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John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt
International Policy Department

Copyright 1993 Taylor & Francis
ISSN 0149-5933/93

This article is copyrighted 1993 by Taylor & Francis, 1900 Frost 
Road, Suite 101, Bristol, PA 19007, 1-800-821-8312.  It was 
originally published in the journal Comparative Strategy, Volume 12, 
no. 2, pp. 141-165.  Electronic reproduction and transmission for 
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The information revolution and related organizational innovations are 
altering the nature of conflict and the kinds of military structures, 
doctrines, and strategies that will be needed.  This study introduces 
two concepts for thinking about these issues: "cyberwar" and 

Industrialization led to attritional warfare by massive armies (e.g., 
World War I).  Mechanization led to maneuver predominated by tanks 
(e.g., World War II).  The information revolution implies the rise of 
cyberwar, in which neither mass nor mobility will decide outcomes; 
instead, the side that knows more, that can disperse the fog of war 
yet enshroud an adversary in it, will enjoy decisive advantages.

Communications and intelligence have always been important.  At a 
minimum, cyberwar implies that they will grow more so and will 
develop as adjuncts to overall military strategy.  In this sense, it 
resembles existing notions of "information war" that emphasize C3I.  
However, the information revolution may imply overarching effects 
that necessitate substantial modifications to military organization 
and force posture.  Cyberwar may be to the twenty first century what 
blitzkrieg was to the twentieth.  It may also provide a way for the 
U.S. military to increase "punch" with less "paunch."

Whereas cyberwar refers to knowledge-related conflict at the military 
level, netwar applies to societal struggles most often associated 
with low intensity conflict by non-state actors, such as terrorists, 
drug cartels, or black market proliferators of weapons of mass 
destruction.  Both concepts imply that future conflicts will be 
fought more by "networks" than by "hierarchies," and that whoever 
masters the network form will gain major advantages.

"Knowledge must become capability."
  --  Carl von Clausewitz, On War


Suppose that war looked like this:  Small numbers of light, highly 
mobile forces defeat and compel the surrender of large masses of 
heavily armed, dug-in enemy forces, with little loss of life on 
either side.  The mobile forces can do this because they are well 
prepared, make room for maneuver, concentrate their firepower rapidly 
in unexpected places, and have superior command, control, and 
information systems that are decentralized to allow tactical 
initiatives, yet provide central commanders with unparalleled 
intelligence and "topsight" for strategic purposes.

Warfare is no longer primarily a function of who puts the most 
capital, labor, and technology on the battlefield, but of who has the 
best information about the battlefield.  What distinguishes the 
victors is their grasp of information--not only from the mundane 
standpoint of knowing how to find the enemy while keeping it in the 
dark, but also in doctrinal and organizational terms.  The analogy is 
rather like a chess game where you see the entire board, but your 
opponent sees only his own pieces; you can win even if he is allowed 
to start with additional powerful pieces.

We might appear to be extrapolating from the U.S. victory in the 
Persian Gulf war against Iraq.  But our vision is inspired more by 
the example of the Mongols of the thirteenth century.  Their "hordes" 
were almost always outnumbered by their opponents, yet they 
conquered, and held for over a century, the largest continental 
empire ever seen.  The key to Mongol success was their absolute 
dominance of battlefield information.  They struck when and where 
they deemed appropriate, and their "arrow riders" kept field 
commanders, often separated by hundreds of miles, in daily 
communication.  Even the Great Khan, sometimes thousands of miles 
away, was aware of developments in the field within days of their 

Absent the galvanizing threat that used to be posed by the Soviet 
Union, domestic political pressures will encourage the United States 
to make do with a smaller military in the future.  The type of war-
fighting capability that we envision, which is inspired by the Mongol 
example, but drawn mainly from our analysis of the information 
revolution, may allow America to protect itself and its far-flung 
friends and interests, regardless of the size and strength of our 
potential future adversaries.

The Advance of Technology and Know-How

Throughout history, military doctrine, organization, and strategy 
have continually undergone profound changes, owing in part to 
technological breakthroughs.  The Greek phalanx, the combination of 
gun and sail, the levee en masse, the blitzkrieg, the Strategic Air 
Command:  history is filled with examples in which new weapon, 
propulsion, communication, and transportation technologies provided a 
basis for advantageous shifts in doctrine, organization, and strategy 
that enabled innovators to avoid exhausting attritional battles and 
pursue instead a form of "decisive" warfare.[1]

Today, a variety of new technologies are again taking hold, and 
further innovations are on the way.  The most enticing include non-
nuclear high-explosives, precision-guided munitions, stealth designs 
for aircraft, tanks, and ships, radio-electronic combat (REC) 
systems, new electronics for intelligence-gathering, interference, 
and deception, new information and communications systems that 
improve command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) 
functions, and futuristic designs for space-based weapons and for 
automated and robotic warfare.  In addition, virtual reality systems 
are being developed for simulation and training.  Many of these 
advances enter into a current notion of a military technology 
revolution (MTR).[2]

The future of war--specifically the U.S. ability to anticipate and 
wage war--will be shaped in part by how these technological advances 
are assessed and adopted.  Yet, as military historians frequently 
warn, technology permeates war but does not govern it.  It is not 
technology per se, but rather the organization of technology, broadly 
defined, that is important.  Russell Weigley describes the situation 
this way:

"... the technology of war does not consist only of instruments 
intended primarily for the waging of war.  A society's ability to 
wage war depends on every facet of its technology:  its roads, its 
transport vehicles, its agriculture, its industry, and its methods of 
organizing its technology.  As Van Creveld puts it, 'behind military 
hardware there is hardware in general, and behind that there is 
technology as a certain kind of know-how, as a way of looking at the 
world and coping with its problems.'"[3]

In our view, the technological shift that matches this broad view is 
the information revolution.  This is what will bring the next major 
shift in the nature of conflict and warfare.

Effects of the Information Revolution

The information revolution reflects the advance of computerized 
information and communications technologies and related innovations 
in organization and management theory.  Sea-changes are occurring in 
how information is collected, stored, processed, communicated, and 
presented, and in how organizations are designed to take advantage of 
increased information.[4]  Information is becoming a strategic 
resource that may prove as valuable and influential in the post-
industrial era as capital and labor have been in the industrial age.

Advanced information and communications systems, properly applied, 
can improve the efficiency of many kinds of activities.  But improved 
efficiency is not the only, or even the best, possible effect.  The 
new technology is also having a transforming effect, for it disrupts 
old ways of thinking and operating, provides capabilities to do 
things differently, and suggests how some things may be done better 
if done differently:

"The consequences of new technology can be usefully thought of as 
first-level, or efficiency, effects and second-level, or social 
system, effects.  The history of previous technologies demonstrates 
that early in the life of a new technology, people are likely to 
emphasize the efficiency effects and underestimate or overlook 
potential social system effects.  Advances in networking technologies 
now make it possible to think of people, as well as databases and 
processors, as resources on a network.

"Many organizations today are installing electronic networks for 
first-level efficiency reasons.  Executives now beginning to deploy 
electronic mail and other network applications can realize efficiency 
gains such as reduced elapsed time for transactions.  If we look 
beyond efficiency at behavioral and organizational changes, we'll see 
where the second-level leverage is likely to be.  These technologies 
can change how people spend their time and what and who they know and 
care about.  The full range of payoffs, and the dilemmas, will come 
from how the technologies affect how people can think and work 
together--the second-level effects" (Sproull and Kiesler, 1991: 15-

The information revolution, in both its technological and non-
technological aspects, sets in motion forces that challenge the 
design of many institutions.  It disrupts and erodes the hierarchies 
around which institutions are normally designed.  It diffuses and 
redistributes power, often to the benefit of what may be considered 
weaker, smaller actors.  It crosses borders, and redraws the 
boundaries of offices and responsibilities.  It expands the spatial 
and temporal horizons that actors should take into account.  Thus, it 
generally compels closed systems to open up.  But while this may make 
life difficult, especially for large, bureaucratic, aging 
institutions, the institutional form per se is not becoming obsolete.  
Institutions of all types remain essential to the organization of 
society.  The responsive, capable institutions will adapt their 
structures and processes to the information age.  Many will evolve 
from traditional hierarchical forms to new, flexible, network-like 
models of organization.  Success will depend on learning to interlace 
hierarchical and network principles.[5]

Meanwhile, the very changes that trouble institutions, such as the 
erosion of hierarchy, favor the rise of multi-organizational 
networks.  Indeed, the information revolution is strengthening the 
importance of all forms of networks, such as social networks and 
communications networks.  The network form is very different from the 
institutional form.  While institutions (large ones, in particular) 
are traditionally built around hierarchies and aim to act on their 
own, multi-organizational networks consist of (often small) 
organizations or parts of institutions that have linked together to 
act jointly.  The information revolution favors the growth of such 
networks by making it possible for diverse, dispersed actors to 
communicate, consult, coordinate, and operate together across greater 
distances, and on the basis of more and better information than ever 

These points bear directly on the future of the military, and of 
conflict and warfare more generally.

Both Netwar and Cyberwar Are Likely

The thesis of this thinkpiece is that the information revolution will 
cause shifts, both in how societies may come into conflict and how 
their armed forces may wage war.  We offer a distinction between what 
we call "netwar"--societal-level ideational conflicts waged in part 
through internetted modes of communication--and "cyberwar" at the 
military level.  These terms are admittedly novel, and better ones 
may yet be devised.[7]  But, for now, they help illuminate a useful 
distinction, and identify the breadth of ways in which the 
information revolution may alter the nature of conflict short of war, 
as well as the context and the conduct of warfare.[8]

While both netwar and cyberwar revolve around information and 
communications matters, at a deeper level they are forms of war about 
"knowledge," about who knows what, when, where, and why, and about 
how secure a society or a military is regarding its knowledge of 
itself and its adversaries.[9]

Explaining Netwar

Netwar refers to information-related conflict at a grand level 
between nations or societies.  It means trying to disrupt, damage, or 
modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about itself 
and the world around it.  A netwar may focus on public or elite 
opinion, or both.  It may involve public diplomacy measures, 
propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural 
subversion, deception of or interference with local media, 
infiltration of computer networks and databases, and efforts to 
promote dissident or opposition movements across computer networks.  
Thus, designing a strategy for netwar may mean grouping together from 
a new perspective a number of measures that have been used before but 
were viewed separately.

In other words, netwar represents a new entry on the spectrum of 
conflict that spans economic, political, and social, as well as 
military forms of "war."  In contrast to economic wars that target 
the production and distribution of goods, and political wars that aim 
at the leadership and institutions of a government, netwars would be 
distinguished by their targeting of information and communications.  
Like other forms on this spectrum, netwars would be largely non-
military, but they could have dimensions that overlap into military 
war.  For example, an economic war may involve trade restrictions, 
the dumping of goods, the illicit penetration and subversion of 
businesses and markets in a target country, and the theft of 
technology, none of which need involve the armed forces.  Yet an 
economic war may also come to include an armed blockade or strategic 
bombing of economic assets, meaning it has also become a military 
war.  In like manner, a netwar that leads to targeting an enemy's 
military C3I capabilities turns, at least in part, into what we mean 
by cyberwar.

Netwar will take various forms, depending on the actors.  Some may 
occur between the governments of rival nation-states.  In some 
respects, the U.S. and Cuban governments are already engaged in a 
netwar.  This is manifested in the activities of Radio and TV Marti 
on the U.S. side, and on Castro's side by the activities of pro-Cuban 
support networks around the world.

Other kinds of netwar may arise between governments and non-state 
actors.  For example, netwar may be waged by governments against 
illicit groups and organizations involved in terrorism, proliferation 
of weapons of mass destruction, or drug smuggling.  Or, to the 
contrary, it may be waged against the policies of specific 
governments by advocacy groups and movements, involving, for example, 
environmental, human-rights, or religious issues.  The non-state 
actors may or may not be associated with nations, and in some cases 
they may be organized into vast transnational networks and 

Another kind of netwar may occur between rival non-state actors, with 
governments maneuvering on the sidelines to prevent collateral damage 
to national interests and perhaps to support one side or another.  
This is the most speculative kind of netwar, but the elements for it 
have already appeared, especially among advocacy movements around the 
world.  Some movements are increasingly organizing into cross-border 
networks and coalitions, identifying more with the development of 
civil society (even global civil society) than with nation-states, 
and using advanced information and communications technologies to 
strengthen their activities.  This may well turn out to be the next 
great frontier for ideological conflict, and netwar may be a prime 

Most netwars will probably be non-violent, but in the worst cases one 
could combine the possibilities into some mean low-intensity conflict 
scenarios.  Martin Van Creveld (1991: 197) does this when he worries 
that, "In the future, war will not be waged by armies but by groups 
whom today we call terrorists, guerrillas, bandits and robbers, but 
who will undoubtedly hit on more formal titles to describe 
themselves."  In his view, war between states will diminish, and the 
state may become obsolete as a major form of societal organization.  
Our views coincide with many of Van Creveld's, though we do not 
believe that the state is even potentially obsolete.  Rather, it will 
be transformed by these developments.  

Some netwars will involve military issues.  Possible issue areas 
include nuclear proliferation, drug smuggling, and anti-terrorism 
because of the potential threats they pose to international order and 
national security interests.  Moreover, broader societal trends 
(e.g., the redefinition of security concepts, the new roles of 
advocacy groups, the blurring of traditional boundaries between what 
is military and what is non-military, between what is public and what 
is private, and between what pertains to the state and what pertains 
to society) may engage the interests of at least some military 
offices in some netwar-related activities.

Netwars are not real wars, traditionally defined.  But netwar might 
be developed into an instrument for trying, early on, to prevent a 
real war from arising.  Deterrence in a chaotic world may become as 
much a function of one's cyber posture and presence as of one's force 
posture and presence.

Explaining Cyberwar

Cyberwar refers to conducting, and preparing to conduct, military 
operations according to information-related principles.  It means 
disrupting, if not destroying, information and communications 
systems, broadly defined to include even military culture, on which 
an adversary relies in order to know itself:  who it is, where it is, 
what it can do when, why it is fighting, which threats to counter 
first, and so forth.  It means trying to know everything about an 
adversary while keeping the adversary from knowing much about 
oneself.  It means turning the "balance of information and knowledge" 
in one's favor, especially if the balance of forces is not.  It means 
using knowledge so that less capital and labor may have to be 

This form of warfare may involve diverse technologies, notably for 
C3I, for intelligence collection, processing, and distribution, for 
tactical communications, positioning, and identification-friend-or-
foe (IFF), and for "smart" weapons systems, to give but a few 
examples.  It may also involve electronically blinding, jamming, 
deceiving, overloading, and intruding into an adversary's information 
and communications circuits.  Yet, cyberwar is not simply a set of 
measures based on technology.  And it should not be confused with 
past meanings of computerized, automated, robotic, or electronic 

Cyberwar may have broad ramifications for military organization and 
doctrine.  As noted, the literature on the information revolution 
calls for organizational innovations, so that different parts of an 
institution function like interconnected networks rather than 
separate hierarchies.  Thus, cyberwar may imply some institutional 
redesign for a military in both intra- and inter-service areas.  
Moving to networked structures may require some decentralization of 
command and control, which may well be resisted in light of earlier 
views that the new technology would provide greater central control 
of military operations.  But decentralization is only part of the 
picture:  the new technology may also provide greater "topsight," a 
central understanding of the big picture that enhances the management 
of complexity.[10]  Many treatments of organizational redesign laud 
decentralization; yet decentralization alone is not the key issue.  
The pairing of decentralization with topsight brings the real gains.

Cyberwar may also imply developing new doctrines about the kinds of 
forces needed, where and how to deploy them, and what and how to 
strike on the enemy's side.  How and where to position what kinds of 
computers and related sensors, networks, databases, and so forth., 
may become as important as the question once was for the deployment 
of bombers and their support functions.  Cyberwar may also have 
implications for integrating the political and psychological with the 
military aspects of warfare.

In sum, cyberwar may raise broad issues of military organization and 
doctrine, as well as strategy, tactics, and weapons design.  It may 
be applicable in low- and high-intensity conflicts, in conventional 
and non-conventional environments, and for defensive or offensive 

As an innovation in warfare, we anticipate that cyberwar may be to 
the twenty first century what blitzkrieg was to the twentieth 
century.  Yet, for now, we also believe that the concept is too 
speculative for precise definition.  At a minimum, it represents an 
extension of the traditional importance of obtaining information in 
war:  having superior C3I and trying to locate, read, surprise, and 
deceive the enemy before he does the same to you.  That remains 
important no matter what overall strategy is pursued.  In this sense, 
the concept means that information-related factors are more important 
than ever due to new technologies, but it does not indicate a break 
with tradition.  Indeed, it resembles Thomas Rona's (1976: 2) concept 
of an "information war" that is "intertwined with, and superimposed 
on, other military operations."  Our concept is broader than Rona's, 
which focused on countermeasures to degrade an enemy's weapons 
systems while protecting one's own; yet, we believe that this 
approach to defining cyberwar will ultimately prove too limiting. 

In a deeper sense, cyberwar signifies a transformation in the nature 
of war.  This, we believe, will prove to be the better approach to 
defining cyberwar.  Our position is at odds with a view (see Arnett 
1992) that uses the terms "hyperwar" and "cyberwar" to claim that the 
key implication of the MTR is the automated battlefield, that future 
wars will be fought mainly by "brilliant" weapons, robots, and 
autonomous computers, that man will be subordinate to the machine, 
and that combat will be unusually fast and laden with stand-off 
attacks.  This view errs in its understanding of the effects of the 
information revolution, and our own view differs on every point.  
Cyberwar is about organization as much as technology.  It implies new 
man-machine interfaces that amplify man's capabilities, not a 
separation of man and machine.  In some situations, combat may be 
waged fast and from afar, but in many other situations, it may be 
slow and close-in.  New combinations of far and close and fast and 
slow may be the norm, not one extreme or the other.

The post-modern battlefield stands to be fundamentally altered by the 
information technology revolution, at both the strategic and tactical 
levels.  The increasing breadth and depth of this battlefield and the 
ever-improving accuracy and destructiveness of even conventional 
munitions have heightened the importance of C3I matters to the point 
where dominance in this aspect alone may now yield consistent war-
winning advantages to able practitioners.  Yet cyberwar is a much 
broader idea than attacking an enemy's C3I systems while improving 
and defending one's own.  In Clausewitz's sense, it is characterized 
by the effort to turn knowledge into capability.  

Indeed, even though its full design and implementation requires 
advanced technology, cyberwar is not reliant upon advanced technology 
per se.  The continued development of advanced information and 
communications technologies is crucial for U.S. military 
capabilities.  But cyberwar, whether waged by the United States or 
other actors, does not necessarily require the presence of advanced 
technology.  The organizational and psychological dimensions may be 
as important as the technical.  Cyberwar may actually be waged with 
low technology under some circumstances.


Our contention is that netwar and cyberwar represent new (and 
related) modes of conflict that will be increasingly important in the 
future.  The information revolution implies--indeed, it assures--that 
a sea-change is occurring in the nature of conflict and warfare.  Yet 
both new modes have many historical antecedents; efforts have been 
made in the direction of conducting warfare from cyber-like 
perspectives in the past.  Information, communications, and control 
are enduring concerns of warfighters.  There is much historical 
evidence, tactical and strategic, that attempting to pierce the "fog 
of war" and envelop one's foe in it has played a continuing role.[11]

In the Second Punic War of the third century B.C., Carthaginian 
forces under the command of Hannibal routinely stationed observers 
with mirrors on hilltops, keeping their leader apprised of Roman 
movements, while the latter remained ignorant of his.  Better 
communications contributed significantly to the ability of Hannibal's 
forces to win a string of victories over a 16-year period.  In the 
most dramatic example of the use of superior information, Hannibal's 
relatively small forces were able rise literally from the fog of war 
at Lake Trasimene to destroy a Roman army more than twice its 

Another famous, more recent example, occurred during the Napoleonic 
Wars.  The British Royal Navy's undisputed command of the 
Mediterranean Sea, won at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, cut the 
strategic sea communications of Bonaparte's expeditionary force in 
North Africa, leading to its disastrous defeat.  The invaders were 
stranded in Egypt without supplies or their commander, after 
Napoleon's flight, where they remained until the British came to take 
them prisoner.  

A few years later in the same conflict, Lord Cochrane's lone British 
frigate was able to put French forces into total confusion along 
virtually the entire Mediterranean coast of occupied Spain and much 
of France.  The French relied for their communications on a semaphore 
system to alert their troops to trouble and to tell coastal vessels 
when they could safely sail.  Cochrane raided these signalling 
stations, then struck spectacularly, often in conjunction with 
Spanish guerrilla forces, while French communications were 

Story upon story could be drawn from military history to illuminate 
the significance of information and communications factors.  But this 
is meant to be only a brief paper to posit the concept of cyberwar.  
Better we turn directly to an early example, a virtual model of this 
upcoming mode of warfare.

The Mongols:  An Early Example of Cyberwar

Efforts to strike at the enemy's communications and ensure the safety 
of one's own are found, to varying degrees, throughout history.  Yet 
the Mongol way of warfare, which reached its zenith in the twelfth 
and thirteenth centuries, may be the closest that anyone has come to 
waging pure cyberwar (or netwar, for that matter).  Examining Mongol 
military praxis should, therefore, be instructive in developing the 
foundations for waging war in a like manner in the post-modern world.  
The Mongol example also reinforces the point that cyberwar does not 
depend on high technology, but rather on how one thinks about 
conflict and strategic interaction.  

At the military level, Mongol doctrine relied for success almost 
entirely on learning exactly where their enemies were, while keeping 
their own whereabouts a secret until they attacked.  This enabled 
them, despite a chronic inferiority in numbers, to overthrow the 
finest, largest armies of Imperial China, Islam, and Christendom.  
The simplest way to illustrate their advantage is to suggest an 
analogy with chess:  war against the Mongols resembled playing 
against an opponent who can hide the dispositions of his pieces, but 
who can see the placement of both his and yours.  Under such 
conditions, the player with knowledge of both sides' deployments 
could be expected to triumph with many fewer pieces.  Moreover, the 
addition of even significant forces to the semi-blinded side would 
generate no requirement for a similar increase on the "sighted" side.  
(Thus, the similarity is not so much to chess as to its cousin, 
kriegspiel, in which both players start "blind" to their opponent's 
position.  In our analogy, one player can see through the barrier 
that is normally placed between the boards of the players.)

So it was with the Mongols.  In one of their greatest campaigns, 
against the mighty Muslim empire of Khwarizm (located approximately 
on the territory of today's Iran, Iraq, and portions of the Central 
Asian republics of the former Soviet Union), a Mongol army of some 
125,000 toppled a foe whose standing armies amounted to nearly half a 
million troops, with a similar number of reserves.  How could this 
happen?  The answer is that the Mongols identified the linear, 
forward dispositions of their foes and avoided them.  Instead, they 
worked around the defenders, making a point of waylaying messengers 
moving between the capital and the front.

Muhammad Ali Shah, the ruler of Khwarizm, took the silence from the 
front as a good sign, until one day a messenger, having narrowly 
escaped a Mongol patrol, made his way into the capital, Samarkand.  
Muhammad inquired about the news from his army and was told that the 
frontier was holding.  The messenger went on to add, however, that he 
had observed a large Mongol army but a day's march from the capital.  
The shah fled and his capital fell swiftly.  This news, when given to 
the frontier armies, led to a general capitulation.  Muhammad ended 
his days in hiding on the island of Abeshkum in the Caspian Sea, 
where he contracted and died from pleurisy.

The campaign against Khwarizm is typical of the Mongol strategic 
approach of first blinding an opponent, then striking at his heart 
(i.e., going for checkmate).  Battles were infrequently fought, as 
they were often unnecessary for achieving war aims.  There were 
times, however, when confrontations could not be avoided.  When this 
happened, the Mongols relied heavily on coordinated operations 
designed to break down the plans and controls of their opponents.  

Against the Polish-Prussian coalition forces at the battle of 
Liegnitz, for example, the Mongols engaged and defeated an army some 
four times their size.  Their success was based on keeping a clear 
picture of the defending coalition's order of battle, while confusing 
the opponents as to their own whereabouts.  Thus, portions of the 
Western army chased after small detachments that were simple lures, 
and ended up in the clutches of the Mongol main force.  The Poles and 
Prussians were defeated piecemeal.  Indeed, the Mongols were so sure 
of their information that they repeatedly used a river crossing 
during the battle in the intervals between its use by the Poles and 

What about Mongol advantages in mobility and firepower?  Certainly, 
their ability to move a division some 80 miles per day was superior 
to other armies, and their horn bows did outrange those of their 
enemies by 50-100 yards, on average.  But neither of thes factors 
could offset their foesU advantages in fortification technology, and 
the body armor of Western forces gave them distinct advantages over 
the Mongols in close combat.  Thus, Mongol tactical operations were 
often significantly stymied by defended cities,[15] and close 
engagements were exceedingly hard fought, with the Mongols suffering 
heavily.  Indeed, the ferocity and effectiveness of the Prusso-Polish 
forces at Liegnitz, especially their cavalry, may have deterred the 
Mongols from continuing their invasion of Europe.[16]  At the battle 
of Hims, the Mamelukes showed that the forces of Islam could also 
defeat the Mongols tactically.  What neither Islam nor Christendom 
could do consistently, however, was outwit the Mongols strategically.  

Clearly, the key to Mongol success was superior command, control, 
communication, and intelligence.  Scouts and messengers always took 
along three or four extra horses, tethered, so that they could switch 
mounts and keep riding when one grew tired.  This gave the Mongol 
horsemen, in relative terms, something approximating an ability to 
provide real-time intelligence, almost as from a satellite, on the 
enemy's order of battle and intentions.  At the same time, this 
steppe-version of the pony express (the Khan called them "arrow 
riders") enabled field generals to keep the high command, often 
thousands of miles from the theater of war, informed as to all 
developments within four or five days of their occurrence.  For 
communication between field forces, the Mongols also employed a 
sophisticated semaphore system that allowed for swift tactical shifts 
as circumstances demanded.  Organizationally, the Mongols emphasized 
decentralized command in the field, unlike their foes who were 
generally required to wait for orders from their capitals.  Yet by 
developing a communication system that kept their leadership apprised 
at all times, the Mongols enjoyed topsight as well as 
decentralization.  The Khan "advanced his armies on a wide front, 
controlling them with a highly developed system of communication"; 
that was the secret of his success (Chambers 1985:43).

In strategic terms, the Mongols aimed first to disrupt an enemy's 
communications, then to strike at his heart.  Unlike Clausewitz, they 
put little store in the need to destroy enemy forces before 
advancing.  Also, Mongol campaigns were in no way "linear."  They 
struck where they wished, when circumstances were deemed favorable.  
That their Christian and Muslim foes seldom emulated the Mongol's 
organizational and communication techniques is to their great 
discredit.  When, finally, the Mamelukes defeated the Mongols 
attempted invasion of Egypt, it was because they kept track of Mongol 
movements and were led in the field by their king, Kilawan, who 
exercised rapid, effective control of his forces in the fluid battle 
situations that ensued.  Also, the Mamelukes, employing carrier 
pigeons, had developed faster strategic communications than even the 
Mongols' arrow riders, allowing them to mass troops in time to defend

As much as they form a paradigm for cyberwar, the Mongols were also 
adept at netwar.  Early in their campaigns, they used terror tactics 
to weaken resistance.  At the outset of any invasion, they broadcast 
that any city that resisted would be razed and its inhabitants 
slaughtered.  Surrender, on the other hand, would result simply in 
coming under Mongol suzerainty; this entailed some initial rape and 
pillage, but thereafter settled into a distracted sort of occupation.  
As a result, peaceful surrenders were plentiful.  In later campaigns, 
when the Mongols learned that both Christians and Muslims saw them as 
the dark forces of Gog and Magog, heralding the "end of times," they 
deliberately cultivated this image.  They renamed themselves Tartars, 
as though they were the minions of "tartarum," the biblical nether 
world.  Later, when it was clear that the world was not ending, the 
Mongols willingly adopted both Christianity and Islam, whichever 
eased the burden of captivity for particular peoples.  This 
utilitarian approach to religion impeded the formation of opposing 

Some analysts have argued that the Mongols represent an early 
experiment with blitzkrieg.[18]  In our view, however, the 
differences between cyberwar and blitzkrieg are significant, and the 
Mongols reflect the former more than the latter.

Blitzkrieg, People's War, and Beyond

The relative importance of war against an enemy's command, control, 
and communications increased with the advent of mechanized warfare.  
In World War II, the German blitzkrieg doctrine--in some ways a 
forerunner of cyberwar--made the disruption of enemy communications 
and control an explicit goal at both the tactical and strategic 
levels.  For example, the availability of radios in all of its tanks 
provided Germany with a tactical-force multiplier in its long war 
with the Soviet Union, whose tanks, though  more numerous and better 
built, provided radios only for commanders.[19] 

At the strategic level, the destruction of the Soviets' central 
communications and control site, by capturing Moscow, was a key 
element of the planning for Operation Barbarossa.  But when an 
opportunity arose during the campaign to win large material gains in 
the Ukraine, Hitler diverted General Guderian's panzers away from 
their approach to Moscow, and it was never taken.  There would be no 
"lightning" victory for the Germans, who soon found themselves on the 
weaker side of a massive attritional struggle, doomed to defeat.[20]

Following WWII, information and communication technologies improved 
greatly in the major industrialized nations, and the important wars 
with lessons for cyberwar were between these nations and the 
underdeveloped ones of the Third World.  A comparison of two key 
conflicts illuminates the growing importance and applicability of 
cyberwar principles:  the one a peoples' war waged by North Vietnam 
and the Viet Cong in the 1960s and 1970s, and the recent, more 
conventional conflict between the American-led coalition and Iraq.

Both wars represent turning points.  In the case of Vietnam, the 
enemy may have applied cyber principles more effectively than did the 
United States, not only in military areas, but also where cyberwar 
cuts into the political and societal dimensions of conflict.  In the 
case of the war against Iraq, the United States did superior work 
applying cyberwar principles (they were not called that at the time, 
of course) against an enemy whose organization, doctrine, strategy, 
and tactics were from a different era.

In the Vietnam war, the United States appeared to have advantages up 
and down the chain of command and control, from the construction of 
quantitative indicators and computerized models and databases for 
analyzing the course of the war in Washington, through field radios 
for calling in prompt airstrikes, reinforcements, and rescue 
operations.  But the thrall of computerization and quantitative 
techniques led analysts to overlook the softer, subtler aspects of 
the war where the enemy was winning.  The excellence of U.S. 
communications capabilities encouraged inappropriate intrusion from 
above into battles and campaigns best planned and waged within the 

While U.S. forces had superior tactical communications, the 
guerrillas' strategic communications were largely unaffected.  
Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong operated on Mao 
Zedong's doctrine that "command must be centralized for strategical 
purposes and decentralized for tactical purposes" (Mao 1961: 
114)[21]--a classic combination of topsight and decentralization.  
The United States, on the other hand, appears to have allowed the 
timely availability of vast quantities of information at high levels 
to seduce leadership into maintaining central tactical as well as 
strategic control, and into believing that they had topsight when 
they did not.

The Vietnam example illustrates our point that good communications, 
though they provide necessary conditions, are insufficient to enable 
one to fight a cyberwar.  For this endeavor, a doctrinal view of the 
overarching importance and value of maintaining one's own 
communications, while disabling the adversary's, is requisite.  This 
entails the development of tactics and operational strategies that 
discard the basic tenets of both set-piece and even traditional 
maneuver warfighting theories.  Neither the grinding attritional 
approach of Grant nor the explosive thrusts of Guderian will suffice.  
Instead, radically different models must be considered that focus 
upon the objective of systemically disorganizing the enemy.

To some extent, the recent American experience in the Gulf War 
suggests that an increasing sensitivity to cyber principles is taking 
hold.  First, it was made quite clear by President Bush that he had 
no intention of micro-managing tactical or even operationally 
strategic actions.  This is, in itself, a stark contrast to the 
classic image of President Johnson poring over maps of North Vietnam, 
selecting each of the targets to be hit by Operation Rolling Thunder.

The military operations brought significant cyber elements into play, 
often utilizing them as "force multipliers" (Powell 1992).  The 
Apache helicopter strike against Iraqi air defense controls at the 
war's outset is but one, albeit very important, example.  Also, the 
allied coalition had good knowledge of Iraqi dispositions, while the 
latter were forced to fight virtually blind.  Along these lines, a 
further example of the force multiplying effect of command of 
information is provided by the ability of a relatively small (less 
than 20,000 troops) Marine force afloat to draw away from the 
landward front and tie down roughly 125,000 Iraqi defenders.

A significant effort was also made to employ netwar principles in the 
Gulf war.  The construction of an international consensus against the 
Iraqi aggression, backed by the deployment of large, mechanized 
forces, was intended to persuade Saddam Hussein to retreat.  His 
intransigent behavior suggests that his vision of war was of a prior 

An Implication:  Institutions Versus Networks

>From a traditional standpoint, a military is an institution that 
fields armed forces.  The form that all institutions normally take is 
the hierarchy, and militaries in particular depend heavily on 
hierarchy.  Yet, the information revolution is bound to erode 
hierarchies and redraw the boundaries around which institutions and 
their offices are normally built.  Moreover, the information 
revolution favors organizational network designs.  These points were 
made in the first section of this paper.

This second section leads to related insights, based on a quick 
review of history.   The Mongols, a classic example of an ancient 
force that fought according to cyberwar principles, were organized 
more like a network than a hierarchy.  More recently, a relatively 
minor military power that defeated a great modern power--the combined 
forces of North Vietnam and the Viet Cong--operated in many respects 
more like a network than an institution; it even extended political-
support networks abroad.  In both cases, the Mongols and the 
Vietnamese, their defeated opponents were large institutions whose 
forces were designed to fight set-piece attritional battles.

To this may be added a further set of observations drawn from current 
events.  Most adversaries that the United States and its allies face 
in the realm of low-intensity conflict, such as international 
terrorists, guerrilla insurgents, drug smuggling cartels, ethnic 
factions, as well as racial and tribal gangs, are all organized like 
networks (although their leadership may be quite hierarchical).  
Perhaps a reason that military (and police) institutions have 
difficulty engaging in low-intensity conflicts is because they are 
not meant to be fought by institutions.

The lesson:  Institutions can be defeated by networks, and it may 
take networks to counter networks.  The future may belong to whoever 
masters the network form.


The implications of a revolutionary technology are often not widely 
perceived at first.  That was true of the tank, the machine gun, and 
the telephone.  For example, with their newly developed, rapid firing 
mitrailleuse, the French enjoyed a tremendous potential firepower 
advantage over the Prussians in 1870.  Unfortunately, this early 
version of the machine gun looked more like a fieldpiece instead of a 
rifle, and it was deployed behind the front with the artillery.  
Thus, the weapon that would dominate World War I a generation later 
had almost no effect on the Franco-Prussian conflict.  People try to 
fit new technology into established ways of doing things; it is 
expected to prove itself in terms of existing standards of efficiency 
and effectiveness.  

It may take time to realize that inserting new technology into old 
ways may create some new inefficiencies, even as some activities 
become more efficient.  It may take still more time to realize that 
the activity itself, in both its operational and organizational 
dimensions, should be restructured, even transformed, in order to 
realize the full potential of the technology.[22]  This pattern is 
documented in the early histories of the telephone and the electric 
motor, and is being repeated with computer applications in the 
business world.

Why should anything different be expected for cyberwar?  New 
information technology applications have begun to transform the 
business world both operationally and organizationally.  The 
government world is, for the most part, moving slowly in adopting the 
information technology revolution.  One might expect the military 
world to lag behind both the business and government worlds, partly 
because of its greater dependence on hierarchical traditions.  But in 
fact, parts of the U.S. military are showing a keen interest in 
applying the information revolution.  As this unfolds, a constant, 
but often halting, contentious interplay between operational and 
organizational innovations should be expected.

Growing Awareness of the Information Revolution

An awareness is spreading in some U.S. military circles that the 
information revolution may transform the nature of warfare.  One 
hears that the MTR implies a period of re-evaluation and 
experimentation not unlike the one in the 1920s and 1930s that 
resulted in Germany's breakthrough formulation of the blitzkrieg 
doctrine.  New questions are being asked about how to apply the new 
technology in innovative ways.  For example, one set of arguments 
holds that the MTR may increasingly enable armed forces to stand off 
and destroy enemy targets with high precision weapons fired from 
great distances, including from outer space.  But, another set holds 
that the information revolution may drive conflict and warfare toward 
the low-intensity end of the scale, giving rise to new forms of 
close-in combat.  Clearly, military analysts and strategists are just 
beginning to identify the questions and call for the required 

The military, like much of the business world, remains in a stage of 
installing pieces of the new technology to make specific operations 
more effective.  Indeed, techniques that we presume would be 
essential to cyberwar may be used to improve the cost-effectiveness 
of many military operations, no matter what overall strategy is being 
pursued (even if cyberwar remains unformulated).  For example, 
improved surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities that 
help identify timely opportunities for surprise (to some extent, a 
purpose of the new Joint Targeting Network (JTN) can be of service to 
a traditional attritional warfare strategy.  Also, new capabilities 
for informing the members of a unit in real time about where their 
comrades are located and what each is doing, as in recent experiments 
with inter-vehicular information systems (IVIS, may improve the 
ability to concentrate force as a unit, and maintain that 
concentration throughout an operation.  The list of new techniques 
that could be mentioned is long and growing.

We favor inquiring methodically into how the information revolution 
may provide specific new technical capabilities for warfare, 
regardless of the doctrine and strategy used.  We also favor 
analyzing what kinds of operational and organizational innovations 
should be considered in light of such capabilities.  And we recognize 
that it is quite another thing to try to leap ahead and propose that 
cyberwar may be a major part of the answer.  But this thinkpiece is 
not meant to be so methodical; it is meant to be speculative and 
suggestive, in order to call attention to the possibility of cyberwar 
as a topic that merits further discussion and research.

Indications and Aspects of Cyberwar

New theoretical ground needs to be broken regarding the information 
and communications dimensions of war, and the role of "knowledge" in 
conflict environments.  Cyberwar is not merely a new set of 
operational techniques.  It is emerging, in our view, as a new mode 
of warfare that will call for new approaches to plans and strategies, 
and new forms of doctrine and organization.

What would a cyberwar look like?  Are there different types?  What 
may be the distinctive attributes of cyberwar as a doctrine?  Where 
does cyberwar fit in the history of warfare, and why would it 
represent a radical shift?  What are the requirements and options for 
preparing for and conducting a cyberwar?  Will it enable power to be 
projected in new ways?  What are the roles of organizational and 
technological factors, and what other factors (e.g., psychological) 
should be considered?  How could the concept enable one to think 
better, or at least differently in a useful way, about factors, such 
as C3I, REC (radio-electronic combat systems), and psywar, that are 
important but not ordinarily considered together?  What measures of 
effectiveness (MOE) should be used?  These kinds of questions, some 
of which are touched on in this paper, call for examination.

	Paradigm Shift

We anticipate that cyberwar, like war in Clausewitz's view, may be a 
"chameleon."  It will be adaptable to varying contexts; it will not 
represent or impose a single, structured approach.  Cyberwar may be 
fought offensively and defensively, at the strategic or tactical 
levels.  It will span the gamut of intensity, from conflicts waged by 
heavy mechanized forces across wide theaters, to counterinsurgencies 
where "the mobility of the boot" may be the prime means of maneuver.  

Consider briefly the context of blitzkrieg.  This doctrine for 
offensive operations, based on the close coordination of mobile 
armored forces and air power, was designed for relatively open 
terrain and good weather.  Its primary asset was speed; swift 
breakthroughs were sought, and swift follow-ups required to prevent 
effective defensive ripostes.  

"The blitzkrieg is predicated upon the assumption that the opponent's 
army is a large and complex machine that is geared to fighting along 
a well-established defensive line. In the machine's rear lies a 
vulnerable network, which comprises numerous lines of communication, 
along which supplies as well as information move, and key nodal 
points at which the various lines intersect. Destruction of this 
central nervous system is tantamount to destruction of the army. The 
principal aim of a blitzkrieg is therefore to effect a strategic 
penetration. The attacker attempts to pierce the defender's front and 
then to drive deep into the defender's rear, severing his lines of 
communication and destroying key junctures in the network."[23]

By comparison, cyberwar takes a different view of what constitutes 
the "battlefield."  Cyberwar depends less on the geographic terrain 
than on the nature of the electronic "cyberspace,"[24] which should 
be open to domination through advanced technology applications.  
Cyberwar benefits from an open radio-electronic spectrum and good 
atmospheric and other conditions for utilizing that spectrum.  
Cyberwar may require speedy flows of information and communications, 
but not necessarily a speedy or heavily armed offense like 
blitzkrieg.  If the opponent is blinded, it can do little against 
even a slow-moving adversary.  How, when, and where to position 
battlefield computers and related sensors, communications networks, 
databases, and REC devices may become as important in future wars as 
the same questions were for tanks or bomber fleets and their 
supporting equipment in the World War II.

Cyberwar may imply a new view, not only of what constitutes "attack," 
but also of "defeat."  Throughout the era of modern nation-states, 
beginning about the sixteenth century, attrition has been the main 
mode of warfare.  An enemy's armed forces had to be defeated before 
objectives could be taken.  This lasted for centuries until the 
grotesque, massive slaughters of World War I led to a search for 
relief from wars of exhaustion.  This in turn led to the development 
of blitzkrieg, which circumvented the more brutish aspects of 
attritional war.  Yet this maneuver-oriented doctrine still required 
the destruction of the enemy's forces as the prerequisite to 
achieving war aims; attritional war had simply been "put on wheels."

Cyberwar may also imply (although we are not sure at this point) that 
victory can be attained without the need to destroy an opposing 
force.  The Mongol defeat of Khwarizm is the best example of the 
almost total circumvention and virtual dismemberment of an enemy's 
forces.  It is possible to see in cyberwar an approach to conflict 
that allows for decisive campaigning without a succession of bloody 
battles.  Cyberwar may thus be developed as a post-industrial 
doctrine that differs from the industrial-age traditions of 
attritional warfare.  It may even seek to avoid attritional 
conflict.[25]  In the best circumstances, wars may be won by striking 
at the strategic heart of an opponent's cyber structures, his systems 
of knowledge, information, and communications.

It is hard to think of any kind of warfare as humane, but a fully 
articulated cyberwar doctrine might allow the development of a 
capability to use force not only in ways that minimize the costs to 
oneself, but which also allow victory to be achieved without the need 
to maximize the destruction of the enemy.  If for no other reason, 
this potential of cyberwar to lessen war's cruelty demands its 
careful study and elaboration.

	Organizational and Related Strategic Considerations

At the strategic level, cyberwar may imply Mao's military ideal of 
combining strategic centralization and tactical decentralization.  
The interplay between these effects is one of the more complex facets 
of the information revolution.  Our preliminary view is that the 
benefits of decentralization may be enhanced if, to balance the 
possible loss of centralization, the high command gains topsight, the 
term mentioned earlier that we currently favor to describe the view 
of the overall conflict.  This term carries with it an implication 
that temptations to micro-manage will be resisted.

The new technology tends to produce a deluge of information that must 
be taken in, filtered, and integrated in real time.  Informational 
overload and bottlenecking has long been a vulnerability of 
centralized, hierarchical structures for command and control.[26]  
Waging cyberwar may require major innovations in organizational 
design, in particular a shift from hierarchies to networks.  The 
traditional reliance on hierarchical designs may have to be adapted 
to network-oriented models to allow greater flexibility, lateral 
connectivity, and teamwork across institutional boundaries.  The 
traditional emphasis on command and control, a key strength of 
hierarchy, may have to give way to an emphasis on consultation and 
coordination, the crucial building blocks of network designs.  This 
may raise transitional concerns about how to maintain institutional 
traditions, as various parts become networked with other parts (if 
not with other, outside institutions) in ways that may go "against 
the grain" of existing hierarchies.

The information revolution has already raised issues for inter- and 
intra-service linkages, and in the case of coalition warfare, for 
inter-military linkages.  Cyberwar doctrine may require such 
linkages.  It may call for particularly close communication, 
consultation and coordination between the officers in charge of 
strategy, plans, and operations, and those in charge of C3I, not to 
mention units in the field.

Operational and tactical command in cyberwar may be exceptionally 
demanding.  There may be little of the traditional chain of command 
to evaluate every move and issue each new order.  Commanders, from 
corps to company levels, may be required to operate with great 
latitude.  But if they are allowed to act more autonomously than 
ever, they may also have to act more as a part of integrated joint 
operations.  Topsight may have to be distributed to facilitate this.  
Also, the types and composition of units may undergo striking 
changes.  Instead of divisions, brigades and battalions, cyberwar may 
require the creation of combined-arms task forces from each of the 
services, something akin to the current Marine Air-Ground Task Force.

There are many historical examples of innovative tinkering with units 
during wartime, going back to the creation of the Roman maniple as a 
counter to the phalanx.  In modern times, World War II brought the 
rise of many types of units never before seen.  For example, the U.S. 
Army began using combat commands or teams comprised of artillery-
armor-infantry mixes.  The German equivalent was the kampfgruppe.  
These kinds of units could often fulfill missions for which larger 
bodies, even corps, had previously failed.  The U.S. Navy was also an 
innovator in this area, creating the task force as its basic 
operating unit in the Pacific War.  Our point here is that what have 
often been viewed as makeshift wartime organizational adjustments 
should now be viewed as a peacetime goal of our standing forces, to 
be achieved before the onset of the next war.

	Force Size Considerations

A cyberwar doctrine and accompanying organizational and operational 
changes may allow for reductions in the overall size of the U.S. 
armed forces.  But if the history of earlier sea-changes in the 
nature of warfighting is any guide, long-term prospects for 
significant reductions are problematic.  All revolutions in warfare 
have created advantages that became subject to fairly rapid 
"wasting," since successful innovations were quickly copied.[27] 

If both sides to a future conflict possess substantial cyberwar 
capabilities, the intensity and complexity of that war may well 
require more rather than fewer forces.  The better trained, more 
skillful practitioner may prevail, but it is likely that "big 
battalions" will still be necessary, especially as the relative 
cyberwar-fighting proficiency of combatants nears parity.  In any 
case, whether future U.S. forces are larger or smaller, they will 
surely be configured quite differently.

	Operational and Tactical Considerations

Cyberwar may also have radical implications at the operational and 
tactical levels.  Traditionally, military operations have been 
divisible into categories of "holding and hitting."  Part of a force 
is used to tie down an opponent, freeing other assets for flank and 
other forms of maneuvering attacks.[28]  Tactically, two key aspects 
of warfighting have been fire and movement.  Covering fire allows 
maneuver, with maneuver units then firing to allow fellow units to 
move.  Fire creates maneuver potential.  Tactical advance is viewed 
as a sort of leapfrogging affair.

Cyberwar may give rise to different, if not opposite, principles.  
Superior knowledge and control of information are likely to allow for 
"hitting without holding," strategically, and for tactical maneuvers 
that create optimal conditions for subsequent fire.

	Nuclear Considerations

What of nuclear weapons and cyberwar?  Future wars that may involve 
the United States will probably be non-nuclear, for two reasons.  
First, the dismantling of the Soviet Union is likely to persist, with 
further arms reductions making nuclear war highly unlikely.  Second, 
the United States is ill-advised to make nuclear threats against non-
nuclear powers.  

Besides the lack of central threat and the normative inhibitions 
against using nuclear forces for coercive purposes, there is also a 
practical reason for eschewing them in this context:  bullying could 
drive an opponent into the arms of a nuclear protector, or spur 
proliferation by the threatened party.  However, even a successful 
proliferator will prefer to keep conflicts conventional, as the 
United States will continue to maintain overwhelming counterforce and 
countervalue advantages over all nascent nuclear adversaries.  
Therefore, the likelihood that future wars, even major ones, will be 
non-nuclear adds all the more reason to make an effort to optimize 
our capabilities for conventional and unconventional wars by 
developing a cyberwar doctrine.

In the body of strategic and operational thought surrounding war with 
weapons of mass destruction, an antecedent of cyberwar is provided.  
Nuclear counterforce strategies were very much interested in 
destroying the key communications centers of the opponent, thereby 
making it impossible for him to command and control far-flung nuclear 
weapons.  The "decapitation" of an opponent's leadership was an 
inherently cyber principle.  The dilemmas of mutual deterrence forced 
this insight into warfighting to remain in a suspended state for some 

Before leaving nuclear issues, we would note an exception in the case 
of naval warfare.  Because the United States enjoys an overwhelming 
maritime pre-eminence, it is logical that our potential adversaries 
may seek ways to diminish or extinguish it.  Nuclear weapons may thus 
grow attractive to opponents whose navies are small, if the pursuit 
of their aims requires nullifying our sealift capabilities.  A 
century ago, the French Jeune Ecole, by developing swift vessels 
capable of launching a brand new weapon, the torpedo, sought to 
counter the Royal Navy's power in international affairs.  Today, 
latter-day navalists of continental or minor powers may be driven to 
seek their own new weapons.[29]

Fortunately, the U.S. Navy has been following a path that elevates 
the information and communication dimensions of war to high 
importance.  For, at sea, to be located is to become immediately 
vulnerable to destruction.  In fact, naval war may already be 
arriving at a doctrine that looks a lot like cyberwar.  There may be 
deep historical reasons for this, in that our naval examples, even 
from the Napoleonic period, have a strong cyber character.

Suggested Next Steps for Research

Our ideas here are preliminary and tentative and leave many issues to 
be sorted out for analysis.  Yet we are convinced that these are 
exciting times for rethinking the theory and practice of warfare, and 
that cyberwar should be one of the subjects of that rethinking.  This 
is based on our assumption that technological and related 
organizational innovations will continue moving in revolutionary 

We suggest case studies to clarify what ought to be taken into 
account in developing a cyberwar perspective.  As noted earlier, 
these case studies should include the Vietnam and Gulf conflicts.  
Combined with other materials (e.g., literature reviews, interviews) 
about the potential effects of the information revolution, such 
studies may help to identify the theoretical and operational 
principles for developing a framework that serves not only for 
analysis, but potentially also for the formulation of a doctrine that 
may apply from strategic to tactical levels, and to high- and low-
intensity levels of conflict.  Such studies may also help distinguish 
between the technological and the non-technological underpinnings of 

We suggest analytical exercises to identify what cyberwar, and the 
different modalities of cyberwar, may look like in the early twenty-
first century when the new technologies should be more advanced, 
reliable, and internetted than at present.  These exercises should 
consider opponents that the United States may face in high- and low-
intensity conflicts.  The list might include armed forces of the 
former Soviet Union, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and Cuba.  Cyberwar 
against a country's command structure may have a special potency when 
the country is headed by a  dictator whose base of national support 
is narrow.[30]  Non-state actors should also be considered as 
opponents, including some millennialist, terrorist, and criminal 
(e.g., drug smuggling) organizations that cut across national 
boundaries.  We expect that both cyberwar and netwar may be uniquely 
suited to fighting non-state actors.

Moreover, we suggest that the exercises consider some potentially 
unusual opponents and countermeasures.  The revolutionary forces of 
the future may consist increasingly of wide-spread multi-
organizational networks that have no particular national identity, 
claim to arise from civil society, and include aggressive groups and 
individuals who are keenly adept at using advanced technology for 
communications, as well as munitions.  How will we deal with that?  
Can cyberwar (not to mention netwar) be developed as an appropriate, 
effective response?  Do formal institutions have so much difficulty 
combatting informal networks, as noted earlier, that the United 
States may want to design new kinds of military units and 
capabilities for engaging in network warfare?

All of the foregoing may lead to requirements for new kinds of net 
assessments regarding U.S. cyberwar capabilities relative to those of 
our potential opponents.  How much of an advantage does the United 
States have at present?  How long will the advantage persist?  Such 
assessments should compare not only the capabilities of all parties 
to wage and/or withstand a cyberwar, but also their abilities to 
learn, identify and work around an opponent's vulnerabilities.  

Finally, despite the inherently futuristic tone of this thinkpiece, 
two dangers are developing in the world that may be countered through 
the skillful application of netwar and cyberwar techniques.  The 
first comes from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  
While the specifics of acquisition and timetables for development of 
credible, secure arsenals are open to debate, American opposition to 
proliferation is unquestioned; effective action must be taken now to 
forestall or prevent it.

The prospects for proliferation in the post-cold war era create a 
highly appropriate issue area for the application of netwar 
techniques, since suasion will be much preferred to the use of 
preventive force[31] in dealing with most nation-state actors 
(including Germany and Japan, should either ever desire its own 
nuclear weapons).  A netwar designed to dissuade potential 
proliferators from acquiring such weapons might consist of a "full 
court press" along the many networks of communication that link us to 
them, including diplomatic, academic, commercial, journalistic, and 
private avenues of interconnection.  The ideational aspect of the 
netwar would concentrate on convincing potential proliferators that 
they have no need for such weapons.  Obtaining them would create new 
enemies and new risks to their survival, while the benefits would be 
minuscule and fleeting.  

The second danger likely to arise in the post-cold war world is to 
regional security.  American defense spending is likely to continue 
decreasing for at least the next decade.  U.S. forces will be drawn 
down, and overseas deployments curtailed.  The number of air wings 
and carrier battle groups will decrease.  Each of these developments 
spells a lessened American capability to effect successful deterrence 
against conventional aggression.  From South Korea to the South Asian 
sub-continent, from the Persian Gulf to the Balkans and across the 
territory of the former Soviet satellites to the Baltic Sea, American 
forward presence will vary between modest and nonexistent.  Indeed, 
when we consider the likely rise of age-old ideological, religious, 
ethnic and territorial rivalries, we see a world in which regional 
deterrence is going to be a problematic practice.

If regional wars are likely, and if American forces will be fewer and 
farther away from most regions than in the past, then a cyberwar 
doctrine may help to compensate for problems of distance and small 
force size.  If we are correct about the implications of cyberwar, 
that traditional force requirements against opponents varying in size 
and strength no longer hold, then the United States ought to be able 
to hurl back aggressors when it chooses, even with relatively small 
forces.  General Colin Powell summarizes the essence of this notion 
succinctly, based on his analysis of the Gulf War:

"A downsized force and a shrinking defense budget result in an 
increased reliance on technology, which must provide the force 
multiplier required to ensure a viable military deterrent....  
Battlefield information systems became the ally of the warrior.  They 
did much more than provide a service.  Personal computers were force 
multipliers." (Powell, 1992).

While a cyberwar doctrine should provide us with robust war-fighting 
capabilities against the largest regional aggressors, we must 
recognize that the small size and (perhaps) unusual look of our 
forces may have less of an "intimidation effect" on our future 
adversaries, thereby vitiating crisis and deterrence stability.  
There are two ways to mitigate this emergent dilemma.  First, 
applying netwar techniques in regions that bear upon our interests 
may provide early warning signals, and an opportunity to dissuade a 
potential aggressor as soon as we become aware of his intentions.  
The second means of shoring up regional deterrence consists of 
signalling our resolve tacitly.  This may involve the deployment or 
"show" of military force quite early in a crisis, and could even 
include the exemplary use of our military capabilities.[32]  Indeed, 
if this sort of signalling was aimed at targets suggested by cyberwar 
doctrine, such as critical communication nodes, the aggressor's 
capabilities for offensive action might come close to being nil from 
the outset.

What might a cyberwar against a regional aggressor look like?  In 
most cases, it may well follow a "Pusan-Inchon" pattern.[33]  First, 
the aggressor's "knockout blow" would have to be blunted.  Then, 
American forces would counterattack.  The burden of preventing a 
complete overrun at the outset of a war would surely fall heavily 
upon the U.S. Air Force and its ability to knock out the attacker's 
communications and logistics.  The details will vary across regions, 
as some attackers may be more vulnerable to strategic paralysis than 
others.  For example, future Iraqi aggression against the Arabian 
peninsula would depend on its ability to use a few roads and two 
bridges across the Tigris River.  On the other hand, North Korea has 
many avenues of advance to the south.

The forces needed to roll back aggression would likely be modest in 
size.  Since the invader will have been blinded by the time U.S. 
ground forces arrive, the latter will be able to strike where and 
when they wish.  On the Arabian peninsula, for example, even an 
invading army of a million men would not be able to hold out against 
an American cyberwar, particularly if a defensive lodgement had been 
maintained.  The attacker, not knowing where the Americans might 
strike, would have to disperse his forces over a theater measured in 
many hundreds of kilometers in each direction.  American air power 
would blind him, and destroy his forces attempting to maneuver.  
Then, counterattacking forces would strike where least expected, 
destroying the invader's very ability to fight as a cohesive force.  
As the Mongols defeated an army some ten times their size in the 
campaign against Khwarizm, so modern cyberwarriors should be able 
routinely to defeat much larger forces in the field.  Of course, 
details will vary by region.  Again, the Korean example would be a 
bit more complicated, although the lack of strategic depth on that 
peninsula is more than offset by robust South Korean defensive 

It seems clear that a cyberwar doctrine will give its able 
practitioner the capability to defeat conventional regional 
aggression between nation states decisively, at low cost in blood and 
treasure.  Will it fare as well against unconventional adversaries?  
This is a crucial question, as many, notably Van Creveld (1991), have 
argued that war is being transformed by non-state actors, and by 
smaller states that must ever think of new ways to fight and defeat 
their betters.  Thus, crises will likely be characterized by large, 
well-armed irregular forces, taking maximum advantage of familiar 
terrain, motivated by religious, ethnic or tribal zeal.  Finally, 
they may move easily within and between the "membranes" of 
fractionated states.

Cyberwar may not provide a panacea for all conflicts of this type, 
but it does create a new, useful framework for coping with them.  For 
example, in the former Yugoslavia, where all of the above factors 
have manifested themselves, the U.S. Army's AirLand Battle, or even 
Operation Desert Storm, should not be used as models for analysis.  
These frames of reference lead to thinking that an entire field army 
(400,000-500,000 troops) is the appropriate tool for decisive 
warfighting in this environment.  Instead, an intervention could 
easily follow cyberwar's Pusan-Inchon approach to regional conflict.  
For example, indigenous defenders in Bosnia and other areas of the 
former Yugoslavia could be armed so that they could prevent any sort 
of overrun (the campaign's "Pusan").  Next, a small combined arms 
American task force, including no more than a division of ground 
troops,[34] might strike opportunistically where and when it chose 
(the "Inchon").  Enemy forces would be easily locatable from the air, 
from radio intercepts, and by unmanned ground sensors, especially if 
they try to move or fight.  The fact that the aggressors are 
dispersed makes them easier to defeat in detail.  If they 
concentrate, they fall prey to tremendous American firepower.

The Balkan crisis may prove to be a framing event for future 
unconventional conflicts.  It may also provide an important case for 
developing cyberwar doctrine in this sort of setting.  We note, 
however, that our assessment does not imply support for intervention 
in this case.

While the advent of cyberwar enables us to feel more comfortable 
about the prospects for maintaining regional security in an era 
likely to be characterized by American force drawdowns and 
withdrawals, there is another concern associated with this sort of 
warfighting capability.  Should the United States seek out coalition 
partners when it fights future regional wars?  It seems obvious that 
we should, since both international and domestic political problems 
are mitigated by the vision of a group of nations marching arm in 
arm, if not in step, against an aggressor.  However, we should be 
concerned about trying to incorporate other nations' armed forces 
into a cyberwar campaign.  Aside from difficulties with integration, 
the United States should not be in any hurry to share a new approach, 
particularly with allies who may have been recruited on an ad hoc 
basis.  It's one thing to take a long-standing ally like Britain into 
our confidence; Syria is quite another matter.  Perhaps this new 
tension can be resolved by having our allies defend the lodgements, 
the "Pusans," while we engage in the "Inchons."  It is ironic that 
our ability to fight and win wars in accordance with the principles 
of the information revolution may require us to withhold our new-
found insights, even from our friends and allies.


The authors thank Carl Builder, Gordon McCormick, Jonathan Pollack, 
Ken Watman, and Dean Wilkening for their comments on earlier drafts.  
This article does not represent the views of RAND, its management, or 
any of its sponsors.


[1] Delbruck (1985 edn.) describes warfare as a dual phenomenon:  it 
may be waged with either "exhaustion" or "annihilation" in mind.

[2] This notion borrows from an earlier Soviet notion of a scientific 
technology revolution (STR).

[3] Weigley (1989: 196), quoting Van Creveld, (1989: 1).

[4] See Bell (1980), Beniger (1986), and Toffler (1990).

[5] The literature on these points is vast.  Recent additions 
include:  Bankes and Builder (1991), Malone and Rockart (September 
1991); Ronfeldt (1991); Sproull and Keisler (1991, and September 
1991); Toffler (1990).

[6] Ronfeldt, "Institutions, Markets, and Networks," in preparation.

[7] Terms with "cyber-" as the prefix--e.g., cyberspace--are 
currently in vogue among some visionaries and technologists who are 
seeking names for new concepts related to the information revolution.  
The prefix is from the Greek root kybernan, meaning to steer or 
govern, and a related word kybernetes, meaning pilot, governor, or 
helmsman.  The prefix was introduced by Norbert Wiener in the 1940s 
in his classic works creating the field of "cybernetics" (which is 
related to cybernetique, an older French word meaning the art of 
government).  Some readers may object to our additions to the 
lexicon, but we prefer them to alternative terms like "information 
warfare," which has been used in some circles to refer to warfare 
that focuses on C3I capabilities.  In our view, a case exists for 
using the prefix in that it bridges the fields of information and 
governance better than does any other available prefix or term.  
Indeed, kybernan, the root of "cyber-" is also the root of the word 
"govern" and its extensions.  Perhaps rendering the term in German 
would help.  A likely term would be leitenkrieg, which translates 
loosely as "control warfare" (Our thanks to Denise Quigley for 
suggesting this term).

[8] We are indebted to Carl Builder for observing that the 
information revolution may have as much impact on the context as on 
the conduct of warfare, and that an analyst ought to identify how the 
context may change before he or she declares how a military's conduct 
should change.

[9] The difficult term is "information;" defining it remains a key 
problem of the information revolution.  While no current definition 
is satisfactory, as a rule many analysts subscribe to a hierarchy 
with data at the bottom, information in the middle, and knowledge at 
the top (some would add wisdom above that).  Like many analysts, we 
often use the term information (or information-related) to refer 
collectively to the hierarchy, but sometimes we use the term to mean 
something more than data but less than knowledge.  Finally, one 
spreading view holds that new information amounts to "any difference 
that makes a difference."

[10] The importance of topsight is identified by Gelernter (1991: 
52), who observes:  "If you're a software designer and you can't 
master and subdue monumental complexity, you're dead:  your machines 
don't work.  They run for a while and then sputter to a halt, or they 
never run at all.  Hence, 'managing complexity' must be your goal.  
Or, we can describe exactly the same goal in a more positive light.  
We can call it the pursuit of topsight.  Topsight--an understanding 
of the big picture is an essential goal of every software builder.  
It's also the most precious intellectual commodity known to man."

[11] Van Creveld (1985:264) puts it this way:  "From Plato to NATO, 
the history of command in war consists essentially of an endless 
quest for certainty..."

[12] See Caven (1980).

[13] Brodie (1944) and Grimble (1978) describe Cochrane's methods in 
some detail.

[14] Chambers (1985) is the principal reference to Mongol military 
doctrine for this paper.  Curtin (1908) translated the original 
Mongol sagas, rendering them with eloquence and coherence.  Lamb 
(1927) remains an important exposition of Genghis Khan's approach to 

[15] Perhaps this is why the Mongols slaughtered besieged forces (and 
civilian supporters) who resisted their attacks.  As word of this 
brutality spread, fewer cities resisted (a gruesome example of 

[16] Domestic political strife within the Mongol empire also played a 
part in halting operations.  

[17] Kilawan also showed sensitivity to the importance of command and 
control at the tactical level.  At the outset of the battle of Hims, 
for example, he sent one of his officers, feigning desertion, over to 
the Mongol commander, Mangku-Temur.  When close enough, the Mameluke 
officer struck Temur in the face with his sword.  At the same moment 
the Mamelukes attacked.  The Mongol staff officers, tending to Temur, 
were thus distracted during the crucial, opening phase of the battle, 
which contributed to their defeat.  See Chambers (1985: 160-162).

[18] See Liddell Hart (1931), wherein his early formulation of 
armored maneuver warfare mentions the Mongols as a possible model for 

[19] The memoirs of Guderian (1972) and Mellenthin (1976) are replete 
with examples of how radio communication allowed German armor to 
concentrate fire until a target was destroyed, then shift to a new 
target.  In particular, fire would be initially concentrated on enemy 
tanks flying command pennants, as the Germans were aware of the radio 
deficiencies of their foes.  Though the Russians were heavily 
victimized by communication inferiority, even France, with its 
superior numbers of heavier armed tanks, suffered in 1940 because, 
while all armor had radios, only command vehicles could transmit.  
The French also suffered because they deployed their tanks evenly 
along the front instead of counterconcentrating them.  Finally, it is 
interesting to note that Guderian began his career as a 
communications officer.  

[20] Stolfi (1992) contends that the German "right turn" into the 
Ukraine fatally compromised Hitler's only chance of winning a war 
with the Soviet Union by striking at the heart of its strategic 
communications.  Liddell Hart (1970:157-170) refers to the debate 
over whether to attack Moscow directly, or to destroy Soviet field 
armies, as the "battle of the theories," which was won by the 
"proponents of military orthodoxy."  

[21] Mao (1961) bases his theoretical point about guerrilla warfare 
on his experience in fighting the Japanese who, as the Americans 
would in Vietnam, focused primarily on the disruption of tactical 
communications.  Miles (1968) echoes Mao's point in his analysis of 
the same conflict.  Lawrence's (1938) analysis of the Desert Revolt 
is also confirmatory.

[22] See the earlier quotation from Sproull and Kiesler (1991).

[23] Posen (1984: 36).

[24] This is another new term that some visionaries and practitioners 
have begun using.  For example, see Benedikt (1991).  It comes from 
the seminal "cyberpunk" science-fiction novel by Gibson (1984).  It 
is the most encompassing of the terms being tried out for naming the 
new realm of electronic knowledge, information, and communications--
parts of which exist in the hardware and software at specific sites, 
other parts in the transmissions flowing through cables or through 
air and space.  General Powell (1992) nods in this direction by 
referring to "battlespace" as including an "infosphere."

[25] Bellamy (1987) grapples with some of these issues in his 
analysis of future land warfare.

[26] Note that the acclaimed U.S. intelligence in Desert Storm rarely 
got to the division commanders; for them, every major encounter with 
the enemy's forces reportedly was a surprise.  See Grier (1992).

[27] Waltz (1979) considers this phenomenon of "imitation" a major 
factor in the process of "internal balancing" with which all nations 
are continually occupied.  If a new military innovation is thought to 
work, all will soon follow the innovator.  A good example of this is 
the abrupt and complete shift of the world's navies from wooden to 
metal hulls in the wake of the naval experience with ironclads in the 
American Civil War.

[28] A classic example is the 1944 battle for Normandy.  Field 
Marshal Montgomery's forces tied down the German Seventh Army, 
allowing General Patton's Third Army to engage in a broad end run of 
the German defenses.

[29] The authors are grateful to Gordon McCormick for his insights on 
this topic.  Also on this point, see Arnett (1989).

[30] This last point is inspired by the thinking of RAND colleague 
Ken Watman.

[31] There is a class of proliferator toward which our reluctance to 
employ forceful measures will be diminished.  Iraq, Iran, North 
Korea, Libya and Cuba are some of the nations whose threatened 
acquisition of weapons of mass destruction may justify intervention.  
The notion that the United States should adopt a doctrine of 
"selective preventive force" against "outlaw" states is discussed in 
Arquilla (1992a).

[32] Arquilla (1992b) discusses this issue in detail.

[33] This notion is drawn from the Korean War, where U.S. forces 
began their involvement by preventing the overrun of the Korean 
peninsula in the opening months of the war.  The Pusan perimeter held 
a portion of South Korea free, serving as a magnet for North Korean 
forces.  The amphibious counterattack at Inchon, far from the battle 
fronts, threw the invaders into complete disarray.  

[34] Kenney and Dugan (1992) call for a "Balkan Storm" without 
employing any American ground forces.  We disagree with this 
approach, rooted as it is in theories of "limited liability" and "air 
power exceptionalism."  Nonetheless, they do identify many of the key 
types of aerial cyberwar tactics that might be employed, even if 
their omission of an American ground component would seriously dilute 
any gains achieved.  


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