How to get the study of 4GW in gear

Here is an question by Jason lifted from the comments on A solution to 4GW — the introduction.

Fabius, if you reference “Masters of War” by Michael Handel (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.

This is interesting on several levels.  It offers a legitimate question, keying off the work of an expert in military history (Handel being one of the top scholars in his generation of Clausewitz’s works; he died in 2001 — correction per Jason in the comments ).  It also offers insight as to why the study of 4th generation warfare has progressed so little in the past five or ten years.  The question having been debated at length in many forums, I will slight it in favor of the second issue — which seems of immediate and practical significance.

Anyone familar with the 4GW literature and the works of Martin van Creveld can answer Jason’s question.  Considering conventional armies as equivalent to eco-terrorists in their relationship to the government and the people, as Handel does in his new last book (or sarcastically comparing the development of “modern” war after Westphalia to the discovery of prose by Moliere’s Tartuffe, as he does in his famous endnote about van Creveld) shows a limited grasp of non-trinitarian conflict and 4GW.

Questions like this will always be with us.  The problem with discussion of 4GW is that it only slowly moves beyond endless Q&A on the basics.  To use a poor (but hopefully neutral) analogy, it is as if we are attempting to build a star drive.  We have a theory, and some evidence that it will work.  But progress is slow because every day someone walks in and says that this is impossible according to Einstein’s special theory of relativity.  The resulting debate kills half the day, every day. 

We might just point these people towards one of the many already written answers, and get on with it.  But what is “it?”  What are we trying to accomplish?  From William Lind to Dan Tdxap, there are a wide range of people working on developing a “solution” to 4GW for America.  Alternatively, this might be just an academic debate — like discussing the cultural roots of Alexander the Great’s use of the oblique order of attack.  The difference is having a paradigm that sets the current terms of the debate, providing a conceptual framework and agreed-upon definitions.   Developing this for the study of 4GW requries a “dispersed or open-source network to generate a coordinated rule set in noisy environments” — borrowing a phrase from a post by John Robb talking about the same problem, from the perspective of our 4GW foes.

My attempt to describe a paradigm is A solution to 4GW — the introduction.  It is just a start, a first cut at the problem.


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Post in the series “Solutions to 4GW”:

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  4. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  5. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  6. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  7. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  8. 4GW: A solution of the third kind 

7 thoughts on “How to get the study of 4GW in gear”

  1. Alexander did not really use oblique order. Epaminondas introduced that. Alexander simply used heavy shock cavalry to strike through the enemy lines and headed for the coward Darius – it worked both times. The other really major battle (in India) was a surprise flank attack after crossing a river.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I did not say that Alexander “introduced” or invented the oblique order, merely that he used it. See the Wikipedia entry, or this note Dr. E.L. Skip Knox through Boise State University, or GOOGLE to find any of hundres of links to articles and books about military history on the web. Varients of this were one of his preferred methods of attack.

  2. Well? “Eco-Terrorists”? Perhaps we are looking at this the wrong way. Yes I believe we are facing a 4GW crisis. Yes, the ‘State’ in many places is deteriorating and becoming less relevant (or disappearing up its own clackhole, or, frankly, has been bought). But consider.

    Take the anti-whaling ships, like Sea Shepard (called eco-terrorists by some). Out there in the oceans, hunting out Japanese ‘scientific’ whaling ships. Harrasing them, houding them. Are they not the living incarnation of the 18th century Royal Navy? With its drive, success, inventiveness and sheer impudence against superior odds?

    Maybe the saviours of the ‘State’ or perhaps more accurately, Society, are there, in the finges, fighting good fights, making a difference. Maybe a more inclusive approach is needed, to bring these wild spirits into the fold, as did the Royal Navy. How many of those who started with nothing came good and gained a stake?

    Is it maybe just the current ‘State’ has become so corrupt, lazy, incompetant or even just bought and paid for that it has become (or will become) an oppressor, just a conduit to tranfer (take) money from Joe Soap to pass to some insider sod who wants the latest Mercedes?

    I recommend a SF writer Brunner, especially his book ‘Shockwave Rider’. He postulated a future US, where a great disaster happened and the Govt and Mafia were as one. Today, we have the unedifying sight of New Orleans, where police, National Guard and private ‘contractors’ used force to clear out the riff raff for developers (which given the property collapse doesn’t seem like such a good idea now).

    The State will die if it no longer is a representive of Society as a whole, unfortuntely Society can collapse as well in the process if the State fights too hard (ah la Soviet Union, the world was lucky that their elite knew the game was up, if they had decided to fight to bitter end .. we would not be here now, I’m always curious why they didn’t drop a nuke on [say] Gdansk). Better to fold gracefully (as they did).

    If State breakups happen so what? Will the World be a better or worse place if (say) the US breaks up into seperate States? If Scotland becomes independent? It all depends on how it is done.

    Darwin is the ultimate arbiter, if the State cannot deliver to the majority of Society it will whither and die. But States can make this a very painfull experience. Suppress the most idealistic or most energetic or most intellegent parts of Society as it clings to its last dregs of power, then those that are left are far more ruthless and nihilistic. Do you want the successor to be a Stalin or a Nelson Mandela?

    The overall argument is if a State is really colllapsing, the perhaps the real 4GW way of dealing with it is to channel the collapse by “harm minimisation” tactics. A breakup may not be too bad if each sub ‘State’ is reasonably functional with reasonable relations with its neighbours.

    Like a controlled demolition of a building vs a bomb going off. A very possible 4GW strategy, thinking more like a doctor rather than a soldier.

  3. I shold just add that, say theoretically, we can develope excellent 4GW tactics. What will they accomplish? Holding a withered corrupt, bankrupt eilte up in power, delaying the inevitiable, so that the final collapse is even worse?

    First we must define what a 4GW strategy really means. Then (and only then) we can develope the tactics. To date I see the tactics leading the strategy .. and we all know where that leads to.

    On a personal note FM thanks for the reference to Fred, I’ve had a wonderful time reading him, aa great writer in the (almost uniquely American, with a base from Swift) tradition of Mark Twain, O’Henry, Thompson, et al. My wife kept coming into my pit to check on me because of my laughter.

  4. Would a group devoted to 4gw be privately or publicly funded? Who would likely fund it? Who would benefit from such a group? What product,if any, does such a group have to offer? Can you make this stuff simple enough for a blond to understand without a lot of obscure references so you can market it? Does it in fact work? How do you counter 4gw tactics and strategies? Can all the various 4gw types work together for a common goal? What solutions do you have that will work right now? These are the types of questions that need to be answered so this can take root and fly.
    Fabius Maximus: the easy sources of funding (in a theoretical sense) are the govt and major foundations. As to who does the actual work, there are many possible sources — academic, think-tanks, quasi-govt outfits like the Institute for Defense Authority. As for the others, some of these will emerge in the following segments of this series.

  5. You need as a core (for such a team) of OR (operation research) persons. This is the discipline that is used to getting in there and dealing with the facts then building workable models. Note OR people can (and should) come from many disciplines (Physics, Maths, History, Psychology, et al, yes including Paleontology and Botany). The key is the ability (and hard bitten experience) to find (dig hard if necessary, I did [still do actually]) raw facts and the real world and then, only then, build models for forecasting into the future. Plus the ability to use supercomputers, if that is necessary (yes if a GLM is needed you can do it, or a Harrison Stevens, so there are no limitations on analytic and modelling techniques).

    It has to multidisciplinary, because no single person or discipline is capable of being able to approach all the dimensions (trend, individual, societal, etc). We need another Stafford Beer (Google him, many interesting parallels to Boyd) to lead a study like this.

    Not too many in the team, quality not quantity, say 7-20 at most, plus (say) another 10 as part time senior advisors from the retired community. Time .. 3-5 years tops. Cost, well work out the man hours and multiply, cheap actually.

    Results guaranteed.

  6. Just a few minor points (apologies as to the tardiness of the response).

    First, Michael Handel, the author of the superb Masters of War, is not, unfortunately, one of the “top living scholars of Clausewitz.” Professor Handel, formerly of the Naval War College, passed away in 2001.

    Second, Masters of War is not a “new book” originally published in 1992, but the most common edition is the Third Edition, published the year of his death. (Mine is a reprint from 2004.)

    Third, anyone familiar with Handel will know about the “legendary” endnote he wrote dismissing Martin van Creveld that spanned five pages (Handel was also not pleased with John Keegan). To give you a taste of his critique that may also be applied to 4GW as a distinct theory of war, I’ll quote from the beginning of the five page endnote (p393):

    [John Keegan and Martin van Creveld] have convinced themselves that war never served, and can never serve, a rational political purpose. Based on highly selective case studies, their arguments are logically and historically unconvincing and furthermore contain a number of internal contradictions.

    Fourth, at least part of the “solution” to 4GW is understanding the informational aspect of conflict, information’s role in the democraticization of conflict (terrorism isn’t terrorism without reporting or framing the event…a factory explosion is an industrial accident if the bomb is kept quiet), and understanding motivations of individuals and their attractiveness to their constituencies.

    I would really like a 4GW proponent to debate a dead man and take on Professor Handel’s 5 page critique. I will reiterate, there is nothing inherently contradictory about 4GW and Clausewitz’s theories of Trinitarian relationships.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for the corrections (points #1 and 2). As for his endnote, is it worth rebutting (note my quote of it in this post)? However brilliant the author, it misrepresents van Creveld’s work to an astonishing degree. A rebuttal would consist of showing what MvC actually said vs. Handel’s summary. Pretty boring.
    As for #4, to some extent. These are powerful aspects of conventional war, and not differentiating aspects of 4GW. Note the role of info-ops in the UK during the American Revolution (weaking their will to fight) and the Civil War (keeping them out).

  7. I am read into the dynamic duo of 4GW (Lind and Hammes) and I confess to remaining a skeptic on the utility of the 4GW paradigm. It seems that existing warfare paradigms can incorporate the different shadings that 4GW presents without having to dispose of the paradigm itself. For example, consider the maneuver-attrition warfare dialectic. This dialectic contains Information and Political instruments of national power, but at a greatly subdued level. Even during the most intense wars, politics (diplomacy) and propaganda continue. What 4GW does, at least for me, is raise the importance of these instruments of war (along with Culture and Economics) to a higher and more visible level. We still continue to fight on the physical, cognitive and moral dimensions (apologies to John Boyd here), but just use tools than weaponry.

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