ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy
The previous generations of war occured in physical space. We plot their course on maps, using lines and arrows. A 3GW “retreat” means movement away from geographic objectives.
Can we show the course of the Iraq War on a map? Not easily, as 4GW occurs in social space (aka human terrain). For example, we speak of the “moral high ground”. Also note the growing role of anthropologists (e.g. Kilcullen) and the social sciences (e.g., in FM 3-24) in counter-insurgency (COIN) theory and practice. Update: Ralph Peter’s article “The Human Terrain of Urban Operations” (Parameters, Spring 2000), esp. his challenge at the end, is a poorly-recognised milestone of 4GW analysis –reintroducing the social sciences to the art of 4GW.
In 4GW “retreat” means movement away from objectives expressed in people terms: building institutions, changing loyalties, motivating friends and de-motivating opponents. Traditionally these are strategic considerations — diplomatic maneuvers, the decisive factors in many wars. Our alliance with France made victory possible for the American Revolution. Gaining support in Britan led to the rapid collapse of Britain’s will to fight after Yorktown and their generous terms in the Treaty of Paris (1783). The Union inflamed Britain’s hatred of slavery to keep the UK out of the Civil War, a necessary ingredient for victory.
Once everyone enters a war, 3GW has little use for diplomacy. During WWII the State Department become a minor adjunct to the Department of War. In 4GW this relationship reverses, as military considerations — the use of force — become adjuncts (often quite minor) to social networking. Consider the late John Boyd’s (Colonel, USAF) description of Grand Strategy.
- Increase our solidarity, our internal cohesion.
- Weaken our opponents’ resolve and internal cohesion.
- Strengthen our allies’ relationships to us.
- Attract uncommitted States to our cause.
- End conflicts on favorable terms, without sowing the seeds for future conflicts.
In 4GW grand strategy becomes just strategy, and strategy becomes the daily routine for “Strategic Corporals.” Maneuver war has little or no role here.
In his new book If We Can Keep It Chet Richards asks if this is “war” in any meaningful sense. We use conventional military forces in Iraq — bombing , doing sweeps, training popular front militia — because “if all we have is a hammer, every problem is a nail” (more on this here). Significant developments, such as the “Anbar Awakening”, result from diplomacy — done by the military, since we wrecked our Foreign Services during the Cold War commie hunts.
From a larger perspective the Iraq War shows the limitations of the “four generations of war” schema, seeing 4GW as an evolution from 3GW. When the first fish climbed out of the water it became more than a “fish with legs.” Perhaps we have passed a historical discontinuity, obscured because we failed to adopt Martin van Creveld‘s view of this as “non-Trinitarian warfare.”
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