Crumpton’s picks (4): Sometimes you just need a network, not just a hierarchy
'The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations,' by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, outlines how networks function on and off the battlefield.
By Henry A. Crumpton
Best Defense guest columnist
4. Networked War. The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom, outlines how networks function on and off the battlefield.
Hierarchical structure is essential, especially for national forces, but often insufficient. In complex environments dominated by non-state actors, we must also recognize, support, and even create dynamic, local, networked, open systems to defeat the enemy. Messy, opaque, unfamiliar, bottom-up solutions may trump clear, orthodox, top-down plans. This may require less permanent unity of command and more transactional unity of effort.
During the Afghanistan campaign 2001-02, in only three months, 110 CIA officers and 300 Special Operations Forces partnered with a shifting array of diverse, networked tribal armies to overthrow the Taliban and destroy al Qaeda’s command-and-control. For the previous two years the CIA had identified friends and foes, and built interlocking local alliances that proved crucial for the rapid victory. U.S. operatives also shared risk with their local allies, often leading from the front, but always cognizant and respectful of their allies’ preferences. There are many other examples of networked warriors, from 18th century American frontiersmen to 19th century Apaches to modern-day hackers.
Ambassador Henry A. Crumpton, who led the CIA’s Afghanistan campaign 2001-02, retired from government service in 2007. He is the author of The Art of Intelligence.
(To be continued)
Photo credit: Gustavo Veríssimo/Flickr
Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1
More from Foreign Policy
Chinese Hospitals Are Housing Another Deadly Outbreak
Authorities are covering up the spread of antibiotic-resistant pneumonia.
Henry Kissinger, Colossus on the World Stage
The late statesman was a master of realpolitik—whom some regarded as a war criminal.
The West’s False Choice in Ukraine
The crossroads is not between war and compromise, but between victory and defeat.
Washington wants to get tough on China, and the leaders of the House China Committee are in the driver’s seat.