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General Sir David Richards’ Chatham House speech touches on a number of themes that should have been inculcated in the Australian Defence White Paper.  These are not new themes, even in the Australian context; they include some of the thinking behind the Defence Update of two years ago.

Richards says

…our generation is in the midst of a paradigm shift, is facing its own ‘horse and tank’ moment if you like, born in our era chiefly but not exclusively of the global revolution in communications and associated technology. The result is that the way even state on state warfare will manifest itself has changed fundamentally.

He argues that ‘conflicts with dissatisfied and violent non-state actors are here for the long term’ and while the British Army, at least, is okay at fighting such wars, it needs to get better at doing so.  State-on-state warfare is likely to remain a possibility, but it’s shape and nature will change, becoming more like the current wars against insurgents, proxies and non-state actors: there is a ‘virtuous congruence, between non-state and inter-state war’.  Like US Defence Secretary Gates, he argues for a better balance: conventional capability should not be abandoned, but nor should it remain the predominant shaper of capability:

…an intelligent opponent will not be impressed by capabilities which can readily be made irrelevant through the adoption of asymmetric tactics or technology….Those who seek to continue investment in traditional forms of conflict at the expense of the new fail to understand the degree to which inter-state dynamics have changed since the Cold War.

Afghanistan he sees as a ‘non-discretionary war’.  In this I tend to depart a tad from his thesis: the larger trends and dynamics, which Richards himself has touched on, should not be obscured by a focus on Afghanistan. Patrick Porter (who provided the lead on the speech) also notes the doomed-if-we-do-and-doomed-if-we-don’t nature of the argument over Afghanistan.  Not only should we rethink warfare, but rethink what constitutes success and failure—at the strategic level these are not always, and rarely over the long-term, defined in purely military terms.

Very busy–the lead up to the end of financial year and projects to finish.  Somewhere in between, I’m also trying to keep an eye on the Kang Nam, unrest and cultural imperatives in Iran, and readings on CAS and COIN, risk and strategy.

Update: And then there’s Tweets–21st century statecraft vs war crimes.

The New York Times reported a couple of days ago that:

While Mr. Obama was in the Middle East and Europe last week, several senior officials said the president’s national security team had all but set aside the central assumption that guided American policy toward North Korea over the past 16 years and two presidencies: that the North would be willing to ultimately abandon its small arsenal of nuclear weapons in return for some combination of oil, nuclear power plants, money, food and guarantees that the United States would not topple its government, the world’s last Stalinesque regime.

Now, after examining the still-inconclusive evidence about the results of North Korea’s second nuclear test, the administration has come to different conclusions: that Pyonyang’s top priority is to be recognized as a nuclear state, that it is unwilling to bargain away its weapons and that it sees tests as a way to help sell its nuclear technology.

So far, options and next steps that are being suggested or discussed publicly are of the logical diplomatic variety: a linear stepping up of pressure, via sanctions and interdiction, discussions amongst the the remaining five (the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia), engagement with North Korea–or not

But North Korea clearly has no interest in playing along.  Silence, at worst, would be greeted with further petulance–remember, North Korea now sees itself as a fully-fledged member of the nuclear club, not to be casually dismissed–unnerving South Korea and Japan.  At best—if it can be seen as best—silence and other diplomatic compromises tacitly enable North Korea to continue to trade its nuclear wares unmolested.  And North Korea has stated that interdiction of that trade would be regarded as a declaration of war.

There are no ‘good’ options left, only a series of worse options: there are fewer returns and increasing risk in continuing to trade away action for time.   

That leaves some form of direct action.  We have to ask what a use of force would have to achieve to be effective.

The first main concern is eliminating the nuclear bargaining chip–and in doing so, sending messages to other nuclear wannabes (Iran).  That means the North Korean nuclear capabilities would be targetted: the reprocessing plant, the fuel fabrication plant, the reactor.  A key challenge will be securing the weapons-grade material. 

The second main concern is the need to continue to balance the relationships in North China.  Japan and South Korea would need to be reassured, while China and Russia would have to be comfortable that they were not threatened. 

The third key element is regime survival.  Kim Jong-Il would have to understand that any retaliation would trigger another Korean war and that a war would result in the inevitable end of his regime, with little or no prospect of his son’s succession.  If reports are correct, his succession plans suggest regime survival is a high priority. Moreover, regime survival is needed to ensure that refugees do not swamp China and South Korea, and that the Peninsula remains divided.

One scenario may involve President Obama calling Kim Jong-Il advising him he has six hours to evacuate key nuclear facilities before the cruise missile strikes, and warning him of the consequences of retaliation.  Getting all parties on board will be hard, however.  Past patterns of response are terribly familiar, even comfortable: outrage, a determination to do something, hesitation, and delay.  It’s a response that avoids not over-pressuring the unstable multipolar balance in North Asia.  

There are many differences between the current and past provocations by North Korea.  Not least amongst those is that in the past North Korea seemed content to gain from exploiting divisions within the region, and between its neighbours and the United States, but now North Korea seems determined to destabilise the status quo, a carefully negotiated and understood balance of power on the Peninsula and within the region.


Lyon, R. (2009). North Korea: the reverberations of 25 May. Policy Analysis. Canberra, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

Or why we need to pay more, not less, attention to non-states actors.

This post started a while ago as some thoughts about Kilcullen’s book, The Accidental Guerilla, and Australian strategic policy.  But I found I kept returning to some key themes bigger than either.

Let’s start with WP2009.  Its authors remain confident in the continuing ability of nation-states to shape international order:

We have a strategic interest in preserving an international order that restrains aggression by states against each other, and can effectively manage other risks and threats, such as the proliferation of WMD, terrorism, state fragility and failure, intra-state conflict, and the security impacts of climate change and resource scarcity. (Executive Summary, p12) 

Moreover, they believe that non-state actors—Islamic terrorists—will have strategic effect only when they gain WMD, weapons currently the preserve of nation-states:

Despite its potential to cause mass casualties and catastrophic attacks on infrastructure, Islamist terrorism will continue to have inherent limitations as a strategic threat. Terrorists will keep aspiring to develop or acquire chemical, biological, radiological and even nuclear weapons. A WMD attack by a non-state actor in the coming decades cannot be ruled out. (4.49, p38)

However, there are three distinct trends that counter WP2009’s confident view of the continuing dominance of nation-states and their ability to solve the problems of international security.

First, there’s the fraying of the Westphalian-dominated international system, as many accepted norms and even institutions are losing both currency and their constituency.  The United Nations is struggling, as is NATO, for example.  And the cases of both North Korea and Iran show how difficult it is to achieve a consensus on strong action when states, let alone non-state actors operating within a number of states, actively seek WMD.  It’s far from clear that there is any consensus on appropriate new security institutions for the future—though the Proliferation Security Initiative may be such a one

Second, there is the reduced leverage of nation-states over international order, as argued by Kilcullen and a range of other analysis including Cooper and Bobbitt, as mentioned.  A key lesson of the post-2001 world is that nation-states are ill-equipped to deal with non-state threats—whether accidental guerrillas, loosely condoned hacker groups, proliferation networks or Islamic terrorists—yet deal with them they must to retain to retain their integrity and security as nation-states.  There is, however, the problem that the apparatus of nation-states tend to focus on the apparatus of other nation-states; they are ill-equipped to recognise or understand behaviours and effects outside that realm.

Third is the rise of statelessness, best expressed in Grygiel’s recent paper.  Possession of states is no longer the necessary goal for non-state groups. Globalisation and the spread of civilian and military technologies now enables non-state groups to pursue their goals unimpeded by the security, politics and governance that come with state responsibilities.  Stateless groups don’t want to take over and control territory—a Westphalian definition of strategic threat—but they are more than happy to deny states the ability to control territory and to pursue their interests, and to limit states’ behaviours through a range of other means, not necessarily reliant on possession of WMD.

The changes in the international environment over the past few decades, often ‘black-boxed’ as ‘globalisation’ has generated a substrate of communications, financial flows, ideas, peoples, technology and material that have allowed non-state actors an effect disproportionate to their apparent size.  Concurrently, these changes have rendered nation-states less an integral entity, defined primarily by geographically and a largely homogenous population, and more a diffuse if still roughly bounded aggregation of rules, populations, organizations, financial trades, cultures, interactions and, yes, physical presence.

It is true that nation-state warfare remains a possibility.  But it is equally true it should not be the only–not even the primary–focus of strategy or determinant of force structure.  Bobbitt again

“We’re not thinking [at all]. We’re going off unreflectively with the habits of mind that were quite successful for us in the struggles of the 20th century. Understandably, we are reluctant to abandon those habits. My fear is that it will take some catastrophe to shake us out of our complacency.” 


Bobbitt, P. (2002). The Shield of Achilles, Knopf.

Cooper, R. (2004). The Breaking of Nations. London, Atlantic Books.

Defence (2009). Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. Canberra.

Etzioni, A. (2009). “Tomorrow’s Institution Today.” Foreign Affairs 88(3).

Grygiel, J. (2009). “The Power of Statelessness.” Policy Review April-May 2009(154): (accessed 6 May 2009).

Kilcullen, D. J. (2009). The Accidental Guerilla, Oxford University Press.

Central Asia remains a strategic crux, where key contests are played out.  Fouad Ajami:

In the 1980s, Pakistan led to Afghanistan, and to the final battle of the Cold War. Nowadays, the struggle in Afghanistan leads back to Pakistan, and for a battle on behalf of Muslim modernity.

We should be thankful such battles are not closer to home while realising their importance to our own future and so play a part.

The internet is a wonderful thing: there are so many people smarter than you, and you can build on their ideas.

Kevin Kelly—unbeknownst to him—has started filling in some of the gaps on the social side of the transition.  In the latest Wired, Kelly argues that technology is driving digital culture towards what he calls the ‘new socialism’.  This new socialism, possibly ‘the newest American invention’, is the outcome of the evolution from sharing to cooperation to collaboration to collectivism, at least of a sort that seems to work and work well. 

The following, from Kelly’s article, shows the elements of change:

The Old Socialism 

The New Socialism

Authority centralized among elite officials

Power distributed among ad hoc participants

Limited resources dispensed by the state

Unlimited, free cloud computing

Forced labor in government factories

Volunteer group work a la Wikipedia

Property owned in common

Sharing protected by Creative Commons

Government- controlled information

Real-time Twitter and RSS feeds

Harsh penalties for criticizing leaders

Passionate opinions on the Huffington Post

Source: (Kelly 2009)

Personally I prefer Virginia Postrel’s formulation of statists and dynamists.  Certainly, there is a strong libertarian flavour to Kelly’s new socialists. 

And I think a number of these elements or trends will evolve further.  For example, what lies beyond Creative Commons? Cory Doctorow’s DIY digital licensing? 

What does the new socialism means for security?  Here’s a few suggestions:

  • The further fraying of the traditional state, as individuals work, collaborate and play without reference to states and state institutions
  • Online vigilantes and counter vigilantes—the rebirth of the citizen army, but one founded on community of ideas, even (worryingly) romantic ideas of the state, place, tribe or belonging, with all the possibilities allowed by cyber-mobilisation (Kurth Cronin 2006) through to Armies of Davids (Reynolds 2006)
  • Increased transparency, as information is uploaded, mashed and blogged yielding deeper analysis and insight
  • An increasing amount of misinformation, as information is uploaded, mashed and blogged with specific, often hidden, intent
  • Trust and reputation become increasingly important for strategic analysis, with policy-makers, advisers and commentators looking to ‘brands’ for synthesis and insight
  • Emerging bipolarity in strategic analysis and policy: a deep conservatism—stick with what you know—risking sclerotic paralysis; and a nervous tick, reacting to every item in the 24 hour new cycle and risking incoherence
  • Community emergency response, as per Ushahidi, competing with dedicated, formal command and control hierarchies 
  • A nation-state counter-reformation, as nation-states seek to re-exert control over activity, work, information and taxable assets and incomes

And possibilities?  How about online red-teaming of the next Defence White Paper, UK Strategic Defence Review or US Quadrennial Defense Review?


Kelly, K. (2009). The New Socialism: Global Collectivist Society Is Coming Online. Wired

Kurth Cronin, A. (2006). “Cyber-mobilization: the New Levée en Masse.” Parameters: 76-87.

Postrel, V. (1998). The Future and Its Enemies. New York, Touchstone.

Reynolds, G. H. (2006). An Army of Davids, Nelson Current.

In slow time (ie somewhere between 1 and 2am) I’m putting some thoughts together on key changes ‘through the transition’ that I believe we are currently experiencing.  Some have been apparent for some time; others are only becoming apparent now.

The following (from an earlier piece of work) shows changing perspectives of international security, but stands only as a starting point.

‘Conventional’ view

‘Emergent’ view

Nye’s secrets & mysteries

Rumsfeld’s unknown unknowns

Stasis and stability

Dynamism and co-evolution

Single-source threats (states)

Terrorists, tyrants and shadows

Serial tempo, paced

Parallel tempos: fast (terror events) & slow (globalisation, climate change)

Actors constrainable by force, law, economic means

Unconstrained, unconstrainable, unconventional actors

Nations & battlefields

Civilisations & societies  


Nye, J. (1994). “Peering into the Future.” Foreign Affairs 73(4): 82(12).

Rumsfeld, D. (2002). DoD News Briefing — Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, 17 October 2002.   (Retrieved 26 May 2003.)

Some states—particularly Japan and South Korea—are looking decidedly edgy.  Nor are the markets impressed.

It’s easy to be mired in the thickets of contention and the hedges of counter-contention in the recently released Defence White Paper.  But this judgment in WP2009 is looking a tad more shaky after today’s nuclear test by North Koreaand firing of short-range missiles:

While currently unlikely, a transformation of major power relations in the Asia-Pacific region would have a profound effect on our strategic circumstances. (3.17, p28)

We currently have a belligerent weak state challenging the carefully managed status quo between major powers in North Asia.  North Korea’s actions may not quite be transformational, yet.  But it does look determined to be.

Given such ratcheting up of strategic pressure, does the government propose to revise its posture and force development plans, perhaps bringing projects forward…? 

It is unlikely that contingencies involving major power adversaries could arise in the foreseeable future without a degree of strategic warning. As discussed in Chapter 3 and in more detail in Chapter 10, in the light of such strategic warning, we might have to adjust our strategic posture and force development plans. (8.48, p65)

And strategic warning constitutes…what, if not a nuclear test in North Korea and a couple of missiles tossed across the bows of one of our allies?  


Defence (2009). Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030. Canberra.

Kenneth Payne argues that unconventional, asymmetric and hybrid wars aren’t new, but that Western militaries have evolved away from that such warfare.  The challenges to the Western way of warfare have arisen have done so because of trends in society and changes to the nation-state.   

In particular, Payne argues that the post-modern Western military has arisen from the changing relationship between the citizen, states and soldiers.  So that now, 

western society and western militaries have discovered that they must fight foes who use ‘conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorist acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder’. And, being postmodern, their approach will necessarily differ from the colonial and imperial approaches of earlier times.

I wonder if there’s more to it.  If I recall correctly–I haven’t the book or my notes to hand, and so may have to correct myself later–Charles Tilly argued the modern state emerged because it offered the best means, through the concentration of capital and labour, to exert force.  

So perhaps there’s another dynamic at play.  Perhaps it’s possible that through globalisation, technological and societal change, and the ability to exert force in different ways, new stable and sustainable forms of organisation are emerging–have emerged–and are offering alternative, viable means to use force to greatest effect.   After all, there’s no reason why the nation-state should be the end point of evolution in human organisation.  If so, we are entering a time of considerable, and probably bloody, dynamism, as not simply states and non-state groups but organisational forms compete.

Tilly also noted that, confronted with something that didn’t look like a state, Western nations did their best to make sure that the entity became a state, that it was bought into the fold–or destroyed.   Certainly that has reflected conventional approaches.  In the past Western empires and states bought off and eradicated tribes and colonised voraciously.  We now seek to ‘reconstruct’ weak and broken states to look like us.  We seek to eliminate al Qaeda not simply because of the threat it poses to lives, but through its use of force it threatens directly the nation-state as dominant organising principle.  And at least one international relations scholar has suggested that the Caliphate should be restored so that nation-states can deal with an entity they recognise.  But if alternative organisational forms are strengthening, it will become harder to apply ‘conventional’ methods.  


Bell, C. (2007). The End of the Vasco de Gama Era: The Next Landscape of World Politics. Lowy Institute Paper. Sydney, Lowy Institute.

Tilly, C. (1990). Coercion, Capital and the European States AD990-1990. Cambridge, MA, Basil Blackwell.

Urban Cartography is one of those uber sites: simple idea; very cool; and prompts you to think about the world differently.  Oh, to be able to draw and present complex ideas simply.  

 Speaking of which, this is a very cool map:

 Getting to this map took me three jumps, and each had its take on the map along the way:

  • The original posting wonders why Milan and Warsaw were relatively immune from the plague.
  • One step, Leonardo Monasterio suggested the city authorities walled in houses with the plague: brutal, but apparently effective.
  • Two steps back, Paul Kedrosky notes the spreading bands of the plague’s progress—given technology and globalisation, the nature of spread would look very different today.  And of course it’s harder to wall people into their houses.
  • Three steps back, Global Dashboard adds a point from one of the commenters: the role of plague in terms of redistributing wealth.  

Also from Urban Cartography is this:

Useful as a remedy to anyone weary of that concentric circles map.

August 2020