Digging the grave II

It's been more than three years since I wrote Digging the grave, about my concerns that the efforts to control foreign populations in small wars could prepare our Western states for the control of their domestic citizens.

Many techniques, laws and tools of the so-called "Global war on terror" could be mis-used for the suppression of domestic opposition. There are even first signs that this is happening.

* remote-controlled public cameras including face-recognition software which -once mature- allows a government to run such surveillance with very few loyal personnel
* databases on behaviour of citizens
* terror suspect databases full of innocents, yet incapable of stopping terrorists from boarding aircraft
* surveillance of anti-war groups as if they were potential terrorists
* empowerment of the police to stop and search people (and thus harass them)
* counter-insurgency tactics
* domestic espionage
* laws which permit the long arrest of suspects without proper procedure
* treatment of air passengers like criminals with scanners, cameras and even fingerprint sensors
* attempts of politicians (like Schäuble) to empower the military domestically
* establishment of a fourth category of people in addition to not guilty, guilty and suspect; "Gefährder" ('dangerous people'). This serves the purpose of disenfranchising them and to make their harassment more acceptable to the public.

On this background I found several users in the Small Wars Council forum (mother lode of COIN thought) who saw no problem at all in considering domestic policy as COIN.

They stepped over the Rubicon, imported COIN -a technique for suppressing violent popular resistance to a government- from small wars into domestic policy thinking in the West.
I am 100% opposed to this because the thought alone is more dangerous to us than all terrorists of the world combined. It's the crossing of the Rubicon, the import of military might application against popular resistance from a distant war into our homeland. The mere thought is a greater offence against our freedom, liberty and democracy than all those idiots with bombs could ever be.

Our state, our politicians, our population must not think of policy as the suppression or even only prevention of violent resistance. That's a by-product of good policy. Policy, the state are meant to serve the citizens and to protect them. The state itself has no interests - the people have. The state does not deserve to be protected against violent uprisings - the state must only protect freedom, liberty and democracy for the advantage of the society as a whole.

Thinking of a state which controls its citizens, which suppresses their resistance is thinking about authoritarianism. It's thinking about an end to our democracy.

We need to absorb and repeal the stupid domestic "anti-terror" legislation some time, and we need to guard against an import of COIN thought into our homeland.

Our state must not keep the citizens in check - it must serve them.

Every attempt to import COIN thinking into the domestic arena needs to face resolute and overwhelming opposition in order to keep it far, far away from what's deemed acceptable behaviour.

Sven Ortmann


  1. Perhaps this should suggest to you the essential unwisdom of giving these powers to any government for any purpose. The first rule of politics is, any power that can be misused, WILL be misused.

    In many ways, the steps to execute the GWOT are so much more deleterious than the terrorism itself, that it might be wiser to shrug and accept a certain amount of mayhem and disruption as part of the price of modern life, similar to (but much less damaging than) the annual harvest of dead and maimed laid on the altars of the great god Automobile.

  2. This is also the mark of a politic situation where no progress can be offered, or tolerated. In a zero-sum economic situation, what the one side gains, the other loses.

    The problem I see with this is that, over generations, it produces a fossilized society, in all aspects, that can be defeated by societies, armies or people who dared to be different. I believe this is the great element of the wars of the French Revolution / Napoleonic era.

  3. Oh yesss! Especially in the U.S. And soon in Europe I'm afraid, as everything U.S. comes to Europe eventually.

    Look at the size of some of the police forces. Isn't the NYPD the fifth or something largest infantry army in the world?

    And the anglo-saxon tradition of tribalism, merged with classification of people is the receipe for tyranny. The "national security state" and the current U.S. flirt with fascism is less than pleasant.

    Add to the mix the usual leftist social engineering, with large portions of people depending on government handouts - thus being susceptible to blackmail and demands by their - and nasty things aren't too far off.

    Imperial Rome revisited. Die ganze Balance zwischen Staat - Gesellschaft - Individuum ist aus dem Ruder gelaufen.

  4. I'm a bit torn on this issue. I certainly agree with your concerns that an attempt to transfer COIN doctrine to a domestic law enforcement context without significant alterations which take into account our numerous freedoms risks flirting with authoritarianism.

    However, I also believe that there are some very specific areas that would benefit from the application of COIN principles (even if specific military practices aren't appropriate). As an example I'd point to urban areas that have become economic and social wastelands where a significant portion of the population is socially excluded from the larger social environment and have no confidence in the existing political system.

    The most common response in the U.S. over the decades has been a heavy handed suppression approach where law enforcement has essentially tried to arrest its way to peace. While that approach has met with little in the way of success it continues to be popular and some people most definitely trying to use COIN as a way to improve that failed strategy.

    So, I'd argue that while all of the techniques you mention should be opposed in our nations as unacceptable infringements on our liberty I see no inherent conflict with some of the central tenets of COIN (in its focus on causes of conflict, reliance on a full spectrum of countermeasures, developing legitimacy and seeing the population as the key to success) and goals that we should have domestically.

    In that regard, I'd also say that new policing tactics like 'Intelligence Led Policing' are essentially 'civilianized' versions of COIN.

    I think the real concern is not an adoption of COIN doctrine so much as a fetishistic obsession for military hardware and appearances by domestic politicians and security forces.

  5. Yes, I agree 100%! This trend may have in fact started with george bush, who was unable to offer the people any real progress, so he used 9/11 as a prop to fear monger the public and get them to sell away their freedom for a little extra security.
    His succesors (as well as leaders in other countrys) have realised the benefits of this strategy, and expanded on it.
    Only question is, what do we do to stop it?