Discussing War & Anti-War with Alvin Toffler

The Third Wave

AirLand Battle was a radical rethinking of US military doctrine, after its perceived breakdown in Vietnam. Designed for the protection of Western Europe against a possible Soviet Union invasion, the doctrine had a little “add-on” as Toffler calls it, which said it “could have application in the Middle East.”

It did. The eventual result was called Operation Desert Storm.

Unbeknownst to them at the time, the Tofflers had had a hand in AirLand’s formation. In 1980 they wrote The Third Wave, an innovative look at the then upcoming transformations in society that rapidly advancing technology would bring.

Years before it would be mentioned in seemingly every speech given in late 1994 and early 1995 by Newt Gingrich, the then newly elected Speaker of the House, the generals of TRADOC were studying The Third Wave. Their goal, Toffler says, was to move away from Second Wave, industrial mass-warfare models, to Third Wave methods of warfare, “something more aligned with what was actually beginning to happen in the economy, in the business community and elsewhere.”

So, when in January of ‘91, the world saw a cruise missile fly into the window of the Iraqi Air Ministry in Baghdad, according to Toffler “that symbolized many of the changes that Morelli had described to us ten or eleven years earlier. And Heidi and I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to write about this.’ Something truly unique in the history and nature of the US military was taking place.” The Tofflers wrote War and Anti-War, a preview of 21st century warfare, first published in November 1993, as a way of applying their third wave models to warfare – both political and military. So what does Alvin Toffler think of the current events in Afghanistan?

The Flea vs. the Elephant

Driscoll: Do you think that some of these things are actually going to be done?

Toffler: I have no idea. But I am giving a speech this week at the National Defense University, and will of course be discussing all of these.

So that’s priority number one. Priority number two is to secure or neutralize the Pakistani nuclear weapons. The danger is, if we push [General Pervez] Musharraf too far, he gets overthrown. And the most extreme examples of the Taliban take over Pakistan and inherit the nukes.

We can’t let that happen.

By the way, for those who say that “we Americans are the terrorists,” as some of those are saying, I had to laugh this week: one cruise missile could have eliminated the entire six or seven hundred leaders of the Taliban in one shot, as they met in Kabul to decide what to do about Osama bin Laden. We could have decapitated that regime in one shot. But we didn’t, because we don’t do that.

I think there are two paradoxes that were dealing with right now. One is the paradox of power. The bigger we are, the more powerful we are relative to everybody else, the more we are involved with everybody else. Which means that before we can make a decision, whether it is to go into Baghdad or not go into Baghdad, or an economic decision—any kind of decision—we have to check with Paris, we have to check with London, we make sure that Berlin is on. How ‘bout Tokyo? What do they think in Jordan, and so on. That’s because we are a world power, and we depend upon support on different issues from different countries all over the world.

By contrast, bin Laden doesn’t have to check with anybody. It reminds me of Somalia, where there we were, the strongest military in the world, and a guy named Colonel Aidid, whose solders rode on trucks, and who had practically nothing more than rifles and a bazooka or two, he ran rings around us on the ground in Somalia. Because, he had freedom of movement, he didn’t have to check with anybody, he didn’t have any formal treaties with anybody.

So what you had is sometimes called the war of the flea versus the elephant. The flea is fast. The flea is fleet. And that’s the situation here. We are this big, lumbering giant, and we are constrained by all of our commitments, which we need to strengthen us, so I’m not necessarily arguing for unilateralism. But we have to recognize that they slow us down, and they set constraints on us, whereas the other side is free to move.

So that’s the paradox: the more power you have, the less free you are to exercise it.

The second paradox is that big is sometimes small, and small is increasingly big.

As we move out of the industrial era into what my wife and I call The Third Wave, in a period of such enormous economic and social turbulence, non-linearity increases. And what that means, is that in a linear system, you need a big input to get a big output. In a non-linear system, small inputs can have enormous outputs. A very small group is able to shake the global economy, and the United States. That is an extreme example of non-linearity, or as the military now calls it, asymmetry…

Islam & the War in Afghanistan

Ed Driscoll: While news has been deliberately scarce, it’s obviously a long, careful buildup of our forces in the Middle East. What sorts of things do we have to do, before we can attack bin Laden and his allies?

Alvin Toffler: There are number of issues in Afghanistan before we can talk about fighting that we need to understand. This is not just a matter of religion. And it’s not just a matter of one loony.

Bin Laden is not a loony. He is trying to cause a religious war on the planet, and that is danger number one. If that happens, he has won. So we need to be smart enough, first of all, never to let that happen.

Driscoll: Do you have any thoughts on how to prevent that?

Toffler: Yes. First of all, we need to do some things that are dramatic and public, in support of moderate Muslim countries like Turkey. And the Europeans have been not at all forthcoming about their dealings with Turkey. They’ve been driving Turkey closer toward an Islamization. It’s an Islamic country, it is a Muslim country, but it’s been an extremely moderate and secular government, and the Europeans are pushing them in the opposite direction.

They have much to answer for in this respect. They wouldn’t allow Turkey to join the EU. And they continually delay and delay and delay. The message is, “we don’t want you Muslims.”

So one thing we should do right away is put pressure to bring Turkey into the European Union.

Second, a similar region that requires a lot of immediate support and attention, is Indonesia, and Malaysia. Both of these are majority Muslim countries, but they have, until now, been moderate Muslims, not at all given to extreme politics. There is a movement toward increased Islamic militancy in both these countries. And we have politically, and from our point of view of foreign policy, not fully understood the threat that that implies, and have not been, I think, working hard enough at that. The only part of the US government that’s sensitive to that, both the cases of Turkey and Indonesia, has been the military. The military does understand the importance, in both of these countries, of their military in sustaining secular government and moderate Islam.

But that’s shifting there now, rapidly, and we have not supported Mahathir [Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad] in Malaysia, who is been no friend of the United States in many ways, but has run a quasi-secular government, and there is now rising Islamic pressure against him.

So we need to do some big symbolic things in defense of moderate Muslim countries. We also need to something Americans do not understand, at least in my opinion.

Islam is not a middle-eastern religion, even though it originated there. It is an Asian religion. There are more Muslims, just in Indonesia, than all the Arabs in the world put together, from North Africa all the way over to the other side of the Mediterranean. And there is, as we know, not only in Pakistan, but of course in India as well. So if you put these together, not to mention the smaller population of Afghanistan, you’ve got the majority of Muslims not living in the Middle East.

And most of them want to go about their daily lives. They want to feed their kids, they want to go to prayer, but they’re not eager to take up arms. And many in Asia, for example, expressed more than once, the wish that the Arab-Israeli conflict would simply go away and not bother them, and so on.

So number one is to make sure that they can not accuse of being anti-Islamic. We need to do some really major things, not just vis-à-vis Turkey and Indonesia, but other countries as well.

We did defend Muslims in Kosovo, and in other parts of the Balkans, and we need to do more of that and we need to publicize that, so that’s one thing. And we need to use perception management of information warfare.

For example, I would think we should put a chain of radio transmitters and stations all around the region, call it “Radio Koran” and broadcast nothing but passages from the Koran that say “Islam is a peaceful religion, and taking life is bad.” You can find both contradictory things, I’m sure, in the Koran, just as you can in the Bible. We should be just broadcasting the peace messages of the Koran all over the region, in every language.

The Importance of Special Operations

Driscoll: Which probably ties in with something I had wanted to ask you: how much did the terrorists deliberately plan their attack to disrupt the media and stock markets?

Toffler: My guess is, with careful calculation. These are very smart guys. The asymmetry is going to increase. In War and Anti-War, we said that what would be seeing, is armies moving away from mass-conscription, moving towards smaller and more rapid units. There’s a whole chapter we wrote on special operations. But special operations armed with Third Wave technology. So it’s not just knife to knife. They have a knife, but we have a gun that can see around corners (almost literally).

And that is why I would take with some caution, all the predictions about how difficult it will be for us, because, look, they kicked out the British and they kicked out the Russians. This is a different level of special operations and a different level of warfare, and we are far, far better than either of those armies ever were, relative to what they faced and what we face.

So I do think that we are going to see a growing emphasis and recognition on the importance of special operations. And at the same time, the other problem that ties us down, having said all of this, about small scale operations, we can’t rule out the dangers of mass Second Wave warfare on the planet.

One can imagine a civil war in China. Now, I want to emphasis this, I don’t think that’s going to happen, but you can’t rule it out. As long as we, the US, can’t rule it out, our security thinking and our military thinking has to take it into account.

If we take it into account, that clearly suggests we still need big forces, we still need large-scale weapons, and so forth and so on.

So we’re stuck. We need to be able fight First Wave (pre-industrial revolution) warfare, with high-tech weapons, and we need to be able to fight Second Wave warfare with high-tech weapons. That’s just one of many scenarios that would call for that kind of effort. So being the global power that we are, we can’t ignore either end of the big versus small war issue.

The Terrorists' Next Attack

Driscoll: Should we assume that we could face additional terrorist attacks?

Toffler: Absolutely. And, this is a matter of some dispute, even in my own household, with my brilliant co-author, as to the degree to which the terrorists could use biological or chemical or nuclear methods.

I do believe that those are quite feasible, and a real threat.

The counter-argument by my co-author is why do they need them? If you can use a box-knife to destroy what they destroyed, why do you need to go to those extremes. But I do believe that if these guys had their hands on nukes, they’d have used them.

But one can imagine a second attack following this up, or another attack (it probably won’t be airliners again, it will be something else), followed by a cyber-attack, followed by a gas attack, and so forth, in waves, one after another.

Driscoll: Should we fear an attack on our telecommunications infrastructure, including the Internet?

Toffler: Absolutely, absolutely. I think we should regard that as a high priority, and we need to make it secure.

We’re heavily dependent on the telecom system, including satellites, and the threat to the satellites doesn’t necessarily have to come from missiles, they can come from laptops.

So the answer is, “yes,” we have a fragile infrastructure; [we] are working ‘round the clock, devising ways to protect all this. But they should be supported; they should be given more resources. And this is the other interesting thing: the boundary line between what is war and what is not war is erased. The boundary line between what is a state effort, and what is a non-state effort is erased, and the boundary line between civilian and soldier, is increasingly erased. Because the people who may in the end save this country will be software people, security people, encrypters, etc., etc., etc., many of whom won’t be in uniform.

Edward B. Driscoll, Jr. is a San Jose-based journalist who writes on a variety of topics, especially technology, design, and home electronics for numerous magazines. Additionally, he covers technology stocks for National Review Online's financial section.

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