In the 21st century:

The networks and matrix of war

The creation of cyberspace was induced, directed and controlled by the Pentagon to maintain and expand the dominion of the hegemonic subject .

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Article published in ALAI’s magazine No. 544: Las redes de la guerra 14/10/2019

In essence, the Network Centric Warfare translates information superiority into combat power.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency


In 1993, Arquilla and Rondfeldt, two important thinking heads of the Pentagon, announced the constitution of a new type of war corresponding to what was implicitly recognized as a new domain.  The world thus received the announcement of a new epoch, which had clearly been in incubation for three decades: we had entered the cyber era.


The aesthetics of the world were transformed.  To the known domains (sea, land, subsoil and space) was added cyberspace, built materially and virtually with cables, intercommunicating machines, information, codes, protocols, algorithms and electromagnetic waves that permanently cross the atmospheric space, enabling the exchange of growing quantities of all kinds of information.


The earth’s atmosphere was colonized by its housing a space that was both virtual and material, called cyberspace.  A space where the immaterial is embodied through electronic mail, video streams, telephone calls or orders executed by automatons.


Its simultaneously material and immaterial character gave the web, that emerged in those years, the appearance of a mysterious matrix that was at the same time both intelligible and ungraspable, that was becoming more complex and sophisticated while it was introduced into all activities as an organic system capable of reaching the finest capillary vessels and the most delicate emotional impulses.


The creation of cyberspace was induced, directed and controlled by the Pentagon to maintain and expand the dominion of the hegemonic subject constituted by what Eisenhower called the military industrial complex.


In 2003 the U.S. Department of Defense coined the term ‘Network centric warfare’ to indicate the entry of cyberwar onto the global stage.  By then cyberspace had already reached all spheres of strategic density.


Cyberwar refers to conducting, and preparing to conduct, military operations according to information-related principles.  It means disrupting if not destroying the information and communications systems, broadly defined to include even military culture, on which an adversary relies in order to "know" itself: who it is, where it is, what it can do when, why it is fighting, which threats to counter first, etc.  (Arquilla and Rondfeldt, 1993: 30)


The scope of the matrix


The new communications system created for strategic military purposes was not only aimed at increasing asymmetry on the battlefield but also at generating conditions of technological superiority for capital, in this case, of US affiliation.  Thus, maintaining confidentiality, the technology began to find its applications in industry, under pressure from competition of Japan and the Asian tigers.


Since the Taylorist-Fordist revolution at the beginning of the twentieth century, when creative tasks of production were reduced to simple and routine movements that snatched know-how from the hands of the artisan and deposited it in the machine, no transformation of equivalent stature had occurred.  The knowledge related to the work process and its organization once again confronted the collective worker through its transformation into impulses.  Taylor's simple and routine movements appear, at the end of the century, as binary impulses: the knowledge of the work process translated into a simple reading of 0 and 1. Capital organizes the matrix of zeros and ones, just as it previously organized the matrix of routine movements.  The reconstruction and the knowledge of the process remains on the side of capital while the worker (or the participant in a point of the network) only has knowledge of its small part, of its zero or one, and perhaps that of its close circle.  This is part of the war within the space of production, but here it is called class relations.


In any case, this new system of communications and codification made it possible to divide the work process into geographically dismembered phases –in order to benefit from the specific conditions of each place–, safeguarding the necessary precision for the whole to fit together at the moment of the final assembly.  This gave rise to the emergence of the world automobile, pluri-national goods, the maquiladora industry, the evasive mobility of capital and globalization.  It is the network of production.


Simultaneously, the web was penetrating the space of reproduction.  As society is complex, the other track of civil Internet applications came from the need to resort to universities and specialists to polish the roughness and limited versatility of a technology emanating from the battlefield.  And beyond the universities, when the Pentagon rightly decided to open their free use –with centralized controls, of course– there was a massive contribution to the improvement and diversification of Internet applications.


Letting researchers use it to share their findings, while still supervising, allowed for detecting potentially enriching frontier spaces of science on the Internet.  Its massive use, on the other hand, contributed to making it softer and more friendly, at the same time that it took it to the most remote places and dilemmas of society, including those of the new forms of home-based work that connectivity allowed for.  However, in the opposite sense, this involvement generated alternatives for the use of the network and an uncontrolled expertise that turned the created space into a new field of dispute.  Hacking and piracy are as consubstantial to cyberspace as espionage, surveillance and control of the will.


The terrain of cyberwar


Approximately 3 billion people (42% of the world's population) live connected to the network of networks.  Competition and the acquisition of technological standards have led to a high degree of automation of productive and reproductive processes such that the neuralgic centres of the organisation of society are linked to the network and subject to its protocols.  The expansiveness of the web and the depth of its tentacles, as well as its verticality and transversal nature, make it the ideal medium to cover the entire spectrum of domination.  An attack on the network alters materiality and subjectivity, it crosses differences of class, culture and ethnic, racial and gender characteristics: "...internet is not a single entity [...] every day new networks are born in the global cluster of interconnected communication networks.” (Snowden, 2019: 17 – quote retranslated from Spanish).


Control, dominion and discipline, which constitute the focal purpose of wars, gave meaning until now to the deployment of military forces under different modalities and in varied terrains: marines disembarking on our shores or commandos intervening in our territories, espionage and Panopticons, psychological, ethnic or cultural warfare. Yet all of these are reinforced and enhanced in the twenty-first century by the development of computer technologies and expertise that are shaping the inescapable web today.  Simultaneously, new modalities of relationship and warfare have been emerging from the advent of this new space or, more precisely, a new dimension of social relations, power relations and dynamic flows of global reproduction, to the point where the territorial commands of the United States Joint Command added, in 2009, the USCybercom.


The brain-center of full spectrum warfare operates to a large extent in cyberspace, where all operational information is connected and crossed-checked "in real time" to ensure better results, with logistical or any other necessary data to ensure compliance with the objectives set.


Cyberspace, understood as critical or strategic infrastructure, is the field of vulnerability and the exercise of power; this is where the most risky asymmetries are played out since it is a space shared between contradictory forces.  The most ungraspable and dangerous enemies of the established order, of the hierarchies of power and of the alienating way of life circulate through the web and intervene in it, breaking its linearity and confirming cyberspace as a terrain of confrontation and dispute.  For this reason, together with the anonymous manufacturers of biological weapons, hackers are considered among the most dangerous enemies of the established order.


The events in Tallinn, Estonia, in April and May 2007, are identified as the first case of cyberwar, followed by those of Georgia in 2008.  A web intervention triggered the actions of Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) which affected webpages of the government, banks, media and political parties, causing the temporary suspension of the service (Kaiser, 2014: 11).


Intervention in cyberspace can come from anywhere but there are isolated, casual and even criminal disruptors (bank robbers, etc.); there are state-level organizations with geopolitical purposes and there are those that respond to deliberate and planned state policies that go far beyond cybersecurity or defense actions and are part of the offensive of domination and war.


Information as a multiple weapon


However, general levels of automation have made society totally dependent on "information".  Human capabilities have been enhanced and transcended by the system of machines operating under the indications of algorithms using considerable dynamic information centers that feed into their actions or even, in cases of high technology, the decision making of the system of machines.  If information is fed in that is wrong, unhelpful or contradictory, the system becomes confused or slows down and the general (or specific) dynamics lose efficiency and can lead to misinterpretations.  That is the critical point.  To be able to force open the locks of redundant protection, to alter algorithms (so that they divert bank deposits to a private account, or so that they break into and modify the protocols of a nuclear plant, for example), is to put the domain in question in a situation of vulnerability, which could even be catastrophic.  The same thing can occur between equivalent competitors or enemies in confrontation, as in the case of social hackers, if one can call them so.


Despite the risks that are always present, the splitting of networks into social, military, strategic, or corporate ones, etc., according to their fields and uses, these networks offer the best scaffolding for designing full spectrum warfare strategies.  Thus, simultaneous intervention in a critical infrastructure, in the financial circuit, in commercial networks and in the formation of meanings and the manipulation of public opinion form a substantial part of the new war matrix.  War on all terrains: simultaneous but with differentiated rhythms, enveloping, disconcerting and effective in hindering response.


Among the weapons of cyberwar, counter-information and the use of lies stand out, occupying the main media spaces but, above all, circulating through social networks with an intensity that practically prevents their refutation.  Commonly known as fourth generation war, this is only part of the scenario.  It covers up the facts and introduces rigged and provocative narratives that seek to generate or inhibit reactions among the population to ensure conditions conducive to direct or more definitive interventions.


Interventions or attacks on infrastructures (be they financial, electrical, transport and communication, supply, etc.), which provoke temporary chaos or paralysis of sectors with wide impact and which are often either hidden by the media or narrated by them through the consignation of meaning, make up the cybernetic version of bombardments.  It is the clean alternative for deteriorating the conditions of reproduction and general functioning with the intention of undermining a region, a country or a small locality, without mobilizing planes, missiles or bulky and costly equipment, and without assuming responsibilities before the world community.  Dirty work in a clean and cheap manner that alleviates the burden of war but is combined with all its other modalities.


From there, the next step is the attack on strategic points, where the computer operatives can take the forefront and even ward off the direct use of conventional attack forces.  The military, productive and political brain-center.  Attacks on major refineries or oil fields, where appropriate; on military intelligence centers; on nuclear power plants; on strategic weapons depots; on the head of government; on anything that can jeopardize the survival of the enemy in question.


A parallel cyberspace


Technological and operational superiority in cyberspace is a key tool of this war.  All military laboratories of production and technological innovation devote most of their material and human resources to the search for alternatives for intervention in cyberspace that will allow them to take control, at least, of the hacking devices.


The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is creating, among other things, a parallel, protected and exclusive cyberspace in which it can move its strategic information.  Once created and in operation, it is not known how long it will take computer experts of multiple origins to penetrate it and provoke a new race for predominance but, in the meantime, there would be a secure margin.


In any case, if the most innovative battlefield today involves cyberspace, it is essential to carefully study all its facets, potentialities and vulnerabilities.  Domination has new and powerful tools and society is being subjected to unprecedented authoritarian processes due to its depth and comprehensiveness.  Never has the prison panopticon studied by Foucault been more true-to-life, nor has the list of “abnormal” people to be watched been more extended.  On the other hand, authoritarianism cannot be explained without rebellion and there we have the Anonymous, the Assanges, the Snowdens and many other faceless actors trying to break down the walls and open the floodgates of the future.


I see that there is now a militarization of cyberspace, in the sense of a military occupation.  When you communicate over the internet, when you communicate using mobile phones, which are now meshed to the internet, your communications are being intercepted by military intelligence organizations. It’s like having a tank in your bedroom. It’s a soldier between you and your wife as you’re SMSing. We are all living under martial law as far as our communications are concerned, we just can’t see the tanks—but they are there. […] But the internet is our space

Julian Assange


- Ana Esther Ceceña is Coordinator of the Latin American Observatory of Geopolitics (OLAG) at the Economic Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico; President of the Latin American Information Agency (ALAI). Coordinator of the project Economy and War in the 21st Century, UNAM, PAPIIT IG300318.


(Translation: ALAI)


Sources quoted:


Assange, Julian 2019 Cypherpunks. Freedom and the Future of the Internet. Appelbaum, Jacob, Müller-Maguhm, Andy y Zimmermann, Jérémy, collaborators.


DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) 2003 Strategic plan, in <>, February.


Foucault, Michel 1992 (1977) La microfísica del poder (Madrid: La Piqueta).


Kaiser, Robert, 2015 “The birth of cyberwar” en Political Geography 46, pp. 11-20.


Snowden, Edward 2019 Vigilancia permanente (Planeta) e-book.

Publicado en Revista: Las redes de la guerra

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