Date: Mon, 20 Mar 1995 11:26:48 -0500 (EST)
From: Milt Shapiro <email@example.com>
To: Chiapas-l <Chiapasfirstname.lastname@example.org>
COPYRIGHT PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE
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EDITOR'S NOTE: While media attention focuses on the turmoil within Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, another destabilizing force, which Rand Corp. national security expert David F. Ronfeldt dubs "netwar," is spreading. Netwar enables widely dispersed and highly marginalized opposition groups to coordinate strategies utilizing new information technologies. While their lack of central authority makes it unlikely they could take power, they could make Mexico ungovernable. PNS contributing editor Joel Simon reports regularly from Mexico.
MEXICO CITY -- While Mexico reels from the worst financial and political crisis in decades, a low intensity "netwar" is also spreading across the country. That's the conclusion of social scientist David F. Ronfeldt of the Santa Monica-based Rand think tank who studies the impact of new information technologies on national security.
Ronfeldt and a colleague coined the term netwar to describe what happens when loosely-affiliated networks -- social activists, terrorists, or drug cartels -- use new information technologies to coordinate action. Throughout the world, these networks are replacing "hierarchies" as the primary form of political organization among opponents of the state.
Whatever the outcome of the current turmoil in the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), and the gains scored by the conservative National Action Party (PAN), Ronfeldt argues that netwar will ultimately change the country's political equation by giving even the most marginalized leftist opposition new clout. "The risk for Mexico is not an old-fashioned civil war or another social revolution," he notes. "The risk is social netwar."
The impact of the netwarriors is already clear. In 1993, opponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement used fax machines and the Internet to coordinate strategy. During the August 1994 Presidential elections, a watchdog group called Civic Alliance organized a network of observers throughout the country who faxed reports on voting irregularities back to Mexico City.
Even the Zapatista Army of National Liberation is fighting a form of netwar. The August 1994 National Democratic Convention brought together hundreds of diverse groups in the rebels' jungle stronghold to fashion a de-centralized opposition. That they succeeded was evidenced last month when thousands marched in Mexico City to protest the Zedillo Administration's arrest warrant for Subcomander Marcos, chanting "We Are All Marcos." Rebel supporters around the world followed developments by reading Zapatista communiques on the Internet.
Precisely because of their de-centralization, the netwarriors don't have the ability to take national power. But, Ronfeldt predicts, they are a growing political force which could make the country ungovernable. And their lack of any central authority makes them far less vulnerable to cooptation or repression.
Who are the netwarriors? They are the traditional leftist opponents of the PRI, groups fighting for democratic change, as well as an array of special interests, from peasant organizations to gay rights groups. At a time when the political and economic crisis has created widespread disaffection, Ronfeldt theorizes that network-style organizing will enable the opposition to overcome its traditional factionalism. The greatest threat to the government could be hundreds or thousands of independent groups united in their opposition but "accepting of each other's autonomy."
Ronfeldt argues the international non-government organizations (NGOs) operating in Mexico provide a "multiplier effect" for netwarriors. Electronic communication allows Mexican groups to stay in touch with U.S. and Canadian organizations which share their goals and can coordinate an international response in the event of a government crackdown. These groups are media savvy in a way Mexicans may not be; they also have access to the international media. Global Exchange, a small humanitarian organization in San Francisco, is one example. It began denouncing human rights abuses and mobilizing protests in the U.S. only hours after government troops dislodged Zapatista rebels from villages last December.
Netwar is not unique to political groups, however. Terrorist organizations and drug cartels are also becoming less hierarchical and thus harder to control, says Ronfeldt. The Sicilian Mafia is losing ground to less centralized drug cartels.
Ronfeldt acknowledges that the potential for transnational netwar in Mexico is limited by the deficiencies in the nation's phone system. "Netwar doesn't work unless lots of different small groups can coordinate...and that requires high band-width communication." While fax machines have become ubiquitous in Mexico, electronic communication is only starting to take hold.
Still, Ronfeldt cautions that "The country that produced the prototype social revolution of the 20th century may now be giving rise to the prototype social netwar of the 21st century." If so, the Mexican government will have its hands full.