The new code of war
The information age has upended the power structures that conventionally aided- nation-states in dominating warfare. Power, now, is based on access to and reserves of information
Zachary Tichauer Bushnell Delhi
Thanks to the patient establishment of an interactivity extended to the whole of our planet, ‘information warfare’ is preparing the first world war of time or, more precisely, the first war of world time, of that ‘real time’ of exchanges between the interconnected networks -Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb
One of the principles that describe the way in which we perceive the world is called the ‘law of proximity’, which states that objects near to one another are grouped together. Thus we arrive at terms like ‘flock’, ‘herd’, ‘gaggle’, ‘school’, ‘murder’, and so on. Such groupings are also determined by another principle: the ‘law of similarity’. A herd of cattle, for instance, is so called not only because the animals are close to each other, but because they are of the same type. A pod of dolphins feeding on a school of sardines is not merged into a single group in our minds; thanks to the obvious distinctions between the two species, they remain distinct units made up of like individuals. In such a scenario, the relations are clear: predator and prey; eating and eaten. Once more, this is because of great differences in appearance and activity of the two communities. If both communities looked and moved like sardines, we might say, ‘a school of sardines is eating itself: sardines are cannibals’. The same could be said of dolphins, if both groups looked and moved like dolphins.
These same principles inform the method for determining the location and constituents of terrorist cells—which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent”1—in the United States’ 11 year unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) campaign in Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Counterterrorism officials insist this approach is one of simple logic: people in an area of known terrorist activity, or found with a top Qaeda operative, are probably up to no good.”2 While this may be true for military compounds (i.e., specifically delineated areas civilians are prohibited from entering), where militias are not only embedded in but arise from civilian populations, such assumptions are dangerous: humans generally look and move similarly. In Gaza, civilians are the chief casualties of Israel’s supposedly ‘surgical’ drone assaults. Especially in densely populated areas, people in the vicinity of those deemed militants may have nothing to do with sectarian violence beyond living amid it; a rocket’s blast radius, however accurate, is unforgiving. This is why armies once wore recognizable uniforms, and why guerrilla and asymmetric tactics are so difficult to navigate from far.
Armed UAVs, or ‘drones’, are not so new (Austria floated explosives-laden balloons into Venice mid-19th century), but the precision with which they can be controlled and the accuracy of their strikes has escalated lately to the limit of light. Two officers—pilot and signals operator—can now maneuver and observe from the perspective of aircraft 20,000 km away, literally on the other side of the world.3 These vehicles can remain airborne for days, uninterruptedly recording activities in target areas and transmitting ‘live’ feed instantaneously4 to operators,allowing strikes in ‘real time’ from a position of near-inviolable safety and anonymity. Insulated by distance and a screen, the enemy become for operators so many pixels, items on a to-do list, checked off in the course of a shift; they are reduced to information, mal-functioning data, requiring deletion. And for victims, attacks are faceless, sudden, and inhuman. Such space-time compression and imbalance in combatants’ positions—exaggerated by technological advances—complicate previous notions both of the world and of war.
That said, even UAV engagement constitutes an increasingly archaic form of warcraft grounded in realpolitik,5which “works best where diplomacy and strategy can be conducted mainly in the dark, away from public scrutiny, under strong state control, and without necessarily having to share information with many actors”.6 The proliferation and accessibility of information that mark the ‘information age’ require a new approach to combat and conflict resolution.
“Noöpolitik is foreign policy behaviour and strategy for the information age that emphasizes the shaping and sharing of ideas, values, norms, laws and ethics through soft power.7 Noöpolitik is guided more by a conviction that right makes for might, than the obverse. Both state and non-state actors may be guided by noöpolitik; but rather than being state-centric, its strength may likely stem from enabling state and non-state actors to work conjointly. The driving motivation of noöpolitik cannot be national interests defined in statist terms. National interests will still play a role, but they may be defined more in society-wide than state-centric terms and be fused with broader, even global, interests in enhancing the trans-nationally networked ‘fabric’ in which the players are embedded. While realpolitik tends to empower states, noöpolitik will likely empower networks of state and non-state actors.”8
The destructive capacity of conventional weaponry, with fission and fusion bombs, has reached a pitch where escalation of artillery battle risks mutual assured destruction (MAD). Fortunately, this arrangement effectively renders these weapons inutile, making arsenals of nuclear and thermonuclear warheads no more than trophies. From the marriage politics of the Iliad and the Ramayana to the real politics of World Wars I and II, from the defence of the fortress to the destruction of the bomb, these paradigms have been transcended. Done are the days of dropping heavy elements on one another over borders: our new wars now are in noö.9
“After the first bomb, the atom bomb, which was capable of using the energy of radioactivity to smash matter, the spectre of a second bomb is looming… This is the information bomb, capable of using the interactivity of information to wreck the peace between nations.”10
Just as realpolitik is predicated on the geosphere (our planet)—whose resources confer wealth and power to possessors, whose very body furnishes both theatre and spoils of war—noöpolitik is based in and on the noösphere,11 the resources and substance of which consist of human thought and knowledge. According to realpolitik, the dolphins-eating-sardines analogy translates to strong nations feeding on weaker ones—the big fish eat the little fish.12 With noöpolitik, the sardines transform into raw information (the elements of the noösphere) with dolphins, birds, seals, whales, sharks, humans (sardines’ natural predators) representing states as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), multinational corporations (MNCs), international media, violent and/or rebellious factions, religious groups.
“Noöpolitik will be most effective where all manner of media are prevalent, where civil society NGOs have an edge in generating attention to issues, where government-NGO relations are quite good, and where issues are intricate rather than strictly economic, political, or military.”13
And here’s the thing about this feeding frenzy: “It is, in fact, impossible clearly to distinguish economic war from information war, since each involves the same hegemonic ambition of making commercial and military exchanges interactive.”14
With global interactivity and electromagnetic transmissions, such principles as the law of proximity are thrown for a loop. The information war “will make general what espionage and police surveillance inaugurated long ago”.15 Disclosures in recent years by ‘hacktivists’ like WikiLeaks and Anonymous, as well as by employees of such organizations as the US’s National Security Agency (NSA) and India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), reveal the extent to which information guides conflict; states and non-state actors are mining the ‘deep net’, including cellphone catalogues, databases and email, search and purchase histories of individuals and conglomerates alike for leverage in a globalitarian grab-bag battle. Whereas money was once supported by the elements of the geosphere, it is now backed by one’s qualitative share of the noösphere. This means, however, that for one to have worth in this system, a certain amount of transparency is necessary, for power is based on access to and reserves of information. To be powerful in the eyes of others, the nature and breadth of information possessed must be available, along with scope of access.
“There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns: that is to say, there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns—there are things we do not know we don’t know.”16
This breakdown lacks a fourth criterion—unknown knowns—for which there are five possible definitions: (1) things we don’t know we know; (2) things we don’t know, but know others know; (3) things we don’t know, but others do, unbeknownst to us; (4) things we know, which others know we know, but don’t know themselves; (5) things we know that others don’t know we know. It is this very criterion on which power in the global perspective now rests: an actor’s unknown knowns are the source of influence. For instance, the lately released NSA documents provide less actual information than they do an idea of the agency’s range of access to information—almost like a film trailer, or bait. Whistleblowers these days may just create free advertising.