Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Brave New War: The Fragility is Acute

In City Journal, Glenn Reynolds reviews John Robb's Brave New War: The New Terrorism and the End of Globalization. An excerpt:

All sorts of technological trends—from biotechnology to nanotechnology—work to amplify the lethality of individuals and small groups. But the biggest contemporary source of bad-guy empowerment, Robb rightly notes, comes from the vulnerability of our own modern systems and networks for electrical distribution, telecommunications, transportation, food distribution, and more, which are subject to swift disruption if critical nodes or resources are destroyed. Robb may overstate the prospects for devastating damage; system disruption has been a goal of air forces for nearly a century, but actually pulling it off in the face of efforts to reroute or repair has always been harder than anticipated. Still, the fragility is acute. Just-in-time inventory systems save on costs, but even brief interruptions in deliveries will cause production to shut down. Deregulated telecommunications systems tend to concentrate traffic into a small number of high-traffic trunks, again in order to cut costs; take out the hubs, the system goes down. And system redundancies, as well as extensive maintenance and repair capabilities, are often casualties of tight budgets. Ma Bell gave us fewer telecom services at higher prices, but her network was much more robust than those we enjoy now, so much so that—as Paul Bracken observed in The Command and Control of Nuclear Forces—her capabilities were tougher than those of most military networks.

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