About Fourth Generation Infections

Summary:  Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century.  Less dangerous but more difficult to exterminate than insurgents.  Not romantic, but profitable.  Like warfare, crime will always be with us — but its form evolves along with society.

We now have two chronic examples of fourth generation infections:

  1. The Somali pirates
  2. Narcotrafficking cartels and their street-gang kin

Both of these represent non-state entities, or collections of entities.  Both have successfully resisted all attempts to eradicate them and have evolved to deal with the tactics used by their opponents.  And neither show any great desire to overthrow the governments of the areas in which they operate and take over the respective political institutions (such as they may be, in the case of Somalia).

To me, they are more analogous to infections than to stand-up slug-it-out opponents in the military sense. More van Creveld than von Clausewitz. A few tentative conclusions:

  1. Get used to them. In a heavily populated world increasingly networked and dependent on globalization, they represent the wave of the future. More networks and more flows mean more opportunities. Their success doesn’t so much reflect strategic planning as opportunistic cycles of observation, ideas, and trying things out.  Those groups that are most successful at finding things that work will survive and prosper. Viva Darwin.
  2. Traditional military force is useless against them. Well, we could invade Somalia and Mexico. Then what?
  3. At some point, multinational corporations will get involved. My guess is that they’ll work out some modus vivendi that makes money for all concerned. Right now, pirates are a minor nuisance cost-of-doing- business — 49 successful hijackings in 2010. Big woo. Paying for protection is probably next.  Someday we’ll see The New Somali Coast Guard, brought to you by Toyota.

About solutions

Police, intel, and security can work if enough of the population turn against the pirates & narcos. But then you have to go into what would cause that, which I’m not qualified to do. A functioning government that provides the things — establishes an environment where the population can achieve the things — enumerated in the Preamble would go a long way.

FM comment:  they’re rats, not bugs

The infection metaphor is not the best way to see this.  These are rats.   More specifically, stainless steel rats in our increasingly tightly-wound and computerized society.  We know about these from the science fiction novels by Harry Harrison:

We must be as stealthy as rats in the wainscoting of their society. It was easier in the old days, of course, and society had more rats when the rules were looser, just as old wooden buildings have more rats than concrete buildings. But there are rats in the building now as well. Now that society is all ferrocrete and stainless steel there are fewer gaps in the joints. It takes a very smart rat indeed to find these openings. Only a stainless steel rat can be at home in this environment.
— A Stainless Steel Rat is Born (1985)

Chet replies

It doesn’t take smart rats, only a productive balance between such things as the number of rats out there, their rate of multiplication, and the amount of variation in their population. Cockroaches, viruses, and bacteria also do this quite well. Note that if a sufficient number aren’t able to find and exploit “gaps in the joints,” their rate of multiplication will fall. Networking and globalization are opening up possibilities for more gaps, so society isn’t all ferrocrete and stainless steel. This doesn’t mean that smart rats couldn’t also be successful, but we’re probably inferring high intelligence to those that have, for whatever reason, found a gap.

About Pirates

  1. All about Pirates!, 12 December 2008
  2. More about pirates: why we no longer “hang them high”, 5 January 2009
  3. A Piracy SitRep, 12 May 2009
  4. More about those pirate demons in Somalia, 2 January 2009
  5. The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage, 4 January 2010
  6. New research about pirates!, 3 March 2010

Other posts about crime

  1. “Combating the Growing Threat of International Organized Crime”, 30 April 2008
  2. Stratfor: the Mexican cartels stike at Phoenix, AZ, 6 July 2008
  3. “Drug cartels ‘threaten’ Mexican democracy”, 24 July 2008
  4. State of Siege: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency“, John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus, Small Wars Journal, 19 August 2008
  5. Stratfor writes about “the third war” in Mexico, 15 April 2009
  6. Stratfor: “When the Mexican Drug Trade Hits the Border”, 20 April 2009
  7. Stratfor reports about “The Role of the Mexican Military in the Cartel War”, 1 August 2009
  8. Stratfor looks at Mexico: The War with the Cartels in 2009, 12 December 2009
  9. National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, 29 March 2010

Other posts about 4GW

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  3. Why We Lose at 4GW – the two types of 4GW
  4. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  5. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  6. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  7. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  8. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  9. 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.
  10. Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics
  11. Why do we lose 4th generation wars?“, 4 January 2007 — About the two kinds of insurgencies

1 thought on “About Fourth Generation Infections”

  1. The most common sort of infection I’m aware of (beyond colds and other cases where the infection is essentially an organism using humans as a means of propagating themselves) are infected wounds. Dead tissues provide abundant food, while the remaining healthy body provides a warm and moist environment conducive to growth.

    The metaphors might be a little pat, but Somalia’s case is like an AIDS patient, where the structures that normally regulate infection have been blown away, and Mexico is a type 1 diabetic with gangrene. Its economy is unable to process the vast quantities of drug money that flow through it, and this excess money is damaging various tissues in the body.

    The two major questions are what attributes of a nation form its immune system against such infections, and can we organize national and international policy to strengthen national immune systems and avoid creating wounds?

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