Cyber power & the Huntington-ian cliche we love to hate

Most of the media coverage around the sustained Russian disinformation campaign against the US and Ukraine portrays post-Soviet Kremlin as some rogue aggressor devoid of ideology or belief. As the perfect villain, its purported aim is to foment chaos and merely revel in it.

If there is any allusion to strategy — some method in Russian madness — then it is limited to the exponents of tactical hybrid warfare like Gen. Valery Gerasimov, not going any deeper.

But if there is one cliche that fully applies to cyber-enabled information warfare, it is that we are witnessing the veritable clash of civilisations in its most primitive form — whose seeds were sown in the computing architecture that predated the internet. It’s a cliche we love to hate — because of Samuel P. Huntington’s appropriation by the American neoconservative thought.

I am reading Alexander Klimburg’s excellent policy book The Darkening Webwherein he writes:

The Military Academy of the General Staff was a key hub for turning out key Soviet military doctrine. It was the home of V. V. Druzhinin and D. S. Kontorov, among the pioneers of controls of systems, a version of organizational theory vaguely related to the systems-of-systems philosophy developed in the United States by the Rand Corporation and promoted by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the 1960s. The strong doctrinal emphasis on the power of information was largely segmented along two different dimensions: controlling the supply chain and movement of troops, and the ability to wage information war against an opponent.

In the early 70s, Druzhinin and Kontrov wrote Concept, algorithm, decision; decision making and automation, a near-metaphysical proposition of a cybernetic utopia:

Indeed, there was a time when the Soviet supercomputers outpaced anything the West had to offer. But its computing architecture was meant to enable hierarchies — eschewing decentralisation, autonomy and resource-sharing. So the internet marked a crucial depature, upending one kind of ideology with the other. That really lies at the heart of this cultural conflict, manifesting in a generational philosophy in which proficient Russian engineers were educated.

The internet itself is the threat, a lost/hostile territory where offence is the only modicum of control and order. Dan Geer reminds us of the flag that furls over it:

The provision of content from anywhere to anywhere, which is the value statement in Metcalfe’s law, is a challenge to sovereignty. America’s founders wanted no sovereign at all, and they devised a government that made the center all but powerless and the periphery fully able to thumb its nose at whatever it felt like. Much ink has been spilled on the frontier ethic versus the wishful policies favored by the comfortable urbanity of the welfare state, but the Internet’s protocols have everything in common with the former and nothing in common with the latter.

The free man requires the choice of with what degree of vigor to defend himself. That is a universal; America’s Founders laid that down in the Second Amendment, just as did George Orwell in the English democratic socialist weekly “Tribune” when he said, “That rifle on the wall of the laborer’s cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.” Were George Washington or George Orwell still among us, they would know that smart end-points and dumb networks are what freedom requires, that smart networks protecting dumb end-points breed compliant dependency.

Also read: The Soviet web: the tale of how the USSR almost invented the internet.