving in the lower enlisted and company-grade officer ranks are what the defense expert Thomas Rid identifies as digital natives. They grew up with e-mail, Facebook and the Internet playing as much a part in their childhoods as Saturday morning cartoons did.
The senior ranks of the military, on the other hand, are populated by digital immigrants. E-mail is something they can remember using for the first time. As late as 2008, at a conference at the U.S. Army War College, Rid asked a collection of senior officers and civilian defense officials how many of them had a Facebook profile. Only four of about 50 people in the room raised their hands.
He then asked how many people had heard of Twitter, and only two people raised their hands. Today, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff himself has a lively Twitter feed -- but the generational divide remains.
Read the rest here. With respect to this latest incident in Afghanistan, I continue to think this represents a failure of leadership on the part of whichever officers and noncommissioned officers were supposed to be supervising these soldiers. But there is a bigger issue surrounding new technologies that the U.S. military hasn't quite wrapped its head around, and in part I blame the fact that the people setting policy are often those least likely to understand the technology itself.
Now that I am no longer blogging on a daily basis, the best way to see what has caught my eye in a given day is by following this blog's Twitter feed. I know it can be an annoying bit of technology (not to mention a wee presumptuous to think you would want to read what I read), but it's a convenient way for me to link to articles and books of note.
First off, let me praise those bloggers -- Andrew Sullivan, Nico Pitney, Robert Mackey -- who have used Twitter feeds from Iran to tirelessly live-blog the uprising in Tehran. But all the same, I am happy that articles and analysis are now popping up that question the actual usefulness of Twitter as a tool of the revolution. Because it seems apparent that while Twitter has been useful in getting news out of Iran, it has been the more old-school techniques -- like, you know, word of mouth -- that have really been the driving forces behind organizing the protests that have shaken the mullahs.
The New York Times puts things in perspective in today's paper:
Skeptics note that only a small number of people used Twitter to organize protests in Iran and that other means — individual text messaging, old-fashioned word of mouth and Farsi-language Web sites — were more influential. But Twitter did prove to be a crucial tool in the cat-and-mouse game between the opposition and the government over enlisting world opinion.
More nuance arrives in today's Washington Post:
First, Twitter's own internal architecture puts limits on political activism. There are so many messages streaming through at any moment that any single entry is unlikely to break through the din, and the limit of 140 characters -- part of the service's charm and the secret of its success -- militates against sustained argument and nuance. (Yes, "Give me liberty or give me death" totals just 32 characters, but Patrick Henry's full speech exceeded 1,200 words.) What's most exciting is the aggregate effect of all this speech and what it reveals about the zeitgeist of the moment, but it still reflects a worldwide user population that skews wealthy, English-speaking and well-educated. The same is true of the blogosphere and social networks such as Facebook.
Second, governments that are jealous of their power can push back on cyberspace when they feel threatened. The Iranian state runs one of the world's most formidable online censorship regimes. In the past week alone, officials have blocked access to YouTube, Facebook and the majority of Web sites most often cited by reformist segments of the Persian blogosphere. They supplement this censorship with surveillance and the threat of imprisonment for those who speak out. Even if they fail to block political speech or organizing activities, the possibility of future retaliation can chill the most devoted activists and critics.
Paradoxically, the "freedom to scream" online may actually assist authoritarian regimes by serving as a political release valve of sorts. If dissent is channeled into cyberspace, it can keep protesters off the streets and help state security forces track political activism and new online voices. As Egyptian democracy activist Saad Ibrahim said last week during a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, this appears to be part of a long tradition for governments in the Middle East, especially in Egypt, where dissent is channeled into universities and allowed to thrive there, as long as it does not escape the university walls.
Third, the blogosphere is not limited to young, liberal, anti-regime activists; state sympathizers are increasingly active in the battle for online supremacy. Our research into the Iranian blogosphere shows that political and religious conservatives are no less prominent than regime critics. While the Iranian blogosphere is indeed a place where women speak out for their rights, young people criticize the morality police, journalists fight censorship, reformists press for change, and dissidents call for revolution, it is also a place where the supreme leader is praised, the Holocaust denied, the Islamic Revolution defended and Hezbollah celebrated. It is also a place where Islamist student groups mobilize and pro-establishment leaders, including President Ahmadinejad, reach out to their constituents within the Iranian public. Our most recent research suggests that the number and popularity of politically conservative and Islamic bloggers has grown over the past year, relative to the number of secular reformists, possibly due to the events leading up to the presidential election.
So let's not go all Twitter crazy just yet. Oh, and Evgeny Morozov went off on Foreign Policy's net.effect blog. Worth reading.
Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin -- greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday's election.
While Western news reports from Tehran in the days leading up to the voting portrayed an Iranian public enthusiastic about Ahmadinejad's principal opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, our scientific sampling from across all 30 of Iran's provinces showed Ahmadinejad well ahead.
Now that bit about Ahmadinejad was interesting enough, but here's what really caught my eye:
Much commentary has portrayed Iranian youth and the Internet as harbingers of change in this election. But our poll found that only a third of Iranians even have access to the Internet, while 18-to-24-year-olds comprised the strongest voting bloc for Ahmadinejad of all age groups.
Why do I find this to be interesting? Two reasons. The first has to do with the way in which we Westerners might confuse the protests of the young, urban, and technologically savvy to be somehow representative of the population at large. The urbane urban classes of the Earth see themselves in each other. Persons living in New York and London might have more in common with one another than they would with persons from Sale Creek, Tennessee and Glencoe, Scotland, respectively. And those same urban classes might identify with those Western-clothed, rioting youths protesting in Farsi and English on the streets of Tehran. But are their protests representative of Iranian people overall?* Are we simply finding common cause with a technologically-assisted minority and confusing it for a popular movement? One observer of the Moldova protests noticed the way in which we Westerners get fascinated by "Twitter revolutions" because, hey! We use Twitter too! Elsewhere, sceptics wonder how much effect these technologies really have.
Second, another observation that came out of the Moldova protests was this maxim: Live by Twitter, Die by Twitter. Social networking technology like Twitter, Facebook and cellular phones allows all kinds of new capabilities -- such as the ability to call for a flash mob outside parliament on 30 minutes notice, far too quick for the authorities to respond. But what happens when the state simply shuts down all wireless networks? Or bans Facebook? Now what are you going to do? If you grow too dependent on social media the state can shut down, you've got a pretty big weakness. The counter-revolutionary forces, of course, have all kinds of secondary communications equipment they can use. The revolutionary forces might not.
*I should note here that the sample of the survey cited seemed small. But it's the best hard data I have seen. If anyone can offer other data, leave links in the comments section.
UPDATE: To go along with my own asterisk, ABC's director of polling has some harsh things to say. And in the comments section, there are helpful links to analysis by Juan Cole on the rural/urban divide and other good comments. My favorite, though, is this helpful tip for any Iranian readers, from everyone's favorite Norwegian anarchist:
[S]omeone should make a how-to book on rioting in farsi. You dont throw rocks 60 meters away, dammit, and one garbagebin does not a barricade make.
The simple fact of the matter is warfighting prowess necessarily takes precedence over cultural awareness training. For a commander, there is only so much time in a day for training before deployment. Soldiers already have to devote countless hours to scheduled ranges, courses and suicidal awareness training to include many other combat readiness obligations. The high operational tempo only adds to such a stressful schedule. Moreover, even in cases where a commander can address cultural awareness, there is no centralized system to ensure a metric for success for long-term learning.More at Small Wars Journal (.pdf).
Though the most recent release of military doctrine states that, the “Army seeks to develop an ability to understand and work with a culture for its Soldiers and leaders,” and provides a rubric for proficiency in both “cross-cultural-competency” and “regional competence,” no methods are provided to the leader for how to reach such ends.
In order to provide a successful, long-lasting cultural awareness training curriculum, the Department of Defense should appropriate funding that supports a two-pronged approach. First, the U.S. military should compile cultural curriculum in micro-correspondence courses accessible through soldiers’ Army Knowledge Online account (correspondingly with the other services as well), which every soldier has access to for email, records, and daily forums. Similar to the correspondence courses already in existence, these micro-courses would focus on culturally pertinent information—regional, national, and provincial-- that a soldier would need to know about an area that they will be operating. The curriculum associated with the testing, would give a soldier a foundation to build on and improve in order to reach the prescribed level of competence.
Second, the Army should develop and issue a personal PDA device – iTough, a variant of the Apple Company’s iTouch, to every soldier in the ranks. This tool would be combat efficient, and be an essential component of a soldiers battledress. Soldiers could download traditional and cultural correspondence courses on the go, as well as language training and podcasts. There could even be capability to download and keep track of PT tests and other training proficiency through a secured system, as well as a section to take notes necessary for drafting situational reports. This enhances accountability, and makes it easier for NCOs to screen and keep track of a soldier’s overall performance, evaluate their potential for promotion, and make the counseling process more efficient. In turn, such supervision will extend an obligation to the soldier to use the device often, and add competitiveness amongst others in the unit.
In July, 2005, I asked a member of a Baghdad-based military bomb squad about the radio-frequency jammers his team was using to cut off signals to Iraq's remotely detonated explosives. His response: "I can't even begin to say the first fucking thing about 'em." A few days later, one of those jammers seemed to save me and him from getting blown up. Months after that, David Axe was thrown out of Iraq by the U.S. military, for a blog post which mentioned the Warlock family of jammers.Gang, this is not good. But what is the appropriate response? Sound off in the comments section.
So I was more than a little surprised, when I saw that Wikileaks had posted a classified report, outlining how the Warlock Red and Warlock Green jammers work with — and interfere with — military communications systems. The report, dated 2004, gives specific information about how the jammers function, their radiated power and which frequencies they stop. That Baghdad bomb tech would've put his fist through a wall, if he saw it out in public.