Using the internet for netwar


Netwars are fought by networks; collections of groups and organizations guided by non-hierarchical command structures which communicate through "all-points" communications channels of considerable bandwidth and complexity.

The network form of organization is particularly robust and resilient in the face of adversity. The decentralized command and control structure allows rapid shifts of strategic targeting. It is highly resistant to "decapitation" (attacks which target leadership), and the disruption of communication channels.

The essential conditions for victory in a netwar conflict are also the conditions which make waging netwar possible: the shared understanding of a situation which demands direct action. Victory occurs when people understand the conflict and are willing to act on that understanding.


Netwar is a concept introduced in the early 1990's by two researchers at the RAND corporation, a US government-funded think tank which began under the auspices of the U.S. Air Force. In a now-seminal paper titled "Cyberwar is Coming!", RAND analysts David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla proposed a new framework for viewing conflict in the information age. The essence of netwar is the emerging forms of conflict in which one or more of the major participants consist of networks, rather than institutions. The central feature of informational conflicts is the struggle for understanding and knowledge, as opposed to more traditional conflicts which focus on controlling territories or resources.

One of the dictums of netwar is that netwar actors have a much greater interest in keeping communications working, rather than shutting them down. The dense and diversified communications used in netwar protests cannot be significantly harmed by any action less than a total media and communications blackout. Not only is such an action impossible for the economic and social costs which would result, but a blackout of the required magnitude would be the informational equivalent of unconditional surrender by the establishment.

Netwar strategies take full advantage of the extremely dense and wide-reaching alternative media network which uses the internet. The use of "media special forces" is one of the hallmarks of netwar and informational conflicts. With the rise of the alternative media, the internet and other disintermediated mass communications, it is no longer possible for the establishment to control the information reaching the public. Attempts to distort the news for propaganda or public relations purposes will enhance movement recruiting and create a "credibility gap" for establishment policies.


  1. 1. Netwar is nothing new as a form of conflict. It is a new concept, but the underlying reality of it has been around for a long time. What is new is the richer informational environment which makes the organization of civil (and uncivil) society into networks easier and more efficient.

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