In light of Jack’s recent post, it may be useful to examine another facet of the growing atomization of the political and military map of the world.  That is how the growing fragmentation, lawlessness in such fragmented areas, and violence can and is being manipulated by external actors (both state and non-state) in order to advance their own interests.  This can work across multiple levels; chaos in one country can directly weaken that one, while spreading second- and third-order effects to partner countries.

Now, none of this is by any means new.  At its most basic, it is the operating tenant of any terrorist strategy.  As an aside, I am using the term “terrorist” here in its strictest meaning, i.e., someone who deliberately avoids engaging the police or military of their target country, instead focusing on violence toward the civilian populace in order to force political change through a form of extortion. “Terrorist” has become increasingly an Information Operations buzzword.  Most times it is used in reference to forces best described as “guerrillas,” who do engage in combat with police and military, while in some situations offering parallel state institutions for the civilian populace.

The strategy of the political terrorist is to either force concessions (or a change in government) through weariness of the constant, low-level violence, or to force the government to become so oppressive in attempting to counter the campaign of terror that the general populace rises up against that government in rebellion.

The chaos does not have to be purely violence.  It can take the shape of what John Robb refers to as “systems disruption.”  An attack on a power sub-station denies electricity to a neighborhood that already doesn’t trust the government to look after its interests.  Attacks on infrastructure can create just as much chaos, if not more, than death squads and attacks on police stations.

The distinction between guerrillas and organized crime is blurring.  This is because the criminal element has found merit in the strategy of fomenting chaos to keep law enforcement and military off their backs, and the guerrillas have found lucrative funding sources through smuggling, extortion, kidnapping, piracy, and narcotics.  In many cases, the two categories are becoming indistinguishable, as cartels hollow out states and guerrilla groups (such as the FARC-EP in Colombia) turn from overthrowing their target nations to drug trafficking and carving out their own fiefdoms within the states.  (Though FARC is far more widespread and complex than just a Colombian rebel group; more on that to come.)

This convergence of organized crime, guerrilla warfare, and terrorism, along with the growing fragmentation of loyalties along tribal, ethnic, and sectarian lines, provides other powers with opportunities for power projection.  Proxy war is the new power projection.  It is far less expensive than armies, fleets, and air forces, requires considerably less effort on the part of the puppet-master, and shields the manipulating power from a great deal of international scrutiny, and thus interference.  Even in cases where the proxies are increasingly obvious, that buffer is still there, and prevents much of any direct action being taken against the buffered antagonist.

Proxy war need not be a direct alliance between factions, such as the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong.  Sometimes it can be far more subtle, such as doing business with a guerrilla or organized crime faction.  This may not be direct support as such, but provides the agent of chaos and disruption with funds and a reason to continue their activities.  This provides a destabilizing influence in the target country, or even next door to a target country.  Chaos has a way of not being contained within national borders; part of what is causing this increasing chaos is guerrilla and organized crime groups paying no attention to borders, and therefore eroding the authority of the states attempting to combat them.

One of the difficulties in examining this relatively new model of warfare is finding the patterns.  Sometimes the links are hard to see; sometimes it is possible to look for patterns where none exist.  There are times where the links are little more than converging methods and interests, not a lasting alliance.  Globalism and instantaneous global communication have enabled an ever-shifting web of alliances and partnerships, that can put disparate groups with different goals (sometimes violently different) on the same side in one place and at each others’ throats in others.  This not only makes it difficult to discern the patterns that do exist, it makes it extremely difficult to combat these networked (but not necessarily partnered) threats.