"Brave New War” by John Robb

AUTHOR: John Robb

AUTHOR: John Robb

When working in international relations, you will hear a lot about how globalisation has changed the world. From the way we communicate and engage to the way we move and trade. The ability to jump on a plane and fly halfway across the world within hours is still a mind blowing, but so is the thought of being blown up on your commute to work. Just as globalisation has brought about life-changing technologies, the same has also brought about a new way of waging war. Over the past two decades, we have started to see a trend of terrorism activity take place at grassroots level, in the streets of bust metropolitan cities, and in our very homes through cyber attacks. Modern technology and globalisation has made it possible for even one man to wage war against an entire country. This is not fiction. It is fact, and a fact that has heightened the security level of nearly all countries around the world. We have become a society that is suspicious of one another, profiling people who look a certain way, crippled by a fear of ideologies taking over our society and way of life. These concerns are the concerns of not just the nation itself but people living within them, and these issues are not to be ignored, particularly in how we work with people, judge people, communicate with people.  

As you look into what niche subject you want to specialise in, keep an open mind about how issues connect with each other at local level, regional level, national level, and international level. What might be happening thousands of miles away may be affecting you right now. Being ignorant is not something to be proud about when operating in international relations and we need to stay clued in to how ‘othering’ people and profiling individuals to the point of pushing them to the very edges of society can be devastating for an entire country. We need to stay alert on how to avoid losing a global struggle when even one community is outcasted by the rest of the world.

To help bring these issues to life, we recommend the book “Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalisation” by John Robb to support Chapter 2 - Fit for a Global Profession for the “Diplomatic Planner”. “Brave New War” explores how technological advances like the internet has made it possible for groups of terrorists and criminals to continuously share, develop and improve their tactics, resulting in the interconnected nature of modern warfare. This book was written by a former Air Force and US counterterrorism operation planner, who would have been at the heart of some of the most devastating planned attacks in a country that is hated by quite a lot of people. One of the biggest takeaway from this book is that terrorists can’t be stopped by undermining civil liberties and taking of privacy of citizens.

We are all aware that for the past four hundred years, most wars have been fought between two or more nations for control of a geographical area. The state that wins prevails with military might. However, with the advent of nuclear weapons and the growing interconnectedness of the world, larger states no longer dominant warfare as overwhelmingly as before. Nuclear weapons has assured deterrent from large scale military warfare but in its place has created vulnerability through trade and economy, so any conflict will hurt these essential lifestreams. Another factor decreasing the advantage of countries with large armies is the trend toward proxy wars, which are not fought by actual states but by proxies like guerillas and non-state actors. For example, the US used guerilla warfare to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, while Syria and Iran used Hezbollah proxies to bomb a US marine barrack in Lebanon. These proxy wars are undetected by international bodies like the United Nations who work to uphold peace by refusing to legitimise most conflicts.

“Brave New War” makes an important distinction between labelling terrorism as we know it and fourth generation warfare. Terrorism is a psychological attack to disrupt the sense of safety and heighten insecurity. Guerilla warfare means small-scaled attacks that wears down the enemy gradually as opposed to a full-scale attack. New technologies like the internet is a form of guerrilla warfare as the power of nation state weakens everytime there is a disruption. Imagine having the country’s electricity grid go down? Wouldn’t that cause absolute chaos in the most advanced societies? How do countries protect citizens from these types of disruption? How can we ensure that open source software doesn’t continue to expand global guerrillas? And finally, how do we ensure that countries work together in coalition for the safety and protection of citizens?

States have asserted control over their economies, their people, its security and community. But the emergence of new technologies has begin to erode the power of the state. An obvious example Robb provides is the use of the internet. No matter how governments may try, it is almost impossible to control their economies or how citizens access new ideas through information exchanged and good bought online. To make up for this gap, the private sector has become increasingly in charge of providing security services. Private security contractors are sent to Iraq and Afghanistan to protect political and commercial interest, yet this further erodes a countries ability to provide security to its citizens, making way for terrorists and criminals to undermine the nation state.

Although each global guerilla will have their own agenda, they on occasion are known to share a goal and work together. Robb has plenty of real world examples showcased throughout the book. In the past, warfare meant taking over and replacing the current state of power, but the aim has shifted to causing instability at a more grassroots level. Global guerrillas maximise the damage they inflict by targeting society’s vital systems, including oil pipelines and financial infrastructure that can cost the country billions in revenue. System disruption involves deliberately targeting key points in the processes vital for a society. This can include key systems like transport, communication networks, and electricity. Rather than maximising casualties, system disruption allows groups to inflict the most damage on on their target states with the least cost to themselves. Warfare is expensive but not when all it takes is to punch a hole through a major pipeline. This tactics is incredibly effective because of how interconnected these systems are which means that if the entire system collapsed, everything will come down with it like a chain reaction. 

“Brave New War” tackles many other tactics used to disrupt interconnected systems that targets the heart of a vulnerable and interconnected society. While the internet may be a tool of empowerment for many of us, it is good to be mindful of how such power can be turned against us. However, as we have seen in recent history, security agencies have started to resort to highly questionable and unworkable tactics in order to remain flexible and adaptable against the dangers created by guerilla groups, and these are all areas we must be mindful of when operating in diplomacy and international relations. Is it right that we resort to illegal and highly unethical measures to stop terrorism or do we protect ourselves against the legitimacy of our actions? Is it even possible to be a moral leader in today’s society or do we need to keep an open mind about looking for new strategies, especially when it comes to keeping our vital societal systems safe?

Don’t take vital systems for granted and be prepared for any disruption.

“Brave New War” is recommended for the purposes of the Diplomatic Planner. The Diplomatic Planner is a 12-month career development for diplomacy and internationals for professionals looking to explore or grow their expertise in the field. Both books are available for purchase via Amazon. For further recommendations, insights, case studies and practicable worksheets, please join the Grassroot Diplomat Online Academy via: www.grassrootdiplomat.org/register