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Modern Political Warfare

Michael Wilson [5514706@mcimail.com]
Copyright 1993 by the author. All rights reserved.

"...they thought weapons destructive in proportion to their noise..."
--T.E. Lawrence ('of Arabia') on the Arab levies he commanded

It may seem ludicrous to lump together those unsophisticated Arab partisans with our modern military leaders, yet they have the same belief--that, as Mao said, political power comes from the barrel of a gun (or bomb; in the end it is all the use of force, just in various forms and delivery mechanisms). Yet it is political warfare, less dramatic, slower, and likely less noisy, winning out over conventional warfare as the most effective technique for modern conflict.

Power, as that is truly the objective, comes from the use of force. Technological development of weapons has progressed to the point where we can deliver megatonnage of explosive force within the diameter of a hula-hoop. Access to this "bigger and better bang for your buck" has blinded the strategists and tacticians to the possibilities afforded by the metered and directed application through the use of political warfare (polwar). The 'boys with their toys' continue on their path, in denial that conventional military doctrine has not worked, for example, in Afghanistan (Soviet aggressor), the Middle East (Israel as the aggressor against the Palestinians, Alliance forces as aggressor against Iraq), or Viet Nam (U.S. aggressor). In each case, the aggressor couldn't achieve their objective, suffering the gamut from ignoble defeat, international condemnation, or convenient redefinition of objectives to declare a hollow victory. The recent winners in global conflicts have used the varied tactics that can be largely categorized as 'political warfare,' a set of strategy and tactics that encompasses agitation, propaganda, subversion, economic manipulation and attacks, rioting, terror, diversionary diplomacy, as well as guerrilla and paramilitary actions.

This is only intended as an introductory functional guide to technology's effects on conducting an updated political war. Let it be said, however, that the written word has little to do with the success or failure of a group succeeding with such warfare; not withstanding the writings of a Sun-Tzu, Mao, or Lawrence, this 'brand' of warfare can come naturally, for instance with the forgotten Von Lettow-Vorbeck, who fought during the same era as Lawrence, and performed greater feats with poorer troops. Any group whose objectives are to assist conventional forces engaged in conflict, to defend their land against invasion by an aggressor, to throw off a success invasion of their land, to directly overthrow the government installed in power, or harass the government in power to force its downfall, will either find such guides as this, or will reinvent what they need to as they need it.

As there are a number of excellent basic 'manuals' on waging political or guerrilla warfare, this document will only serve to supplement, but with an important difference in approachif conventional warfare has gone 'high tech' so successfully, why not political and guerrilla warfare? Even on a basic level, like the spread of information such as contained in this and other similar documents, benefits from technology are legionprivate press through printers, xerox machines to make duplicates, electronic copying and transference methods to further move the information around. Enforcement gets comparably more difficultcan you tell by looking at the surface what is on a disk? That the account data recorded on a credit card's magnetic strip doesn't match the embossed name? That a cellular phone has been modified to keep jumping numbers, making it further untraceable? Such changes and advances favor the rebels--they have no imposed limitations of law or bureaucracy to adhere to.

Note an important caveatuse of technology and technological tools for polwar only truly applies in the context of an economy that can afford them (an industrialized one, such as the U.S., EC, etc.), but the techniques of economic warfare apply just about anywhere. The 'trick' is to understand the basic concepts underlying polwar and to be flexible enough to operate and apply them across the spectrum (not just at the low end, like most partisans).

Agitation, Subversion, Rioting, and Support
It is important to have a public presence, and for more reasons than just the psychological value gained by having an opposition, an alternative to whatever is going on. Such events also provide active and passive recruiting--people who join once they know there is an opposition force, and people who join in reaction to the inevitable crack-down by the police or soldiers dispatched to put down the action. The actions also gain the rebels a degree of their active support, whether of shelter, intelligence, or materiel. At minimum, it establishes whether there will be popular support, even if not directly contributory to 'the cause.'

Technology has already begun to have an impact on such actions, by providing a critical communication backbone--riots or other partisan actions have been pre-planned and publicized with electronic communication systems from faxes to electronic mail, have been managed while in progress with untraceable cellular phones, and have shown up on the CNN International Hour, courtesy of home video (the 'flash crowd' aspect of media coverage, where actions occur in waves or are sustained because of people who 'tune' in and then drop in on the action, is a part of this). Funding and support have been solicited through electronic messaging and bulletin board systems. All the tasks of organizing, managing, and operating a rebellious entity have become simpler and more effective with technology.

The Nazi Ministry of Information had nothing on what exists today. Technology makes possible such wonders as a whispering campaign that can reach over 4 million people across the Internet, to the creation of reputation damaging 'evidence' of the improprieties of target figures (for instance, the use of digital computer technology to create composite photos of political figures in compromising situations). What makes technology a powerful propaganda tool is that it is a 'lever'--it creates a larger presence, no matter what the actual initial size of the organization, and can create a 'buzz level' sufficient to attract considerable media attention.

Economic Manipulation/Guerrilla and Paramilitary Actions
Attacks on the economic strength of the target are the new primary objective. Attacking an economy has only become a truly potent tool in the nuclear age; in the age of Empire, it was possible to continually seize new resources to make up for any loss, relying upon constant expansion to keep you moving ahead of your mistakes and problems. Introduction of the nuclear capacity has given new security and created a new threat--no longer will countries attack others with impunity, but they must all now deal with the resources provided by their own land or what they can gain in trade. Targeting the resources that an economy exports, destroying the critical resources it imports, and impairing or destroying the mechanisms for moving the resources and capital are subsequently the best possible strategy. Tactically, this may be done, as the larger powers do, through economic embargo and air/naval strikes; the ready availability of weaponry, explosives, and new techniques such as informational warfare tactics, make it possible for rebel actions to be just as effective.

Examples of such tactics are always instructive. Three targets where such tactics can be especially effective would be Israel, Great Britain, and the United States. Israel is already hyper-extended, with their involvement in the West bank, Lebanon, etc.; they spend money like water (not a wise idea in the desert) and their economy is already crippled from military spending and inflation. Their few industries for export are pitiful, there is no real mineral or petro- wealth, and they have few resources they could dedicate to the rebuilding of any destruction to their rail, air, or shipping facilities. Scarce water resources make such targets as the Yarkon-Negev pipeline attractive targets, and even the Israelis can't be everywhere. A target such as Great Britain is harder, but can be hit through the destruction of key production facilities, mining sites, and ecological attacks on the crops. British shipping ports are particularly weak, as are other sections of their infrastructure. Britain is just over the edge of being susceptible to informational warfare techniques, making direct attacks on their financial resources possible. The United States, which one would think is a hard target, is in fact much easier than it would first appear; the technology revolution in the U.S. has created many opportunities. Allies of the U.S. also provide a handle on damaging the U.S.; destruction of critical chip manufacturing or precision equipment in Japan has a directly adverse effect on the American economy. Targeting of key mineral reserves in South Africa, simple to accomplish by aiding partisan forces already there, damages the American military machinery. All it takes to pick targets is a serious analysis of your opponent's economy.

What is crucial to remember is that while these targets may indeed be 'obvious' to the targeted power, there are so many targets to hit that they just can't protect them all. Rebels have time on their side, and guards anywhere get lax. In addition, the tactics of a predator, the wolf, make a good model--when hunting, a wolf will have many options out of a herd. The wolf will make a run at a variety of potential targets; if a target doesn't 'flinch,' the wolf moves on, but at the slightest hint of weakness, the wolf seizes the opportunity to cull the herd. Even the process of checking targets serves to wear down the opponent, not to mention what the cost will be for them to maintain security levels at such a vast array of targets. In the long run, as such tactics are intended to function over, they bleed (capital that can't productively go elsewhere) to death.

Terror attacks, which have yet to be clearly defined by either the U.N. or the U.S. Department of State, are potentially radically different with the introduction of technology. Changes come in organization (which provides many more options, thanks to technology, than the cell strategy); communications; recruiting (including aggressive recruiting in the various 'underground' movements); training; funding (through the creative use of computer crime tactics); armament (including the use of new, sophisticated informational warfare technology); tradecraft (such as drops, cut-outs, etc.); and operations (where many things change, from the planning/research process to the targets themselves, changing to critical 'nexus' points).

Diversionary Diplomacy
'Global Village' style press coverage means that, in this very small world of ours, such tactics become noticed--witness the Bosnian cease-fires. The use of false diplomatic maneuvers to cover for some other hostile action has become the province of the larger players, based on their usually superior intelligence capabilities. For instance, the British used it to draw out and expose the network and resources of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (Provos); the offer of a cessation of hostilities seemed valid enough that many Provo members resurfaced or dropped their cover, which the British then proceeded to take advantage of by neutralizing as much of the network as possible. The Israelis regularly play a game with the Palestinians that is similarly damaging; Israelis begin negotiations and will later break off for one of two reasons--they will blame the PLO for hostile actions which they know the PLO did not commit, or they will string along negotiations, making press releases stating the Palestinians have agreed to demands they never in fact agreed to, and then back off, making it look to the world press as if the Palestinians were bargaining in poor faith.

Organization and Equipment
A definite advance is that a 'part-time' or 'week-end' revolutionary, who regularly leads a perfectly normal life, yet also acts as a potent rebel, is now possible. Organization topography need no longer be the 'cell' strategy; careful study of efficient 'network' topography provides a wide array of possibilities depending on the desired functionality. Equipment of forces will evolve to that needed to achieve the proper objectives; sometimes you can do more damage with a portable computer than you can with Semtex. Technology also adds a potent advantage--using the organization, networks, and research capabilities, knowledge of techniques for the creation and usage of weapons can be rapidly disseminated to wide-spread and orthogonal efforts.

Control, Command, and Leadership
Part of the beauty of such advances is that multiple groups can be operating independently and be effective enough to confuse the picture sufficiently to give intelligence analysts headaches. Solid leadership is always critical; without direction, a group of people is little more than a mob.

Offensive Spirit
The feeling of disenchantment with all systems is great; the latest generation of youth in industrialized nations feels let down by organized governments, politics, economics, religion, family, and other structures that act as a society's adhesive. This void, if filled by providing Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (such things as food, shelter, adequate sleep, a purpose, respect, and so forth), commands considerable loyalty.

The spirit needed to be en effective polwar force in the discussed environment does not need to be the usually requisite 'fighting' or "death before dishonor" variety. Even traditional guerrilla forces have a "yield what you can't hold" outlook; economic warfare does not require that any site be held, all it requires is simply to foment a desire to destroy. This is more than adequate, as the power to destroy is the power to control. These tactics become more frighteningly effective in regions where martyrs and suicide attacks are the norm.

'Terrain'/Target Domains
When engaged in conventional guerrilla warfare, superior knowledge of terrain can give an operation the needed edge that defines success. Knowledge is still part of what makes a difference in modern polwar, only that knowledge of physical terrain is less important than domain knowledge--such as tracing political and economic dependencies well enough to identify and understand the weaknesses and vulnerabilities.

Strategy and Tactics
Polwar basics are unchanged; the objective is attrition, to wear down the opposition. You may not win, but you can force the opponent to lose. The first principle is always to attack leverage points--places where collateral damage is greater than direct damage. As long as the force maintains clear objectives, there is room for considerable flexibility, making for some standard 'rules of thumb'
-All members should have a sanctuary, and be prepared to drop everything to go there in the event they are exposed;
-The organization must have a core of continual support; some members can be part time, but those in command must be continually dedicated;
-Supply is crucial; build a support network;
-Avoid open fighting, use hit and run tactics, attack unexpectedly, use ambush, or attack where the opponent has no thought of being attacked; it always helps to do the impossible;
-The organization must maintain superior knowledge, security, secrecy, and have absolutely reliable intelligence;
-All penetrations of security must be eliminated;
-Attack the opponent's three Cs (command, control, communications) with yours (chaos, confusion, catastrophe); destroy critical infrastructure; attack any successful part of the economy;
-Force the opponent to lose mobility; force them to be reactionary, making them lose the ability to take the initiative, while you remain mobile, dynamic, fluid;
-Force your opponent to the point of hyperextension, overextension, and stress their logistics;
-Psychological warfare is essential; attack morale, but don't alienate the supporting populous.

A Note on Politics
Suspiciously absent in this document are any substantive political comments; there is a reason. Just as lower life forms in simple ecological niches evolve into higher life forms in more complex niches, political systems evolve as well. There is a good reason why revolutionaries in very poor nations tend to espouse socialist or communist rhetoric--those are political systems that can raise the quality of life considerably and immediately. Only once there is a strong enough foundation in place can a Nation (not Empire) support the freedoms and inefficiencies of a democracy; when the time is right, it will happen on its own. Sadly, this is why many American attempts to foster democratic tendencies in satellite nations or in countries in turmoil have failed. It would be like trying to build a self-sustaining aircraft manufacturing plant in primitive Africa. In such a case, it is easy to understand how anomalous this is--there is no infrastructure to support the plant, and there is no point in having the planes that it would produce. Thus the lack of a political doctrine here--it would be inappropriate. Who can tell the proper order of things? Who can say that it wasn't a natural occurrence that the USSR brought the region from a backward agrarian economy into the industrial age and could go no farther? Who can say if the 'top of the food chain' is really a representative democracy? Not I.

"There should be a science of discontent." [Herbert] Civilizations have come and gone; humanity has continually advanced and, one would hope, improved. Historically, it seems that advancement occurs only through chaos and conflict, that the safe path leads only to stagnation. But conflicts keep happening; civilization hasn't been around long enough, on the larger scale of things, to show it is a winning proposition; to be honest, neither has humanity. All the more reason to figure things out while there is still time.


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