ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy

Here and here I discussed our tactical retreat in Anbar Province of Iraq.  Dan Tdaxp raises an interesting and valuable question (here) about this:  what does “retreat” mean in 4GW?

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.”

Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

20 thoughts on “ABCDs for today: About Blitzkrieg, COIN, and Diplomacy”

  1. It seems to me that if we are to discuss 4GW in non-spatial terms, we nevertheless would need measurable, quantifiable units. For example, you may have 8 units of morality to my 5, but that would nevertheless be your tough luck because I have 10 F-22’s to your measly 4 F-15’s.
    Fabius Maximus replies: agreed. Our lack of language for these things shows how 4GW remains in an early stage of development.

  2. The quantifiable units are the numbers of citizens in the contested territory who fight for your side for free because they believe in and support your cause. “Units of morality” count because they help generate committed local support. F-22’s don’t because they don’t.

  3. We may need to adjust our definition of “the government” from the trinity. Since the end of the cold war we have seen many proto-governments come to the fore, Hamas and Hezbollah in the middle east are two of the best known examples. We may need to expand what we consider to be a government at least in practical terms for the average person. The fish that grew legs and left the sea while no longer a fish, was still an animal. The clan leader in al-Anbar cannot get his fighters to do anything unless they have some trust in his leadership, just as the central government must have the trust of its citizens for them to follow it into harms way.

  4. “The clan leader in al-Anbar cannot get his fighters to do anything unless they have some trust in his leadership, just as the central government must have the trust of its citizens for them to follow it into harms way.”

    Well said, furthermore, remember this is cause driven. The best way to defete a cause, (I know I’ve lived it) is to mitigate or usurpe the underlieing greivance. There you walk a fine line between brilliant compromise and capitulation. It takes real inspired leadership to win, but it can be done. MaXimillian

  5. The quantifiable units are the numbers of citizens in the contested territory who fight for your side for free because they believe in and support your cause.

    OK. You have 25 guys on your side; but they are all sinners. I only have 5, but every one a saint. Who wins?

  6. dckinder: Almost no one considers themselves to be sinners – no one goes into battle thinking that god is on the other person’s side. If the dichotomy is between leaders and sheep/victems, you have a point.

  7. One approach to qualitative strategy is to use biological models, and restrict the use of mathematics to that subset of mathematics that is applicable to organic situations. The kurdish, sunni, and shia sections of iraq seem to be independent and the only really important organisms at this point, essentially unrelated to the artificial central government which we have on life support, and a tiny temporary al-qaeda infection that will either leave when we do or be exterminated by the locals when we leave. We of course are a fourth and important animal, but not indigenous, and not self-supporting, our resources come from afar at great cost. This configuration is inherently unstable; we cannot stay forever, the three animals that belong there will not reconcile. When we leave, unless other residents of nearby jungles intervene, the three animals will settle matters among themselves according to the law of the tooth and claw. However if my read of the Cheney Plan is correct, and somewhere the numbers have been run about Peak Oil and recession, we are not leaving, because eventually the operation will pay off, producing vital resources worth more than those we are currently squandering. That will emerge after the election if there is one; a Republican will stay forever, a Democrat might leave unless something heretofore unknown is revealed to them next January. In the meantime, given the nature of the current administration and their successful delusion of the media and citizenry into indifference, nothing will happen in Iraq, other than more of the same by the zookeepers… feeding, whipping, enforcement of caging protocols.

    I think;-).

  8. Is it possible to quantify the abuses of statist power?

    E.g. in French statists in Algeria, Spanish statists in Morocco, and American statists in Vietnam all ended up committing more breaches of rules of engagement than they had imagined possible at the outset. This was a degradation in public relations for the states in question, but it seems to have been accompanied by cognitive degradation of the soldiers who broke from rules of engagement.

    Veterans who return with PTSD and warn their countrymen not to trust armies and governments are also a form of proto-government; they inspire anti-statist moralism.

  9. Interesting that the blitz loses the traditional overwhelming power, and seems to be a self defeating practice in any asymmetrical deployment. A blitz flushes you out of your own positions as you rush towards the perceived centers of power. How nice to have the capitals and junctions, while ‘they’ have your inventory.

    Could you say that 4gw only exists as long as both sides don’t play gijoe? One side elects to struggle while the other wants to ‘WAR’? Seems to describe the requisite situation.

  10. “since we wrecked our Foreign Services during the Cold War commie hunts”

    1) Do you have evidence for this explanation especially in contrast to, say, the Church committee and “baddie” hunts?
    2) Why the use of the diminutive? Does it indicate that your statement should not be taken seriously, that you rhetorically deny Communists manhood (or womanhood?), or something else.
    Fabius Maximus replies:
    1. It’s just a commonplace observation. With Bundy in 1961, the Natl Security Advisor is often as or even more prominent than the Sec State. Insider accounts since consist of comlaints about the slow speed and low quality of State’s work, and increasing reliance on the parallel NSC apparatus.
    2. I do not consider “commie” a diminutive form of “communist.”

  11. Is any of the work of Lewis Fry Richardson relevant to these discussions? (He’s one of my heroes, a Quaker and pacifist, ambulance driver in WWI who hated war so much that he spent a lifetime studying it)
    Fabius Maximus replies: I doubt if most of us know who he is. Please explain the relevance!

  12. Fabius, regarding you’re replies

    1. I take it I should read “it’s just a commponplace observation” as meaning you have no evidence, nor any desire to collect it?

    2. -ie is an English diminutive suffix, similar to the Latin -ulus or the Spanish -ito. Alternatively, if you are deriving commie a different way, what way is it, and why?
    Fabius Maximus replies:
    1. Quite right.
    2. “Commie” has been a commonplace term in the American language for several generations. Whatever the derivation, it does not convey “smallness of the object named, encapsulation, intimacy, or endearment.” I suspect we — you, I, everyone reading this — all know the meaning of “commie.”

  13. Other epochs have defined “warfare” quite broadly. For example, one of the leading texts of the Renaissance was by Lorenzo Scupoli. The Jesuit Order was founded upon military lines.

    From this, we have a continuum that also takes us to Jesuits hidden in Elizabethan English country house cubbyholes, the Gunpowder Plot, the early Baroque style, and the Thirty Years War.

    For those of you who want to avoid / denounce the theological implications of this, note that interpretations of “jihad” appear to resemble “Spiritual Combat”; that this combat may very well be a rehash of Manicheanism; that Plato, who in both the Gorgias and the Republic considers “might is right,” in his Phaedrus depicts a type of spiritual combat; and that the “commies” with their dialectic also believe something like this. (Sorry Fabius, but I had to work the “commies” in somehow.).

  14. A typo above: Lorenzo Scupoli’s book, Spiritual Combat, is a Roman Catholic classic. Written in the Renaissance, Eastern Orthodox monks also embraced it, and, in the eastern tradition, modified it extensively. The blurb for the Eastern version states:

    This spiritual classic was written by Lorenzo Scupoli, a sixteenth-century Venetian priest. Immensely popular in its own day, it was ranked by Francis de Sales with the Imitation of Christ. In the general rapport between Western and Eastern Christendom, it reached Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, who first recognized its immense spiritual worth, and later, in the nineteenth century, Theophan the Recluse, both of whom edited and translated the work.

    Rich in its references to the teachings of the saints and Fathers, Unseen Warfare combines the insights of West and East on that spiritual combat which is the road to perfection and the stripping away of all that militates against it. Staretz Theophan wrote in his foreword, “the arena, the field of battle, the site where the fight actually takes place is our own heart and all our inner man. The time of battle is our whole life.”

  15. I think the broader conceptual space Fabius is working in, namely that old frameworks are dying but we haven’t yet learned the new ones, is sort of the missing story under all of this. Yes it matters that we’re stuck fighting a war we can’t quite define, but it matters much more how badly desynchronized our institutions have become.

    Permit the luxury of borrowing liberally from Alvin Toffler: as we move forward in history, the scales are changing at dramatically different paces. Communication is instantaneous, mass effects are instantaneous, and so on. To borrow too much jargon, we are moving into the noosphere, almost beyond the information society.

    Yet institutionally, we are stuck in the Industrial Age, with large immovable bureaucracies using large immovable groups to perform large tasks. But the world isn’t large, at least in terms of conflict — the post-Cold War era has been defined by micro-conflicts. Nearly 20 years on, we see nothing but small wars, yet not a single institution of the government (hell, or of society) has changed to keep pace.

    These are half-formed thoughts. But it seems, given the otherwise philosophical bent of this site, that to discuss things only in terms of 4GW is limiting. The real, underlying process is much bigger, and much more dire.
    Fabius Maximus replies: A brilliant insight, as usual.

  16. Lewis Fry Richardson: Easily accessible papers are in “The World of Mathematics” (J. Newman, ed, still in print I think) but a popular summary of a small fraction of his ideas is in Carl Sagan’s Cosmos (Random House, 1980). Paraphrasing Sagan’s summary, Richardson started by defining a “deadly quarrel” as one resulting in the death of one or more people. He collected data on a large number of murders, gang killings, mob violence, and wars of increasing size and decided to classify them by defining M as the log of the number people killed (around 1000, M=3; around 1 million, M=6, for a single murder M=0). He then looked at his data. The higher M, the fewer deadly quarrels of that magnitude. Extapolate downward to M=0 and you have a pretty good measure of the murder rate.

    Looking at his data for wars of M=4, and plotting the number of wars breaking out in a given year for the period 1820-1929, he found excellent agreement with a Poisson distribution for 110 wars in 110 years. Deadly quarrels of smaller and larger sizes over different time periods also fit the Poisson distribution.

    His conclusions: from murder to war there is a continuum of violence. The outbreak of wars of a given size is a random process similar to radioactive decay– you can’t tell when a given unstable atom will decay, but given a large enough sample and an empirically measured half-life, the number of decays for a sample of known size can be predicted.

    There’s a lot more there, but that’s a start. Implications for 4GW– not qualified to decide, but agree and disagree with Joshua Faust at the same time. Things are changing beyond recognition, but, sadly, the nature of the human species toward violence has not.

  17. Pete, but he also noted that different societies and beliefs did have an impact (he used the example of Confuciusian China), with some (e.g. European) having very high levels of State based violence and others high levels of personal and inter-societal violence. A glimpse at the violent crime statistics around the world show astonishing differences, even between nations that are quite comparible (by wealth, culture, etc).

    Change is also a factor, we are all to aware of collapsing societies where violence climbs dramatically (e.g Iraq), but there are also downturns. For example, the EU has to stand out as an unqualified success. A continent that had always been at war for centuries now enjoys the longest period of peace it probably has ever has had.

    We need more research into how societies (getting away from the State concept with all the conceptual traps that entails):
    (1) Can contuinue to function effectively, ie not collapse.
    (2) How to re-build (restart?) societies that have collapsed in the recent past.
    (3) How to build societies from the ground up where there has never been any effective functioning.

    Bit too much focus on destroying and not nearly enough on research into (re) building.

    Ones to watch for, from an academic point of view on the elements of success and failure:
    – Iraq, after the US leaves, how does it re-build. Will it ever get back to the reasonably healthy and peacefull multi-cultural mix it had before the invasion?
    – East Timor. This never had been a nation (as we know it) and is trying to build itself up from nothing with a totally poverty stricken, traumatised people.

  18. All great posts. The process can work in reverse — with internal violence levels climbing steadily from low levels. And not just in war-torn or third world nations. Look at the UK. There are some indications this might also be happening elsewhere in western europe.

  19. Oldskeptic, you’re right, and I wish Richardson were still around to discuss these points with us. He never claimed to have all the answers, nor do I. If I’ve read him correctly, he was saying that H. sapiens has an innate level of violence and that society has a role in determining whether this violence shows up as suicide, murder, mass murder, or organized killings with the encouragement of the State.
    Richardson collected data on wars and eventually used his database to study questions like:
    1) Do two countries speaking the same language have a higher or lower probability of going to war that two countries speaking different languages?
    2) Same question, but effect of different religions.
    I can’t resist quoting his biographer’s description of what Richardson did (all by hand, this was before computers and computer graphics!):
    “To overcome the complexities of the real world, Richardson considered an idealized geography in which the world’s population is divided into hexagonal cells of a million people, each speaking the same language. From this model he calculatede a probability that ‘a pair of belligerent cells, selected at random, would have the same mother tongue on two different assumptions: (a) that wars could occur only between adjacent cells (b) that wars could occur between two cells anywhere in the world. The resulting estimates were compared with the number of wars that had actually occurred between various language groups.'”
    Conclusions: (remember his database was 1500-1931)
    1) There were fewer wars in which both sides spoke Chinese than would have been expected from the population speaking Chinese
    2) There were more wars in which the opposing sides both spoke Spanish than would have been expected from the number of Spanish speakers in the world.
    3) Adherents of Chinese religions were involved in less wars than expected
    4) There were more wars between Christians and Moslems than would be expected from their populations.
    5)”There was also a strong suggestion, not however fully substantiated by the statistics, that Christianity incited wars between its adherents while Islam prevented wars between its adherents.”
    East Timor. Mixture of Christians and Muslims. Mixture of languages. Very poor. I would bet that Richardson would have expected war very likely there.
    As for Richardson’s point 5, I suspect (but don’t have his database in front of me) that his database, despite his best efforts to be complete, under-estimated the number and severity of religious wars between Shia and Shi’ites, and other branches of Islam.

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