William Gibson: "The future is here. It's just not widely distributed yet."Nothing brings this quote more to life than the current situation in the nation of Georgia. It provides us with a glimpse of the future from thousands of miles of safety. Here's what happened. On Sunday, guerrillas knocked out two Gazprom natural gas pipelines and a critical electricity tower. The combination has deprived the country of heat and light for five days. In all, it's a great example of how:
- Even entire nations are vulnerable to systems disruption.
- Systems attacks can provide amazing leverage. An afternoon's work knocked out a country for more than five days.
- It can be repeated again and again. The attack was simple, the vulnerability is vast, and the attackers weren't caught (nor are they likely to be).
The Disruption of Russia
Vladimir Putin: "The fuel and energy sector, overall, is the goose that lays the golden egg. Killing the goose would be insane, stupid and unacceptable."
To really understand the deeper implications of this attack, it's necessary to revisit a scenario I wrote back in 2004 called, "Chechen Independence" (see parts 1 and 2). This scenario built off of ongoing attacks by Chechen guerrillas (now the Caucasian Front) against Russian infrastructure. It envisions a future where the Chechen guerrilla movement "evolved" and gave up their fruitless terrorist campaign in favor of something much more effective, systems disruption:
In this new substrate (nation-states vs. non-state networks within a global, information economy), global guerrillas will use a similar insight to win decisive battles. In this context, the conventional armies of nation-states aren't the target, a nation-state's economic and societal infrastructure is. Specifically, our large urbanized population centers are reliant on a complex set of relatively automated infrastructures. The operational objective of the global guerrilla warfare will be to separate a large urban population from its infrastructure and take advantage of the collapse and chaos that results.
Whether it was the Chechens or some other group (Ossetians?) we may never know. However, its clear that Russia's dispute with the Ukraine provided the impetus for some guerrilla strategist to make the leap to systems disruption. We saw the results of that inevitable leap on Sunday. We can expect to see more of this in the future.
A New Center of GravityThe switch to systems disruption also points to a way guerrillas can decisively win wars against nation-states. We can see the outlines of this in the fearful reactions of the Gazprom dependent Europeans to the news of Georgia. This segment from the scenario explains how:
To win, the Chechens need to win a decisive moral victory. The moral center of a nation encapsulates its will to fight. The disruption of this moral center has traditionally been accomplished by directing menace, uncertainty, and mistrust at the nation's population (Boyd). The advent of a world dominated by global markets has changed this equation.
Nation's are no longer self-sufficient, they are interdependent and increasingly reliant on their ongoing ability to perform in global markets. Fall behind in this competition and currencies collapse, debt becomes exorbitant, and domestic stock markets plummet. A sharp slap of Adam Smith's invisible hand can quickly turn a weak state into an economic basket case. As a result of this progress, the target for a moral victory doesn't rest within the nation-state, but rather the global market.Within this new calculus, actions that undermine the moral psychology of these markets vis-a-vis the target country, is the new measure of victory. Market psychology (of investors, trading partners, etc.) is marginally influenced by traditional terrorism. Systems sabotage is different. It can radically impact market psychology by building uncertainty (kryptonite for markets), menace to contracted export flows (resources in this case -- 1/3 of Europe's natural gas comes from Russia), and mistrust (a flight to alternative suppliers and investment opportunities).
If Russia can be put to the edge of financial catastrophe due to a moral victory won in global markets, the achievement of the limited objective of Chechen independence is easily possible.