Tag Archives: non-trinitarian

What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?

Summary:  We resume our analysis of modern war with a brief description of 4th generation war. Who fights it, and why. This is the 4th chapter in a series of posts following the 25th anniversary of the Marine Corps Gazette article “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”. A series of writers explain our past defeats at the hands of 4GW foes, and prepare you for those to come. Since these defeats are unnecessary, this might motivate you to join the effort to retake the reins of America.


Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid


  1. What is the 4th generation of war?
  2. War is a conflict; not all conflicts are war
  3. Posts in this series about 4GW
  4. For More Information
  5. The Evolution of Warfare graph

(1)  What is the 4th generation of war?

Many trends since WW2 forced ended the supremacy of 3GW (aka maneuver war, blitzkrieg), and powered the rise to dominance of 4GW. Two of the most important are…

  1. The slow spread of nuclear weapons since WW2 has forced the end of conventional warfare between developed states.
  2. Loyalty to the State has peaked around the world. As its influence declines in people’s hearts and minds, other loyalties emerge.

These increase the power of non-state entities, reversing the growth of State power since the Treaties of Westphalia legitimized the the State as the only entity able to use force within its bounds. Unlike the first 3 generations of war (from Napoleon to Hitler), 4GWs are fought by a wider range of players (as they were before).

  1. Multi-national corporations (imagine a 21st C East India Company)
  2. Non-governmental non-profit organizations, for example those providing regulatory services (e.g., engineering standards) and charitable efforts
  3. Ideological groups, such as radical environmentalists (example), animal rights and anti-abortion activists
  4. Mercenary armies (the Bush administration reversed centuries of work to minimize them)
  5. Transnational ethnic groups (e.g., the Kurds, the Pashtun people)
  6. Religious groups, benign or inimical depending on the observer
  7. Organized crime networks

Groups can combine along more than one of these affinities (e.g., ethnic criminal networks such as the Mafia). These can organize within a state, or use modern communication and transportation technology to easily build global networks, greatly increasing their power and reach.

Any of these can employ force, either domestically and globally — within the State, between States, between States and global non-state entities, and between non-state entities. In the 21st C any of these non-state entities can again become great powers, as they have in the past. Martin van Creveld calls these non-Trinitarian conflicts, as they break Clausewitz’s “trinity” of the government, the army, and the people.

Continue reading


More about pirates: why we no longer “hang them high”

Summary:  This is the second in a series about pirates.  The first chapter described modern day piracy, and why our “catch and release” response makes it an attractive low-risk, high-return business.  This describes the legal basis for their capture, trial, and punishment.  Links to the other chapters appear at the end.

Journalist Bret Stephens asks “Why Don’t We Hang Pirates Anymore?” (op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, 25 November 2008).  His answers:

  1. No controlling legal authority, providing a basis on which to fight, capture, try, and punish pirates.
  2. International law (e.g., the Law of the Sea Convention) makes action against pirates difficult.
  3. UN authorization is necessary for most effective actions against pirates, such as attacking their bases.

All of these things are true, but they secondary factors (discussed in the next chapter).  The vast majority of articles about piracy concentrate on these minor things.  This post will attempt a clearer and more comprehensive explanation.

Pirates were hung for two reasons.

  1. They routinely killed people during the course of their raiding. 
  2. During their years of infamy in the 17th and early 18th century, capital punishment was routine for many crimes. 

The last point is widely ignored in discussions of piracy, such as Stephen’s.  Consider the laws of England.

In the years after 1660 the number of offences carrying the death penalty increased enormously, from about 50, to 160 by 1750 and to 288 by 1815. You could be hanged for stealing goods worth 5 shillings (25p), stealing from a shipwreck, pilfering from a Naval Dockyard, damaging Westminster Bridge, impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner or cutting down a young tree. This series of laws was called (later) “The Bloody Code.” (source: UK National Archives)

In 1769 the great jurist William Blackstone wrote in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (Book IV, chapter 1;  source, Wikipedia entry):

YET, though in this instance we may glory in the wisdom of the English law, we shall find it more difficult to justify the frequency of capital punishment to found therein; inflicted (perhaps inattentively) by a multitude of successive independent statutes, upon crimes very different in their natures. It is a melancholy truth, that among the variety of actions which men are daily liable to commit, no less than 150 have been declared by act of Parliament to be felonies without benefit of clergy ; or, in other words, to be worthy of instant death.

Conclusion:  we do not hang pirates today because:
Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld

The central role of Professor van Creveld in the development of theory about modern war is difficult to exaggerate. He has provided both the broad historical context — looking both forward and back in time — much of the analytical work, and a large share of the real work in publishing both academic and general interest books. He does not use the term 4GW, preferring to speak of “non-trinitarian” warfare — but his work is foundational for 4GW just the same.

Professor van Creveld has written 20 books, about almost every significant aspect of war. Some of the best known are Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present and  Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict. He’s written books about the technical aspects of war, such as Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, and Air Power and Maneuver Warfare.

He’s written controversial books, such as Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945 (German soldiers were better than our!) and Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? He’s written some of the most influential books of our generation about war, such as The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (which I consider the best work to date about modern war) and The Changing Face of War: Combat from the Marne to Iraq.

His magnum opus is the dense about mind-opening The Rise and Decline of the State – the ur-text describing the political order of the 21st century. For links to his articles see The Essential 4GW reading list: Martin van Creveld.

My favorite is The Culture of War which explains the 4GW hellfire infecting so much of the world — while the rest of us enjoy peace and a rate of economic growth not seen since the invention of agriculture.  And what their passion for war might mean for us.

Contrary to what Clausewitz and so many “realists” believe, war is not simply a means to an end. It is that, but it also exercises a powerful fascination in its own right; out of this fascination grew, and continues to grow, an entire culture.  That culture ranges from the shapes and decoration of the armor of ancient Spartan warriors to today’s high tech “tiger suits;” from war games played by the ancient Egyptians to today’s violent video games; and from the Biblical commandments as to how one should treat one’s enemies all the way to the numbered paragraphs of today’s international law.  It also includes countless great works of art, books (both fiction and history), films, and much more.

Renowned author and war historian Martin van Creveld argues that, in spite of cultural, technological, and tactical changes, the culture of war, far from being obsolete, is more alive today as it has ever been.  Conversely, a society which, for one reason or another, loses touch with this culture will be helpless in front of one that has retained it and relishes in it.

For one application of his work, a demonstration of their utility, see How to accurately forecast trends of the Iraq War. Also see the Wikipedia biography of van Creveld.

Here are links to his works that are available on the Internet — all of these are very much worth reading!

Continue reading

A must-read about 4GW: “The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat, From the Marne to Iraq”

The Changing Face of War: Lessons of Combat, From the Marne to Iraq 
By Martin van Creveld

The gift of hope is perhaps the most valuable thing an author can provide us. The Changing Face of War is a must-read book because in it Martin van Creveld provides us with the second best gift: demolishing false hopes. Only after we clear our minds of misconceptions and baseless optimism can we begin the long process of adapting to a world in which a new form of war has obsoleted our current armed forces and ended the military dominance of the western developed nations.

Van Creveld describes our problem in a mild voice, without hyperbole.

Continue reading