By David Ignatius, Washington Post

(snip)

What does seem likely is that we are witnessing the first “netwar.” That phrase is drawn from a fascinating paper that was posted on the Internet last week by David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla of Rand. (It can be found at www.firstmonday.org.)

The authors coined the term back in 1993 to describe what they saw as the future of warfare. The West’s opponents wouldn’t be traditional armies or hierarchical political movements, or even organized guerrilla forces, but groups that operated like the discrete but interconnected nodes of an electronic network.

“These protagonists are likely to consist of dispersed organizations, small groups and individuals who communicate, coordinate and conduct their campaigns in an internetted manner, often without a central command,” write Ronfeldt and Arquilla in their new paper. Their cells would be everywhere and nowhere — like those of bin Laden’s al Qaeda network.

The netwar authors make several points that are highly relevant to the new war against terrorism. “Hierarchies have a difficult time fighting networks,” they note. That’s a telling point for war planners at the Pentagon — surely one of the most hierarchical organizations ever devised.

“A particular challenge for the cumbersome American bureaucracy will be to encourage deep, all-channel networking among the military, law enforcement and intelligence elements whose collaboration is essential for achieving success,” Ronfeldt and Arquilla warn.

“It takes networks to fight networks,” they insist. In other words, if the United States and its allies march off in formation into Afghanistan against a dispersed and devious enemy — one that will fly airplanes into buildings and spray biological weapons from crop-dusters — they will lose….