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Networks and Netwar

First Monday

Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla

Netwar is an emerging mode of conflict in which the protagonists - ranging from terrorist and criminal organizations on the dark side, to militant social activists on the bright side - use network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age. The practice of netwar is well ahead of theory, as both civil and uncivil society actors are increasingly engaging in this new way of fighting. We suggest how the theory of netwar may be improved by drawing on academic perspectives on networks, especially those about organizational network analysis. As for practice, strategists and policymakers in Washington and elsewhere have begun to discern the dark side of the network phenomenon - especially in the wake of the "attack on America" perpetrated apparently by Osama bin Laden's terror network. But they still have much work to do to begin harnessing the bright side, by formulating strategies that will enable state and civil-society actors to work together better. This paper is largely drawn (with updates added) from Chapter 10 of our forthcoming book, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (RAND, 2001), which will also be available online soon at


The Spread of Network Forms of Organization
When Is a Network Really an Organizational Network?
What Makes a Network Effective, Besides Organization?
The Practice of Netwar (and Counternetwar)
Coda: September's "Attack on America"

The fight for the future makes daily headlines. Its battles are not between the armies of leading states, nor are its weapons the large, expensive tanks, planes and fleets of regular armed forces. Rather, the combatants come from violent terrorist networks like Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, drug cartels like those in Colombia and Mexico, and militant anarchists like the Black Bloc that ran amok during the Battle of Seattle. Other protagonists - ones who often benefit U.S. interests - are networked civil-society activists fighting for democracy and human rights around the world.

From the Battle of Seattle to the "attack on America," these networks are proving very hard to deal with; some are winning. What all have in common is that they operate in small, dispersed units that can deploy nimbly - anywhere, anytime. All feature network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age. They know how to swarm and disperse, penetrate and disrupt, as well as elude and evade. The tactics they use range from battles of ideas to acts of sabotage - and many tactics involve the Internet.

So far, across this new landscape of conflict, the edge has gone to the networks. Hierarchy-oriented states must learn to transform themselves along networked lines, or they will face the increasingly daunting prospect of struggling against a rising tide of both civil and uncivil networks enabled, and impelled forward, by the information revolution.



The Spread of Network Forms of Organization

The deep dynamic guiding our analysis is that the information revolution favors the rise of network forms of organization. The network appears to be the next major form of organization - long after tribes, hierarchies, and markets - to come into its own to redefine societies, and in so doing, the nature of conflict and cooperation.

The rise of networks means that power is migrating to nonstate actors, because they are able to organize into sprawling multiorganizational networks (especially "all-channel" networks, in which every node is connected to every other node) more readily than can traditional, hierarchical, state actors. This implies that conflicts will be increasingly waged by "networks," perhaps more than by "hierarchies." It also means that whoever masters the network form stands to gain the advantage.

Changes for the Better

The rise of networks is bringing many changes for the better. Some hold out the promise of reshaping specific sectors of society, as in writings about the promises of "electronic democracy," "networked corporations," "global civil society," and even "network-centric warfare" [1]. Other likely effects are broader and portend the reshaping of societies as a whole, such that writers herald the coming of "the network society," "the network age," and even the redefinition of "nations as networks" [2]. In addition, key academic studies of globalization revolve around observations about the growth of global networks and their interconnection with networks at local levels of society [3]. Many writings are speculative, but others, particularly in the business world, are usually quite practical, inquiring into exactly what kinds of network structures and processes work, and which do not [4].

At a grand theoretical level, age-old ideas about life as a "great chain of being" or as a progression of nested hierarchies are giving way to new ideas that networks are the key to understanding all of life. Here, theorists argue that hierarchies or networks (or markets, for that matter) are mankind's finest form of organization, and that one or the other design underlies essentially all order in the world. In the social sciences, for example, some key 1960s writings about general systems theory (e.g., Bertalanffy, 1968) and social complexity (e.g., Simon, 1969) took stances lauding the roles of hierarchy in many areas of life. But since the 1970s, and especially in the 1990s, ideas have come slowly to the fore that networks are the crucial design. Thus, it is said that "most real systems are mixtures of hierarchies and networks" (Pagels, 1989, p. 51; also La Porte, 1975), and that "the web of life consists of networks within networks," not hierarchies (Capra, 1996, p. 35; also Kelly, 1994). So many advances are under way in the study of complex networks that

"In the longer run, network thinking will become essential to all branches of science as we struggle to interpret the data pouring in from neurobiology, genomics, ecology, finance, and the World Wide Web" (Strogatz, 2001, p. 275).

The Dark Side

Most people might hope for the emergence of a new form of organization to be led by "good guys" who do "the right thing" and grow stronger because of it. But history does not support this contention. The cutting edge in the early rise of a new form is just as often found among malcontents, ne'er-do-wells, and clever opportunists, all eager to take advantage of new ways to maneuver, exploit, and dominate. Many centuries ago, for example, the rise of hierarchical forms of organization, which displaced traditional, consultative, tribal forms, was initially attended, in parts of the world, by the rise of ferocious chieftains bent on military conquest, and of violent secret societies run according to rank. This was long before the hierarchical form matured through the institutionalization of states, empires, and professional administrative and bureaucratic systems. In like manner, the early spread of the market form, only a few centuries ago, was accompanied by a spawn of usurers, pirates, smugglers, and monopolists, all seeking to elude state controls over their earnings and enterprises [5].

Why should this pattern not be repeated in an age of networks? There appears to be a subtle, dialectical interplay between the bright and dark sides in the rise of a new form of organization. The bright-side actors may be so deeply embedded in and constrained by a society's established forms of organization that many have difficulty becoming the early innovators and adopters of a new form. In contrast, nimble bad guys may have a freer, easier time acting as the cutting edge - and reacting to them may be what eventually spurs the good guys to innovate.

The spread of the network form and its technologies clearly entails some new risks and dangers. It can be used to generate threats to freedom and privacy. New methods for surveillance, monitoring, and tracking are being developed; and the uproars over the intelligence systems "Echelon," "Semantic Forests," and "Carnivore" manifest what will surely be enduring concerns. Critical national infrastructures for power, telecommunications, and transportation, as well as crucial commercial databases and information systems for finance and health, remain vulnerable to computer hackers and cyberterrorists. Furthermore, a growing "digital divide" between information "haves" and "have-nots" portends a new set of social inequities. All this places new strains on the world's democracies. Even worse is the possibility that information-age dictatorships will arise in parts of the world, based on the skillful exploitation of the new technologies for purposes of political command and control [6].

The Advent of Netwar

Back in 1992 [7], while first writing about the rise of networks and the implications for cyberwar as a looming mode of military conflict (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993), we thought it would be a good idea to have a parallel concept about information-age conflict at the less military, low-intensity, more social end of the spectrum. The term we coined was netwar (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993, 1996), largely because it resonated with the surety that the information revolution favored network forms of organization, doctrine, and strategy.

To be precise, the term netwar refers to an emerging mode of conflict (and crime) at societal levels, short of traditional military warfare, in which the protagonists use network forms of organization and related doctrines, strategies, and technologies attuned to the information age. These protagonists are likely to consist of dispersed organizations, small groups, and individuals who communicate, coordinate, and conduct their campaigns in an internetted manner, often without a central command. Thus, netwar differs from modes of conflict and crime in which the protagonists prefer to develop large, formal, stand-alone, hierarchical organizations, doctrines, and strategies as in past efforts, for example, to build centralized movements along Leninist lines. Thus, for example, netwar is about the Zapatistas more than the Fidelistas, Hamas more than the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the American Christian Patriot movement more than the Ku Klux Klan, and the Asian Triads more than the Cosa Nostra [8].

The term netwar is meant to call attention to the prospect that network-based conflict and crime will become major phenomena in the decades ahead. Various actors across the spectrum are already evolving in this direction. This includes familiar adversaries who are modifying their structures and strategies to take advantage of networked designs - e.g., transnational terrorist groups, black-market proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), drug and other crime syndicates, fundamentalist and ethnonationalist movements, intellectual property pirates, and immigration and refugee smugglers. Some urban gangs, back-country militias, and militant single-issue groups in the United States and elsewhere have also developed netwar-like attributes. The netwar spectrum also includes a new generation of social revolutionaries, radicals, and activists who are beginning to create information-age ideologies, in which identities and loyalties may shift from the nation state to the transnational level of "global civil society." New kinds of actors, such as anarchistic and nihilistic leagues of computer-hacking "cyboteurs," may also engage in netwar.

Many - if not most - netwar actors will be nonstate, even stateless. Some may be agents of a state, but others may try to turn states into their agents. Also, a netwar actor may be both subnational and transnational in scope. Odd hybrids and symbioses are likely. Furthermore, some bad actors (e.g., terrorist and criminal groups) may threaten U.S. and other nations' interests, but other actors (e.g., NGO activists in Burma or Mexico) may not - indeed, some actors who at times turn to netwar strategies and tactics, such as the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), may have salutary liberalizing effects. In fact, many militant yet mainly peaceable social netwars are being waged around the world by democratic opponents of authoritarian regimes and by protestors against various risky government and corporate policies - and many of these people may well be agents of positive change, even though in some cases their ideas and actions may seem contrary to particular U.S. interests and policies. Finally, some netwar actors may aim at destruction, but more may aim mainly at disruption and disorientation [9]. Again, many variations are possible. The September terror attacks in New York and the Washington, D.C. area, for example, feature a mix of physical destruction and economic disruption.

In other words, netwar is an ambivalent mode of conflict - it has a dual nature. While it should not be expected that the dystopian trends associated with the dark side of netwar will prevail in the years ahead, they will surely contend, sometimes bitterly, with the forces of the bright side.

The full spectrum of netwar proponents may thus seem broad and odd at first glance. But there is an underlying pattern that cuts across all variations: the use of network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology attuned to the information age.

Netwar is not likely to be a passing fancy. As the information revolution spreads and deepens around the world, instances of netwar will cascade across the spectrum of conflict and crime [10]. So will the sophistication and the arsenal of techniques that different groups can muster. At present, the rise of netwar extends from the fact that the world system is in a turbulent, susceptible transition from the modern era, whose climax was reached at the end of the cold war, to a new era that is yet to be aptly named. Netwar, because of its dependence on networks, is facilitated by the radical increases in global and transnational connectivity, as well as from the growing opportunities for increased connectivity in another sense - the ability of "outsiders" and "insiders" to gain access to each other, and even for insiders to be secreted within an organization or sector of society [11]. All this means that netwar is not a transitional phenomenon; it will likely be a permanent aspect of the new era.



When Is a Network Really an Organizational Network?

Netwar rests on the dynamics of networks [12]. Yet, what does the term "network" mean? Discussions about networks are proliferating, and three usages are in play, with clear distinctions rarely drawn among them. One common usage refers to communications grids and circuits - as though networking were a technological phenomenon, such that placing a set of actors (military units, for example) atop a grid would make them a network. This is a limited usage; we have spoken about its pitfalls earlier studies, and thus will not dwell further upon it here.

In two other prominent usages, the term refers either to social networks or to organizational networks (or to a conflation of both). But social and organizational networks are somewhat different organisms. This is what is discussed here, because their differences are significant for theory and practice, affecting how best to think about the dynamics of netwar. The field of network analysis, writ large, has been dominated by social network analysis, but organizational network analysis can be even more helpful for understanding the nature of netwar.

Our main point is that netwar (and also counternetwar) is principally an organizational dynamic, even though it requires appropriate social and technological dynamics to work well. But our deeper point is that there is still much work to be done to clarify the meaning of "network" and come up with better, easier methods of analysis for policymakers and strategists. Both the social and organizational schools can contribute to this - but in different ways, because they have different tendencies.

Social Network Analysis

Social network analysis [13] is an important academic specialty pursued by a relatively small number of anthropologists, sociologists, and organization theorists. It has grown in influence for several decades. Generally speaking, their view - see a book like Networks and Organizations, or Social Structures: A Network Approach, or Social Network Analysis, or the Web site of the International Network for Social Network Analysis (INSNA) - holds that all social relationships, including all social organizations, can and should be analyzed as networks: that is, as sets of actors (nodes) and ties (links) whose relationships have a patterned structure [14].

Social network analysis traces many of its modern roots back to efforts, decades ago, to develop sociograms and directed graphs to chart the ties among different actors in particular contexts - what gradually became known as a network. Later, some social network analysts, along with social psychologists and organizational sociologists who studied what were then called organization-sets, observed that networks often come in several basic shapes (or topologies): notably, chain or line networks, where the members are linked in a row and communications must flow through an adjacent actor before getting to the next; hub, star, or wheel networks, where members are tied to a central node and must go through it to communicate with each other; and all-channel or fully connected or full-matrix networks, where everyone is connected to and can communicate directly with everyone else (from Evan, 1972) [15]. Other shapes have also been identified (e.g., grids and lattices, as well as center/periphery networks and clique networks [16]); so have combinations and hybrids, as in sprawling networks with myriad nodes linked in various ways that are sometimes called "spider's web" networks. Moreover, any particular network may itself be embedded within surrounding networks. Yet, few social network analysts say much about such typologies; their concern is usually to let the data sets speak for themselves.

Classic studies concern topics like friendship cliques among school children, interlocking memberships in corporate boards, job search and occupational mobility patterns that depend on personal connections, partnerships among business firms, and even the structure of the world economic and political system. When a social network analyst studies a primitive tribe, a hierarchical bureaucracy, or a market system, he or she searches for the formal and informal networks that undergird it and emphasizes their roles in making that social organization or system work the way it does (e.g., as in Granovetter, 1985).

In this view, power and influence depend less on one's personal attributes (e.g., resources, attitudes, behaviors) than on one's interpersonal relations - the location and character of one's ties in and to the network. The "unit of analysis" is not so much the individual as it is the network in which the individual is embedded. Not unlike complexity theorists, social network analysts view a network as a systemic whole that is greater than and different from its parts. An essential aim is to show how the properties of the parts are defined by their networked interactions, and how a network itself functions to create opportunities or constraints for the individuals in it.

Many social network analysts stress the importance of location: as in whether an actor's power and prestige stem from his "centrality" in a network, or whether he has greater autonomy and potential power if he is located at a "structural hole" [17] (a kind of "nonredundant" location that can provide an opening or bridge to an actor in a nearby network). Other analysts stress the importance of the links between actors: whether the ties are strong (tightly coupled) or weak (loosely coupled), and what difference this may make for acquiring and acting on information about what is happening in and around the network [18]. Other questions may be asked about the overall "connectedness" of a network, and the degrees of "reciprocity" and "mutuality" that characterize flows and exchanges within it.

For social network analysts, then, what is keenly interesting about individuals is not their "human capital" (personal properties) but their "social capital" (interpersonal or relational properties). It is often said that social networks are built out of social capital. Many - the ones that tend to be favored in a society, such as business partnerships - thrive when mutual respect and trust are high. But the cohesion and operation of other social networks - such as illicit ones for access to drugs and prostitution - may not require much respect or trust.

Social network analyses tend to be intricately methodological, placing a premium on mathematical modeling and visualization techniques [19]. Although there are exceptions related to measures of efficiency and effectiveness, these analyses are generally not normative or prescriptive, in the sense of observing that one kind of network structure may be better than another for a particular activity, such as a business alliance or a social movement. Moreover, these analyses are not evolutionary, in the sense of observing that the network may be a distinct form of organization, one that is now coming into its own. For many social network analysts, the network is the mother of all forms, and the world amounts to a network of networks.

Organizational Network Analysis

Organizational network analysts [20] - or, since this phrase is not widely used, analysts who use network perspectives for studying organizational forms - utilize many of the methods and measures developed for social network analysis. But their approach is quite different - many of them view the network as a distinct form of organization, one that is gaining strength as a result of advances in communications. Also, many of them think that network forms of organization have advantages over other (e.g., hierarchical) forms, such as flexibility, adaptability, and speed of response. For social network analysts, almost any set of nodes (actors) that have ties amounts to a network. But for organizational analysts, that is not quite enough. They might ask, for example, whether the actors recognize that they are participating in a particular network, and whether they are committed to operating as a network.

This literature arises mainly in the fields of organizational and economic sociology, and in business schools. There are various accounts as to who, in recent decades, first called attention to the emergence of networked organizational designs. But most accounts credit an early business-oriented analysis (Burns and Stalker, 1961) that distinguished between mechanistic (hierarchical, bureaucratic) and organic (networked, though still stratified) management systems. The organic form was deemed more suited to dealing with rapidly changing conditions and unforeseen contingencies, because it has "a network structure of control, authority, and communication" along with a "lateral rather than vertical direction of communication" (p. 121).

Nonetheless, and despite other insightful efforts to call attention to network forms of organization (e.g., Perrow, 1979; Miles and Snow, 1986), decades passed before a school of thinking began to cohere. One seminal paper in particular (Powell, 1990) looked beyond informal social networks to argue that formal organizational networks were gaining strength, especially in the business world, as a distinct design - distinct in particular from the "hierarchies and markets" that economic transaction theorists, some other organizational economists, and economic sociologists were accustomed to emphasizing.

"[T]he familiar market-hierarchy continuum does not do justice to the notion of network forms of organization ... . [S]uch an arrangement is neither a market transaction nor a hierarchical governance structure, but a separate, different mode of exchange, one with its own logic, a network" (Powell, 1990, pp. 296, 301).

But this new thinking remained focused mostly on innovative approaches to economic organization and business competition [21]. Moreover, definitional issues remained (and still do) as to precisely what is and is not a network form of organization; often, a definition that may be appropriate in the business world might not apply well in other contexts, such as for analyzing networked social movements.

Since the early 1990s, the literature on networks has grown immensely. Yet, the distinctions between the social and organizational approaches to analysis remain sources of academic debate. An important effort to bridge the debate (Nohria and Eccles, 1992) focused on inquiring "whether 'network' referred to certain characteristics of any organization or whether it referred to a particular form of organization" (p. vii). The question was left unresolved - a lead-off author claimed the pro-form view was largely rhetorical, while the concluding authors implied the academic debate was less significant than the fact that business strategists were developing and applying the new form [22]. In contrast, a later effort by a set of scholars who believe the network is a distinct form of organization (DeSanctis and Fulk, 1999) ends by noting how much work remains to be done to clarify this phenomenon and its relation to the advances in communications technology. A key task is to create better typologies, since the study of organizational forms still "tends to be dominated by such dichotic concepts as market versus hierarchy or bureaucratic versus postbureaucratic" (p. 498).

Lately, these unsettled debates over how to think about networks have affected major writings about where societies as a whole may be headed. Consider, for example, this treatment in Francis Fukuyama's The Great Disruption (1999), which does not view networks as a distinctive form of organization that is newly on the rise:

"If we understand a network not as a type of formal organization, but as social capital, we will have much better insight into what a network's economic function really is. By this view, a network is a moral relationship of trust: A network is a group of individual agents who share informal norms or values beyond those necessary for ordinary market transactions. The norms and values encompassed under this definition can extend from the simple norm of reciprocity shared between two friends to the complex value systems created by organized religions" (Fukuyama, 1999, p. 199, italics in original).

This is different from the view espoused by Manuel Castells in The Rise of the Network Society (1996). He recognizes, in a manner not unlike Fukuyama, the importance that values and norms play in the performance of networks and other forms of organization. Yet, his deeper point is that networks are spreading and gaining strength as a distinct form of organization:

"Our exploration of emergent social structures across domains of human activity and experience leads to an overarching conclusion: as a historical trend, dominant functions and processes in the information age are increasingly organized around networks. Networks constitute the new social morphology of our societies ... While the networking form of social organization has existed in other times and spaces, the new information technology paradigm provides the material basis for its pervasive expansion throughout the entire social structure" (Castells, 1996, p. 469).

Fukuyama's view reflects mainly the social network approach to analysis, Castells's the organizational approach - and his view is more tied to the influence of the information revolution. Our own view is decidedly in the latter camp (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1996, 2000; Ronfeldt, 1992, 1996); but that is not the main point here. The point is that these debates are far from settled; they will persist for years. Meanwhile, where netwar is the object of concern - as in assessing the degree to which an adversary is or is not a netwar actor, and how well it is designed for particular strategies and tactics - the analyst should be steeped in the organizational as much as the social approach. Organizational design is the decisive factor (even when the actors are individuals).

Against this backdrop, good progress at network analysis is being made by anthropologists, sociologists, and political scientists who are studying the growing roles of organizational networks in social movements. Their definitions of "network" have not always improved on prior ones. For example, a pathbreaking study of transnational advocacy movements (Keck and Sikkink, 1998) defines networks rather vaguely as "forms of organization characterized by voluntary, reciprocal, and horizontal patterns of communication and exchange" (p. 8). But their full discussion considers all the organizational, doctrinal, technological, and social dynamics that an effective social movement - and netwar actor - requires.

An early study that pointed in this direction, by sociologist Luther Gerlach and anthropologist Virginia Hine, held that U.S. social movements in the 1960s amounted to "segmented, polycentric, ideologically integrated networks" (SPINs). According to Gerlach (1987, p. 115, based on Gerlach and Hine, 1970),

"By segmentary I mean that it is cellular, composed of many different groups... . By polycentric I mean that it has many different leaders or centers of direction... . By networked I mean that the segments and the leaders are integrated into reticulated systems or networks through various structural, personal, and ideological ties. Networks are usually unbounded and expanding... . This acronym [SPIN] helps us picture this organization as a fluid, dynamic, expanding one, spinning out into mainstream society."

The SPIN concept is rarely noticed by scholars who work on social or organizational networks, but it remains highly relevant to understanding the theory and practice of netwar - in many respects, the archetypal netwar design corresponds to a SPIN. While Gerlach (e.g., 1999) has focused mainly on environmental and other social movements in the United States, the SPIN concept illuminates dynamics being developed in various terrorist, criminal, ethnonationalist, and fundamentalist networks around the world.

Finally, complexity theorists in the hard and social sciences - theorists interested in discerning common principles to explain "the architecture of complexity" across all natural and human systems - are delving into the structures and dynamics of biological, ecological, and social systems where networks are the organizing principle (e.g., see Strogatz, 2001). Of the many orderly patterns they have found, one seems particularly worth mentioning here. Many such systems feature a small number of highly connected nodes acting as hubs, along with a large number of less connected nodes - a pattern that proves resilient to systemic shocks, unless a key hub is disrupted or destroyed [23]. This apparently resembles a well-structured, multi-hub "spider's web" network, or a set of interconnected center/periphery networks. Also, this is the kind of pattern - featuring one or more actors as key hubs, around which are arrayed a large number of actors linked to the hubs but less so to each other, yet with frequent all-channel information-sharing across all actors - seen in such social netwars as the "Battle of Seattle" and the Zapatista movement in Mexico. It may also characterize some sprawling terrorist and criminal networks.



What Makes a Network Effective, Besides Organization?

What holds a network together? [24] What makes it function effectively? Answers to these questions involve much more than just the organizational aspects emphasized above. While there is no standard methodology for analyzing network forms of organization, our familiarity with the theoretical literature and with the practices seen among netwar actors indicates that the design and performance of such networks depend on what happens across five levels of analysis (which are also levels of practice) [25]:

  • Organizational level - its organizational design
  • Narrative level - the story being told
  • Doctrinal level - the collaborative strategies and methods
  • Technological level - the information systems in use
  • Social level - the personal ties that assure loyalty and trust

The strength of a network, perhaps especially the all-channel design, depends on its functioning well across all five levels. The strongest networks will be those in which the organizational design is sustained by a winning story and a well-defined doctrine, and in which all this is layered atop advanced communications systems and rests on strong personal and social ties at the base. Each level, and the overall design, may benefit from redundancy and diversity. Each level's characteristics are likely to affect those of the other levels.

These are not idle academic issues. Getting a network form "right" - like getting a hierarchical or market form "right" - can be a delicate enterprise. For practitioners trying to organize a new network or adjust one that already exists, various options may merit consideration - and their assessment should assure that all the organizational, narrative, doctrinal, technological, and social levels are well-designed and integrated.

This applies to netwar and counternetwar actors across the spectrum. However, our discussion emphasizes evidence from social netwar actors, mainly activist NGOs, because they have been more open and expressive than have terrorist, criminal, and other violent, secretive actors. The discussion draws on some of the cases presented in our new book, but also affords an opportunity to bring in other recent examples.

Each of these levels of analysis deserves more elaboration than we give here. Our goals are to get people to think in these terms and point the way, even though we cannot pretend to offer final methodological guidance.

Organizational Level

To what extent is an actor, or set of actors, organized as a network? And what does that network look like? This is the top level - the starting point - for assessing the extent to which an actor, or set of actors, may be designed for netwar.

Nowadays, many writings about terrorists, criminals, and activists observe that one grouping or another is organized as a network. But the analyst should be able to specify more than simply that. Among other things, assessment at this level should include showing exactly what type of network design is being used, whether and how members may act autonomously, where leadership resides and/or is distributed, and whether and how hierarchical dynamics may be mixed in with the network dynamics.

As noted earlier, networks come in three major typologies: chain, hub, and all-channel. There are also complex combinations and hybrids involving myriad nodes and links - as in "spider webs," as well as in center/periphery and clique networks. There are also designs that amount to hybrids of networks and hierarchies. In many cases, an important aspect may be the variety of "structural holes" and "bridges" that exist within and between networks - and whether "short cuts" exist that allow distant actors to connect with only a few hops across intermediates, as in a "small world network" [26] Henry Mintzberg (1981) suggests that short cuts may be facilitated by the rise of "mutual adjustment" practices in cross-disciplinary teams. He notes this in the context of business organizations, where the "adjustment phenomenon" will break down "line and staff as well as a number of other distinctions" (p. 5).

Netwar analysts writing for policymakers and strategists should be able to identify and portray the details of a network's structure - as well as they traditionally do when charting an adversary's leadership structures, especially for analyzing terrorist and criminal groups.

In an archetypal netwar, the units are likely to resemble an array of dispersed, internetted nodes set to act as an all-channel network. Recent cases of social netwar by activist NGOs against state and corporate actors - e.g., the series of activist campaigns against globalism known as J18, N30, A16, etc. - show the activists forming into open, all-channel, and multi-hub designs whose strength depends on free-flowing discussion and information sharing.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a prime case of a social netwar developed by NGO activists whose network eventually included some government officials, in a campaign that one prominent organizer, Jody Williams, called "a new model of diplomacy" for putting pressure on the United States and other recalcitrant governments:

"It proves that civil society and governments do not have to see themselves as adversaries. It demonstrates that small and middle powers can work together with civil society and address humanitarian concerns with breathtaking speed. It shows that such a partnership is a new kind of "superpower" in the post-Cold War world... . For the first time, smaller and middle-sized powers had not yielded ground to intense pressure from a superpower to weaken the treaty to accommodate the policies of that one country" (Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Lecture, 10 December 1997, nobel_lecture_97_williams.html).

This campaign had no central headquarters or bureaucracy. Instead, it had a netwar design - a pattern of constant, open communication and coordination among a network of national campaigns that worked independently but coordinated constantly with each other on behalf of their common goal (also see Williams and Goose, 1998).

Such flatness and openness may be impossible for terrorist, criminal, and other violent netwar actors who depend on stealth and secrecy; cellular networks and/or hierarchies may be imperative for them, along with hybrids of hierarchies and networks. Consider the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a radical environmental group of unclear origins. The ELF may in fact have only a small core of true believers who commit its most violent acts, such as arson and vandalism at new construction sites in naturally wild landscapes (e.g., Long Island, New York). But according to ELF publicist, Craig Rosebraugh, the ELF consists of a "series of cells across the country with no chain of command and no membership roll." It is held together mainly by a shared ideology and philosophy. "There's no central leadership where they can go and knock off the top guy and it will be defunct" [27]. In other words, the ELF is allegedly built around "autonomous cells" that are entirely underground.

This is different from the "leaderless resistance" doctrine discussed later, which requires a mix of aboveground and underground groups. This is also different from terrorist networks, like Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda (The Base), that are characterized by horizontal coordination among semiautonomous groups. Yet another variation is found in the evolution of the Falun Gong in China: "Under attack, Falun Gong has evolved from a well-regulated movement with a structure not unlike that of the Communist Party into a nonhierarchical mass movement whose structure mirrors that of the Internet, on which it depends" [28].

In netwar, leadership remains important, even though the protagonists may make every effort to have a leaderless design. One way to accomplish this is to have many leaders diffused throughout the network who try to act in coordination, without central control or a hierarchy. This can create coordination problems - a typical weakness of network designs - but, as often noted, it can also obviate counterleadership targeting. Perhaps a more significant, less noted point is that the kind of leader who may be most important for the development and conduct of a netwar is not the "great man" or the administrative leader that people are accustomed to seeing, but rather the doctrinal leadership - the individual or set of individuals who, far from acting as commander, is in charge of shaping the flow of communications, the "story" expressing the netwar, and the doctrine guiding its strategy and tactics.

We often posit that it may take networks to fight networks. Yet, government interagency designs for waging counternetwar against terrorists, criminals, and other violent, law-breaking adversaries will have to be built around hybrids of hierarchies and networks. Governments cannot, and should not, attempt to do away with all hierarchy [29].

Narrative Level

Why have the members assumed a network form? Why do they remain in that form? Networks, like other forms of organization, are held together by the narratives, or stories, that people tell [30]. The kind of successful narratives that we have in mind are not simply rhetoric - not simply a "line" with "spin" that is "scripted" for manipulative ends. Instead, these narratives provide a grounded expression of people's experiences, interests, and values [31]. First of all, stories express a sense of identity and belonging - of who "we" are, why we have come together, and what makes us different from "them." Second, stories communicate a sense of cause, purpose, and mission. They express aims and methods as well as cultural dispositions - what "we" believe in, and what we mean to do, and how.

The right story can thus help keep people connected in a network whose looseness makes it difficult to prevent defection. The right story line can also help create bridges across different networks. The right story can also generate a perception that a movement has a winning momentum, that time is on its side [32].

Doctrinal and other leaders may play crucial roles in designing winning stories and building organizational cultures around them. This has long been recognized for executives in corporate systems [33]. It is also true for netwar actors.

All netwar actors engage in narrative assurance, and use old and new media to do so. All are sensitive about the stories they use to hold a network together and attract external audiences. For terrorists, the stories tend to herald heroic deeds, for criminals their adventures in greed, and for social activists their campaigns to meet human needs. If it sounds odd to cast criminals this way, note that Colombian (not to mention Mexican and other) drug traffickers have no problem viewing and presenting themselves in a positive light as archnationalists who do good for their communities, for example through financial donations to churches, hospitals, and schools, as well as through legitimate investments in sagging local economies.

On this point, Manuel Castells (1998, pp. 196-201) discusses cartel behavior in Colombia to underscore his thesis (p. 197) about "the importance of cultural identity in the constitution, functioning, and strategies of criminal networks."

"The attachment of drug traffickers to their country, and to their regions of origin, goes beyond strategic calculation. They were/are deeply rooted in their cultures, traditions, and regional societies. Not only have they shared their wealth with their cities, and invested a significant amount (but not most) of their fortune in their country, but they have also revived local cultures, rebuilt rural life, strongly affirmed their religious feelings, and their beliefs in local saints and miracles, supported musical folklore (and were rewarded with laudatory songs from Colombian bards), made Colombian football teams (traditionally poor) the pride of the nation, and revitalized the dormant economies and social scenes of Medellin and Cali - until bombs and machine guns disturbed their joy" (p. 199).

In the abstract, his points might apply as well to some leading terrorist groups in the Middle East.

Writings about social activism are especially keen about the narrative level. Keck and Sikkink (1998, citing Deborah Stone) observe that it is crucial for social campaigns to follow the lines of a "strategic portrayal" based on a "causal story." Rutherford (1999) relates the growth of the ICBL to the story it choose to tell: "By controlling the agenda - what was to be discussed and how - the ICBL established the context of the landmine debate as humanitarian rather than military." Also, Otpor ("Resistance"), the netwar-like underground movement to overthrow Milosevic and democratize Serbia, adopted a doctrine of nonviolence, not simply because that was the ethical thing to do, but because it would help provoke the regime into resorting to force in ways that would undermine its authority and give Otpor the high ground regarding whose story should win (Cohen, 2000).

Military campaigns also depend on whose story wins. For example, the highly networked Chechens won their military campaign against Russia during the 1994-1996 war - and they also won the battle of the story, portraying themselves as plucky freedom fighters ridding their land of the last vestiges of a tottering, evil old empire. But in the second war, beginning in 1999, the Russians not only improved their own ability to fight in small, dispersed, networked units, but also mobilized Russian society, including many organizations that opposed the first war in Chechnya, by portraying this second round as a war against terrorism. This story, advanced in the wake of urban bombings in Russia in 1999, even played well in the industrialized West, which has given the Russians a free hand in Chechnya this time, with no threats to withhold new loans because of what might be going on in the Transcaucasus region.

In the current Intifadah, both the Palestinians and the Israelis have waged an ever-shifting "battle of the story." The Palestinians have depicted the Israelis as having abrogated the Oslo Accord, while the Israelis have portrayed Arafat and his advisers as unwilling to make any - even reasonable - concessions. Moreover, the Palestinians have portrayed the Israelis as using excessive force - although this thrust is vitiated by the Palestinians own violent acts. Meanwhile in cyberspace, both sides have reached out successfully to their ethnic diasporas, for moral as well as financial support. Both have also successfully encouraged distributed-denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks on each other's information systems - the Israelis going so far as to provide a Web site for encouraging average Israeli citizens to join the cause by downloading and using various computer attack tools. The Palestinians have used a narrative-level twist on this - they have invoked a "cyber jihad" against Israel, which has resulted in much participation in the cyberspace aspects of this conflict by Muslims from Morocco to Pakistan. Hizbollah in particular has articulated a strategy that includes both computerized swarming attacks on Israeli information infrastructures and selective attacks on commercial firms doing business with Israel [34].

Disinformation, misrepresentation, and outright lying are eternal downsides that should not be overlooked at the narrative level. Some actors may be unscrupulously cunning about the story lines they unfold in the media [35]. Nonetheless, many of the major trends of the information age - e.g., the continued growth of global media of all types, the proliferation of sensors and surveillance devices, the strengthening of global civil society - imply that the world will become ever more transparent. This may well be a mixed blessing, but it should be to the advantage of democratic state and nonstate actors who thrive on openness (Florini, 1998; Brin, 1998).

As this occurs, a premium will be placed on using public diplomacy to advance one's messages. Jamie Metzl (1999, pp. 178, 191) explains that

"the struggle to affect important developments across the globe is increasingly an information struggle. Without winning the struggle to define the interpretation of state actions, the physical acts themselves become less effective... . [T]he culture of foreign policy must change from one that along with protecting secrets and conducting secret negotiations recognizes that openness - achieved through the development of broad information networks and multiple temporary mini-alliances with both state and nonstate actors - will be the key to foreign policy success."

This may give presumably weaker actors, like NGOs intent on social netwar, a soft-power edge [36] in dealing with presumably stronger actors, like states. As Martin Libicki (1999-2000, p. 41) argues,

"The globalization of perception - the ability of everyone to know what is happening in minute detail around the world and the increasing tendency to care about it - is another way that the small can fend off the large."

Many approaches are being developed for analyzing the narrative level - for example, by scholars who study soft power, political discourse, narrative paradigms, story modeling, agenda setting, metaphors, frames, messages, and/or perspective-making. Some approaches reflect established social-science efforts to understand psychology, propaganda, ideology, and the media, and, in the field of political science, to develop a norm-oriented "constructivist" paradigm as an alternative to the dominant "neorealist" paradigm [37]. Other approaches reflect the rise of "postmodernism" in academia (as in the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari). All of them show the importance of this level of analysis and practice.

Doctrinal Level

What doctrines exist for making best use of the network form of organization? This level of analysis is very important for explaining what enables the members to operate strategically and tactically, without necessarily having to resort to a central command or leader. The performance of the multi-hub and all-channel designs in particular may depend on the existence of shared principles and practices that span all nodes and to which the members subscribe in a deep way. Such a set of guiding principles and practices - a doctrine - can enable them to be "all of one mind" even though they are dispersed and devoted to different tasks. It can provide a central ideational, strategic, and operational coherence that allows for tactical decentralization. Overall, this is a looser approach to decision making and operations than traditionally found in right- or left-wing movements - compare this approach, for example, to Mao Zedong's maxim that "command must be centralized for strategic purposes and decentralized for tactical purposes" (see Zedong, 1961, p. 113).

So far, two doctrinal practices seem particularly apt for netwar actors. One is to organize and present a network in a way that is as "leaderless" as possible, by having no single leader who stands out, by having (or appearing to have) multiple leaders, and by using consultative and consensus-building mechanisms for decision-making [38]. This principle is evident in many cases of netwar. The second is to use swarming strategies and tactics by having myriad small units that are normally kept dispersed turn to converge on a target from all directions, conduct an attack, and then redisperse to prepare for the next operation. This second principle - swarming - has not been explicitly espoused or adopted by the actors we have looked at, but it is implicitly there, awaiting refinement in many of them - from Middle Eastern terrorists seeking to enter the United States from different directions in order to converge on a bombing target, to NGO activists who swarmed into Mexico in 1994 and Seattle in 1999.

An example of the first principle is the doctrine of "leaderless resistance" elaborated by right-wing extremist Louis Beam. This doctrine downplays hierarchy in favor of organizing networks of "phantom cells." It reveals a belief that the more a movement conforms to a networked organizational style, the more robust it will be defensively, and the more flexible offensively:

"Utilizing the Leaderless Resistance concept, all individuals and groups operate independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters or single leader for direction or instruction... . [P]articipants in a program of Leaderless Resistance through Phantom Cell or individual action must know exactly what they are doing, and exactly how to do it... . Organs of information distribution such as newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc., which are widely available to all, keep each person informed of events, allowing for a planned response that will take many variations. No one need issue an order to anyone" (Beam, 1992).

The underground element of Beam's doctrine originally called for four types of secretive, decentralized cells: command, combat, support, and communiqué cells. Each should consist of about eight "minutemen" and have its own leader. But late in the 1990s, practice diverged from this doctrine, allowing "lone wolves" to instigate violent acts, like bombings, seemingly on their own initiative.

The leaderless resistance doctrine has permeated far right circles in the United States (see Burghardt, 1995a, 1995b; Stern, 1996) [39]. In addition, it has reached hate groups in Germany, some of which are stockpiling weapons and explosives and posting death lists on Web sites.

""What we are seeing is a very worrying trend in the organization of far right groups with a view to committing terrorism," says Graeme Atkinson, European editor of the anti-fascist magazine Searchlight. "They are talking about creating a 'leaderless resistance' of terrorist cells - and of ensuring the creation of liberated zones, with foreigners driven out from rural areas and smaller towns"" (Martin A. Lee, "Neo-Nazism: It's Not Just in Germany's Beer Halls Anymore," Los Angeles Times, 31 December 2000, p. M2).

By itself, a tenet like leaderless resistance is only a partial step toward having a doctrine for netwar. What operational behavior may in fact be most effective for small, dispersed, mobile forces that are joined in networks? The short answer is swarming (for elaboration, see Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1997, 2000; and Edwards, 2000) [40]. If the optimal organizational form for netwar is the dispersed network, the corresponding doctrine must surely consist of swarming. Swarming may well become the key mode of conflict in the information age. But swarming doctrines and strategies have barely begun to emerge for the conduct of terrorist, criminal, and social conflicts.

Swarming is a seemingly amorphous, but deliberately structured, coordinated, strategic way to strike from all directions at a particular point or points, by means of a sustainable pulsing of force and/or fire, close-in as well as from stand-off positions. This notion of "force and/or fire" may be literal in the case of military or police operations, but metaphorical in the case of NGO activists, who may, for example, be blocking city intersections or emitting volleys of e-mails and faxes. Swarming will work best - perhaps it will only work - if it is designed mainly around the deployment of myriad, small, dispersed, networked maneuver units. Swarming occurs when the dispersed units of a network of small (and perhaps some large) forces converge on a target from multiple directions. The overall aim is sustainable pulsing - swarm networks must be able to coalesce rapidly and stealthily on a target, then dissever and redisperse, immediately ready to recombine for a new pulse. The capacity for a "stealthy approach" suggests that, in netwar, attacks are more likely to occur in "swarms" than in more traditional "waves." The Chechen resistance to the Russian army, the rush of NGOs into Mexico to support the Zapatista movement, and the Direct Action Network's operations in the "Battle of Seattle" against the World Trade Organization (WTO) all provide excellent examples of swarming behavior [41].

Today, one of the most sophisticated doctrines for social netwar comes from the Direct Action Network (DAN), which arose from a coalition of activists dedicated to using nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience to halt the WTO meeting in Seattle. Its approach to netwar epitomizes swarming ideas. Participants are asked to organize, at their own choice, into small (5-20 people) "affinity groups" - "self-sufficient, small, autonomous teams of people who share certain principles, goals, interests, plans or other similarities that enable them to work together well" [42]. Each group decides for itself what actions its members will undertake, ranging from street theater to risking arrest [43]. Where groups operate in proximity to each other, they are further organized into "clusters" - but there may also be "flying groups" that move about according to where needed. Different people in each group take up different functions (e.g., police liaison), but every effort is made to make the point that no group has a single leader. All this is coordinated at spokescouncil meetings where each group sends a representative and decisions are reached through democratic consultation and consensus (in yet another approach to leaderlessness).

This approach generated unusual flexibility, mobility, and resource sharing in the "Battle of Seattle" [44]. Here is an eyewitness account:

"In practice, this form of organization meant that groups could move and react with great flexibility during the blockade. If a call went out for more people at a certain location, an affinity group could assess the numbers holding the line where they were and choose whether or not to move. When faced with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and horses, groups and individuals could assess their own ability to withstand the brutality. As a result, blockade lines held in the face of incredible police violence. When one group of people was finally swept away by gas and clubs, another would move in to take their place. Yet there was also room for those of us in the middle-aged, bad lungs/bad backs affinity group to hold lines in areas that were relatively peaceful, to interact and dialogue with the delegates we turned back, and to support the labor march that brought tens of thousands through the area at midday. No centralized leader could have coordinated the scene in the midst of the chaos, and none was needed - the organic, autonomous organization we had proved far more powerful and effective. No authoritarian figure could have compelled people to hold a blockade line while being tear gassed - but empowered people free to make their own decisions did choose to do that" (Starhawk, How We Really Shut Down the WTO, December 1999,

This is very much a netwar doctrine. It is not quite an explicit swarming doctrine - but almost.

An unusually loose netwar design - one that is eminently leaderless yet manages to organize a large crowd for a rather chaotic, linear kind of swarming - is found in the pro-bicycle, anti-car protest movement known as Critical Mass (CM) in the San Francisco Bay area. Since its inception in 1992, CM's bicycle activists (sometimes numbering 2,000) have converged on the last Friday of every month from around the Bay area to disrupt traffic at peak hours along a chosen route. They slow and block traffic, while handing out pamphlets about pollution and other detriments of the automobile culture. CM riders are proud of their lack of formal organization and leadership and constitute what they call a "xerocracy," which amounts to governance by distributing copies of an idea online or on the scene, say for a ride route, and letting a vote by the assembled decide. A key doctrinal tenet is "organized coincidence," by which "CM rides simply 'materialize' every month even though there are no leaders or organizational sponsorships." This way, "No one need take responsibility but everyone can take credit."

The aim is to ride en masse. The preference may be for "keeping Mass" (riding in a single, large, spread-out mass), but for safety or other reasons a ride may splinter into "minimasses" (multiple, dense small groups). Group decision-making about when and where to alter the route of a ride may occur on the fly, as a function of "dynamic street smarts" among the bicyclists up front. A "buddy system" is used to watch out for each other within a mass. Whistle signals are used for some command and control (e.g., stop, go, turn). "Cell phone contact" is used for communications between minimasses, which is particularly helpful if riders want to regroup splinters into a single mass. Tactics during a ride may include "corking" an intersection and "swarming" around a lone car. For much of the 1990s, there were tendencies for confrontation - if not by the riders then by police who came to "escort" and "herd" them. But by 1999, CM became "a ride dominated by creative self-governance and celebratory experimentation - with little or no ill will, and an eye out for avoiding confrontation" [45].

In netwars, swarming often appears not only in real-life actions but also through measures in cyberspace. Aspirations for a leaderless swarming doctrine, beginning with a rationale and a capability for "electronic civil disobedience," show up among hacktivists who advocate the usage of online tools to flood (i.e., overwhelm) a target's computer systems, e-mail inboxes, and Web sites, thereby disrupting and even defacing them (see Wray, 1998). Virtually anybody can log into one of these tools and, with a few commands, mount an automated DDOS attack. For example, a device called FloodNet, developed by a collectivity named the Electronic Disturbance Theater (EDT), has been used since the late 1990s against government and corporate sites in Mexico, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States (e.g., against Etoys). Hacktivists associated with the EDT would like to create a new device named SWARM (after our writings), in order to move "digital Zapatismo" beyond the initial emphasis on FloodNet and create new kinds of "electronic pulse systems" for militant activism [46].

A newer device, called Tribal FloodNet, evidently programmed by a German hacker named Mixter, is technically more powerful. It can enable a lone anonymous individual to mount a far more massive DDOS attack than is the case with FloodNet, which requires publicly announced mass participation (a virtual sit-in) to function well. Tribal FloodNet gained notoriety for its usage in shutting down Yahoo! and other U.S. sites early in 2000. But since then, the contrast between the two systems has led to an ideological controversy. Hacktivist proponents of FloodNet - not only in the EDT, but also in the Electrohippies and, to a lesser extent, the Cult of the Dead Cow - prefer to assert "the presence of a global group of people gathering to bear witness to a wrong." They criticize the Tribal version for being undemocratic and secretive [47].

Technological Infrastructure

What is the pattern of, and capacity for, information and communications flows within an organizational network? What technologies support them? How well do they suit the organizational design, as well as the narrative and doctrinal levels? The new information and communications technologies are crucial for enabling network forms of organization and doctrine. An ample, blossoming literature speaks to this (e.g., DeSanctis and Fulk, 1999). Indeed, the higher the bandwidth and the more dispersed the means of transmission, reception, storage, and retrieval, the better the prospects for success with network-style organization. The multi-hub and all-channel designs in particular depend on having a capacity - an infrastructure - for the dense communication of functional information. Current advances in peer-to-peer computing (as seen with Napster, Publius, and FreeNet) may give netwar actors an even greater technological edge in the future [48]. Indeed, the fact that more free music is being downloaded and shared by loose peer-to-peer networks since Napster's activities were curtailed by legal action gives some indication of the power of this advance. It also reveals once again, as seen notably with Colombian drug cartels in the 1990s, that smaller, more nimble networks may spring up as successors to a defeated large network like the Medellin or Cali cartel.

Yet, netwar can be waged without necessarily having access to the Internet and other advanced technologies. This level may mix old and new, low- and high-tech capabilities. Human couriers and face-to-face meetings may still remain essential, especially for secretive actors like terrorists and criminals.

Many cases speak to these points. Consider, for example, the development of the ICBL. Its protagonists got the movement off the ground in the early 1990s by relying mainly on telephones and faxes. They did not turn to the Internet until the mid-1990s, using it first for internal communication and later to send information to outside actors and to the media. Thus, it is "romanticized gobbledygook" that the Internet was essential for the ICBL's early efforts - e-mail and Web technologies were not widely used until late in the development of the campaign, and even then usage remained quite limited, rarely including government officials. Nonetheless, the late turn to the new technologies did improve communication and coordination and helped the ICBL create, and present to the world, a sense that it was a close-knit community on the move, with an important story for the world to hear. A leading academic analyst of the ICBL's use of technology, Ken Rutherford (1999) [49] concludes,

"One of the most significant aspects of the ICBL case is that it shows how NGO coalitions can use communications technologies in order to increase their opportunities for success in changing state behavior. It highlights the importance of how NGOs might be able to address security and social issues that states have thus far proven unable to manage... . [T]he role of communications technologies in future international NGO coalitions will be more important than they were in the landmine case."

That is in the case of a well-organized movement. But the new technologies can also have a catalyzing effect for the rapid, unexpected emergence of a spontaneous protest movement. Evidence for this - and for the further spread of the netwar phenomenon - appeared during a wild week in Britain in September 2000, when about 2,000 picketing protesters, alarmed by soaring gasoline prices, quickly organized into dispersed bands that blocked fuel deliveries to local gas stations. The protestors were brought together by cell phones, CB radios, in-cab fax machines, and e-mail via laptop computers. They had no particular leader, and their coordinating center constantly shifted its location. Will Hutton, director general of Britain's Industrial Society (a pro-business group), called it "a very 21st century crisis made possible by information technology":

"Old organizational forms have been succeeded by a new conception, the network... . Using mobile phones, people with no experience of protest were able to coalesce around common aims while never actually meeting" [50].

An earlier example of the use of advanced communications in support of a protest movement can be found in the Polish Solidarity movement of the 1980s. In the wake of the imposition of martial law, mass arrests and some brutality, Solidarity had difficulties keeping its members mobilized and informed. The United States, which was actively trying to undermine communist rule, went to great lengths to provide the movement with sophisticated communications equipment that could not easily be monitored or located. The new gear re-empowered the movement, giving it the ability to once again mount strikes and demonstrations that repeatedly took the government (and the KGB) by surprise [51].

Social Underpinnings

The full functioning of a network also depends on how well, and in what ways, the members are personally known and connected to each other. This is the classic level of social network analysis, where strong personal ties, often ones that rest on friendship and bonding experiences, ensure high degrees of trust and loyalty. To function well, networks may require higher degrees of interpersonal trust than do other approaches to organization, like hierarchies. This traditional level of theory and practice remains important in the information age.

Kinship ties, be they of blood or brotherhood, are a fundamental aspect of many terrorist, criminal, and gang organizations. For example, news about Osama bin Laden and his network, al-Qaeda ("the Base"), continue to reveal his, and its, dependence on personal relationships he formed over the years with "Afghan Arabs" from Egypt and elsewhere who were committed to anti-U.S. terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. In what is tantamount to a classic pattern of clan-like behavior, his son married the daughter of his longtime aide and likely successor, Abu Hoffs al-Masri, in January 2001 [52].

Social activists have also noted that personal friendships and bonding experiences may lie behind the successful formation and functioning of solidarity and affinity groups. And once again, the case of the ICBL speaks to the significance of this level, when organizer Jody Williams treats trust as the social bedrock of the campaign:

"It's making sure, even though everybody was independent to do it their own way, they cared enough to keep us all informed so that we all had the power of the smoke-and-mirrors illusion of this huge machinery... . And it was, again, the follow up, the constant communication, the building of trust. Trust, trust, trust. The most important element in political work. Once you blow trust, you've blown it all. It's hard to rebuild" [53].

The tendency in some circles to view networks as amounting to configurations of social capital and trust is helpful for analyzing this level. But there are other important concepts as well, notably about people forming Communities of Practice (Brown and Duguid, 2000), and "epistemic communities" (Haas, 1992). In a sense, all these concepts reflect the ancient, vital necessity of belonging to a family, clan, or tribe and associating one's identity with it.

Meanwhile, the traditions of social network analysis and economic transaction analysis warn against the risks of having participants who are "free riders" or lack a personal commitment to teamwork. Indeed, compared to tribal/clan and hierarchical forms of organization, networks have more difficulty instilling, and enforcing, a sense of personal identity with and loyalty to the network. This is one of the key weaknesses of the network form - one that may affect counternetwar designs as well. It extends partly from the fact that networks are often thought to lack a "center of gravity" as an organization.



The Practice of Netwar (and Counternetwar)

Netwar actors that are strong at all five levels are, and will be, very strong indeed. Netwar works - and it is working for all types: good guys and bad guys, civil and uncivil actors. So far, all have done quite well, generally, in their various confrontations with nation states. A significant question, then, is whether one or the other type could predominate in the future? Will NGOs proselytizing for human rights and high ethical standards reshape the world and its statecraft? Or will violent terrorists, criminals, and ethnonationalists have greater impact - in a dark way? Or will all types move ahead in tandem?

Growing Recognition of Netwar's Dark Face

Practice has been outrunning theory in one area after another where netwar is taking hold. Most commentaries and case studies about organizational networks (and networked organizations) have concerned competitive developments in the business world. However, the year 2000 brought an advance in U.S. government thinking about networking trends among our adversaries, and in the consideration of new options for dealing with them. Government- and military-related research institutes paid the most attention (e.g., see Copeland, 2000), [54] but high-level offices and officials were not lagging far behind.

The first landmark was the annual report, Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999, released by the U.S. State Department's Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism in April 2000. It provided the strongest statement yet about networking trends:

"U.S. counterterrorist policies are tailored to combat what we believe to be the shifting trends in terrorism. One trend is the shift from well-organized, localized groups supported by state sponsors to loosely organized, international networks of terrorists. Such a network supported the failed attempt to smuggle explosives material and detonating devices into Seattle in December. With the decrease of state funding, these loosely networked individuals and groups have turned increasingly to other sources of funding, including private sponsorship, narcotrafficking, crime, and illegal trade" [55].

By December 2000, observation of this trend - and of the links growing between crime and terrorism - became even more pronounced in the report of a U.S. interagency group on global crime. While noting that most criminal organizations remain hierarchical - they still have leaders and subordinates - the International Crime Threat Assessment found that:

"International criminal networks - including traditional organized crime groups and drug-trafficking organizations - have taken advantage of the dramatic changes in technology, world politics, and the global economy to become more sophisticated and flexible in their operations. They have extensive worldwide networks and infrastructure to support their criminal operations... . Much more than in the past, criminal organizations are networking and cooperating with one another, enabling them to merge expertise and to broaden the scope of their activities. Rather than treat each other as rivals, many criminal organizations are sharing information, services, resources, and market access according to the principle of comparative advantage" [56].

Also in December 2000, a forecasting report with a 15-year outlook - Global Trends 2015 - was produced by the National Intelligence Council, based largely on conferences sponsored by the Central Intelligence Agency for consulting nongovernment experts [57]. The report often uses the word "network" and observes that the world and many of its actors, activities, and infrastructures are ever more networked. Nonetheless, network dynamics appear more in a background than a foreground role - the report does not do much to illuminate network dynamics. Moreover, where this future outlook highlights the growing power and presence of networked nonstate actors of all varieties, it mostly plays up the perils of terrorists, criminals, and other possible adversaries, along with the challenges that activist NGOs may pose for states. The report has little to say about the promising opportunities for a world in which civil-society actors continue to gain strength through networking and where states may learn to communicate, coordinate, and act conjointly with them to address legitimate matters of mutual concern, from democracy to security.

Networks Versus Hierarchies: Challenges for Counternetwar

Our own work (dating from Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1993, 1996) leads to four policy-oriented propositions about the information revolution and its implications for netwar and counternetwar [58]:

Hierarchies have a difficult time fighting networks. There are examples of this across the conflict spectrum. Some of the best are found in the failings of many governments to defeat transnational criminal cartels engaged in drug smuggling, as in Colombia. The persistence of religious revivalist movements, as in Algeria, in the face of unremitting state opposition, shows both the defensive and offensive robustness of the network form. The Zapatista movement in Mexico, with its legions of supporters and sympathizers among local and transnational NGOs, shows that social netwar can put a democratizing autocracy on the defensive and pressure it to continue adopting reforms.

It takes networks to fight networks. Governments that want to defend against netwar may have to adopt organizational designs and strategies like those of their adversaries. This does not mean mirroring the adversary, but rather learning to draw on the same design principles that he has already learned about the rise of network forms in the information age. These principles depend to some extent on technological innovation, but mainly on a willingness to innovate organizationally and doctrinally, including by building new mechanisms for interagency and multi-jurisdictional cooperation.

Whoever masters the network form first and best will gain major advantages. In these early decades of the information age, adversaries who are advanced at networking (be they criminals, terrorists, or militant social anarchists and activists), are enjoying an increase in their power relative to state agencies. While networking once allowed them simply to keep from being suppressed, it now allows them to compete on more nearly equal terms with states and other hierarchically oriented actors. The histories of Hamas and the Cali cartel illustrate this; so does the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Where appropriate, counternetwar may thus require very effective interagency approaches, which by their nature involve networked structures. It is not necessary, desirable, or even possible to replace all hierarchies with networks in governments. Rather, the challenge will be to blend these two forms skillfully, while retaining enough core authority to encourage and enforce adherence to networked processes. By creating effective hybrids, governments may become better prepared to confront the new threats and challenges emerging in the information age, whether generated by terrorists, ethnonationalists, militias, criminals, or other actors. (For elaboration, see Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1997, Ch. 19.)

However, governments tend to be so constrained by hierarchical habits and institutional interests that it may take some sharp reverses - such as were just suffered in the terrorist attacks in the United States - before a willingness to experiment more seriously with networking emerges. The costs and risks associated with failing to engage in institutional redesign are likely to be high - and may grow ever higher over time. In the most difficult areas - crime and terrorism - steps to improve intra- and international networking are moving in the right direction. But far more remains to be done, as criminal and terrorist networks continuously remake themselves into ever more difficult targets.

Strengthening the Bright Side

Much more can and should be done to shift to a strategy of both cultivating and cooperating with NGOs. Since U.S. policymakers have tended to emphasize the threats posed by emerging nonstate actors, it is not hard to see how the potential opportunities of engaging and helping to build a global civil society may have been overlooked so far. But the cost of inattention to this issue is already substantial (e.g., political opprobrium suffered because of lack of U.S. support for the antipersonnel landmine ban), and will grow.

Learning not only to live but also to work with NGOs to create new governance schemes for addressing social problems is becoming the cutting edge of policy and strategy [59]. It would seem advisable for the United States to take the lead at this - possibly in connection with newly emerging concepts about "information engagement." However, for now, the states that may be more willing to engage NGOs may well be the ones that possess less hard power and are less interested in competitive realpolitik. Sweden, a good friend to nonstate actors, has not been in a shooting war for 200 years. So perhaps the nurturing strategies toward nonstate actors that we prefer will have to diffuse from the periphery of the world political system to its core actors, slowly and over time, if the greater powers cannot advance the process themselves.

This concluding discussion could no doubt be made more thorough and nuanced. But, brief and selective as it is, it serves to underscore what we think is the important point: The rise of netwar and its many early successes imply the need for statecraft to adjust to - perhaps be transformed by - these civil and uncivil manifestations of the information revolution. Most central concepts about national security are over half a century old now. Containment, mutual deterrence, coercive diplomacy, all seem ever less relevant to the types of challenges confronting nation states. Netwar - with its emphasis on empowering dispersed small groups, its reliance on the power of the story, and its suitability to leaderless networks adept at swarming - should call forth a strategic renaissance among those who would either employ it or oppose it. This conceptual rebirth, if allowed to thrive, will undoubtedly take us all far from the old paradigms. Deterrence and coercion will not disappear entirely as tools of statecraft; but, more and more often, suasion will have to be tried, as our understanding of the limited usefulness of force grows ever clearer.



Coda: September's "Attack on America"

As we were putting the finishing touches on this paper, terrorists struck in New York and Washington. If Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network is the principal adversary - as seems increasingly likely - then it may prove useful to view it through the perspective offered by the netwar concept and the five levels of analysis that we have elucidated.

First, at the organizational level, we see a confrontation between hierarchical/state and networked/nonstate actors. For the United States and its friends and allies, one challenge will be to learn to network better with each other. Some of this is already going on, in terms of intelligence sharing, but much more must be done to build a globally operational counterterror network. A particular challenge for the cumbersome American bureaucracy will be to encourage deep, all-channel networking among the military, law enforcement, and intelligence elements whose collaboration is crucial for achieving successes. U.S. agencies have been headed in this direction for years - for counternarcotics as well as counterterrorism - but interagency rivalries and distrust have too often slowed progress.

For al-Qaeda, the organizational challenge seems to lie in making sure that their network is not simply a single hub designed around bin Laden - as his death or capture would signal their defeat. The more a terrorist network takes the form of a multi-hub "spider's web" design, with multiple centers and peripheries, the more redundant and resilient it will be - and the harder to defeat.

Second, at the narrative level, there is a broad contention between Western liberal ideas about the spread of free markets, free peoples, and open societies, versus Muslim convictions about the exploitive, invasive, demeaning nature of Western incursions into the Islamic world. To use Samuel Huntington's phrase, this conflict involves a "clash of civilizations." But it might also be deemed a "time war" (term from Rifkin, 1989), in that this terrorist mindset is, in a sense, so tribal, medieval, and absolutist that it represents an effort to challenge the 21st century with 13th century (or earlier) ideals - as well as to ruin Americans' hopes for the future. Thus we should not think of bin Laden as being clinically "insane" but rather as culturally and temporally perverse.

To this basic imagery, the United States has made a point of adding that the attacks were "acts of war" against not only America but also "the civilized world," and American public opinion has been quickly galvanized by the revival of the Pearl Harbor metaphor. Indeed, the disproportionate nature of the terrorists' use of force - including the mass murder of civilians - can only reinforce feelings of righteous indignation. Against this, the perpetrators are likely to exalt their own "holy war" imagery, which they will have trouble exploiting beyond the Islamic world - and cannot do even that well as long as they remain concealed behind a veil of anonymity. But while the United States may have the edge in the "battle of the story" in much of the world, it will have to think deeply about how to keep that edge if U.S. forces are sent into action in any Middle Eastern countries.

Third, in terms of doctrine, the al-Qaeda network seems to have a grasp of the nonlinear nature of the battlespace, and of the value of attack from multiple directions by dispersed small units. If this is indeed a war being waged by al-Qaeda, its first campaign was no doubt the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, followed by a sharp shift to Africa with the embassy bombings of 1998. In between, and since, there have been a number of other skirmishes in far-flung locales, with some smaller attacks succeeding, and others apparently having been prevented by good intelligence. Thus, bin Laden and his cohorts appear to have developed a swarm-like doctrine that features a campaign of episodic, pulsing attacks by various nodes of his network - at locations sprawled across global time and space where he has advantages for seizing the initiative, stealthily.

Against this doctrine, the United States has seemingly little to pose, as yet. Some defensive efforts to increase "force protection" have been pursued, and missile strikes in Afghanistan and the Sudan in 1998 suggest that the offensive part of U.S. doctrine is based on aging notions of strategic bombardment. Needless to say, if our ideas about netwar, swarming, and the future of conflict are on the mark, the former is not likely to be a winning approach; a whole new doctrine based on swarming concepts should be developed. It is possible that the notion of "counterleadership targeting" will continue to be featured - this was tried against Moammar Qaddhafi in 1986, Saddam Hussein in 1991, Mohamed Aidid in 1993, and against bin Laden in 1998. Every effort to date has failed, [60] but that may not keep the United States from trying yet again, as this seems a part of its doctrinal paradigm. Besides, if bin Laden is the only hub of the al-Qaeda network, his death or capture might turn the tide.

Next, at the technological level, the United States possesses a vast array of very advanced systems, while al-Qaeda has relatively fewer - and has great and increasing reluctance to use advanced telecommunications because of the risks of detection and tracking. But this category cannot be analyzed quite so simply. The United States, for example, has extensive "national technical means" for gathering intelligence and targeting information - but perhaps only a small portion of these means have utility against dispersed, networked terrorists. Orbital assets - now the linchpins of American intelligence - may prove of little moment against bin Laden. At the same time, al-Qaeda has access to commercial off-the-shelf technologies that may prove a boon to their operations.

Finally, at the social level, this network features tight religious and kinship bonds among the terrorists, who share a tribalized, clannish view of "us" versus "them." Al-Qaeda's edge in this dimension ties into its narrative level, with Islam being the pivot between the story of "holy war" against "infidels" and the network's ability to recruit and deploy hate-filled, death-bound strike forces who evince a singleness of mind and purpose. Against this, the United States faces a profound defensive challenge at the social level. How will the American people, despite the arousal of nationalism, react to the potential need to become a less open society in order to become more secure? If the Pearl Harbor metaphor - key to the American narrative dimension - holds up, and if U.S. operations result in some successful early counterstrikes, then there may be unusual public solidarity to sustain the "war against terrorism" at the social level. But something of a social divide may emerge between the United States and Europe over whether the response to the attack on America should be guided by a "war" or a "law enforcement" paradigm.

In summary, a netwar perspective on the various dimensions of the struggle with al-Qaeda - again, if this is indeed the adversary, or one of the them - renders some interesting insights into both the context and conduct of this first major conflict of the millennium. Al-Qaeda seems to hold advantages at the social and doctrinal levels, and apparently in the organizational domain as well. The United States and its allies probably hold only marginal advantages at the narrative and technological levels. In terms of strategy, there appears to be less room for al-Qaeda to improve. However, its sound doctrinal and solid social underpinnings might be further enhanced - and a vulnerability removed - if it moved further away from being a hub network revolving around bin Laden. Indeed, this may be an optimal strategy for al-Qaeda, as it is delimited from trying to fight an open "battle of the story" at the narrative level, its one other apparent strategic option.

For the United States and its allies, there is much room for improvement - most of all at the organizational and doctrinal levels. Simply put, the West must start to build its own networks and must learn to swarm the enemy, in order to keep it on the run or pinned down until it can be destroyed. The United States and its allies must also seize the initiative - including by applying pressure on any states that harbor terrorists. To be sure, the edge at the narrative level in the world at large must be maintained, but this can be achieved with an economy of effort. The real work needs to be done in developing an innovative concept of operations and building the right kinds of networks to carry off a swarming campaign against networked terrorists. For, at its heart, netwar is far more about organization and doctrine than it is about technology. The outcomes of current and future netwars are bound to confirm this. End of article


About the Authors

David Ronfeldt is a senior social scientist at RAND.

John Arquilla is a RAND consultant and a professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School.



In addition to the sources in the bibliography, this paper reflects insights from some of the case-study chapters that appear in our forthcoming book, Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy (RAND, 2001). These chapters were written by Michele Zanini, Sean Edwards, Phil Williams, John Sullivan, Tiffanny Danitz, Warren Strobel, Paul de Armond, Dorothy Denning, and Luther Gerlach. Their chapters may be viewed online later this year at



1. The literatures on each of these concepts is, by now, quite large, except for "network-centric warfare," whose main source is Cebrowski and Garstka (1998). Some writers (e.g., Florini, 2000) prefer the term "transnational civil society" over "global civil society."

2. See Kelly (1994) and Lipnack and Stamps (1994) on "the network age," Castells (1996) and Kumon (1992) on "the network society," and Dertouzos (1997) on "networks as nations." See Brin (1998) on a a related concept about "the transparent society."

3. See Held and McGrew (2000), esp. Ch. 2 (excerpted from a 1999 book by David Held, Anthony McGrew, David Goldblatt, and Jonathan Perraton), and Ch. 11 (from a 1997 paper by Michael Mann). Also see Rosenau (1990), Nye and Donahue (2000), and the "Special Issue on Mapping Globalization," American Behavioral Scientist, volume 44, number 10, June 2001, edited by Eszter Hargittai and Miguel Angel Centeno, and supported in part by the International Networks Archive, at Tarrow (2001) provides a cautioning literature review.

4. The Harvard Business Review is a fine source of business-oriented references, e.g., Evans and Wurster (1997) and Coyne and Dye (1998), which address banking networks, and Jacques (1990), which provides a classic defense of the importance of hierarchy in corporate structures.

5. Adapted from Ronfeldt (1996).

6. Among other sources, see Kalathil and Boas (2001).

7. For background and further elaboration, see Arquilla and Ronfeldt (1996, 2001); Ronfeldt et al. (1998); and Arquilla, Ronfeldt, and Zanini (1999).

8. This is just a short exemplary statement. Many other examples could be noted. Instead of Hamas, for example, we might mention the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Human Rights (CDLHR), an anti-Saudi organization based in London.

9. Hoffman (1998) emphasizes the growth in destructiveness.

10. Other writers who have turned to our netwar concept include Castells (1997) and Gray (1997). Toffler and Toffler (1993) engage similar themes.

11. The success of Otpor ("Resistance") in overthrowing the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in Serbia is an example of a combined insider-outsider strategy (Cohen, 2000).

12. Stephen Borgatti and Peter Monge deserve special words of thanks for informal review comments and significant criticisms they provided regarding this section.

13. Some of this subsection is verbatim from Ronfeldt (2000).

14. The references are, respectively to books by Nohria and Eccles (1992); Wellman and Berkowitz (1997); and Wasserman and Faust (1994). The INSNA's Web site is at

15. More complicated designs may be laid out, depending on how many nodes and variations in ties are taken into account. While we appreciate the simplicity of the three designs mentioned here, a more complex depiction of networks composed of three to five persons appears in Shaw (1976), which uses the term "comcon" instead of "all-channel."

16. For discussions of center/periphery and clique networks, see writings by Stephen Borgatti posted at

17. Term from Burt (1992). See also his chapter in Nohria and Eccles (1992), and his writings posted at The "structural hole" concept is quite prominent in the literature about social network analysis. Meanwhile, a somewhat similar, equally interesting concept is the "small world network" being developed separately by mathematicians. See note 19.

18. Granovetter (1973) is the classic reference about strong versus weak ties; see Perrow (1979) about tightly versus loosely coupled systems.

19. For a fascinating discussion of the history of visualization techniques, see Freeman (2000).

20. The discussion here, like the one in the prior subsection, is selective and pointed. For broader, thorough discussions of the various literatures on organizational forms and organizational network analysis, see Monge and Contractor (2001) and Monge and Fulk (1999).

21. For example, Miles and Snow (1992) discuss why network organizations in the business world may fail rather than succeed; and Kumar and Dissel (1996) discuss interorganizational business systems whose topologies correspond to chain, hub, or all-channel networks. Also see references in note 4.

22. In that volume, Perrow (1992) sounds a new note when he concludes that the large, fully integrated firms so characteristic of American life may have eroding effects on civil society - and the growth of small firm networks may have revitalizing effects.

23. George Johnson, "First Cells, Then Species, Now the Web," New York Times, 26 December 2000, pp. M1, M2, provides an overview and relates how this pattern may reflect a mathematical "power law" that is of interest to complexity theorists.

24. Some of the text in this section is from our earlier books (see Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1996, 2000). What is analytically new here is the addition of the "narrative level" to the scope of analysis.

25. This assumes that there are enough actors and resources to organize a network in the first place. Otherwise we would have to specify a recruitment and resource level as part of what makes a network strong and effective.

26. See Burt (1992, and his Web site) on "structural holes" and "bridges," and Watts (1999) and Strogatz (2001) on "small world networks." Watts and Strogatz approach the study of complex networks as mathematicians.

27. From Dan Barry and Al Baker, "Getting the Message from 'Eco-Terrorists': Mystery Group Takes Its Campaign East," New York Times, 8 January 2001, p. A15. The ELF sometimes operates in alliance with the Animal Liberation Front. See the Web site at

28. From Craig S. Smith, "Sect Clings to the Web in the Face of Beijing's Ban," New York Times, 5 July 2001.

29. We have previously discussed the need for attention to hybrids of hierarchies and networks, most recently with regard to military swarming (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 2000). Yet, the idea that such hybrids are a normal feature of social life has figured in a substream of academic writings for decades. In an exemplary volume from the 1970s (La Porte, 1975), the authors maintain that few social activities have structures that look like a "tree" (hierarchy) or a "full matrix" (an all-channel network). Most have "semilattice" structures - they resemble a set of oddly interconnected hierarchies and networks.

30. Because we want to encourage a new turn of mind, we discuss this as the narrative level, in keeping with our sense that "whose story wins" is a vital aspect of netwars of all types. We could have also presented this level of analysis in a more traditional light, as a cultural, ideological, and/or political level, but the concepts of "narratives" and "stories" seem equally useful and more dynamic for capturing how people actually communicate with each other.

31. This has been a strong theme of American radical activist organizers, from early pre-netwar ones like Saul Alinsky to contemporary strategists like Gene Sharp.

32. This, of course, is true for earlier modes of conflict too. Modern guerrilla wars placed very strong emphasis on winning by convincing an opponent that an implacable insurgent movement can never be decisively defeated. In counterinsurgency, similar efforts are made to win the "hearts and minds" of indigenous peoples.

33. According to a classic of organization theory (Schein, 1985, p . 2), "there is a possibility ... that the only thing of real importance that leaders do is to create and manage culture." According to Bran Ferren, former Walt Disney Imagineering executive, "The core component of leadership is storytelling, how to articulate a vision and communicate it to people around you to help accomplish the mission" (see Tony Perry, "Navy Takes a Scene Out of Hollywood," Los Angeles Times, 27 November 2000, pp. C1, C5, on Ferren's design of a new command center for a Navy command ship).

34. Lee Hockstader, "Pings and E-Arrows Fly in Mideast Cyber-War," Washington Post Foreign Service, 27 October 2000. Carmen Gentile, "Israeli Hackers Vow to Defend," Wired News, 15 November 2000.

35. Gowing (1998) provides a distressing account of how well-meaning but naÏve and presumptuous humanitarian NGOs were outmaneuvered by Rwandan officials and their allies in the battle for the control and manipulation of information in the Great Lakes region of Africa in the mid 1990s. Rothkopf (1999), among others, warns about the advent of "the disinformation age," although his examples are not from netwars.

36. The concept of "soft power" comes from Nye (1990) and Nye and Owens (1996).

37. Standard sources on neorealism include a range of writings by Kenneth Waltz and John Mearshimer in particular. The literature on constructivism is much more recent and less settled but revolves mainly around writings by Emanuel Adler, Peter Katzenstein, Terrence Hopf, and Alexander Wendt, among others. An interesting effort to split the difference, by focusing on how people argue their stories, is Risse (2000). Our own interest in the narrative level stems in part from our work on the concept of "noopolitik" (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 1999, and Ronfeldt and Arquilla, 2000).

38. Commonly recognized downsides are the possibilities that no decision is made, that unaccountable ones are made, or that a network will lack a "center of gravity."

39. According to Paul de Armond, many far rightists may now regard leaderless resistance as a backward step, since it means that they should not, indeed cannot, organize a mass party and be very public about their leaders and aims. See Barkun (1997) for further discussion of leaderless resistance.

40. At more analytical levels, see Kelly (1994) on "swarm networks," Bonabeau, Dorigo and Theraulaz (1999) on "swarm intelligence," and Johnson (2001) on "swarm logic." Our approach to swarming, because it involves a high capacity for dispersion, pulsing, and redispersion is rather different than theirs.

41. On the Chechen case, see Arquilla and Karasik (1999); on the Zapatista case, Ronfeldt et al. (1996) and Cleaver (1995, 1998, 1999); and on the "Battle of Seattle," De Armond (2000).

42. See DAN's Web site at It is the source of the observations and quotations in the paragraph.

43. One role in an affinity group might be police liaison, but it carries the risk that this person would be perceived as a group leader, when in fact the group does not have a leader per se, making all decisions through consensus.

44. See De Armond (2000).

45. Sources are Dylan Bennett and Gretchen Giles, "Spokes Persons: Bicyclists See Transportation As Critical," Sonoma County Independent, 3-9 April 1997, at; Critical Mass, undated brochure, at; Joel Pomerantz, "A San Francisco Critical Mass Glossary: 7 Years of Building a Culture & Learning Lessons, As Reflected in Our Terminology," September 1999, at; and Joel Pomerantz, "A Few Comments on Critical Mass: A Brief Introduction to the Critical Mass Glossary," October 1999, at

46. Interested readers should visit and related Web sites.

47. From Stefan Krempl, "Computerized Resistance After the Big Flood: Email Interview with Ricardo Dominguez," Telepolis (European online magazine), 16 February 2000, at; and Carrie Kirby, "Hacking with a Conscience Is a New Trend," San Francisco Chronicle, 20 November 2000, at Also see the Web sites of the EDT, the Electrohippies, and the Cult of the Dead Cow.

48. We thank Bob Anderson of RAND for pointing out the importance of peer-to-peer computing. He observes that peer-to-peer computing can enable its users to prevent censorship of documents, provide anonymity for users, remove any single point of failure or control, efficiently store and distribute documents, and provide plausible deniability for node operators. See Oram (2001).

49. Rutherford (1999), with original text corrected via e-mail correspondence. Also see Williams and Goose (1998, esp. pp. 22-25).

50. Alexander MacLeod, "Call to Picket Finds New Ring in Britain's Fuel Crisis," Christian Science Monitor, 19 September 2000. MacLeod notes that recent commercial practices increased Britain's vulnerability to this social netwar: Many tanker drivers were freelancers, with no contractual obligations to the oil companies; and many gas stations operated under a "just-in-time" delivery system, keeping few reserves in place.

51. Schweizer (1994) details the CIA's sending of advanced communications devices to Solidarity, and notes (p. 146) that "the administration also wanted the underground fully equipped with fax machines, computers, advanced printing equipment, and more." Woodward (1987, p. 66) observes that these secure lines of communication were also used to maintain contact with the CIA, which often gave Solidarity early warning of the military regime's planned "sweeps" for activists and leaders.

52. See the three-part series of articles in the New York Times on "Holy Warriors," beginning with Stephen Engelberg, "One Man and a Global Web of Influence," New York Times, 14 January 2001, pp. A1, A12-A13.

53. From the discussion following the speech by Jody Williams, International Organization in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, at a gathering of recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, University of Virginia, 6 November 1998, at

54. In Copeland (2000), see especially the statements by James Rosenau and Steven Metz.

55. From the "Introduction" to Patterns of Global Terrorism: 1999, Department of State Publication 10687, Office of the Secretary of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, released April 2000, at

56. From U.S. Government Interagency Working Group, International Crime Threat Assessment, December 2000, Chapter 1, at

57. National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future with Nongovernment Experts, NIC 2000-02, Central Intelligence Agency, December 2000, at

58. Also see Berger (1998) for additional observations about such propositions.

59. A growing literature has begun to identify lessons and options for states and NGOs to work together. Recent sources we consulted include Metzl (2001), Florini (2000), Reinicke (1999-2000), Gerlach, Palmer, and Stringer (2000), and Simmons (1998); Fukuyama and Wagner (2000) for a RAND research perspective; Chayes, Chayes, and Raach (1997) on conflict management situations; Metzl (1996) and Tuijl (1999) on human rights issues; and Kapstein (2001), Carothers (1999-2000) and Clark, Friedman, and Hochstetler (1998) for cautionary observations about expecting too much from global civil society.

60. The Russians did succeed in killing Dzhokhar Dudayev during the first (1994-96) Chechen War - triangulating on him while he used a cellphone - but the networked Chechens did quite well even without their "leader."



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Editorial history

Paper received 14 September 2001; accepted 21 September 2001.

Contents Index

Copyright ©2001, First Monday

Networks, Netwars, and the Fight for the Future by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla
First Monday, volume 6, number 10 (October 2001),

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