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Peak oil warfare: community security strategy

In Identifying the Risks, I provided an analysis of the most likely threats a given post-Peak Oil community will face. While my conclusion was that the single greatest security threat can be characterized as crime, I would like to reiterate that there is finite -- if significantly smaller -- risk that a community might face the other scenarios outlined. These possibilities will be discussed briefly in this post and in more detail in the future.

Now that we have identified the primary security threats to our community, where do we begin defending against them? The answer, as most any military professional will tell you, is to define clear goals in an overarching security strategy.

When talking of security, we must first understand that security does not necessarily equate to military solutions. Community (or National) security includes many different aspects, the most significant of which are economics, diplomacy, information, and military power. I am reminded of the story of the blind men trying to describe an elephant: The first blind man feels the trunk and declares it a snake, the second feels the leg and declares it a tree, and the third feels the tail and declares it a rope. For our purposes, the story would go something like this: The first blind man, an economist, senses a nation’s poverty and declares it a financial problem. The blind statesman senses a dispassionate world and calls the problem a failure of international diplomacy. The blind scholar senses a nation’s misleading or absent exchange of knowledge and decries a problem of education and communication. The blind soldier senses the anarchy of militias and demands soldiers stamp out the problem of lawlessness. All are right about the example troubled nation’s security, yet all are wrong if they don’t understand the whole elephant: stability.

Stability is the aggregate measure of all aspects of security. We cannot hope to establish stability to a post-PO community by a military solution alone. This is the failure of authoritarian regimes throughout history and it is the source of current failures in the Middle East. Stability cannot be dictated.

A wise and sustainable Community Security Strategy (CSS) must encompass all aspects of a stable community. This means dividing appropriate attention and resources to not only martial solutions, but economic, informational, and yes, diplomatic aspects.

I’m sure several readers at this point are asking "But what of tactics, man? You lured us here with the title of Peak Oil Warfare!" To that, I ask for patience -- we will get to the specifics of how to provide physical security for your community, but I insist that it is critical to understand the context of military decisions before making them. To do otherwise would unquestionably doom your community to failure from unseen directions.

I propose the following key elements for a comprehensive CSS: Establish economic security, raise and maintain an appropriate security presence, conduct regional community outreach, and establish robust information systems.

Establish Economic Security

"Economic Security" in a Peak Oil context likely has a far different meaning than we currently understand it. Economics is the study of the intersection between psychology and resources, and we currently focus far too much attention on this description than on studying the resources themselves. Hence, our fall into a world of Peak Oil and global warming without having understood how our extraction (and abuse) of resources undermined the resource base itself. (Note: For an excellent analysis and opinion of the inherent flaws in the assumptions of modern economic theory, I point you to this article from Scientific American.)

In a post-Peak Oil context, economic security has a more obvious connection to resource security. This would include developing farming capabilities (food security), ensuring a clean water supply (water security), assisting families with developing sustainable post-PO homes (shelter security), as well as standing up specialized operations like blacksmithing, carpentry, medical care, and so forth.

Conduct Regional Community Outreach

A wealthy community with poor neighbors is not a strong community. The interdependence of neighboring communities has largely been ignored in modern times and will sharply regain prominence in the years ahead. Becoming insular will not serve to improve a community’s security, but rather put it at risk of retaliation due to the envy or ire of its neighbors. Remember that the wisest military leader is the one who engineers conditions such that a war need never be fought.

Diplomacy with your neighbors increases security by establishing a network of mutual aid in the event of attack, natural disaster, crop failure, or any other calamity that can befall a human. The benefits of reaching out and sharing with your neighbors most often result in exponential returns back to you.

Specific strategies could include: 1) Organize a regional council of community leaders to identify projects that would provide benefit to the entire region. Politics will always intrude on human affairs, so it is important to ensure your representative exhibits strong skill at navigating political minefields.

2) Establish a Community Reserve Corps to deploy to other communities for building up sustainable infrastructure. This may sound ludicrous for a community that is itself caught in the throes of a post-Peak Oil world, but it is not as ridiculous as you might think. The concept is to send rotating teams of sustainable designers, builders, farmers, doctors, and security professionals to spread what your community has learned to others that might have no such capability. The investment would very rapidly reap rewards by putting more heads on the problems involved with establishing sustainability, and -- most importantly -- improve the stability of the region surrounding your community. This concept will be discussed in more detail in the future on this site.

Establish Robust Information Systems

Essential reading for a Peak Oiler is The Postman by David Brin (or even the movie, with Kevin Costner) (also look here). The setting is a post-apocalyptic America with violent militias and fractured communities struggling to survive. The story (actually, the movie more clearly draws this point) beautifully illustrates how the seemingly simple act of communication can have a massive impact on human psychology and in turn lead to economic, diplomatic, and military capability developments, all of which add up to -- drumroll -- community security.

Information is the grease for the engine of a well-functioning society. Information -- and control of information -- is key to leveraging advantages for your communities against potential adversaries. This includes not only communication (internal and external) but gathering of intelligence. A community must have a clear understanding of what is going on inside and outside its borders and use that information to develop intelligent plans.

I would hazard a guess that most of us know fewer than ten of our immediate neighbors, and few details even of those ten. This will largely contribute to the death of some communities in the near future, but you can easily take steps to encourage communication in your own immediate area. Laying that tentative groundwork now will improve your community’s ability to weather ever increasing risks.

Raise and Maintain an Appropriate Physical Security Presence

Addressing economic, informational, and diplomatic issues will provide a solid foundation for a secure community, but in order to execute a security strategy there must be a physical security presence. We currently see such a presence in our communities every day in the form of police. Consider that even currently we live in an extremely stable society, which requires only a minimal security presence (police) to maintain civil order and prevent the friction of crime from significantly impacting the workings of the community. Unfortunately, a post-Peak Oil situation inevitably leads to a weakening in the three foundation areas of economics, information, and diplomacy, for which we must compensate by increased physical security.

The first item that must recognized for any community security strategy to succeed is that the current model of municipal police will not be enough to secure a community in an unstable post-Peak Oil environment. It is extremely unlikely that the police would recognize this on their own until it is too late to prevent harm to the community from increased security threats. However, please note that it is extremely important to separate military function from police functions -- blurring this line inevitably leads to authoritarianism, which is the last thing a struggling community needs. The training for municipal police versus military is starkly different in philosophy, and it would be best to establish and maintain two distinct corps of security personnel.

So how best to augment the police force? For a community, this can take many forms. As alluded to above, the security situation consists of both internal and external threats. Internal threats would include the typical array of crime with which we’re familiar: theft, domestic issues, fights, and other more violent crime. This should be dealt with by a corps of people whose training is focused on resolving disputes peacefully (the function of municipal police -- “peace officers”). External threats in a post-Peak Oil environment require a different approach, as preserving the community peace often means keeping interlopers out. This is likely the best function for employing the former military in your community, and training should focus on more military-style tactics.

I don’t mean to pretend that developing this capability will be easy, particularly due to potential conflicts with police authority, difficulties winning approval from the community, and the substantial risk of a para-military team being viewed as something far more sinister than a community protection force. Every community situation is different and will evolve differently. Some areas are perhaps already perfect (in a sense) for establishing a robust external security force, and yet other communities might view their position as so stable that the mere whispers of armed men augmenting the police might bring horror. That is why a clear and flexible strategy is necessary and must be very carefully tailored to the individual situation. If you plan on being a leader in the post-collapse world, it is your solemn duty to educate yourself on security policy, politics, and the very nature of your community in every detail. Then develop a plan to build long-term security.

Developing the Details

While it is difficult to generalize strategy, it is even more difficult to generalize tactics that would be effective for every contingency. The next topics in the Peak Oil Warfare series will focus on tactics that might be relevant for a post-Peak Oil world and how to build these capabilities. We will also flesh out timing strategies for implementing security plans -- it should be clear that you cannot implement security strategies overnight and that there is very little you can do while the world is relatively stable. Rather, you must be prepared to deliver well-thought out solutions for the future right at the moment of doom, when people will be eager and desperate for the needed approach.

Editorial Notes: Personally, I am very dubious about the prospect of industrialized countries breaking up into small communities as PeakEngineer or James Howard Kunstler foresee. Nonetheless, it's a fascinating what-if excercise. -BA

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