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Netwar is a term developed by RAND researchers John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt to describe an emergent form of low intensity conflict, crime, and activism waged by social networked actors. Typical netwar actors might include transnational terrorists, criminal organizations, activist groups, and social movements that employ decentralized, flexible network structures.



The term is proposed in order to focus specifically on the spread of network based organizational structures throughout the low intensity spectrum of societal conflict. It is argued that other terms applied to information age conflict, such as ‘information warfare’, are inadequate, focusing too narrowly on technological issues while missing the broader social transformation enabled by technological advances.

Cyberwar’ is a corresponding term which Arquilla and Ronfeldt propose to describe high-intensity information age conflicts.[1][2]

Network structures

Arquilla and Ronfeldt point to three basic types of networks that may be used by netwar actors:

Netwar actors may also take on hybrid forms as well, blending different types of networks and hierarchies. For instance, a node in the network may be hierarchical, an organization may shift between hierarchy and networked autonomy depending on operational demands, or various members of the same group may be networked to each other through different types of network structures.

All-channel networks

Arquilla and Ronfeldt argue that it is the all-channel model that is becoming increasingly significant as a source of organizational collaborative power. The all-channel network has no central leadership and no key node whose removal might disrupt the entire organization. Instead, the network is completely decentralized, “allowing for local initiative and autonomy” in an organization that may at times appear “acephalous (headless), and at other times polycephalous (hydra-headed).”[1]

The all-channel network is one of the most difficult to maintain because it requires a strong communications capacity to maintain ties between nodes. Moreover, nodal autonomy results in a distributed, consensus style of decision making which is necessarily dependent on back-and-forth communication. As such, this form of organization has only recently become feasible on a greater scale with the dawn of the information age.

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