This series describes the various types of solutions to modern warfare, herein called fourth generation warfare (4GW). It will attempt to show their relationship to one another and their relative potential. 4GW appears to be the dominant form of warfare in the 21st century, so mastery of it might prove necessary for America’s prosperity or even survival. This is a topology, a wide perspective view of writings about 4GW. Future chapters will examine these divisions in more detail.
The layers of 4GW theory
- Analysts — foundation of the pyramid
- Visionaries — building on the analysts work
- Hardware — solutions of the first kind
- Ideas — solutions of the second kind, new ways of thinking to defeat new modes of war
- People — solutions of the thrid kind, moving from ideas into practice
(1) Analysts — foundation of the pyramid
This first class of work provides analysis, drawing on a diverse range of resources including history, military theory, and the social sciences. This is foundational to the development of solutions, for nothing can be done except by luck without a deep understanding of…
- our situation (strengths, weaknesses, goals, etc),
- the other players on the world stage (both state and non-state actors),
- and the almost infinite range of scenarios possible in the near and far future.
Since everyone working with 4GW does some combination of analysis and recommendations, I include in this group those whose work focuses on more on description than prescription. Applied to individuals, any simple categorization is somewhat arbitrary.
Readers of journals in this field — such as DNI, Parameters, or the Marine Corps Gazette — will see that this category of work is by far the largest both in volume and number of writers. It includes, just to name a few, Martin van Creveld, David Kilcullen, Chet Richards, and John Robb.
(2) Visionaries — building on the analysts work
A second foundational group are those proposing radical ideas for the conduct of warfare (beyond anything we can do today) or even visions of new geopolitical regimes. This group plays several essential roles. Their creativity provides new directions to more conventional experts. Their imaginations provide vigor and energy to stimulate others to write about 4GW or even take action. Their writings appeal to both the public and decision-makers in a way that few analysts can equal, communicating the nature of modern war to a large audience.
Thomas Barnett dominates the visionary niche in the 4gW universe. His books illustrate the power of a visionary to shape the discussion of geopolitics. The Iraq War shows the danger of putting visions to the test prematurely — before the necessary institutional apparatus has been created, and sufficient analytic work been done to bridge the gap between innovation and execution.
Moving on to solutions, we need an simple and powerful classification scheme.
People, Ideas, and Hardware. “In that order!” the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences.
(3) Hardware — solutions of the first kind
Technology was our edge, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) our dream team. Or so it seemed until the middle of the Iraq War. High-tech precision bombing. A host of devices to defeat IED’s. Even instant knowledge in the form of a “ruggedized” laptop computer, loaded with data from social-science research conducted in Iraq.
Somewhere along the way this faith faded, remaining strong only among a few true believers — such as at the Pentagon and Popular Mechanics (note recent articles on the Boeing Laser Avenger and Armed Robots). The hot dot moved to…
(4) Ideas — solutions of the second kind, new ways of thinking to defeat new modes of war
This phase began with the rise of figures, such as David Kilcullen and General Petraeus. Another indication: the sale in large numbers of books describing new ways to fight wars, like those by Col Thomas X. Hammes (USMC, retired) and Col Douglas MacGregor (USA, retired), and Lt Col John A. Nagl (USA). Many other innovators have produced work of interest, including William Lind and LTC Greg Wilcox (USA, retired). The public interest in these ideas is so great that the new Counterinsurgency Field Manual (FM 3-24) was published as a mass-market book.
How many of these new ideas have been put into practice? The history of FM 3-24 illustrates the difficulty of changing well-established practices. Despite its powerful backers, with General Petraeus as our commander in Iraq, the impact of FM 3-24 remains unclear. The new COIN doctrine emphasizes efforts to increase the legitimacy of the government we support and precise applications of force. Our Iraq operations during 2007 have diminished the national government (building bases without their approval, conducting operations they oppose, and arming their opponents) — plus a 4x increase in bombing. Not exactly following the book.
The sad reality: most of the work described above is of theoretical interest only, as it lacks a realistic pathway for implementation. Our difficulty lies not in imagining new ideas, but in implementing them. How do we evolve our massive and famously impervious to reform military apparatus to become a Department of Defense suited for a new century?
(5) People — solutions of the third kind, moving from ideas into practice
The key is organizational change. A focus on technology and ideas ignores the structural basis of present institutional behavior, giving too little attention to the methods which drive reform — and the countervailing forces which must be overcome. Military organizations are conservative, for good reason. Change is difficult to do and its results uncertain. The cost of failure is high.
One of the few works to grapple with these issues is Challenging Transformation’s Clichés by Autulio J. Echevarria II, Strategic Studies Institute, December 2006 — Excerpt:
The first cliché is that military transformation is about changing to be better prepared for the future, as if we could somehow separate the future from our current agendas, and as if we had only one future for which to prepare. In fact, transformation is more about the present than the future.
More importantly, grasping new ideas is hardly the most difficult part of any transformation. The ideas behind Gustavus Adolphus’ reform of the Swedish military during the 17th century — which included mobile artillery and greater use of musketry — were not hard to grasp. Likewise, Napoleon’s tactical and operational innovations — which involved combining mass and firepower with self-sufficient army organizations called corps — were not difficult to understand. Nor were the concepts implemented by the German military — which stressed speed of movement and decentralized decision-making — difficult to comprehend.
In fact, the truly hard part about change is managing the change. That requires backing up vague visions and lofty goals with concrete programs that can provide meaningful resources for new roles and functions, and offering incentives or compensation packages capable of appeasing institutional interests, especially the specific interests of those groups or communities most threatened by change.
Heading the list of “people” solutions we have Donald Vandergriff. He identified a powerful point of leverage to change the Army: its personnel system. For example, the Army’s individual replacement system affects not just soldiers, down to the newest recruit, but the quality of units — especially cohesion . Even more critical is the process by which a service recruits, trains, and promotes its officers. Change this and the effects ripple outward through the entire organization over time, as the nature and behavior of its leaders evolve. The Army is making changes in both these areas, responding to the ideas of Vandergriff and others. This success means that Vandergriff is on the cutting edge of America’s 4GW sword.
There must be others in this category! Please tell us about them in the comments.
- Beyond the scope of this post are the hundreds of professionals who have proposed incremental improvements in our capabilities, often valuable and inovative.<
- We can see the big picture only through a loss of detail, as an exercise in abstraction. To characterize protean writers with one work — van Creveld as a historian, or John Robb as an analyst — tells us little about their work. The map is not the territory, the name is not the actual object.
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Post in the series “Solutions to 4GW”:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind