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:
- If We Can Keep It by Chet Richards (aka IWCKI)
- Brave New War by John Robb (BNW)
- The Changing Face of War by Martin van Creveld
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)
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.
- The spread of nuclear weapons, slowly over decades, have forced the end, or least the diminution, of large conflicts between states – aka conventional war.
- 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.
- Multi-national corporations.
- Non-governmental non-profits organizations providing regulatory services (e.g., engineering standards) and charitable efforts.
- Religious groups, benign or inimical.
- Ideological groups, such as Marxists, radical environmentalists (note this example), and animal rights activists.
- 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.
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:
- About Military and strategic theory
- About America’s national defence strategy and machinery
- Books about geopolitics
- National Intelligence Estimates – an archive
Post in the series “Solutions to 4GW”:
- 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