National and International Security in Network Society: the Need to Re-Invent Military Innovation
DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this presentation are those of the author.
They are not necessarily held by the Defence Research Establishment or the
The starting point of this paper is that human conflict changes with society. This
by itself is not a particularly original statement. I think, however, that most of the
debate on Information Age conflict - or with the label I prefer: Network Age - is
too confined to applying new technologies to situations reminiscent of, say, the
Cjulf War or the situation in former Yugoslavia.
In the first part of my paper, therefore, I will try to assess the possibilities for
societal change - comprising technological, institutional and cultural elements -
leading to change of a more structural nature in the field of human conflict.
In the second part I will pursue a more detailed discussion of military innovation
- or perhaps better ‘security related innovation’ - in this context of Network
Society conflict. I will not discuss specifics of any technological or industrial
field, but rather how the innovation process itself is being re-invented, and
the consequences this may have for defence organisations. To add some credibility
and reality to the notion of re-inventing the innovation process already
here at the outset, let me cite a historical case in point. Thomas Alva Edison’s
numerous inventions - foremost electric lighting - all hinged on an institutional
invention, viz. the industrial research lab as first organised by Edison at Menlo
Park. It has been said that the most important thing Edison invented was - invention.
Emerging Network Society in a historical perspective
In the view of many, myself included, we are now probably in the early phases
of a major societal transformation, at least of the same order of magnitude as the
two Industrial Revolutions commonly associated with, respectively, steam power
and railways, and electricity and the automobile. Many even argue that Network
Society is likely to be an even more dramatic change.
The reason for my preference for the label ‘Network Society’ is that by
many standards the most advanced parts of world have been ‘information
economies’ already for a long time (e.g., measuring by the tertiary sector’s share
of the economy, if I remember correctly, London is said to have reached this
situation already in the 19th century and California around 1920). The Network
Society, in contrast, stands for a situation where the daily lives of many people -
in the advanced regions - are structurally affected by network-related novelties.
Compare the changes in location and interaction patterns brought about by the
introduction of railway and the automobile in their time. The present counterpart
would be Internet interaction substituting physical mobility.
Although traditionally new technology has been seen as the prime force of
change, there is an alternative point of view provided by the Schumpeterian
tradition in economics. According to this view, to which I subscribe, technology,
institutions, and culture, values and perceptions interact in more complex, unpredictable
ways. An ‘in’ word, taken from biology, for this type of process is
Therefore, technology, institutions, and culture are equally worthy of study
in these contexts, cf. Table 1.
As technological 'innovation today is a global process, and as culture, values and
perceptions are hard to change at will, from the perspective of a state, a region,
an organisation or a corporation it can be argued that the key factor to success in
Network Society is the adoption and development of effective institutions. For a
state, I believe, key to this is finding arrangements which allow public interests
to be pursued in ways which utilise, rather than hamper, the innovativeness and
entrepreneurship of private actors. This very much applies to the containment of
IT related threats. A main objective of this paper is to start a discussion on what
type of institutions a medium-sized state like Denmark or Sweden will need to
cope with - broadly defined - military innovation in Network Society.
The security context of Network Society
Also in security terms the two Industrial Revolutions brought considerable
change, see Table 2.
In sum, Industrial Society meant first a strengthening of the states’ monopoly
on violence and then a further concentration of power up till the bipolar
world of the Cold War.
Some would argue that in Network Society the concentration has gone even a
step further, with the US being the only full member of the global security club.
China, of course, is the likely runner-up. The future role of great power dispute
is, however, not the focus of this paper. Instead I will argue that Network Society
has a potential for smaller scale conflicts being pursued by ‘scaleable’ and
largely deniable means of warfare - in particular information operations and
clandestine forms o f ‘kinetic’ special operations.
Of course such forms of warfare cannot lead to traditional results like establishing
and maintaining military control over an adversary’s territory. Obviously
such archaic objectives of warfare are still perfectly real, e.g., in former Yugoslavia.
I will concentrate, however, on the potential for something like military
conflict between Network Society actors. In that setting, in contrast to the masses
of troops and standard materiel typical of armed forces of Industrial Society, we
can see a world where the counterpart of military power is primarily a matter of
expertise and financial resource. Already in today’s world this would mean a
club comprising some states, but also some non-state actors, say, combining
criminal activities and legitimate (or at least overt) business operations. This is a
version of an argument for reduced exclusiveness of the community of states as
the world actors par excellence. In Europe the situation with the state as the most
potent power base has prevailed since ca 1500, and therefore one label attached
to this possible new state of world affairs is the New Medievalism.
To Network Society club members - be they states or non-states - seizure of
land is hardly a major concern. First, their key resource bases are not territorial
in nature. Second, being a club member means interdependencies with other club
members. The consequences of overt acts of hostility are therefore likely to be
costly. Therefore, criminal activity or clandestine operations are better paradigms
for Network Society warfare between club members then is traditional
So then, perhaps, I should be addressing a police rather than a defence academy?
I think the important thing is not to be caught in an old conceptual framework.
There is a distinct possibility of something emerging which is not war in a
traditional sense, yet may threaten national interests to a considerable degree,
and being too high-performing in a technical and tactical sense, and to sophisticated
in terms of strategic concepts to be within the traditional confines of policing.
A third audience of relevance might be the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I
think that building an international governance structure to cope with the new
types of security threats which may emerge with Network Society is absolutely a
high priority. However, I do not think that it will be possible to effectively outlaw
information operations. Rather I think international agreements and institutions
must work in conjunction with defensive measures and deterrence. Furthermore,
it is imprudent of a small advanced state to leave this field entirely to
major powers, as many of us did for good reasons in the case of nuclear arms. If
I am right on the scaleability and deniability of future IT weaponry they may be
perfectly suited for use against, e.g., Danish or Swedish interests also in cases
where those are not shared by major powers, and therefore help likely to be, at
To be able to act purposefully with regard to IT related threats to national
interests - in international negotiations, in building defences, or in actually defending
herself against an attack - a state like Denmark first and foremost needs
to keep abreast with developments in a very dynamic field. The rest of this paper
will be devoted to the problem of understanding this dynamism and pondering
over institutional responses.
Innovation: Industrial Society vs. Network Society
According to the traditional view, innovation is a matter of a technological invention
being implemented in a straightforward fashion. Modem students of
innovation processes tell much more complex stories. The above picture of coevolutionary
societal change is a macro version of these stories. We now turn to
the somewhat more detailed level of analysis needed to start understanding what
military innovation in Network Society can be like.
In Industrial Society the typical innovation pattern has been relatively short
and hectic periods of what can be termed concept innovation alternating with
typically more extended periods where a prevailing concept undergoes more
incremental change. During the concept innovation phase, typically a set of more
or less new technological opportunities are combined in a variety of ways to
match potential consumer demand as perceived by prospective suppliers. In the
process, demand becomes more articulate - for a major innovation like the car
this typically includes emergence of new life styles and value changes - and
technical solutions become more refined. Also problems of organisation of production
and distribution, finance, insurance and legislation have to be solved.
These processes are very much a matter of learning from trial and error where
business failure is the norm - also for entrepreneurs who finally come out as
winners like Henry Ford.
The notion of concept innovation has unclear boundaries to system innovation.
I will make the provisional distinction that concept innovation focuses on
the broader market and societal context of what services a novel artefact provides
and how it networks with other parts of society. System innovation then is
a more narrowly technical process where a novel, complex solution develops to
a conceptually reasonably well understood problem. However, system innovation
often transcends that boundary, as when Edison’s electric lighting system
gave rise to the much broader process of electrification.
Military innovation in the interwar years
The US DoD Office of Net Assessment has commissioned a sequence of studies
dealing with military innovation in the interwar period. Particularly successful
cases of such innovation include the development of mechanised warfare in
Germany - as opposed to developments in the same field in Britain and France;
carrier based naval airpower in the US - again with the UK as a less successful
actor; and radar based air defence in the UK - here Germany was a less successful
competitor. In all cases the key to success was the integration of technology,
operational and tactical concepts, organisation, training and the emergence of a
professional community marked by realistic perceptions of the new form of
warfare and an ability to learn from mistakes. Technological superiority by itself
was not sufficient for success - the key lay in getting a balanced system of systems.
Mechanised warfare and carriers were both pioneered by Britain during WW
I. At least in the case of mechanised warfare UK innovativeness continued into
the mid 20’s. It was, alas, the Germans who used the lessons to be learned from
those experiments. Hence we see that being first is no certain route to later success.
British air defence differs from the other cases in that it was a much more
rapid development, guided from the outset by a relatively clear vision. Utilising
the previously introduced distinction one could perhaps say that here, in contrast
to the other cases, concept and system innovation were here highly integrated. It
is also interesting that here civilian scientists played such a significant role - this,
of course is the birthplace of operational research. Arguably the UK air defence
was the first in a new generation of systems of systems entailing unprecedentedly
complex Command & Control and information processing. It was at understanding
this level - requiring conceptual thinking going well beyond previous
war experience - the British outperformed the Germans, despite their radar stations’
being technically superior, at least according to some judges.2
A fourth area of interwar military innovation should perhaps serve as a caveat
for us in the information warfare business, viz. strategic bombing. In current
parlance this area was, by all accounts I know of, ‘hyped’, particularly in Britain
and America. If many of the other non-success stories have to do with indecision
and vested interests in old forms of warfare, the strategic bombing case is almost
opposite. Here strong new interests groups formed around a warfare concept
which was flashy but essentially premature. Interwar strategic airpower thought
lacked realism on precision and vulnerability. Also, the desire of airmen to win a
future war by themselves diverted interest and resources away from areas where
airpower could have contributed more, such as close air support.
I, at least sometimes, see parallels between the interwar airmen’s single-minded
preoccupation with just one of many possible applications of military airpower
and the IW community’s concentration on infrastructural warfare.
Cold War military innovation - a historical exception
The interwar years - at least the first part - was a period of modest military
spending. Therefore, quite naturally military innovation was based on component
and sub-system technologies developed in the commercial sector. Also, in
terms of process military innovation was similar to its industrial counterpart,
although perhaps the British air defence case went beyond that standard. By that
time, of course, WWII was already becoming a distinct possibility. During WW
II, quite naturally, defence became the main arena of innovation and technology
development. During the Cold War this developed into a situation with an essentially
military specific hi-tech sector down to the component level in conjunction
with an acquisition process very far removed from commercial practices.
There may be many more or less irrational explanations for this, but also
some quite rational ones. One such argument of particular interest to this paper
could be based on the combination of system complexity and ‘cut-throat competition’
- potentially in a literal sense - prevailing in the military field. The answer
to managing extreme system complexity in late Industrial Society3 was to
go through a succession of more and more detailed system designs over an extend
period of time, then manufacture and finally deploy. This was a process of
successive decision-making where the costs for back-tracking became quite high
already early in the process - at least in terms of time to deployment since redoing
an early phase like studies or product definition involved relatively few
people but a lot of calendar time. This process can be said to be a planned analogue
of the typical Industrial Society innovation process, with both processes
sharing the property of lock-in, i.e. as the process goes on the set of economically
feasible choices narrows down rapidly.
Hence, in the military systems context, due to the necessity of doing a number
of time consuming design activities in sequence, key system parameters had
to be set long before the system’s active life, based either on already existing
technologies, likely to be relatively obsolete already by the time of deployment,
or on projections of future technological developments. The typical problem of
the latter case is that when a system critically hinges on component performance
which does not turn out to be commercially available, defence typically has
either to develop such components itself at high cost or accept major reductions
in system performance, and potentially defeat in the ultimate competitive environment
- the battle field. In my view this is a key cost driving mechanism in the
traditional military acquisition process, now up for betterment under labels like
‘Acquisition Reform’ and ‘Smart Procurement’.
Against the historical background presented in this paper it should be clear
that ‘traditional’ military acquisition does not have a really long tradition. So
perhaps Acquisition Reform and the like should just be a matter of going back to
the 20’s and 30’s? Valuable as the studies of interwar military innovation are for
thinking about future innovation, I still think the answer is distinctly no. Too
much has changed in technology, organisation of business activities and markets,
in culture and values... We are at the end of an exceptional era of military technological
exclusiveness, but the commercial mainstream that military innovation
is now returning to has itself undergone dramatic changes.
Reinventing innovation: systems management in Network Society
Perhaps a few words are needed here about different perceptions of concepts like
Acquisition Reform, dual use, and commercial-military integration. Certainly in
Sweden many interpret these primarily as increased use of COTS components
and subsystems. Some combine this with the view that military systems engineering
should essentially remain the same as during the Cold War. Others seem
to think that in the near future officers can just go to the shop next-door and buy
computers and mobile phones and what have you for their units, such that professional
systems engineering will not really be necessary any more. I will argue
in contrast to both these views that military systems engineering must change
profoundly, but will remain more important than ever. The basis for this view is
Network Society developments in systems engineering and systems management.
As for technology there are two main facets to these developments. One is
connected with concepts like standardised interfaces for interoperability, ‘open
systems’ and ‘evolutionary systems development’. Key examples are the PC
standard based on Windows operating systems and Intel processors, and the
Internet standard - used also in intranets and extranets.
The other has to do with modelling and simulation. Modelling and simulation
has a dual role in this story. They function as design tools, but they also
enable people to prepare and train operations of systems not yet fully realised.
The latter aspect of modelling and simulation leads us over to the institutional
side: institutions that enable people to familiarise themselves with conceptually
new systems, and eventually train to use them and perhaps discover
new uses, are key to any concept innovation process.
As for corporate and market structure, the key development in my view is
the emergence of network organisations. Rather than ‘hardwiring’ a specific task
structure and production technology into an organisation, which will then be an
impediment to change, one tries to maintain a broad network of potential partners
for a variety of tasks that one may want to perform in the future. Each unit
in this organisational web - where it is not necessarily so important where the
legal corporate boundaries are - focuses on developing its core competence and
finding new ways of putting it to use.
This emerging network paradigm is also mirrored on the cultural level. This
means that more and more people do not define their carriers in organisational
terms, but rather try to develop their competencies and sense of fulfilment by
engaging in a succession of projects while developing their personal networks.
Of course also in this new framework every successful design and implementation
process will exhibit the convergence from an early concept definition
phase to later phases where a chosen concept is implemented in hardware, computer
software, training of personnel etc. In Network Society, however, this
convergence is not identical to the system becoming locked in. On the technical
level it is easy to see, given standardisation of components and interfaces, how a
broad set of concepts going in different directions can be supported at a given
time without running into prohibitive logistical and system integration problems.
The institutional and cultural sides are more difficult, but the developments I
have just outlined enable a much increased ability to cope with variety and
change also in these respects.
Thus we can see a world emerging where concept innovation can become
routinised to a considerable degree. As I already alluded to, Edison’s invention
of the industrial lab can be a useful comparison. What that achieved was to routinise
system innovation by bringing together all the different types of expertise
needed to develop fairly quickly a complex technical system, like electric lighting.
Previously that would have taken very long to develop by trial and error - or
perhaps, in the absence of marketable intermediate results, would have been
beyond the feasible.
While the Edisonian paradigm remained best practice for a century, in the
Network Society context, standardisation, open systems, and modelling and
simulation enable a much faster and simpler system development process, where
many tasks can be outsourced rather than performed in an integrated organisation.
Under the Edisonian paradigm concept development was a relatively separate
process, at one end supplying system development with - in the military
context - staff targets, on the other end receiving a finished technical system for
the development of tactics, organisation, training and the like. In the Network
Society context, the previously two distinct varieties of concept development and
system development can be performed in a much more concurrent fashion. I will
refer to this new possibility by the catch phrase routinised concept innovation.
Security challenges from routinised concept innovation
The leaders in Network Society concept innovation and systems management are
to be found in such areas as telecom, Internet services, media, and financial
services. The public sector is hardly leading the way, and - albeit the US DoD
has been a quite successful promoter of many key Network Society technologies
including Internet - defence organisations are no exception to this.
In spite of this I believe that the military field, broadly defined, is an area
where the opportunities for routinised concept innovation are likely to be heavily
exploited. This is best understood starting from the threat side.
As already discussed the types of threat I primarily want to consider here are
not traditional military ones aiming at territorial objectives. High performance
crime is a better starting point and I will therefore briefly take on the hat of a
strategic analyst working for a sophisticated crime syndicate. Then I would argue
for a test programme in the form of a virtual factory - obviously network
based - for production of 10 concepts, training and execution of operations, with
a strong feedback loop to capture experience for the benefit of new developments.
A cyber counterpart of von Seeckt’s German general staff of the 20’s.
This would likely benefit the syndicate’s present core businesses by increasing
the ability to conduct counterintelligence and other defensive activities against
law enforcement organisations and competitors. But it might also give rise to a
business unit in its own right, performing operations for direct financial gain
against, e.g., the financial industry, or doing contract work for other crime organisations,
terrorists, states or overt businesses. Somewhat inspired by our
money laundry and fraud operations, I would argue for a strategy of routinised
concept innovation such that a compromised product line can swiftly be replaced
by brand new concepts.
So going back to the good guys: if my thought experiment managed to catch
anything of the business logic we have to face, it is not like the interwar years
when there were a handful of innovative concepts. Instead we may be up against
new concepts being launched weekly - or hourly.
The traditional military planning cycle and organisational structure do not
seem an appropriate response to the type of situation I tried to outline where
studies, planning, systems development, training, and operations happen almost
concurrently on the adversary side.
I think a final useful comparison for defence entering Network Society is
with other traditionally labour intensive service industries like insurance. In that
setting, in the old world a conceptually new product required retraining of - an
army - of salesmen before the novelty could reach the market. Now such information
can be disseminated via digital networks - and perhaps the corps of
salesmen as we now know them will even disappear. Likewise, military training
has developed over centuries for a meticulous but slow dissemination of centrally
developed concepts out to eventually tens or hundreds of thousands of
soldiers. The difference is that in insurance the speed of change is not decided
entirely by the fastest competitor - there is considerable inertia in the customer
base. I would not bet on friction on the cyber battlefield playing a similar role.
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