One of the regular contributors to the Blog recommended that I read “The Starfish and the Spider” by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom. (You can find a good summary at: http://ugnchicago.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Starfish-and-Spider-Ori-Brafman-Summary.pdf)
The premise of the book is that decentralized organizations have neither head nor formal infrastructure – just like the starfish is able to regenerate from a severed leg. One of the beginning vignettes is on how the Spanish Army could easily conquer the Aztecs, but the Apaches got the best of them for 200 years.
The messages for MISO/PSYOP professionals are actually pretty clear. Historically major conflicts have been force on force. Formal military organizations faced each other and the MISO battle was fairly straight forward. It was as I like to call it the “Surrender now and avoid the rush.” Campaign centered on getting the opposing force to surrender. This is no longer the case and the traditional, centralized, military Command and Control of influence operations needs to evolve to deal with ‘starfish’ type enemies.
When Al Qaeda surfaced as a principle enemy after 9/11 the influence war was turned on its head. While we had dealt with non-traditional forces such as the Viet Cong, the notion of a global, decentralized enemy was a new one. While military leaders are ensconced in a formal hierarchy, terrorist organizations such as AQ were a mass of amorphous decentralized cells.
The book proposes three strategies for defeating starfish:
1. Changing Ideology
Life is hopeless vs. there is hope, I can make my life better
2. Centralize them
Change from no hierarchy to some form of top down. Provides resources to the formerly resource poor leaders so that they become more fixated on using the resources for reward, etc.
3. Decentralize yourself – if you can’t beat’em join’em
Just how relevant are these suggestions to PSYOP/MISO?
For one thing PSYOP must work hand in glove with the Embassy Team and Civil Affairs to help eliminate or minimize the root causes that are stimulating the opposing force. By eliminating or reducing the root causes, the effect is to change the environment and with it the ideology driving the starfish.
Secondly, I believe MISO needs to be as decentralized as possible to be able to tailor the influence approach to the target at hand. However, we need to empower MISO soldiers with the resources needed to do the job whether this is a robust ‘reachback’ or cultural and linguistic resources or support of local credible spokespeople.
As we ponder which organization will be the Branch Proponent we need to take a serious look a doctrine and learn how to deal with the starfish and what other creatures come up.