This series describes the various types of solutions to modern warfare, herein called fourth generation warfare (4GW). It sketches out a typology, showing the five types of writings about 4GW, their relationship to one another and their relative potential.
- Analysts – the foundation of the pyramid. All solutions rely on sound analysis.
- Visionaries -bold imaginations seek solutions to 4GW, outside of the confines of real-world constraints.
- Things, applying America’s trump cards — technology and logistics — to defeat 4GW opponents.
- Ideas, solutions based on new ways of thinking to defeat new modes of war.
- People, solutions based on new ways of leading people: selecting, training, organizing, and promoting them.
See Chapter I for a summary of this schema. Chapter II considers those works providing analysis of 4GW. 4GW analysts have drawn on a range of resources, including history, military theory, and the social sciences. Their work is foundational to the development of solutions, for nothing can be done except by luck without a deep understanding of factors such as…
- 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 most of those writing about 4GW combine analysis and recommendations, included in this group are those whose work focuses on more on description than prescription. Any simple categorization is somewhat arbitrary when applied to individuals.
- Some highlights of 4GW analysis to date
- The future of 4GW analysis
- Afterword and for more information
(1) Some highlights of 4GW analysis to date
There are too many brilliant works in this literature to adequately cover in a one post, but here are a few highlights.
(a) Most important of all, there are the insights of Martin van Creveld. To mention just two of his many contributions…
- The Decline of the State as the major theme of 21st century geopolitical dynamcis, providing the necessary conditions in which 4GW has evolved into the dominant form of war.
- Showing that successfully waging 4GW means using force either massively or lightly, as history suggests anything in between will fail.
(b) Building on van Creveld’s work, the term 4GW was coined in ‘The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation” by Lind, Schmitt, and Wilson (Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989), which describes how war has evolved during the modern era.
(c) Placing 4GW in a historical context and describing its characteristics: the Patterns of Conflict presentation by John Boyd (edited by Chet Richards and Chuck Spinney).
(d) Defining “The Human Terrain of Urban Operations” (Ralph Peters, Parameters, Spring 2000). This article, esp. his challenge at the end, was a milestone in the re-introduction of the social sciences to fighting 4GW.
(e) Defining the two types of 4GW’s: foreigners fighting local insurrections, and locals fighting locals. With this insight, we then see that the home court advantage is usually decisive in 4GW, as the locals tend to own two keys to victory: intelligence (knowledge of the human terrain), and legitimacy (it is easy to hate foreign occupiers). This solves the “how often do insurgents win” debate: local governments usually (not always) defeat local insurgents, foreign-dominated forces usually (not always) lose to local insurgents. Here is my original article about this.
(f) 4GW analysis derives much of its vigor to collaborative nature. For example, note the number of fine works discussing the extraordinary power of individuals in 4GW — from “super-empowered individuals” to “strategic corporals.” For two recent articles on the former see Zenpundit’s discussion of their nature and Adam Elkus’ Night of the Lone Wolves.
(2) The future of 4GW analysis
It is difficult to accurately describe a literature as large and diverse as that discussing 4GW. That being said, it seems to display some characteristics suggesting exhaustion or sterility. 4GW is a theoretical concept, only useful to the extent it generates insights for practitioners of statecraft, war, and intelligence. Otherwise it is either a hobby or an academic pursuit. The following tendencies seem to be appearing more frequently in discussions of 4GW.
(a) An over-emphasis on description and classification.
Theory always risks reification, treating analytically-useful abstractions as if they had a real existence. Some recent 4GW literature resembles van Creveld’s description of 17th century writings about military drill:
“Prescribing motions and evolutions in minute detail, these books soon proliferated into an enormous literature as professionals and amateurs tried their hand, the amateurs acting in conformity with the spirit of an age that regarded war as part of a gentleman’s education. Soon competition developed between the authors themselves, with the result that their brainwork is replete with evolutions which were often too complex for practical use, and sometimes completely imaginary.”
— Technology and War, chapter 6
(b) Increasingly divorced from the real world. 4GW analysis becomes fantasy unless integrated with grand strategy: national needs, strengths, and limitations. For example…
- Cost-benefit analysis appears only rarely. No nation can approach every conflict as an existential war, such as the Civil War or WWII, where survival requires spending whatever it takes – whether treasure or blood. Many have tried, and gone from super-power to minor-power (e.g., Spain).
- 4GW analysis too seldom provides a realistic appraisal of our capabilities. No organization — or society — does everything well. Every organization/society does some things poorly. Awareness of weakness is as — or more — important than of one’s strengths.
(c) Ignoring how we get from here to there.
Proposals without a path to implementation are fantasies. Them means some form of organizational or political analysis — contentious and complex, but unavoidable except when telling bedtime stories. This is jumping ahead to the discussion of solutions in the next chapter, but gets mentioned here as perhaps the primary weakness of the entire 4GW literature.
These things might result from 4GW analysis becoming over-collaborative, too congenial. The rapid development of the sciences results from the open clashing of views, often with fierce criticism between those of different views. The 4GW literature contains little of this. Of course little is not none. For example, see tdaxp.com. Please list in the comments other sites with vigorous debate about 4GW.
Next: Chapter III: solutions by visionaries. Unleash your imagination to determine how America must change its m.o. (modus operandi) for an era in which 4GW becomes the dominant form of war.
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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