A solution to 4GW – the introduction

We now have an adequate basis upon which to develop a solution for 4GW (at least, a “Mark I” version).  Three recent books provide the last missing pieces of this puzzle:

None of these are long (IWCKI is only 152 pages) or inaccessible to the general reader, as they are clearly conceived and well-written.  These works build on the foundation of many other books and articles since the study of 4GW began (using an arbitrarily point) with publication of Into the Fourth Generation by William Lind et al (1989), and Martin van Creveld’s Transformation of War (1991) and The Rise and Decline of the State (1999).

We must define the problem before attempting to describe a solution.  Thomas Kuhn described a paradigm as shared body of knowledge, definitions, and assumptions, allowing communication among workers in a specific field, and focusing their research on agreed-upon key questions.  Modern war lacks a consensus on these things; hence the debate frequently devolves into cacophony.  Even the “community” talking about 4GW lacks a tight paradigm, and the discussion seems to be fragmenting with the multiplication of war’s generations (5th gen, 6th gen) and criticisms — often quite valid — of 4GW as (in my words) a hall of mirrors.   (See this post on DNI for more on the definition of 4GW)

This might result from the conceptual basis of 4GW having been ripped from the context established in van Creveld’s writings, without regard for the distinction he draws between the broad class of non-Trin conflicts and war (the latter being a subset of the former).  Can we build a more-or-less agreed upon framework to facilitate discussion?  (Paradigms are conceptual tools, not miniature versions of reality)

The Problem

This formulation is similar to that of van Creveld and Lind, whose works discuss these things in detail.  This is just a sketch, to put us all on the same page for this discussion.

  1. The spread of nuclear weapons, slowly over decades, have forced the end, or least the diminution, of large conflicts between states – aka conventional war.
  2. Loyalty to the State has peaked around the world, and its influence declines (at varying rates) along with its role in people’s hearts and minds.

The above two factors results in the increased power of non-state entities, which have been suppressed since the Treaties of Westphalia legitimized the State as the only entity able to use force within its bounds.

  1. Multi-national corporations.
  2. Non-governmental non-profits organizations providing regulatory services (e.g., engineering standards) and charitable efforts.
  3. Religious groups, benign or inimical.
  4. Ideological groups, such as Marxists, radical environmentalists (note this example), and animal rights activists.
  5. Global crime networks.

Groups can combine along more than one of these affinities (e.g., the Mafia).

The increased power of these groups changes the nature of conflict on all levels:  within the State, between States, between States and global non-state entities, and between non-state entities.  Armed conflict can be conducted by non-State groups, both domestic and global.  They can organize within a state or globally.  Modern communication and transportation technology allows non-State groups to easily build global networks, greatly increasing their power and reach.  These are non-Trinitarian conflicts (to be called non-T conflicts in this series), which break Clausewitz’s “trinity” of the government, the army, and the people.

Under the right circumstances non-State can defeat governments, partially or completely to carve out either …

(1)  Geographic zone of control, as a successful insurgency creates or takes over a government.

(2)  Social zones of control – Criminals establish a “social space” in which they can routinely operate, such as networks for prostitution, drug trafficking, smuggling, or money laundering.  If their victory is officially sanctioned by the State, these become semi-autonomous societies.  Europe might be seeing the early stages of this, as institutions develop to support and enforce Sharia for/on their Muslim citizens.

When non-T conflicts become struggles for control of large geographic areas (not neighborhoods) AND involve substantial use of force, we call them fourth generation wars.  In the words of Martin van Creveld (private communication) 4GW is a tactic (or body of tactics) used in non-T conflicts.  So is crime.  So are private acts of violence by super-empowered individuals (see BNW and Robb’s other writings for more on this).  Although these three things can blur together, they are conceptually distinct concepts.  Confusing them by calling them “war” can have bad consequences.  This is one of the key contributions of Richards in IWCKI.

War is a conflict; not all conflicts are war

Broadening the definition of war has bad effects, beyond confusing our thinking.  Not all conflicts are war.  We distinguish crime from war for good reason.  Crimes for money and power.  Crimes for religion or ideology, like bombing of animal research labs and abortion clinics.   These are bad things, but need not be met with the special and horrible response we call war.

By describing so many other things as war we lose this bright red line and perhaps come to take it lightly.  Like the soldiers marching off to a short but glorious war in August 1914, or the cheering young men running to enlist in the opening scene of Gone with the Wind.  Perhaps we would have been more thoughtful about invading Iraq if we had greater awareness that true war is unlike wars on poverty or cancer.

True wars involve foes who fight back, and the stakes can quickly escalate to everything we have, everything we are.  While struggles against crime cartels can spiral into something greater — into civil war — that is relatively rare.

This series will focus on 4GW.  For more on the broader category of non-T conflicts I recommend reading John Robb’s Brave New War.  He describes the range of non-T conflicts and their dynamics, and links work on 4GW with the larger literature about crime and social disturbances.  This is the first work in what I suspect will become a large and important school.

Background information

This note describes the assumptions and conventions to be used in the following posts, relying on the analysis of the books mentioned above plus the definitions of DOD JP 1-02 (the “DOD Dictionary”; pdf here).

This series also builds on my previous posts.  Links or references are sometimes provided for those who wish to see the supporting reasoning, as this is not intended as a stand-alone document.  Most of these posts will pull together ideas from many writers, attempting to fit them together into a larger picture.

For more information

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

  1. About Military and strategic theory
  2. About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
  3. Books about geopolitics
  4. National Intelligence Estimates – an archive

Post in the series “Solutions to 4GW”:

  1. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  2. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  4. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  5. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  6. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  7. 4GW: A solution of the third kind





28 thoughts on “A solution to 4GW – the introduction”

  1. With regards to: “Loyalty to the State has peaked around the world, and its influence declines (at varying rates) along with its role in people’s hearts and minds.”, it is important in 4GW to understand “alternative loyalty systems” (for lack of better word of art).

    These loyalty alternatives may manifest themselves in such things as clans, militias, gangs, criminal enterprises, etc. They all are adaptive nature, seek security inwardly-locally, are people centric, often use low tech-high tech mixtures(IEDs and Internet), comprised of nondescript-“formless” fighters, and may transcend nation state laws & boundaries. “Alternative loyality systems” underwrite the 4GW insurgents’ anonymity which allows the bad actor to look and act like everyone else in the host population by blending in.Insight into 4GW “alternative loyality” can be gained form looking at the work of Sullivan and Bunker on 3rd generation street gangs.Looking at 3rd gneration street gangs and the migration of 4GE tactics, techniques, & procedures (TTPs)may of interest.
    Fabius Maximus replies: GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired) is one of the co-authors of the seminal “The Changing Face of War” along with William Lind — and hence worth close attention.

  2. “The spread of nuclear weapons, slowly over decades, have forced the end, or least the diminution, of large conflicts between states – aka conventional war.” I know that this is absolutely a mainstream and apparently well-founded assertion. But I have two problems, both based on history.

    We saw a long period of almost no large inter-state wars among “civilized nations” (aka in Europe) between the 1871 and 1914. Only some Balkan troubles and small conflicts around the rather less developed Italy. No European war involving Russia, UK, Germany (and I think also not France, Spain). The European post-WW2 peace period could in light of this be considered as not unprecedented and probably in great par the effect of exhaustion (Russia, for example, was bled dry and had few eligible men for its army till about the 60’s).

    The history of poison gas. Almost everyone expected that poison gas would be used in the next large intra-European war in 1919-1938. Horror visions of bomber fleets killing entire cities with poison gasses led to massive campaigns for gas masks for everyone. Albeit a potentially extremely deadly weapon (comparable to fission bombs if nerve gasses are used or the victims are ill-protected), it was almost not used at all in WW2.

    These two historical observations cast doubts about the quoted statement. Conventional war among industrialized countries, even among nuclear powers, might happen. It might begin as proxy war with increasing involvement of supporting powers of both sides. It might be undeclared. But once nuclear powers fight each other in proxy countries (remember that soviet pilots flew Chinese fighters over Korea!) it might drift into conventional war between nuclear powers. And they might withhold their nukes in horror of the consequences, as it happend to poison gas.

    Diminution – ok. But I won’t bet on not seeing any such war in my lifetime. I wouldn’t even bet that it won’t happen in Europe among nations that ar allied today in my lifetime. I am planning to life for about 50 mroe years.

    reference: “No major war in Europe in the next ten years (?)” (17 August 2007)

    Regards, Sven

  3. “Loyalty to the State has peaked around the world.” I wonder if this observation can be better understood using the framework given us by the late Robert A. Heinlein, who graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1929, was promoted Lieutenant, and turned to writing only after a medical discharge. Heinlein described patriotism as the highest form of morality; first defining morality as “behavior tending to promote the survival of the species.”

    At the lowest level, moral behavior is self-survival.
    Next level up, one is loyal to, and does things to promote the welfare of one’s immediate family.
    Next level: loyalty to a tribe, people outside one’s immediate family, but still a small enough group to know every member.
    Next level: loyalty to an organization too large to know every member. (This, Heinlein called “patriotism”)
    (Heinlein’s whole speech, given at the Naval Academy in 1973 as the Forrestal Lecture, is collected in his book “Expanded Univere”)

    Does this help us to understand 4GW? We can see this as moving back down the moral scale, where loyalty is to a tribe rather than a larger group. We can also see what is going on as loyalty to organizations which are too large for all the members to know each other– organizations other than the State.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Heinlein’s view is an expression of the State at its peak. Why is loyalty to a State (e.g., Holland) benefit the species more than loyalty to a Universal Church (e.g., Catholic in 1300 AD, Islam today) or a trans-national ideology (e.g., envioromentalism)?

    More useful in giving us perspective is Heinlein’s description of the “crazy years.” Reading the description of that time in his stories, it is clearly us — today.

  4. I know that we have a lot of talk and writing about decline of state for many years. Did ever any neutral institution a proper scientific research on whether the thesis of rising non-state and declining state institutions is right? Something empiric, including the entire period of 1648 till today?

    I’m unwilling to subscribe to this cornerstone of the 4 generations theory as long as my guts tell me that those people might simply be ignorant about too many historical non-state powers that had simply no priority for history book writers.
    Fabius Maximus: Of course there is no such research. To repeat a quote I’ve used so many times over the past six years, from David Halberstam’s Best and the Brightest”: “The elephant was great and powerful, and preferred to be blind.” To see my most recent rant on the need for better research on this new era of non-trinitarian conflicts: “Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics.”
    As for “those people might simply be ignorant about too many historical…”, I suggest you actually read these books before going there. Some of the people working on this are among the top historians of our time. For instance, Martin van Creveld’s publications on western history and military theory are imo not exceeded in range and depth by anyone in the past century.

  5. To follow up Sven’s comment: conventional wars
    Ci>do happen between nuclear states: think of the Kargil conflict in 1999 (in which both India and Pakistan, armed with nuclear weapons, nevertheless fought a conventional war over a sliver of land in Kashmir). What might be at stake is the diminution of conflict, or at least limits to its scope: neither Pakistan nor India ever launched attacks outside the contested area, quite probably for fear of nuclear retaliation.

    Similarly, you can also see a rise since the end of the Cold War in the use of proxy armies, particularly by relatively well-developed states with interests but not means (Iran, probably China in the very near future, Syria, Pakistan, and so on). This is meant to undercut the government, but it is done from a state-centric perspective.

    There may be deeper issues as well. Ethnic nationalism continues to dominate global politics. And this is a bad thing: there is every likelihood the civic nationalism so many elites find terrible passe is, in fact, healthy.

  6. I’ll add another book your 4GW list. The book’s title is “The Great Reckoning” and it was written by Lord William Rees Mogg and James Dale Davidson in 1991. They came up w/ a historical theory called “Megapolitics” which suggests that the costs of using or defending against violence are a factor in determining historical events. One implication of this was that as the costs of defending against violence decrease, the scale of government would have to decrease as well since it would no longer have a monopoly on the use of force. Granted, messrs Rees-Mogg and Davidson were using this for financial purposes, but their theory is an interesting one nonetheless and worth looking at.

  7. Did anyone ever think of the second-order effects of diminishing nationalism? I know I hadn’t until I read a truly fascinating piece in the latest Foreign Policy about the very positive effects of a strong nationalism. Among them: lower corruption, more rule of law, and generally more income. Simply accepting the degredation of a centripedal force with such positive outgrowths might quite possibly lead to a dimunition in all of those other factors — hence a major reduction in rule of law, a major uptick in corruption, and so on.

    Ancedotal evidence suggests that is exactly what is at work in the developed countries. The Third World never really got the same order of social stability, so in a sense this kind of a sea change might in fact have a less drastic impact (meaning, its effect will be felt in the “First World” much more strongly).

    Secondly, the bit about nuclear powers not engaging in conventional war is just wrong: Look at India and Pakistan. In 1999, the Pervez Musharraf started the Kargil War soon after both countries had conducted nuclear tests. Yet the conflict remained strictly limited to Kashmir, and neither country forayed into strategic bombing against major cities or govnerment targets. In fact, the history of India and Paksitan’s conflicts might be indicative of many future conflicts: despite decades of mistrust, poor relations, and repeated “small wars,” neither has, for example, taken any action to poison the Indus River.

    As for non-state actors in the international system: it’s a tricky subject to tackle throughout history. States, as we believe them to exist today, are only a few centuries old. And non-state actors have historically been prevalent, from the Berber pirates of the late 18th century to the German mercenaries of the 19th. It really is the massive consolidation of power in the state in the 20th century that is unique; thus, threats to that system, and actors who do not recognize it, are so difficult to come by. We have collectively lost our ability to think outside the state box.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I think you have this backwards. By conventional war, we mean the real thing. Not skirmishes over Kashmir. The ratcheting down of conflict since both I & P got nukes — as seen in the “kargil War” — is evidence, not counter-evidence. Both have become more careful in their sparring, for obvious reasons.

  8. The Changing Face of War, has received highly negative reviews at Amazon.com. Although I suspect that these reviewers, for political reasons, dislike Creveld’s thesis, the following litany of asserted factual errors in this book gives one pause:

    1. pp. 48, “trench systems [in WW I] were completed by the laying of millions upon millions of mines…” [anti-personnel mines not developed until the 1930s]

    2. pp. 103, “France never built or completed a carrier.” [the carrier Bearn was completed in 1935].

    {#3 – 11 snipped}

    This sort of comment gives me pause and certainly is the sort f thing that Creveld’s proponents should address headon.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I think you need to find a better source of information than folks posting at Amazon.

    1. Every book has errata. For an opinion about the importance of minor errata by an author who was both a man of action and a scholar, look at TE Lawrence’s dismissive reply to his Editor’s corrections for “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”.

    2. The ones you cited are mostly false or tendentious. The first is false; mines were used in the US Civil War – long before WWI. Histories of WWI trench warfare describe extensive use of mines. For more see Wikipedia on mines. The second is tendentious. The Bearn was launched in 1920 and commissioned in 1927 (not 1935; see Wikipedia). It was a converted battleship, essentially experimental, and barely functional as a carrier.

    3. This list is too far off-topic, so I am snipping the remaining 9 points. Interested readers can go to the Amazon pages to debate these trivialities.

  9. Two quick comments – first, to Fabius, if you reference “Masters of War” (which I am reading), the author makes the point that even 4GW is Trinitarian since you still have the three components – the state, the populace, and the non-state actor. Even if the non-state actor is embedded within the populace, there is a distinction between the general populace, which must be agitated to support the state against the non-state actor.

    To Sven, reference the poison gas – I would submit that the rationale to the lack of chemical warfare in WWII was not due to a “universal abhorence” or deterrence, but rather other reasons. The Germans knew that if they used CW, they’d be locked into a WWI trench warfare model, and they could not afford the slow-down. They seriously considered gassing Leningrad but couldn’t commit the railcars that were too busy with sending ammo and food – only reason why it didn’t happen. The Japanese really didn’t need CW, since their conventional arms worked so well, and they did in fact try BW on the Chinese cities (not too successfully). The Italians did use CW in 1935 in Ethiopia, but didn’t have any real incentive to use CW against the Allied invasion in 1943.

    On the Allied side, the United States had a president who was very, very much against CW use (even though ironically the US military had the largest CBW stockpile in WWII) and the United Kingdom very much wanted to use CBW against the Germans, but couldn’t afford to piss off the United States and didn’t have the resources to divert to unconventional munitions.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Handel’s analysis of van Creveld’s work is a bit bizarre. If one broadens the definitions sufficiently, such as he does with “Army” to include any armed forces, everything fits in Clausewitz’s framework. Defining “animal rights terrorists” as an army — linked somehow to the people and government — renders the framework into an idle academic exercise. Nice, but useless. While van Creveld’s generates a wealth of practical insights.

  10. This list is too far off-topic, so I am snipping the remaining 9 points. Interested readers can go to the Amazon pages to debate these trivialities.

    I hope that proponents of Creveld do go to Amazon, and make their case because the current situation, which has seven negative comments pitted against only four favorable, do not help advance his position. I for one would appreciate some encouragement before spending money and time on his book. Answering these objections should be particularly desired by classicists, considering, after all, that refutation was a fundamental component of classical rhetoric.
    Fabius Maximus: As one who has burned time “debating” on forums like Amazon, I disagree. Not that it might be useful in some theoretical sense, but that it is a waste of time. This is the equivalent of discussing politics with strangers at a bar. Socrates never did that, so far as we know, because he was smart and knew that life is too short to waste.

  11. The Changing Face of War is not Creveld’s best work. It’s ok. Nothing earth shaking. His upcoming book on War and Culture is his best since the Transformation of War. I’ve had a chance to read a draft copy of it, and it is superb.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I am glad to hear that about Culture of War. But Changing Face has value as a synthesis of his work — originality is not the same as utility.

  12. Agreed – it’s mainly a synthesis of Transformation and Decline of the State, with a few new chapters on the end that are new thought. Culture of War examines why man fights for reasons other than patriotism or for the state. Covers huge ground.

  13. The Changing Face of War does make a couple of points so explicitly that they are hard to ignore. The first is that in conflicts with a heavy moral overtone, that is, where attracting people is more important to the outcome than killing them, the side that is the more willing to die for its cause will have an enormous advantage.

    It follows, then, that in such conflicts, you have to be willing to take more casualties than you inflict. Body counts, in other words, work in reverse.

    Another is that in modern times, governments have options that occupiers, particularly from Western democracies, will find difficult to employ. They can use the “Hama” solution — unrestrained force against a minority in insurrection — and unless it drags on, justify it as being in the larger public good. We may be seeing a little of this in Tibet.

    These are important points, and although they have been made elsewhere, TCFOW puts them right out in your face. To the extent they are valid, they explain a lot of our problems in Iraq and provide a warning against assuming that Iraq was just bungled and that there is a formula for doing occupations right.

  14. Interesting topic. I have in no way a definite pov on these matters, but would point to a few characteristics of the 4GW conflict that I find separates it from other types:

    1) It is fought in the media-space as much as on the ground. This is, par example, why Hezbollahs rocketcampaign in 2006 proved effective. Not because of its military effect, but because of its mediaeffect. By luring Israel into a prescripted media-situation, it portrayed a skillful tale of David facing Goliath, with the rockets as its slingstones. This could be said to be first exemplified by the My Lai massacres. With Al Jazeera and the internet, this problem has become much more important.

    2) A 4GW conflict is more about economical stamina than it is about battlespace dominance: An actor can have full spectrum dominance in all fields of combat and still bleed out economically. This seems to me to be the one issue of COIN and Iraq everyone is reluctant to speak about, how it is becoming increasingly impossible to make war for years on a freemarket laissez-faire budget.

    3) The whole concept of democracy is ill suited for prolonged wars. Every non-state actor fighting a democratic force knows that surviving one or two election cycles greatly improves chances of survival and withdrawal of the dominant force. US responmse to this, to make the president into a sort of Warlord, is… interesting.

    PS: “This is the equivalent of discussing politics with strangers at a bar. Socrates never did that, so far as we know, because he was smart and knew that life is too short to waste.”

    Umm, wasnt that exactly what the symposiums were all about? ;-)
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the comments, but I disagree with all of them.

    1. Wars have been fought in the media for centuries, so this is not a distinguishing factor of 4GW. John Adams’ defense of the British soldiers following the Boston massacre was a media event, widely followed and applauded in England. Media coverage was decisive in weakening the British will to resist in the American Revolution and keeping Britain out of the Civil War.
    2. “Economic stamina” was the decisive factor in both WWI and WWII, so ditto.
    3. “The whole concept of democracy is ill suited for prolonged wars.” I have seen no empirical support for this widely circulated theory. The sample set is small, as few wars (by anybody) last over 8 years. Two of the longest wars of ancient times were fought by the direct democracy of Athens and Republican Rome (the Peloponnesian and Punic Wars). The US fought in Vietnam for many years (perhaps over 8, depending on you choice of start and end dates), and none of the major Presidential candidates plans to end our current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    As described by Plato, Socrates drank and talked with friends, or friends of friends.

  15. Isn’t 4GW a fancy name for guerilla wars, which were fought long before Van Creveld wrote his book. In fact, wasn’t the American Revolution a form of 4GW? There was no “state” then, in the sense of an entity able to levy taxes, borrow from abroad, or conscript its citizens. Even its citizens were not a unified entity, half sympathetic to the enemy’s side.

    Instead of looking at recent history through the lens of military actions, try the lens (or paradigm, if you wish) of western colonialism. In that larger scheme, the important questions are not about how to fight these wars (even the US figured that out, eventually, in Iraq), but why and how resistance to occupation arises. 4th Gen wars, pitting large powers against scrappy little resistance groups, are really more like police actions than wars. The question then arises, as with ordinary domestic crime, what is the cause of these groups and why can’t they accept the benevolent rule of the larger society?

    I personally would rather work that out, than go on fighting insurgencies forever, whatever generation we call them.
    Fabius Maximus replies: No, 4GW is not a fancy name for guerilla wars. Following the inforduction of nukes, conventional wars become too hazardous for most nations to risk. That is, in any situation in which one nation has nukes or is at risk and closely allied with a nuke power. Hence recourse to 4GW. At the other end, 4GW’s characterized conflict in those nations in which the state is weak, as in the third world.

    As an intro to the subject, I recommend the following:
    * Start with “Into the fourth generation“, Lind-Schmidt-Wilson, Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989.
    * Next, “Through a Glass Darkly“, Martin van Creveld, 2000, a summary of his great book “Transformation of War” — a larger perspective on 4GW.
    * Third, to understand the changing nature of armed conflict in the modern world, “The Fate of the State“, Martin van reveld, Parameters, Spring 1996 — a summary of his magnum opus “Rise and Decline of the State”.

  16. “Loyalty to the State has peaked around the world, and its influence declines (at varying rates) along with its role in people’s hearts and minds.”

    My question is – what happens when a people who have little loyalty to their state fight with those who have fanatic loyalty to their state?
    Fabius Maximus replies: You are considering only one half of the equation. What replaces nationalism? If nothing, then those people will be washed away. If their find some other source of social cohesion, the outcome becomes too complex to forecast in abstract. New loyalties might be to a something larger (e.g., a global religion or social class) or smaller (e.g., ethnicity, clan).

  17. Another angle with which to consider 4GW and non-T warfare might be in fictional writing, since such authors can imagine counter-factual worlds, alternativre histories, and much more. Although they are now past their due-date, political scientist and author Ian Slater penned a series of books during the 1980s and 1990s in the Tom Clancy vein, in which he attempted to imagine the contour of conflicts to come in the near future. His works often featured conventional wars between nation-states, but also explored in one series a civil war in the United States.
    There are a number of authors working today, such as Vince Flynn, who incorporate ideas about asymmterical warfare, 4GW, and other cutting-edge ideas in their books. Flynn has done consulting work for federal agencies, including some in the national defense community. Tom Clancy himself has spawned a whole series of books under his name, dealing with unconconventional warfare. Author Robert Ferrigno penned “Prayers for the Assassin” which imagines an Islamic States of America 40 years in the future.

    Whether they are correct or not, fictional authors appear to be thinking about the dilemmas posed by modern forms of conflict. Comments or recommendations, anyone?

  18. From the little I’ve read, a major emphasis of 4GW is the shift from control by physical force to control by intelligence. There were echoes of this in Rumsfeld’s vision of the next generation military. For my values, this is simply a different form of intrusiveness, or colonial control, possibly more expensive, more permanent, more futile, than straight out conquest by force.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Can you be more specific? This does not make much sense to me.

  19. What this all boils down to is that – as applied to Afghanistan – the neocon’s dream that the Afghans will great us with flowers is absolutely correct.

    The flowers in question are poppies, however.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I think we have a winner for “best comment on this thread.”

  20. Meanwhile, in Mexico;

    The Feb. 21 attack on police headquarters in coastal Zihuatanejo, which injured four people, fit a disturbing trend of Mexico’s drug wars. Traffickers have escalated their arms race, acquiring military-grade weapons, including hand grenades, grenade launchers, armor-piercing munitions and antitank rockets with firepower far beyond the assault rifles and pistols that have dominated their arsenals.

    Most of these weapons are being smuggled from Central American countries or by sea, eluding U.S. and Mexican monitors who are focused on the smuggling of semiauto- matic and conventional weapons purchased from dealers in the U.S. border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

    Given the current slump in the US economy, we might complain that this trend impairs US arms exports and demand that “the government” stop interfering with free enterprise. Ann Rand and all that….

  21. What we visited on Nicaragua and others is being returned to our border by some combination of Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, China (LaRazza)and Russia, exploiting a political struggle in Mexico and vulnerabilities we have created for ourselves. Is this 4th Generation warfare?

    I see old-fashioned politics and meddling which we have been carrying on in Latin America since the 17th century. Nationalism, the only really successful ideology in modern times is widely despised in the western world — that is Western Europe and the two North American coasts. In China, India and much of the US it is the dominant belief. Either we are going to defend our borders, act like a nation, seek out those who wish us harm, identify them, give them a chance to desist, and then hurt them, we are going to create a great deal more trouble for ourselves not to mention what will happen in American politics.

    Please do not kid yourselves: there will be a populist explosion around the border issue. We need to support Mexico, its stablilty, and we need to regain complete control over our borders and ports. This is a profound national interest.
    Fabius Maximux replies: Sad but true. The danger of contagion from Mexico has been a long-standing concern of this site. Here is the most recent post (at the end are links to earlier posts):
    * Update Mexico: “The Long Arm of the Lawless”, 28 February 2009

  22. Robert Petersen

    I am a big admirer of the 4GW-theory and the work of van Creveld, but I have also some comments:

    1. Unlike what I have expected the American army seems to have prevailed in Iraq. The country is still a mess, but for now it is far better than back in 2006. I mention it because there is a chance that 4GW-theory evolves into a new kind of dogma consisting of A)the state always fails, B)invasions from outside always fails C)4GW-enemies always win. Well, they don’t. In case people haven’t heard: The Russians have beaten the Chechens (for now) and the Tamil Tigers on Sri Lanka are almost defeated. Rebellions – even with AK47 and IEDs – sometimes actually manage to lose. This has to be taken into account, because I often hear about the strengths of 4GW, not about its limitations and how to exploit it.

    2. Following this line: 4GW seems to have evolved into a stalemate: Non-T forces can harm T-forces, but not defeat them. T-forces can beat non-t forces, but not finally defeat them. This is a stalemate comparable to the stalemate of WW1. We are back in 1915 trying to figure out how to cross the trenches. But as events in Iraq, Chechnya and Sri Lanka suggests there are solutions to this stalemate. The problem is the price. Not in humans, but in money. How can we make our forces more efficient and cheaper at the same time? (hint: Don’t ask Pentagon for that kind of solution)

    3. Like Sven Ortmann I am not sure that the risk of conventional war is over. Russia has turned out to be a revanchist country and I can tell you that the authorities in Estonia are more worried about the Russian army than of non-T enemies. I know that because I have spoken to with the Estonian ambassador. War between states are less likely, but still possible as we saw in August in Caucasus and with the reduction of nuclear weapons perhaps even more likely. The absence of state-to-state warfare was never only about nuclear weapons (like van Creveld believes), but also about the creation of a bipolar world after 1945. Both sides – East and West – prepared for war against each other and thus kept the peace in their own camps. After the collapse of the Soviet Union NATO and the EU expanded eastwards and prevented the return of war. Now this order is cracking and state-to-state warfare once again becomes possible. Say between Greece and Turkey regarding Cyprus. The reduction of the nuclear threat actually increases that possibility, because none of these countries has nukes.
    Fabius Maximus replies: These are all mis-readings of the 4GW literature.

    (1) What does this mean: “American army seems to have prevailed in Iraq”? At the cost of one or two trillion trillion dollars (borrowed from foreigners) we have accomplished – what? Your comparison with 2006 is bizarre. The comparison should be with Iraq ante bellum (before 2003).

    (2) This misses the key point about 4GW’s. Foreign vs. local forces. Locals almost always (not always) defeat foreign forces — since the “home court advantage” is often decisive in 4GW. States have a high success rate against local insurgents, albeit a rate far lower than in past eras. For more about this see Why We Lose at 4GW.

    (3) This is just a mis-reading of the 4GW literature. Conventional wars still happen, just as there are still knife fights. But they are smaller (and between developed nations, less frequent). Van Creveld discusses this at length in several of his books, most recently in chapter 15 of “The Culture of War.”

  23. On my bookshelf is a copy of “Mao Tse-Tung on Guerilla Warfare” translated and with intro by Brig. Gen. Samuel B. Griffith USMC. Mao wrote this before 1937. Griffith published it in English in 1961.
    4GW is a term and a concept of which I am highly skeptical. Like many things it seems to be an old concept recycled for the benefit of an intellectual class to study, discuss and write about as though they have discovered something new to classify, categorize and in general build careers out of.
    Open up the book I have listed above, read it carefully, understand it’s historical context, then forget when it was written and imagine he is talking about today. In your mind substitue “internet” for “radio”. Observe how he discusses the state, the guerrilla, regular and irregular forces, intelligence, psychological ops, etc.
    “4GW” is not a new concept except in name and tools. It is precisely the presentation of it as new, as 4th generation that is deceptive. A deception created by the chattering classes to sell books, papers, interviews, etc. to a populace that has been asleep.
    It is not the William Lind’s of the world one must listen to re: “4GW” To listen to him is paramount to listening to an economist describe how we got into a global recession, or an archeologist describe how Cortez defeated the Aztecs.
    One is better informed by reading Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Giap, Castro and all the other historical figures who waged successful irregular war for political goals.
    Understanding such figures puts conflicts into perspective. And with perspective comes the understanding that we are not facing something new but something very old:
    Irregular warfare. In itself a misnomer since throughout history “irregular” warfare occurs more regularly than regular warfare.
    Fabius Maximus replies: That’s an interesting comment, but shows a very odd view of 4GW. Just to mention one: Mao is often regarded as bringing the theory of 4GW to operational fruition, so citing him to show that 4GW is not new shows little understanding of the literature on it.

  24. FM,

    In reference to your reply above to my comment #17, I should clarify, that I meant two states, one with fanatic nationalists, and the other with much less loyalty (to the point of infighting).


  25. “Fabius Maximus replies: That’s an interesting comment, but shows a very odd view of 4GW. Just to mention one: Mao is often regarded as bringing the theory of 4GW to operational fruition, so citing him to show that 4GW is not new shows little understanding of the literature on it.”
    Of course you find it odd, you accept and are a proponent of the concept. I reject the concept of “4th gen” war.
    Why? Let’s go back to the origin of the concept in Linds writings back in the late 80’s where he describes the “ 4 generations”. How does he arbitrarily start his first generation? It is a construct that assumes war can be defined solely by the conflicts that arose in a well bordered Europe of aggregated nation and/or city states.
    In the history of warfare his 1st gen may be the hundreth generation. And so we are not seeing in our time 4th generation warefare but perhaps the 100th .
    Moreover the concept that the “4th” gen derived from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd is false.
    Conflict does not evolve in a line. It grows more like the evolutionary tree found in a biology book. In this case while the Eurocentric world evolved 1,2 and 3 a whole other evolutionary line was evolving parallel to the Eurocentric line of warfare. And when the Eurocentric line evolved to its decline, as with all other natural cycles, the older and more durable evolutionary line remained and filled the void. “4th gen” was always there.
    In light of what I just said I don’t find it at all odd that I cite Mao, even though he is considered by some a founder of” 4th gen war”. His generation of irregular warriors are the the point where the opposum crawled out of the carcass of European military confidence. For some it was just a natural thing. For those who had loved the carcass it was a new shocking thing to be given a new name: Didelphis forthgenerationus. It wasn’t the first carcass a possum fattened on and it won’t be the last. But its very false to pretend the carcass gave birth to the opossum. Even if just in name.

  26. Robert Petersen

    Re: comment #23 — Dear FM

    You made some comments regarding my points of view regarding 4GW, where you say that I misread all of the 4GW literature. Since I am actually a fan of the 4GW-theory I am a bit surprised. My attempt was merely to point out some faults in the theory, not to discredite it.

    Regarding the occuption of Iraq I call it a mess and I exactly make the point that fighting 4GW-enemies is – as it is done now – simply to costly. You make the same point, so we do agree – not disagree. It is however not possible to claim that things have not improved in Iraq in the last couple of years. Violence is down and the Iraqi government do feel strong enough to ask the Americans to leave. I don’t understand why it is “bizarre” to point out the obvious. Iraq will never be like it was before in 2003, but at least we can see the foundation of a withdrawal of American forces – not a retreat in panic like Saigon in 1975. Iraq will never be a paradise and I have no personal plans to move there, but at least it can become a place where people can leave and the refugees from Syria and Jordan return. I am fully aware that the good news might only be temporarily and that fighting could resume, which most likely would be used by some US commanders as an excuse to stay forever.

    You write that local forces have a higher chance of defeating 4GW-enemies than foreign forces. It is hard to disagree with that one, but it leaves out some important important questions: How do you define “local forces”? Are the British “local forces” in Northern Ireland? Are the Russians “local forces” in Chechnya? If “local forces” have a higher chance to prevail why have the Israelis consistently failed against the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank since 1987? It is difficult to see how a young boy from Vladivostok can be said to be “local” in Gronzny, yet it was he and his comrades who defeated Chechnya in a brutal war of extermination and left what was left to the Kadyrov-family to manage.

    Foreign occupation are not likely to be successful. Foreign troops rarely know the language, the culture or the people they occupy. Even Machiavelli made that point in his book “The Prince”. But they can for some time stabilize the situation and become the arbitrator between ethnic or religious groups who are fighting between each other. This is basically the role the British have had in Northern Ireland for decades, but it is also the same thing you see in Kosovo or Bosnia. My understanding is that the reduction of violence in Iraq is closely connected to the fact that all sides – although for different reasons – have an interest in working with the Americans. The Sunnis feel that the Americans are the only one to protect them against the Shias, while the Shias are dependent on American support in running the government in Baghdad. The Kurds think the American occupation can grant them independence. So all groups are dependent on American support, although for different reasons. There is nothing new in what the Americans have done in Iraq: The Romans called it “divide et impera”. And since the Americans are destined to leave this balance will only be temporarily. Either the Iraqs will manage their country on their own (like Kadyrov manages Chechnya for Russia) or civil war will resume again.
    Fabius Maximus replies: This is a small point, but FYI —

    “where you say that I misread all of the 4GW literature”

    That is not correct. I said “These {points} are all mis-readings of the 4GW literature.”

  27. Fabius,
    Was this only a filler, putting in your March 08 as repost, or do you intend to pursue? My hope!

    Personally I think this an extremely important issue. Our new President dispenses with “GWOT” and “enemy combatants,” Col Bacevich states we really misread and over reacted after 911- should have been police work focused on those hijacker criminals.

    “GWOT” is well dismissed, it was like declaring war on “submarine warfare,” but given the language of the Geneva Conventions on combatants, non combatants, what are/what do we call these non-uniformed, perpetators of extreme violence on military and civilian alike? 2009 and we have no legal context????? (there are about 101 formal definitions of terrorism)What do we call people trained in small unit tactics, explosives, ambushes, etc. who go about armed with AK47s, RPGs, run drugs, take over towns, maybe want to govern, maybe want just “a hole in the wall” to do as they please.

    A few posts back someone quoted the type of police organization Col Bacevich said should have been dealing with this all along. For the life of me, I can’t find one of those organizations, not in LA, not in New York – maybe my understanding of INTERPOL is incorect.

    Over on SWJ, folks say the generations of war is just wrong, we don’t need 4GW ’cause we have guerrilla warfare, its always been there. Yet we now have “Irregular Warfare” documents, and “Hybrid warfare” from Col Frank Hoffman.

    Tanks and F-18s aren’t solving this one, yet people play with words and bemoan someone else’s concept because not every last living event in history can be made to fit. Now folks want 5GW???

    We have a non-state actor issue; we have a problem of big guys needing to beat up on little guys to survive – a moral level card to be played, we have any story you want on the Internet with folks who will believe anything if it makes America look bad; we have warfare TTPs in Iraq and in Mexico; we have cops trained to do the crime busters thing, yet threatened by warriors and then again the exact opposite; we have real lessons learned since 911 about how not to do things, yet all we do is dismantle, not adapt.

    What we have is “war amongst the people” in a very different way than “people caught in war.” You are point on that warfare is conflict but conflict is not necessarily war. The peace to peace cycle does not exist now or in near future. We have confrontation to conflict in endless cycle across borders, across cultures, always with possibility of escalation to war.

    All would do well to read Gen Rupert Smith’s “The Utility of Force.” It provides context not covered well in your three foundation books, yet complements them greatly. This “war of words” becomes tedious. Boyd nailed it – build a Snowmobile based on the changing issues, quit quibbling over history. 4GW is a lens, we need to use it.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I second the recommendation to read “The Utility of Force”!

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