Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics
One of the baleful influences on the 4GW analysis is the science of Psychohistory developed by Hari Seldon, capable of accurately predicting history (as described in the Foundation novels of Isaac Asimov). Social science “laws” in the real world are just heuristics, generalities not to be confused with the Laws of Thermodynamics. This is especially true in military theory. For example, Clausewitz’s On War opens with some general rules (e.g., the relationship between offense and defense), which he then elaborates with great detail but no certainty (having experience at war, he knew the limits of military theory).
This is important, as progress in understanding 4GW requires distilling out more of these general relationships from the mass of 20th century history. For example, in January 2007 I postulated that insurgencies come in two flavors, depending on the role of foreigners. Chet Richards refined this differentialtion of insurgency types into …
(1) Classical insurgency: a revolution, in other words, in which a sizable fraction of the population opposes what they consider to be an illegitimate or oppressive government, as the American colonies did in 1776-1781. The goal of the insurgent groups may be either to take control of the central government or to achieve independence for a portion of the population.
(2) War of national liberation: in which a sizable fraction of the people in a country throws out an occupying foreign power, as Vietnam did to us in 1965-1975.
— From the Introduction to If We Can Keep It (IWCKI)
This has been criticised as dividing insurgencies into rigid categories — black and white, not accounting for the shades of grey found in all human experiences. That is both true and a good thing. All rules of thumb are arbitrary, in some sense, but useful for practitioners who know their limitations. Even the exceptions to this “rule” about insurgencies, and I believe they are quite few, tell us something new. For example, the Malayan Emergency shows the importance of having a legitimate local government to do the heavy lifting (even though the COIN literature tend to follow the Brits’ view, considering it “their” win — not that of the locals).
The value of these kinds of insights was well expressed by a post at Opposed Systems Design (4 March 2008):
A deeper understanding of these dynamics deserves an organized research program. The first concept — an artificially binary distinction between “foreign COIN” and “native COIN” – has served its purpose by highlighting the need for further work on the subject.
One reason for our difficulty grappling with 4GW is the lack of organized study. We could learn much from a matrix of all insurgencies over along period (e.g., since 1900), described in a standardized fashion, analyzed for trends. This has been done by several analysts on the equivalent of “scratch pads” (see IWCKI for details), but not with by a properly funded multi-disciplinary team (esp. to borrow or build computer models).
We are spending trillions to fight a long war without marshaling or analyzing the available data. Hundreds of billions for the F-22, but only pennies for historical research. It is a very expensive way to wage war.
Update: additional thoughts
Here are two additional thoughts on this matter, stimulated by the excellent posts listed in the next section.
The lack of good research is a feature, not a bug, of our current system. The necessary research involves working against the needs of our DoD apparatus, and there is neither internal DOD nor outside institutional support for this kind of revolutionary work (revolutionary in an institutional sense). This is unlike the “glory days” of RAND, where the USAF was certain to benefit from the funding of RAND’s work.
A second problem is that people wants to do analysis — not collect data. What we have now are skilled individual craftsman doing fine work, but with scraps as raw material. Large-scale research requires long-term institutional support. Only then will have a strong basis for analysis.
In other words, I disagree with this post from Kent’s Imperative. It is factually correct of course, but not research of the type or the scale we need.
While not every shop which concerns itself with the problems of contemporary asymmetric conflict looks up from the current fight, there are a number of efforts which have attempted to answer the question of “what next” alongside the other work exploring the “what” and “so what” which tends to dominate current publications.
Articles about this topic
- “Can Our National Security Bureaucracy Remain Relevant?”, posted by John Robb at Global Guerrillas, 7 March 2008
- “Two Quite Reasonable Observations“, posted at Zenpundit, 8 March 2008
- “A 21st-century Golden Age“, posted at Opposed System Design, 8 March 2008
- “Vision and error“, posted at Kent’s Imperative, 8 March 2008
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Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.
Posts on the FM website about solutions to 4GW:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Why We Lose at 4GW – the two types of 4GW
- 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 – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
- Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics