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Ars Electronica 98, by Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf (eds.)

Gerfried Stocker and Christine Schöpf (eds.): Information.Macht.Krieg. Ars Electronica 98, Springer Verlag
Wien New York 1998, ISBN 3-211-83192-4

English Edition: Gerfried Stocker, Christine Schoepf (eds): Info War. Vienna: Springer [ISBN 3-211-83191-6

19.07.1999 · Reviewed by Christina Teuthorn

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Computer screens are the modern battle fields, future soldiers store deadly ammunition - knowledge, information, data - on the motherboard and launch deadly weapons with a mouse click. The arsenal ranges from computer viruses to worms, trojan horses, logic bombs or nano machines. Cyberwarriors, webterrorists, warbots, and Big Brother's eyes are Info War protagonists, whose language, Pentagonese, is hard to decipher: 21CLW, C3I, C4I2, OOTW.

When RAND strategists John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt wrote the first draft of what resembled sci-fi stuff in 1993, they couldn't know the speed of the ball they set rolling. They were the first to formulate, in an illustrated and entertaining but sometimes causality-lacking essay ("Cyberwar is coming!"), what would become a new doctrine of warfare, one that a few years later is discussed and modified in other terms like "Info War," "Electronic Warfare" or "Netwar."

Their classic essay heads the other 24 contributions of the Ars Electronica's Info War anthology. The essay's essence: tech-savvy 21st century belligerents will "conduct military operations according to information-related principles" in a cyberwar, which "means disrupting if not destroying information and communications systems." Highly developed countries are extremely sensitive in their entire infrastructure, organization, personnel, and components that collect, process, store, transmit, display, disseminate, and act on information.

The deterministic assumption that new information technologies will allow a new species of warriors to target modern industrialised nations at sensitive points is the common denominator of a third of the Ars Electronica authors. The main problem is that they take an old essay, that Arquilla and Ronfeldt themselves in the meantime have modified, as a basis for discussion, and so produce redundancy: they cite the same sources, get similar outcomes, and are mainly descriptive, not doubting the theoretical framework.

One of the interesting parts is when George Stein and Georg Schöfbänker's thorough description of how the Info War concept led the Pentagon to modify its current "AirLand battle" doctrine's command structure. The new structure C2W (Command and Control Warfare) has been expanded by a communication-C, an intelligence-I, a computer-C and an interoperability-I to finally reach its current form C4I2 (command, control, communication, computation, intelligence and interoperability). Other neologisms: the 21st century land warrior (21CLW) who in theory is a completely electronically equipped command central, or the OOTWs (operations other than war).

Besides the above mentioned critique Ars Electronica meets the challenge of a serious debate on Info War topics well. The anthology "Information. Macht. Krieg" presents the perspectives of experts in theory and practice, and from a wide array of cultures and nations. It also goes beyond western-dominated theoretical approaches and includes less known perspectives like the futurologist and member of Chinese National People's Congress Shen Weiguang's "Information Warfare - A New Challenge," or Chinese dissident Wei Jincheng's illustration of a "Volksinformationskrieg" (public information war). According to Weiguang, the new pattern of war will be fought in an invisible sphere, will be conducted without a fixed form and without any loss of blood. In six thesis he develops a detailed scenario of what such a new type of war could look like:

  • Intelligence will be the dominating pattern

  • Soft strikes are more important than hard ones

  • The public becomes involved (as targets and participants), and so the Information

  • War turns a Public Information War

  • War tactics shift from offense to defense

  • Accurate commitments are impossible

  • Info War resembles a conventional war: a country that owns the key weapon has a first strike capability

Jincheng stresses point three of Weiguang's argumentation, but he sees a chance in the new sort of publicness for the people in closed regimes.

Other bonbons: Douglas Rushkoff creates a non-military concept of an information arms race, where everyday life is so penetrated by media-produced infojunk that you have to take countermeasures against information overload. Online activists extrapolate from their practical experiences. Geert Lovink (nettime) gives strategies for techno-social movements, not how to better fight an Info War, but how to have more control over media channels; Patrice Riemens advises "Don't panic - hack it!" and describes his personal Info War for more privacy; and the hacker organisation RTMark declares that the existence of enemies in cyberspace is a product of cybercult-philosophy.

What makes the lecture less palatable: several essays, such as the one on Silvio Berlusconi's television manipulation or the one on financial markets and the Asia crisis, do not fit into the book's overall thematic concept.

In sum, "Information. Macht. Krieg" provides a good introduction to cyberwar and interesting insight into the theoretical concepts and images conjured up of enemies and threatening scenarios. Readers more familiar with the topic might have hoped for a more nuanced Info War critique, more bonbons, and less conventional wisdom.

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