Cyber-Mobilization: The New Levée
The means and ends of mass mobilization are
changing, bypassing the traditional state-centered approach that
was the hallmark of the French Revolution and leaving advanced Western
democracies merely to react to the results. Today's dynamic social,
economic, and political transitions are as important to war as were
the changes at the end of the 18th century that Clausewitz observed.
Most important is the 21st century's levée en masse, a mass
networked mobilization that emerges from cyber-space with a direct
impact on physical reality. Individually accessible, ordinary networked
communications such as personal computers, DVDs, videotapes, and
cell phones are altering the nature of human social interaction,
thus also affecting the shape and outcome of domestic and international
Although still in its early stages, this development
will not reverse itself and will increasingly influence the conduct
of war. From the global spread of Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks,
to the rapid evolution of insurgent tactics in Iraq, to the riots
in France, and well beyond, the global, non-territorial nature of
the information age is having a transformative effect on the broad
evolution of conflict, and we are missing it. We are entering the
cyber-mobilization era, but our current course consigns us merely
to react to its effects.
Background: The Levée en Masse in
the French Revolution
The French Revolution marked the beginning
of the age of modern warfare, characterized by the culmination of
a fundamental shift from dynastic warfare between kings to mass
participation of the populace in national warfare. Although the
Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 is commonly cited as the point of origin
for the sovereign state, the French Revolution marks its true consolidation,
with the formal abolition of the Holy Roman Empire as the result
of Napoleon's conquests in 1806.1 The
character of war is constantly in flux: the American Revolutionary
War was associated with many of the same anti-authoritarian passions
that powered the French Revolution. But as George Washington's correspondence
reflected, without national institutions to support the army, the
problem of mobilizing and directing resources hobbled the American
colonists' war effort. The key element in the firm establishment
of the modern secular state within the West, and a watershed in
the evolution of modern war, was the state's connection with the
mass mobilized army. And at the heart of that new army was the levée
The French term levée has two meanings
in this context, both "levy" and "uprising,"
each of which is important for understanding the nature of the levée
en masse and its relationship to the dramatic changes that occurred
in warfare at the time.2 In its first
meaning, the levy referred literally to the 23 August 1793 decree
by the French National Convention that the entire population was
obliged to serve the war effort. As a result, all single men between
the ages of 18 and 25 were required to join the army. The French
population at the time was the second largest in Europe, bested
only by the Russians, and thus it supported a huge military mobilization:
by September 1794, the French Republic had 1,169,000 men under arms,
out of a total population of about 25 million.3
For comparison, the current population of France is approximately
61 million, with about 134,000 on active duty.4
The percentage of population mobilized during the wars of the French
Revolution was unprecedented in Europe, in itself a revolutionary
achievement. Therefore, the first meaning of the word referred literally
to the goal of mass mobilization: the provision of large numbers
of soldiers supported by the people.
For all of his brilliance as a general, Napoleon
could not have accomplished his dramatic transformation of the European
landscape without the broad-based participation of the French populace,
both its young male conscripts and its civilian labor, and his ability
to harness these things for the army. Numbers were crucial to the
strategy of the French Army, enabling it to function on several
fronts simultaneously and to sustain casualties that its opponents
usually could not bear.5 The French
tended to win when they had superiority in numbers. They enabled
Napoleon to take greater risks, engage more often in battle, spread
his troops over wider territory, and embark on more daring political
ends.6 His opponents soon learned to
counter his mass, with the result being a dramatic increase in the
average number of men engaged in European battles, from a height
of 60,000 to 80,000 on the field in the mid-17th century, to a total
of 250,000 (Wagram, 1809; Borodino, 1812) or even 460,000 (Leipzig,
1813) by the early 19th century.7 The
resulting mobilization of the people in the service of the state,
indeed now actually embodying the state, was a watershed. It foreshadowed
the nationalized warfare of the industrialized era that followed,
culminating in the First and Second World Wars. For Napoleon, the
people were clearly the "engine of war."
This literal meaning of the levée en
masse, referring to mass conscription, is best known. But its second
meaning, levée as uprising, is more crucial in explaining
the paradigm shift now under way. If conscription was the end, inspiration
was the means. Education and ideology helped to drive young men
to the army and the broad population to support of the war effort.8
The French populace was reached, radicalized, educated, and organized
so as to save the revolution and participate in its wars. It is
no accident that the rise of mass warfare coincided with a huge
explosion in the means of communication, particularly a dramatic
growth in the number of common publications such as journals, newspapers,
pamphlets, and other short-lived forms of literature. No popular
mobilization could have succeeded in the absence of dramatically
expanding popular communications.
The publishing world in France was deregulated
between 1789 and 1793, resulting in a sharp drop in the publication
of books and a corresponding dramatic increase in shorter, cheaper,
more accessible forms of communication. Censorship of forbidden
texts, particularly so-called "philosophical books," was
also removed. The resulting spread of the ideology of the Enlightenment
drove cultural and social changes, with a free and extensive public
exchange of ideas that had been illegal under the old regime. The
highly competitive, chaotic publishing trade that resulted moved
toward an emphasis on shorter, more frequently produced, less capital-intensive
tracts intended to reach a broader market and earn a quick profit.
Over the course of the French Revolution, the number of journals
produced in Paris went from four to a peak of 335, the number of
printers quadrupled, and the number of publishers and sellers nearly
tripled.9 Ideas spread by exploiting
the freest and cheapest of all possible means of communication,
within the constraints of the technology of the time.
Thus the deregulation of the presses democratized
communications. The outcome was a dramatic expansion vertically,
horizontally, and temporally, as communications more frequently
reached a wider range of people, some of whom could not even read.
In the provinces, a strong tradition of reading aloud in homes or
worship services flourished. The oral tradition also encompassed
a large number of songs, printed and distributed or simply heard
and repeated. Famous songs such as the "Marseillaise"
created unity and a sense of republican identity. Revolutionary
images were also extremely important; the storming of the Bastille
by the Parisian populace on 14 July 1789 was pictured in a flood
of newspapers, pamphlets, and engravings. Such powerful symbolic
pictures appeared on paper money, letterheads, stamps, membership
cards, calendars, even wallpaper and children's games. Communications
were central to developing a national identity, a sense of passion
among the people, who were thus motivated to fight for the broader
The role of the poor French peasant in particular,
supporting the revolution and fighting its wars, was central to
the power of the popular army. The passionate participation of the
working-class Frenchman, who previously would not have been granted
the right of citizenship, was a vital evolution in the organization
for war.10 The unprecedented range
of communications effected a transformation of individuals in the
lower strata of French society into the "People," the
holders of popular sovereignty.11 They
also enabled the quite conscious building of a national identity:
from a focus on warfare in the service of local nobility, those
on French territory drew themselves into one focused and motivated
fighting unit. The French people believed that they were fighting
a war for freedom and against tyranny, for their revolution and
against monarchical power, and the bombardment of information from
above and within consolidated those beliefs. In this culmination
of social, political, and military change, the French nation and
the army were as one.
Carl von Clausewitz's expression of war as
the continuation of politics "with an admixture of other means"
was at least in part a description of this extraordinary process
of physical and ideological mobilization of the masses into war
in the service of the French Republic. The French military mobilization
was admittedly not an instantaneous and overwhelming success: its
effects were felt gradually, required trial and error in organization,
and combined elements of old and new. Clausewitz's On War was essentially
a philosophical treatise in Hegelian tradition, examining elements
of continuity and change and working toward a new synthesis. But
he stressed that war could be understood only within its political,
social, and historical circumstances. Even as he also appreciated
that the massive French mobilization he had witnessed might not
necessarily be the model for future wars, Clausewitz recognized
the political forces that Napoleon had harnessed and understood
their larger significance.
Today's Western armies are faced with ends
and means of mobilization that diverge from those that predominated
during the era of revolutionary nationalism. In its inherent connection
to changes in communication, its ideological narrative, and even
its employment of specific means, the process currently in progress
is a historical successor to the popular uprising at the heart of
the changes that Clausewitz observed. Instead of driving toward
the industrialized state, 21st-century mobilization is presently
perpetuating a fractionation of violence, a return to individualized,
mob-driven, and feudal forms of warfare.
Under way is a broad social and political evolution
through ordinary communications that reach vulnerable individuals
and catalyze changes in violence. The typical focus of military
planners on using high-end tools for tactical connectivity has missed
the point: what is unfolding is a widespread egalitarian development
more related to the explosion of publications and printing that
catalyzed and consolidated the French Revolution than it is to the
high-technology military advances of the late 20th century. We are
poised at a new era, ripe for exploitation in unpredictable and
powerful ways. Western nations will persist in ignoring the fundamental
changes in popular mobilization at their peril.
Numerous, obvious parallels to the revolutionary
years of the late 18th century can be drawn. These include a democratization
of communications, an increase in public access, a sharp reduction
in cost, a growth in frequency, and an exploitation of images to
construct a mobilizing narrative. Each will be treated here in turn.
First, today's means of communication have
gone through a process of deregulation and democratization similar
to that which occurred in France at the end of the 18th century.
The result has been a global explosion in chaotic connectivity.
The press of the revolutionary era developed in an institutional
vacuum, with no copyright, no rules on publishing or journalism,
no concept of intellectual property, no libel laws or vetting of
information.12 Although states like
China and Singapore have recently instituted highly controversial
web censorship, for good or ill the current state of cyber-space
is roughly comparable to the era of expansion in publishing that
followed the deregulation of the French press. Few institutional
frameworks or standards provide structure in cyberspace, and the
broad political potential of this new realm is little analyzed or
Second, there is a dramatic increase in popular
access to information. The Internet was designed during the height
of the Cold War to be redundant, decentralized, persistent, and
survivable in the event of a nuclear attack. After the disintegration
of the Soviet Union, the world wide web consortium was created to
facilitate the spread of global connectivity. It has wildly succeeded.
Throughout the 1990s, the use of the Internet at least doubled each
year, and although the pace has recently slowed somewhat, global
connectivity continues to grow.13 Currently
there are more than a billion Internet users in the world, with
by far the largest number in China.14
The resulting popular access to the web provides those same structural
advantages of decentralization and survivability to ordinary people,
including businesses, nongovernmental organizations, and advocacy
groups, but also to members of criminal networks, gangs, terrorist
groups, traffickers, and insurgents. Effective combinations of new
technologies, such as laptops and DVDs, along with "old"
technologies, such as videotapes and cell phones, are facilitating
political and social movements driven by newly powerful ideologies.
The result is creative anarchy, full of heady opportunity but also
pregnant with unpredictable change and real-world effects, especially
Third, the Internet and associated technologies
represent the same type of low-cost, high-regularity communications
that were so popular during the French Revolution. While vast regions
of the world continue to lack computer access, growth in connectivity
in the developing world now represents the key force behind the
global expansion of the Internet.15
Of course, cyber-mobilization need not be directly correlated with
numbers on the net; in less connected local or regional settings,
access by individuals and small groups can give them disproportionate
power. Cell phones are especially popular in countries that lack
a fixed infrastructure for land-line telephones; in 2002, the number
of mobile phones per capita internationally for the first time exceeded
the number of traditional telephones.16
Today's audience can select its sources of information from an astonishing
array of choices: blogs are today's revolutionary pamphlets, websites
are the new dailies, and list serves are today's broadsides.
Fourth, like its predecessor, today's cyber-mobilization
uses powerful images to project messages, even to those who cannot
read. There are countless examples. Al Qaeda's mobilization and
recruitment techniques are often mentioned: instead of engravings
of the storming of the Bastille, al Qaeda's catalytic images are
pictures of Osama bin Laden in a cave, attacks on Muslims in Chechnya
and Bosnia, Americans' torching of bodies in Afghanistan, and British
attacks on civilians in Iraq. In order to demonstrate ruthlessness
and gain followers, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has likewise posted images
of beheadings, the training of suicide bombers, live-action attacks
in Iraq, a monthly online magazine, and pictures of some 400 "martyrs."
Zarqawi's slick video, "All Religion Will Be for Allah,"
is available for downloading off the Internet and can even be shown
on a cell phone.17 DVDs and videos
downloaded on the web or simply passed from person to person and
carried across borders contain footage of brutal attacks and fiery
speeches. The low cost threshold affects not only the demand side
but also the supply side of cyber-mobilization. High-speed Internet
access is increasingly available, and inexpensive tools for producing
high-quality videos, with greater bandwidth, improved video compression,
and better video editing have resulted in much higher-quality films.
The outcome of such efforts is a potent mythology of an anti-Muslim
campaign and a romanticized image of global resistance to the West.
Despite the obvious differences in their aims,
the stories of sacrifice by soldiers of the levée en masse
are echoed in the statements of jihadists and suicide attackers.
For example, during the French Revolution there was a cult for the
Martyrs of Liberty, glorifying dead heroes such as Barra, a 12-year-old
boy who was killed when fighting in the republican army in the civil
war in Vendee.18 The killing of the
12-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammed al-Dura echoes today. Military
propaganda during the French Revolution emphasized the eagerness
of the soldier to die. Soldiers lent their blood "to cement
the edifice of sovereignty of the People," and those who died
achieved immortality: "The man who dies in service for his
fatherland falls [and] gets up. His irons are broken. He is free;
he is the King, he seizes heaven."19
Parallels with today's glorification of suicide attackers are obvious.
Personal narratives of injustice, struggle, and noble sacrifice
are among the most powerful vehicles for mobilization in any culture,
and today they are being actively disseminated over the web.
The effects of connectivity are not only broadening
access but also actually changing the meaning of knowledge, the
criteria for judging assertions, and the formulating of opinions.
As more and more people are tapping into the web, the dark side
of freedom of speech, indeed of freedom of thought, has emerged.
What is truly authoritative on the web? Whose ideas have legitimacy?
What is worth fighting for? As in the French Revolution, assumptions
about the answers to these questions, about who is qualified to
answer them and how, will have important effects.
When combined with increasing global economic
activity moving across porous borders, the vast information available
on the Internet, CDs, videotapes, audiotapes, and cell phones is
in most places minimally controlled and within reach even of those
who cannot read. The result is access by a much broader, less educated,
and more varied cross-section of the international population than
was touched by 20th-century means. The long-term implications could
be either a new era of enlightenment or a return to the dark ages.
Implications for War
In democratizing global communications, the
West's initial assumption was that the natural outcome would be
the spread of democratic concepts. And to some extent, that did
happen. The combination of cell phones and the Internet has facilitated
a variety of democratic movements, including the Rose Revolution
in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the sweeping of Philippine
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo into power, anti-globalization
protests by groups like Direct Action, and many other types of grass-roots
campaigns. Another powerful motivator in the post-Cold War years
was the conviction that democracies do not fight each other: with
the spread of connectivity would come increasing access to the ideals
of the liberal state, an undermining of authoritarian regimes, and
a natural reduction in war. Sadly, however, democratic means did
not guarantee democratic ends. Like the printing press, television,
or radio, these new tools were just as capable of advocating repression
and violence as democratic change. The new age of communications
has proven to be a double-edged sword.
Like the levée en masse, the evolving
character of communications today is altering the patterns of popular
mobilization, including both the means of participation and the
ends for which wars are fought. Most important, it is enabling the
recruiting, training, convincing, and motivating of individuals
who are driven to engage not primarily in the high-tech cyber-attacks
that many US policymakers are focused upon, but in old-fashioned
violence in the physical world. Today's mobilization may not be
producing masses of soldiers, sweeping across the European continent,
but it is effecting an underground uprising whose remarkable effects
are being played out on the battlefield every day.
The Internet is utterly intertwined with the
insurgency in Iraq, for example. Insurgent attacks are regularly
followed with postings of operational details, claims of responsibility,
and tips for tactical success. Those who use insurgent chat rooms
are often monitored by the hosts and, if they seem amenable to recruitment,
contacted via email.20 Insurgent sites
contain everything from practical information for traveling to Iraq
to morale boosters for those currently involved in the struggle.
Videos of killings by the "Baghdad Sniper" or "Juba,"
who is claimed to have killed 143 American soldiers and injured
54, are posted on the web.21 Cyber-mobilization
already has changed the character of war, making it much harder
for the United States to win in Iraq, and it has the potential to
culminate in further interstate war in the 21st century.
Just as the telephone, telegraph, and radio
eventually engendered countervailing technologies in code-breaking,
monitoring, intercepting, and wire-tapping, the United States is
gradually recognizing the strategic potential of these means and
just beginning to effectively react. Most of the United States'
efforts have been focused on counteracting their practical, logistical
effects, including terrorist fund-raising on the web, preventing
the use of the Internet for logistical coordination, intervening
in communications, and tracking statements and websites. These activities
are imperative, demanding intelligence collection, monitoring, disinformation,
and disruption, but they are embryonic and limited in their scope.
The intelligence community's relatively narrow remit cannot cover
the full implications of the physical and ideological mobilization
that is currently taking place. The parallels drawn here with the
levée en masse should give us pause.
The good news, however, is that this connectivity
can also provide the means to counter the use of these tools to
mobilize for radical causes, if the United States will consciously
engage in a wide-ranging counter-mobilization. Overall connectivity
is far higher in countries that represent more open, democratic
societies.22 This should be a tool
that greatly advantages the United States, one that Western military
organizations are adept at using themselves. But currently the security
implications of connectivity are too controversial to analyze seriously.
Americans are too busy worrying about the economic benefits of the
web and who is to control it, arguing about impositions on freedom
of speech and who is to determine them, willing to neglect the impact
of what appears on the web even as it translates into killing people
in the real world. The Internet is vital to US security, not only
because of its obvious centrality to the American economy, but also
because of its less-obvious role in animating our friends and enemies.
The state can reclaim the tools of popular mobilization, but only
if it will more seriously address the need to understand, react
to, and employ them.
The United States needs a counter-mobilization.
So-called information warfare and public diplomacy do not capture
the extent of this shift. Putting today's developments within their
historical context, the United States should get beyond its cultural
myopia and turn more attention to analyzing and influencing the
means and ends of popular mobilization. We must stop operating as
if this dimension of warfare did not exist, because we are bearing
the brunt of our unwillingness to confront it. Mobilization is a
crucial element, not just in producing numbers of soldiers but,
more important, in inspiring violence and crafting the account of
the struggle. The information revolution is not just changing the
way people fight, it is altering the way people think and what they
decide to fight for. In its naïve enthusiasm for the information
age, the West has lost control of the narrative, failing to effectively
monitor it or even to seriously consider its consequences.
In the late 20th century, communications connectivity
in the military enabled a movement toward coordinated conflict,
and the United States has assumed that this process will be further
refined in a linear direction toward synchronized, swarming attacks.
Instead, the evolution has been back toward the role of the individual
driven by a common inspiration who now has more information, more
motivation to attack, and more powerful conventional weapons with
which to do damage. The result is a change in relative advantage
at the individual level played out, for example, in the increasing
role of suicide attacks in warfare. In today's social and political
context, it is not enough to focus on military organizational and
doctrinal changes like networking and swarming. In the long run,
the "swarming" that really counts is the wide-scale mobilization
of the global public.
Will the United States recognize the significance
of connectivity and its implications for conflict? It is hard to
say. Much depends on the brilliance of our leadership. Today's Jomini
would be an advocate of swarming and netcentric warfare. Today's
Clausewitz would analyze the strategic implications for war of the
broader social, ideological, and political changes brought about
by cyber-mobilization. Successfully harnessing these elements is
the key to advantage in future war.
The author would like to thank John Collins,
Joseph Collins, Patrick Cronin, T. X. Hammes, Thomas Hippler, Alfred
Paddock, and Sarah Percy for assistance with this article. None
is responsible for its remaining flaws.
1. Stephen D. Krasner, "Westphalia
and all That," in Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions,
and Political Change, eds., Judith Goldstein and Robert Keohane
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1993), p. 247.
2. Thomas Hippler, "Citizenship
and Discipline: Popular Arming and Military Service in Revolutionary
France and Reform Prussia, 1789-1830," unpublished Ph.D. dissertation,
European University Institute, Florence, 2002. Forthcoming 2007
in English with Routledge Press and in French with Presses Universitaires
3. John Keegan, A History
of Warfare (New York: First Vintage Books, 1994), p. 233.
4. International Institute
for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2005-2006 (London: Routledge,
2005), p. 61.
5. Jeremy Black, Western
Warfare, 1775-1882 (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 2001), pp.
6. Peter Paret, "The
Genesis of On War," Introductory Essay to Carl von Clausewitz,
On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton,
N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1976), p. 9.
7. Martin van Creveld,
Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present (New York: The
Free Press, 1989), p. 113.
8. This is not to imply
that there were no draft dodgers or deserters. Desertion was a particular
problem in the late 1790s, when the troops produced as a result
of the 1793 levée en masse began to depart. See Alan Forrest,
Conscripts and Deserters: The Army and French Society during the
Revolution and Empire (Oxford, Eng.: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989).
9. Information about
the growth of the press during the French Revolution is drawn from
Robert Darnton and Daniel Roche, eds. Revolution in Print: The Press
in France, 1775-1800 (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1989).
10. Keegan, p. 234.
11. Hippler, p. 153.
12. Jeremy D. Popkin,
"Journals: The New Face of News," Chapter 8 of Darnton
and Roche, Revolution in Print, p. 147.
13. K. G. Coffman
and A. M. Odlyzko, "The Size and Growth Rate of the Internet,"
First Monday, AT&T Labs Research, 2 October 1998; http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue3_10/coffman/.
14. See World Internet
Usage Statistics, at http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats3.htm.
15. A. T. Kearney,
"Measuring Globalization: Economic Reversals, Forward Momentum,"
Foreign Policy, No. 141 (March/April 2004), pp. 54-69.
17. Susan B. Glasser
and Steve Coll, "The Web as Weapon: Zarqawi Intertwines Acts
on Ground in Iraq with Propaganda Campaign on the Internet,"
The Washington Post, 5 August 2005.
18. Hippler, p. 137.
19. Ibid., p. 138.
20. Jonathan Curiel,
"TERROR.COM: Iraq's Tech-savvy Insurgents are Finding Supporters
and Luring Suicide Bomber Recruits over the Internet," The
San Francisco Chronicle, 10 July 2005.
21. Eben Kaplan, "Terrorists
and the Internet," 2 March 2006, Council on Foreign Affairs,
Background Q&A, http://www.cfr.org/publication/10005/.
22. See "Measuring
Globalization," Foreign Policy, No. 148 (May/June 2005), pp.
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