The misleading theory of Fourth Generation Warfare

Discussions about the nature of the ‘war’ the United States is presently fighting naturally requires a discussion on how we to fight the war. Understanding the right mixture of people, technology, military and police is critical. So is finding a balance between coercive pressures of economics, ideology (culture and religion), politics, and violence. It is like using the equalizer in iTunes. For some music, you push one slider up a bit and another down a bit and so on. For, say, gospel, the some or all of the sliders will move away, up or down, from where it would be for vocal or "spoken word" (audio books for example). Likewise, the sliders will move again when listening to Metallica. Each slider is independent of the other but yet they work best when operating in unison. This is what war is and has been like, and this is where Fourth Generation Warfare fails.

Debates over network centric warfare (NCW)
and future combat systems (FCS) are about the tools of war, as are discussions around how to conduct public and cultural diplomacy (even the need for this is debatable by those, not me, who believe our values are self-evident). Understanding how to adjust the sliders requires understanding the enemy so we can understand how to engage them, whether they are singular or plural in politics, ideology, or geography.

By example, we can look at a theory such as the Long War which defines the enemy in two parts. The enemy that is here and now
that is violently attempting to attack us and the enemy that is not yet
our enemy, not yet willing to attack and perhaps not yet even born. These components are each flexible in its own right and flexible in their individual applications in distinct situations.

Fourth Generation Warfare, on the other hand, cannot and does not comprehend an enemy such as this. Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) is an attempt to describe how transnational groups "deal with the conventional military power of a state", according to Chet Richards’ PowerPoint presentation (zoomable image of ppt at right, PPT here).

Richards considers the tools of the "evolved insurgency" are information operation (IO) and military attacks on economic, ideological, and political foundations of the state’s power. The idea, Richards’ says,

Is that through these methods, the outside power will be “morally defeated,” that is, give up the fight and go home. Although 4GW is often identified with terrorism and guerrilla warfare, history suggests that the best way to achieve the moral defeat of an outside state is to sell the idea that the failing state is corrupt, brutal, and undemocratic and that the 4GW group is composed of reformers who represent the legitimate, democratic will of the people.

Dr Echevarria suggested 4GW was also faulty, however he didn’t go far enough when he referenced the World Wars. Dr Echevarria wrote the wars were the result of an ideological squaring off, the fascists and the democracies (plus the Communists). John Sayen countered this, suggesting it was still state on state warfare.

Sayen’s reliance on the "state" as the keystone to his argument is pivotal. As William S. Lind points out, the perceived obsolescence of "state-on-state"
war in the globalized modern era is central to 4GW. Which takes us back to Richards’ slide above. After the "Creation" at the Peace of Westphalia, which allegedly transformed politics to be exclusively between States, successive generations were based on technology, even though 4GW claims to be beyond or outside of technology.

A brief note on how the generational shift should be defined by example of what should have been the 2nd Generation according to 4GW (but since the whole theory is a mess…). The short of it is the Napoleonic Wars marked a generational shift. This was due to a complex availability and interplay of a number of factors. These included technology (cannon, weapons for the non-professional soldier), a professional officer corps (leading to independent movement in and around the battlefield), logistics, and nationalism (levee en masse). It was not simply nationalism or simply anything else. Napoleon continued the charge of nationalism started by the United States and demonstrated by all he whooped that nationalist armies were the way to go. Ironically, if you follow 4GW generational shifts, except for the point of conception, they are based on tactical implementation of technology.

One of the great generals of the 19th Century noted the transition
from the old phase of fighting wars, including staffing the war, into
massive national armies (conscript or volunteer, institution or occupation) for the coming larger wars of
the 20th Century. Field Marshal von Moltke, father of the World War I
von Moltke, said in 1892 in a preface to his son’s book on the
Franco-Prussian War, gone are the days when

armies of professional soldiers went to war to conquer a city…Wars of
the present day call whole nations to arms…entire financial resources
of the State are appropriated to the purpose.

In On War #147,
the highly respected William S. Lind wrote a "clarification" for Thomas X. Hammes’ The Sling and The Stone [emphasis added]:

However, there are also some key points where The Sling and the Stone
misunderstands Fourth Generation war. One is found in the book’s
assertion that 4GW is just insurgency. This is much too narrow a
definition, and it risks misleading us if we take it to mean that we
need only re-discover old counter-insurgency techniques in order to
prevail against Fourth Generation opponents. At the core of 4GW is a crisis of legitimacy of the state,
and counter-insurgency cannot address that crisis; indeed, when the
counter-insurgency is led by foreign troops, it only makes the local
state’s crisis of legitimacy worse.

As Martin van Creveld has said, what changes in Fourth Generation war is not merely how war is fought, but who fights and what they fight for. The Sling and the Stone does not seem to grasp that these are larger changes than the shift from conventional war to insurgency.

anything, Hammes was letting "legitimacy" issue slide because it kills
the theory. The state, as many (4GW groupies especially) think of it
today, is only 150 years old, give or take a few decades depending on
which state you’re talking about.

Back to Sayen’s counter to Dr Echevarria on the "state-factor" of World War II specifically. The level of propaganda, white / black / gray, in World War II (and The Great War for that matter) was significant on all sides. This was not a simple, as 4GW’ers are prone to paint history, conflict of massive weapons, but all-out war for the hearts and minds. The saying "if you can’t win the hearts and minds, put two in the heart and one in the mind" was applicable then as some would have it today. War has always been about who fights and what they fight for.

Fourth Generation War theory relies on the readers to assume the state is the political actor. This stems from Martin van Creveld and Lind’s erroneous assumption of Clausewitz.

Let’s look for a moment at the "not merely how war is fought, but who fights and what they fight for" statement. Consider Martin van Creveld’s "Through a Glass Darkly":

To sum up, the roughly three-hundred-year period in which war was associated primarily with the type of political organization known as the state — first in Europe, and then, with its expansion, in other parts of the globe as well — seems to be coming to an end. If the last fifty years or so provide any guide, future wars will be overwhelmingly of the type known, however inaccurately, as "low intensity". Both organizationally and in terms of the equipment at their disposal, the armed forces of the world will have to adjust themselves to this situation by changing their doctrine, doing away with much of their heavy equipment and becoming more like the police. In many places that process is already well under way.

That, as Hammes wrote and Lind reinforces, the "last fifty years have led to a fundamental erosion of the state’s monopoly on the use of force" relies on the state actually possessing a monopoly on the use of force. First, it wasn’t a three hundred period, but more like one hundred and fifty odd years that the present state has existed. The notion of a monopoly of force entered the vernacular of international relations only in the late 19th early 20th Centuries when Max Weber wrote it. In the 19th Century, states did act to "de-legitimized, de-democratized, and territorialized" non-state forces as Janice Thomson wrote in 1994, but this did not limit the use of force as an exclusive right of to the state. Politics "owned" the use of force and the state was just one incarnation of the political actor with license to use force. 4GW’ers fail to contextualize history in the appropriate moment, instead imposing modernity on all instances of the "State".

Van Creveld and Lind and 4GW claim, specifically in an attack on Dr Echevarria’s Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths in On War #149, the "new" theory of war is based on a "legitimacy crisis of the state". Lind, in his short hand, does not distinguish which trinity van Creveld was dissing, but it is clear from van Creveld and 4GW theory that the assumption is Clausewitz was speaking of a state, a state as we know it today. The heavy weight 4GW places on the shoulders of van Creveld forces a further look at his foundational arguments on what, as John Sayan wrote, "in essence gave states the sole right to wage lawful war". Van Creveld, quoting Emmeric Vattel, suggests war was based on a growing legal structure:

War ought to be waged exclusively by the sovereign rulers on behalf of their respective states. For anyone else to intervene in it was itself an offense, and as such they deserved to be both condemned and punished.

War was not waged exclusively by sovereigns but was a largely outsourced affair that only began to be drawn inside with the rise of the nation-states, a result of forces beyond Westphalian designs, nearly a half-century after Vattel wrote The Law of Nations. The "2nd Generation" as I defined it above, attributed to the causes I described above, is a crucial element of the evolution here, its understanding and applicability to the future.

The state, as a type of political actor that has (had) a greater ability to amass and utilize wealth in the ecology of the international system, was able to take advantage, or be taken advantage of, a revolution in military affairs at the beginning of the nineteenth century. This was a revision to the early form of warfare as conducted by Napoleon and led to swift elimination of non-state forces on land as inefficient, troublesome, and interfering.

Before and after the creation of the Westphalian state system in 1648, rulers relied on hired soldiers for military requirements. Defensive and offensive needs were tied to commercial aspirations, whether it was the defense of a town or the attacking of another kingdom. Limits on state capital prevented maintaining the desired and necessary armies and navies to both grow the state and protect its resources. As states accumulated wealth and gained power, they grew more autonomous in the international system and more institutional. Reflecting their need for order and stability as they conducted business to increase their wealth, states sought order and accountability in the international system.

The shining light of an intelligent design of the State, with its mythical powers immediately apparent and equal through the centuries, did not happen. Fourth Generation War theorists are prone to say Clausewitzian war is over because the state is losing primacy. In reality, the state had primacy for maybe one hundred years. The United States wasn’t a coherent state until after the Civil War (always referred to as "These United States" and frequently at war along and inside its border). The rise of the international system usurped power and autonomy from the states, which 4GW’er fail to acknowledge as part of evolution. Philip Bobbitt’s description of the evolution of the state-nation, nation-state, market-state is useful here, but not much use to 4GW’ers.

Clausewitz did not write the "State" had sole power to conduct war. This thought, a basis for 4GW, lay in revisionist interpretations of the evolution and concept of war, the writings of Clausewitz, and, most importantly, the ever-present employment of political, economic, ideological, and military means to ends. The utilization of these four networks of power, each their own slider on the equalizer of interaction, reached a raised awareness as a result of globalization and interconnectedness, a feature not lost on Europeans who lived through the terrorism of the 1980’s, but were not "born" by the Sandinista take-over in 1979, resource scarcities, religious divisions, or anything else. These networks are the foundation of power and conflict. It is politics that “owned” the use of force and the state was just one incarnation of the political actor with license to use force. As Clausewitz wrote:

When whole communities go to war—whole peoples, and especially civilized peoples—the reason always lies in some political situation, and the occasion is always due to some political object. War, therefore, is an act of policy

International norms dictating the state’s "ownership" of force is barely a century old. The state — as state-nation, nation-state, or market-state — is older but not even the issue. Political actors are the "who". How political actors fight, with what means and to what ends, has always changed. At one time, personal enmity was the name of the game. The serfs were mere property to be exploited or killed (as Cicero said, “it is not improper to despoil the man whom we have the right to kill”). Later, industrialization gave rise to the need to preserve the means of trade and production. Alternative forms of war were necessary. Legal structures were developed in the 19th Century as the nation-states developed and as inter-state trade developed.

There is no crisis of legitimacy in the state system. Roles of states are changing, as they always have. The power of Diasporas is increasing. The value of inter-related commerce and societal pressures increases. But none of these are properly addressed by 4GW, but in fact, improperly attributed. States are losing their autonomy (although Putin’s Russia is fight that trend) willingly. As states evolve, voluntarily ceding autonomy, as in the European Union today, as in the states of the US federal project a century and a half ago (read about Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Jackson to see how tenuous our "State" was and how it doesn’t fit in the 4GW theory). States did not magically appear in the present image and will continue to evolve.

The theory of Fourth Generation Warfare fails when applied to reality and as a theory itself. It fails to prescribe, predict, describe, or explain behavior. Its explanations of relationships and ideas do not connect when exposed to historical realities. Ultimately, the analysis of past and present conflicts with this theory is of little value. 

Fourth Generation Warfare is based on a false reading of history and a faulty understanding of the nature of conflict. The role of economic, ideological, and political ideas and efforts have always co-mingled with military might. The quantity of each would vary as required, resorting to military might as an extension of politics if necessary. At best, 4GW reminds us public diplomacy is more important than ever because of the need to interact at alternative levels. That is the best 4GW can contribute.

Generational warfare is based on technology and tactics. The Napoleonic shift a radical change in how and why wars were fought. With his destablizing impact on the nature of the state system at the time, how was what he did not 4GW? Generations of warfare are best described through technological and tactical changes. The Revolution in Military Affairs of Napoleon is remarkably similar to the RMA today, but with some aspects in reverse (professionalism -> amateurism -> professionalism). Fourth Generation War has ‘happened’ before and throughout time. It is how and why wars are fought. It simply does not offer anything new.

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18 thoughts on “The misleading theory of Fourth Generation Warfare

  1. Mountain Runner,Very impressive post. I hope you do not mind my comments.
    First, note that Chet Richards is an outsider commenting on 4GW, not a believer himself.
    Richards also would place the emergence of 2GW before Napoleon. Also note that while Napoleon was technologically superior, he lost. Even though he was faster (his troops could march quicker), he lost to the more faster transienting British at Waterloo.
    Hammes deprecated legitimacy because, as he writes, his book is for practitioners, not theorists.
    I’m not sure you ever demonstrate “Fourth Generation War theory relies on the readers to assume the state is the political actor.”
    The significant of the Peace of Westphalia and that “modern” state is that it began the separation of the trinity of Military, Political, and Civilian. That is, between the Author of Policy, the Enactor of policy, and the Subject of Policy. States, like all things, continued to evolve because people learn from actions.
    I agree that the Monopoly of Force/Violence is not a necessary part of the state. This doesn’t really address 4GW, though.
    On the Law of Nations, it’s notable not for its immediate or direct effect, but that such talk was now possible. The medieval world had no exclusive jurisdictions, while westphalian laws assumes them.
    “The shining light of an intelligent design of the State, with its mythical powers immediately apparent and equal through the centuries, did not happen. Fourth Generation War theorists are prone to say Clausewitzian war is over because the state is losing primacy. ”
    Here you mix two claims
    1. 4GW theorists believe in rapid evolution between generations
    2. Primacy = Absolute Power.
    I do not think the first is true, and even a relatively weak State (such as 1840s America) still enjoys Primacy, even without a monopoly of violence, because she is stronger (first, prime) over other actors within her territory.
    I like your discussion on networks.
    “It is politics that “owned” the use of force and the state was just one incarnation of the political actor with license to use force. As”
    Here you are discussing alternates to the State level of analysis. Major other levels include Individual and System, and the middling Group and Alliance. A 4GWer would argue that while there were always quantitative changes in the viability of the levels, 4GW accompanies a qualitative change.
    “There is no crisis of legitimacy in the state system.”
    Oh? Christianists in the United States and Islamists in the muslim world, while they differ on many ends and means, agree that the State is legitimate insofar as it reflects God’s Will. As both America and the Uma appear to be their most religious in recorded history, this is striking!
    “Generational warfare is based on technology and tactics. ”
    Specifically, tactics. A 4GW can be fought with atom bombs or knife-cutters. A 3GW can be fought with horse cavalry or tank cavalry.
    Thank you again for the thought-provoking article.

  2. Excellent article, MR. I’ve been looking for this sort of rigorous, historical perspective on the historical narrative of 4GW for a while. Very satisfying.

  3. Wiggins,You are right that generations are not just confined to certain decades. America, immediately after winning the grandest 3GW in the history of the world, and China, immediately after winning the grandest 4GW in the history of the world, proceeding to…. fight the Korean War, which was just one more 2GW.
    But this shouldn’t be surprising. Regression is part of learning. After a child learns something (how to walk, sleep in a bed, etc), the child will regress to an earlier state. This is rational, because it allows the learner to determine which knowledge is necessary and which is superficial.
    That said, there is good reason for viewing the Mongols are precussors to 3GWarriors, and not 3GWarriors themselves. The Mongols were a premodern, tribal force. The full name of 1GW, “The First Generation of Modern War,” indicates the revolutionary difference. Even the most primitive generation of war, 1GW, is a revolutionary advance over pre-modern war because it involves violent non-kin networks.
    Now, in some areas we see what appears to be “fusions” — syntheses of modern generations with pre-modern networks. Both Iraqi Sunni Arabs and American Christian Conservatives are blending family and faith, and they are forceful in their respective domains.
    If this indicates a coming “revolution,” or if we can still expect a 5th Generation of Modern War, is an interesting question….

  4. @Dan”A 3GW can be fought with horse cavalry or tank cavalry.”
    This illustrates my frustration with the “generations of war” narrative. If tactics are what define 3GW, then why does the narrative make the artificial relationship those tactics and certain historical periods? Tying certain techniques of warfare to certain times obscures the similiarities between maneuver warfare waged by horse cavalry and maneuver warfare waged by mechanized armor/infantry. Let’s say we want to understand the Mongols’ success in using mounted troops. We could analyze it as an example of maneuver warfare, which would deepen our understanding of both maneuver warfare and our historical understanding of how the Mongols were able to string together military victory after military victory. If we were using the generations of war narrative instead, though, the Mongols would fall outside of our scope. They would just be some form of pre-1GW.
    In short, it just doesn’t seem like a very useful perspective.

  5. dan: i think wiggins’ frustration is warranted. there is no reason, i can tell of, to put the generational model of warfare into a historical framework. in fact, i find the study of warfare rather ahistoric actually. i wish there was some way to remove the historical analysis from the much more insightful strategic debate. but i fear we’ve become so inculcated by marxists that we no longer know how to have discussions without reference to historical periods. is the historical overlay helping or hindering?wiggins: for some time now, i have agreed with you on this point. the implication of the generational model is to place warfare strategy subordinate to time. it seems to me the lessons warfighters have taught throughout western civilization however, is that strategy is subordinate only to circumstance, and itself is capable of molding the historical period. it seems odd to me that people would want to place the evolution of a category of ideas which do more to define history than any other ideas perhaps ever do into a subordinate role. why do you think we do this? shouldn’t the debate be purely ahistoric?

  6. Dan,I am less concerned about regression (I recognize, for example, that the 1GW, 2GW and 3GW lines on Richards’ graphic continue even after the generation N+1 arrives) than about the implications of the “precursor activities.”
    Your comment that kicked off this discussion indicated that generational warfare is based upon tactics. I pointed out that the tactics of maneuver warfare could be found pre-1688. Now you tell me that generational warfare is based upon tactics and non-kin networks. So I now ask, where is the evidence that all of the precursor activites involved only kin networks? My concern is that there there seems to be some slipperiness regarding how one distinguishes between a precursor activity and a generation proper.
    The generation model implies that one form of warfare came before another. If there are precursor-to-3GW examples that are indistinguishable from 3GW and predate 1GW, than is it accurate to imply that 1GW came before 3GW?

  7. dan: i’m not willing to concede that human knowledge has remained, more or less, unchanged. i’m also not willing to defend such an assertion, just tossing it out there for what it is worth. do you perhaps think it might not be the case that no ideas are in fact new, but instead they are just packaged differently? was ptolemy not able to tell us precisely where the sun will be the day after tomorrow… and wasn’t copernicus utterly unable to do the same? is that new knowledge?as for lind’s explanation, i appreciate this very much. it actually explains a great deal. hegel is always confused for marx, and what lind insists is a hegelian “qualitative shift” is merely marx’s reinterpretation. what remains to be built is a model for warfare’s evolution based on freedom. this is why the current rediscovery going on with hegel since the fall of the iron curtain is so incredibly important to this debate.

  8. First, let met quote William Lind, who can explain the generational model better than Ifrom
    “One reason for the confusion may be a misapprehension of what “generation” means. In the context of the Four Generations of Modern War, “generation” is shorthand for a dialectically qualitative shift. As the originator of the framework, I adopted the word “generation” because I was speaking to and writing for Marines, and “dialectically qualitative shift” has more syllables than the Marine mind can readily grasp (think of the Emperor Joseph II’s response when he first heard Mozart’s music: “Too many notes.”). Most Marines vaguely remember that Hegel pitched for the Yankees in the late 1940’s.
    A related danger is technological hucksterism: coming up with Madison Avenue slogans to sell new weapons programs by claiming that they fundamentally change warfare. This kind of carnival sideshow act lies at the heart of the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs,” and it dominates all discussions of national defense in Washington. Every contractor who hopes to get his snout in the trough claims that his widget “revolutionizes” war. As the framework of the Four Generations spreads, you can be sure that the Merchants of Death will claim that whatever they are trying to sell is an absolute necessity for Fourth (or Fifth) Generation war. It will all be poppycock.
    From what I have seen thus far, honest attempts to discover a Fifth Generation suggest that their authors have not fully grasped the vast change embodied in the Fourth Generation. The loss of the state’s monopoly, not only on war but also on social organization and first loyalties, alters everything. We are only in the earliest stages of trying to understand what the Fourth Generation means in full and how it will alter – or, in too many cases, end – our lives.”
    I apologize for the extent to which my paltry definition veered away from Lind’s well-trodden path.
    That being said, let’s see if I can rescue (or, at least, drown) my earlier discussin of tactics and kin…
    Re: kin loyalties. Note Lind’s comment that “The loss of the state’s monopoly… on … first loyalties, alters everything.” For the vast majority of history first loyalties were with the family: this was the pre-modern era. This was for the very practical reason that the family provided more security than any other functioning institution. In Europe, the High Middle Ages saw a breakdown of this because of Christian agitation against vendettas. What emerged, after the spasm of violence that could be expected after such an innovation, were States.
    Now, States have existed in other places and times. China, Greece, and Italy all saw states pretty much as we know them because Westphalia. This implies that that these States fought “modern wars.” So it’s not true that the generational theory of war is somehow glued to specific historical periods — rather, it’s a method of explaining and predicting the nature of war given a context. Anywhere there are functioning states as the first security provider, you’ll see modern war.
    Regarding the models, their kin and not state organation show that they are doing something very different from 3GW, because the change of first loyalties change everything.
    Federalist X, humans remain the same throughout history, but human knowledge doesn’t. Warfare evolves because people learn techiniques which are countered by techniques which are….

  9. Dan, I do not mind at all the comments and appreciate them. The debate, as Wiggans and Federalist X point out, is necessary, which the discussion while I’ve been offline has also attributed to. Wiggins and Federalist X, thank you too for the participation.A brief note: the post was modified this evening *only* to fix the html for technorati, nothing else was changed. I consider the post a *draft*, but any modifications will appear in a new post as I have a substainal amount of editing I’d like to do myself.
    After reading through the excellent debate, I have comments, questions, and thoughts.
    Dan, I disagree with you that Chet Richards is not a believer. While I have not completed reading Neither Shall the Sword (my pencil is running out of lead and my highlighter is drying up), I have hit p19 where Richards writes: “If people are going to confront us, and they aren’t going to use conventional military forces even to conduct maneuver warfare, what are they going to do? The answer is that they will wage fourth generation warfare (4GW).” Richards does then submit the fudge factor of 4GW proponents immediately: “What is 4GW? The correct answer is that we don’t know for sure because it is still being worked out by, as Marine Col T X Hammes, one of the leading theorists of the subject, notes, practical people…”
    Granted, maybe there’s more, but I get the strong feeling from the half of the book I’ve read so far and other writings that Mr Richards is a believer in 4GW. The fuzziness of the theory, with the leading proponents each diverging on critical aspects, seems to bring additional questions about its validity. “I / We will know it when we see it” is a tough sell on a theory.
    As far as Napolean as a demarcation, I believe we need to be looking at more than simply tactics or technology. In the example Dan and Wiggens (to step back and go third person) discuss — mounted Mongol’s — reinforces this. The change wrought by Napoleon was a complex series of events that both enabled and was enabled by technology, sociological changes (including but not limited to nationalism), economic changes (including industrialisation which is also linked to nationalism), and militaristic (including but not limited to tactics and an evolved officer corps). I admit I don’t know enough about Wellington (something I do wish to correct in the future) so I cannot comment on the rocks beat scissors argument I see 4GW theory proposing.
    I believe Sayan’s rebuttal to Dr Echevarria, William S Lind’s words, and Martin van Creveld’s words all push the “state” = actor position. A cornerstone is van Creveld’s “Through a Glass Darkly” paragraph quoted above. This and other supporting arguments (which may be incomplete, this is where I offer the backfall statement “this is a draft”) prior to and after the quoted passage should reinforce this.
    The centrality of the state in 4GW is important and based on Westphalia and the reading of Clausewitz. Organization of the international system was due in part to states but more because of economics. Private mercantile companies, for example, were agents of the state, reigned in as the began to compete with and otherwise interfere with the wealth accumulation of the state and its elites (Gramscian idea thrown in here which could easily be its own post but hard to argue elites were divorced from personal gain). The monopoly on force and violence by the state is central to 4GW when you consider Lind’s own words: ”
    At the core of 4GW is a crisis of legitimacy of the state”. This was written in the context of insurgency and that “state vs state” is the only “legal form of warfare”, to quote from Richards’ slide.
    My sentence “Fourth Generation War theorists are prone to say Clausewitzian war is over because the state is losing primacy”, besides being a badly constructed statement is restating the Lind comment on the perceived obsolescence of “state-on-state” and various passages from van Creveld’s writings. What is referred to as my belief of “rapid evolution between generations” is really founded on the starting point of the Peace of Westphalia. My counter to the Treaty being a marker is the state, as 4GW refers to it, did not take its present form until the 19th Century.
    The “legitimacy of the state” is not in question, the authority and autonomy of the state is in question by various groups. The legitimate right of China, France, or Fiji to exist is not in question. The authority of the state to govern within its borders, lending to questions of autonomy which globalization is eating away, are in question. Religious radicals that question the legitimacy do not actually cause a legitimacy crisis except in their own minds. The means of their attacks, their diatribes and monologues do not bring down a political entity we now know as a state. France is ceding autonomy (perhaps I should have selected the Netherlands in this example) grudgingly to the EU (the Netherlands has ceded more to NATO). I don’t believe this theory is writen for the future McVeighs, Coreshes, or Aum Shrinriko followers. They may believe and hope, but that doesn’t make it so.
    A meager addition to the kin debate here is offering the “Irish Problem”, the Reformation, the Crusades as blends of family and faith and force. Norwegian fostr (root of our foster) relations mixed families together, creating a bond so tight foster families would lay down their lives for their foster child and vic versa. These bonds were sometimes tighter than blood. I’m not sure how the Sunnis move beyond that. I do not see the connection you are establishing with the reference to Iraqi Sunni and American Christian Conservatives with 4GW except (going on a limb and quite possibly wrong here) their “role” in the crisis of the legitimacy of the state? Consider the notion of nationalism and how nationalism is constructed in different ‘nations’. My mind is starting to wonder here and my eyes are crossing so I’m going to end this now…
    Excellent debate all. Keep it coming… Dan, Wiggins, and Federalist X thank you again for your thought provoking comments and hopefully my follow up contribution did not dilute the quality of discussion.

  10. Following up after further thought, I think it’s important to expand on Federalist X’s ptolomey / coprenicus comment. Not only do I not see 4GW as *new* but it reinforces the commodification of resources, tactics, etc. The allegation that the end of the brilliant 3GW attack on Iraq was followed by a 4GW counter fails all sense of reason when breaking apart compartmentalized reasoning.Commodification -> compartmentalization -> commodification
    We break down the component parts of our strategy — including military, ideological, political, economic — and fail to see their comprehensive impact. Eliminating the rule of law and the means to keep the peace led to what in Iraq? Those who suppose that 4GW appeared like a phoenix somehow ignore what happens to society when Maslow’s pyramid is disrupted. Consider Katrina here in the good ole USofA. Power brokers stepped into vacuums. The military wanted resources beyond what the civilian leadership allowed. Denying General Shenseki was the civilian right, however the result isn’t some new form of war. We too easily fail to integrate complex components for lack of understanding or thinking too hard. The answers don’t look pretty. Almost every Arabist predicted something similar to the present situation. This is not too different than FYR if you consider the different groups who have deep animosities toward each other (the sociological component that is ignored). If you do not maintain some seperation or law and order, what will happen?
    From John Robb’s Global Guerilla’s, comes a post from 8 May 2004 comes a critical “driver” that I reject: “The rise of 4GW is both a product and a driver of the following: The loss of that nation-state’s monoploy on violence…”
    Same post on Tactics: “4GW is fought on the tactical level via: Rear area operations — 4GW warriors do not confront a nation-state’s military but rather it[s] society…”
    The society, most notably throughout the 20th Century, has been targeted by the opposing side. To say it hasn’t and that there is some NEW “thing” here is disengenious. Propaganda of the World Wars are most notable here, but then 4GW might dismiss that as “pre-modern” or “pre-4GW”. Britain executed considerable propaganda campaigns against both enemy and ally in WWI, inter-war years, and WWII. US came to the table and did the same, notablly WWII and throughout the Cold War. The best view of this is the late ’40s and ’50s. There we had a mixture of economic, political, sociological (cultural exchange to name one piece of this), and military. We do not need to have kinetic warfare for a military standoff. If we do, we can include proxy wars. 4GW doesn’t rely on kinetic warfare…
    From Robb’s other blog (I do not mean to hoist any offense onto Robb) has this: “Globalization has radically changed the context of warfare. We are now in a world where conflict isn’t between states but rather between states and self-sufficient non-states.”
    The first sentance is accurate not because of a lack of legitimacy but because of a lack of autonomy. The state can no longer move massive amounts of forces (regardless of their composition, the issue is the act itself) without being aware of the reprecussions. The second sentance comes up short. The issue is our actions. We must consider the IEVP (ideological, economic, violent, and political) aspects of our actions, the counter by other sides, and pre-empt this. THis is regardless of the nature of the actor, non-state or state. The dialing up or down of our efforts into each network is dependend on the quality, quantity of the opposition. Why did Hamas win the election? Why were the Cali Cartels in Columbia enjoying the protection of locals?
    This is why the COIN Academy works. It isn’t about 4GW, but natural needs of people. COIN Academy helps puts the puzzle pieces together. 4GW distracts from this, focusing on the composition of actors while ignoring tried methods from the past that work to inhibit, prevent, and educate the middling people to “our side” (which may simply be “not their side”).
    Compartmentalizing our efforts, like our relief efforts after tsunamis or mudslides results in a great first step but failed follow through. This is the failure in Iraq. This is what 4GW does not realize. Just some other thoughts on this. Sorry for the typos, just sort of dumped these ideas. Will get back on this later.

  11. Federalist X,Thank you for your kind words.
    As far as your question goes, I just have my own opinions. I think that one confusion we face is that certain modes of warfare coinsided with (and, from our perspective, sometimes even defined) certain historical periods. I think of the Roman Legions, or our earlier discussion of the Mongols. Historical examples serve an essential purpose (our service academies still teach ancient battles, for example).
    We get in trouble when we cross the line from historical examples to sweeping narratives that reduce hundreds of years of complex dynamics to a few simplistic forces. Such simple narratives often reduce history to a linear progression. This is dangerous, because I feel that history is more cyclical. As circumstances change, different techniques of warfare ebb and flow (just as the power of the state has varied around the globe and throughout history).

  12. Defending 4GW Against MountainRunner
    Last May I defended 4GW against Antulio Echevarria. Now Mark of ZenPundit blogs that Matt at Mountainrunner has joined the fray:
    Generational warfare is based on technology and tactics. The Napoleonic shift a radical change in how and why wars were…

  13. Federalist,There’s no reason to believe that human knowledge has remained unchanged, so I’m glad you’re not willing to defend such a thing.
    All ideas may be mere analogies to existing ideas, but certainly information is created and hypotheses are generated.
    When Richards uses 4GW, or nontrinitarian warfare,he is refering to evolved insurgency. He will use the language of others without buying into their system, the same way that Barnett hijacks the Core/Seam/Periphery model from Wallerstein without the subsequent Marxist mumbojumbo.
    What rock beats scissors element are you refering to?
    The Saudis have a simlar “fostr” program in their realm. The major difference is that even “fostr” societies primarily rely on the blood-ties, and try to grow by merging several blood lines together. The Iraqi Sunni Arabs and American Religious Right primarily right on ideology to knit together a national community, and use family to cement that on a local level.
    I’m not sure how your compartmentalization/commodification cycle effects 4GW theory. 4GWarriors are like fish in the ocean. Of course when the temperature or salienty is altered to be more hospitable to fish, the fish population grows.
    The central force of GW theory is the desire to win. Pretty basic cooperative-competitive stuff.

  14. Dan,Excellent debate points Dan. I will have to finish reading Neither Shall the Sword and get through his 160+ slide powerpoint to better get a handle on Richards’ position apparently. Using language of others and not using their meaning leads to confusing symbology. The idea of the ‘trinity’ encapsulates much that doesn’t need to be spoken. Clearly Richards must redefine somewhere and probably I missed it. I’ll have to look, but didn’t Richards dismiss the notion of “evolved insurgency” or was the Lind? It is telling that Marxists writers (dare we say Marxism?) seeps into our writings (personally one of my favorites is Gramsci). They wrote of sociological issues, something not unique to our era and central to 4GW.
    The rock, paper, scissors reference was to 4GW trumps 3GW which trumps 2GW or single element automatically trumping another. The context was the “faster transienting British at Waterloo” over Naps technology and marching tempo. War is, of course, complex and a variety of factors to lead to victory or defeat.
    Again, good point an Arab familial traditions (question: is it necessary to specify Saudi here? I’m not sure it is). However, I still do not agree this leads to a legitimacy crisis. The state is a bureaucratic unit of governance for the provision of services, including protection and regulation etc. It is an issue of autonomy.
    “Guerillas live in a sea of the people.” The focus on C/PC (conflict/post-conflict) is not surprising since a) the Pentagon is the agent of American foreign policy, and b) compartmentalization and commodification of creates stops and starts when there needs to be fluidity. Phase IV should not be the transition from “militarily dominated process to civilian dominated process in the wake of an intervention”, it should be included with military operations from the get go. Previous wars say a much greater integration of these steps, including World War II. With the troops on occasion or immediately following the troops were civilian and civil minded units to serve and protect everything from police, arts and antiquities, architecture, etc. There needs to be a comprehensive strategy to work over the entire population and mission. USG has done it before, we need the leadership to do it again.
    As Mao said, “the Guerrilla swims in the sea of the people.” Disjunctions between policy and practice were manifested in our treatment of civilians and prisoners. This is both a point of media coverage and the reality of actions. Mistreatment served only to bolster the solidarity and support of anti-Americanism in theater and elsewhere. We assumed the sea would part and spit up the guerillas because of who we are and not what we do. The guerillas require the sea of people to exist and will die without it. Consider why Hamas won the recent Palestinian elections. We must act to divest the people and the guerrillas from each other, to divide them from one another. To have the sea spit up the guerillas. To have other seas prevent guerrillas from gaining footholds.
    Mao recognized the guerrillas needed the support of the people. He insisted his men pay for their own food, treat the peasants with respect, and write poetry to ponder how they fit into the greater good. Without the support of the people, the guerillas die. The “people” include hard-liners and middle of the road’ers. In order to win, we need to the local population to believe, to firmly believe their future is at odds with the “insurgents”. This begins before Phase IV, this begins with making sure civil services are functional, or at least Iraqis are involved in the process.

  15. Matt,Thanks for the rapid reply — and apologies for my own delayed one!
    Agreed that terminology can lead to confusion, but I guess that Richards sees 4GW and PNM theory as influential, so maximizes his influence by reflecting his ideas off those domains.
    I specified Saudi because a knowledgeable associate of mine informed me that such was official Saudi policy. A similar program would be logical, but my knowledge extends only to the Kingdom.
    We have done massive occupations before — with limited objectives (keeping the old elites in power) with maximized human capital (huge draft armies). As the elites may be part of a structural problem, andwe minimize for humans in our fighting force, it’s questionable whether such a feet can be economically repeated.
    An ongoing series at tdaxp, “Guerrillaz,” echos some of your thoughts.

  16. I finally read this post. Below are some hopefully not too random thoughts on it.I have to admit that I’ll have to re-read it at least once more in order to fully grasp everything (that English isn’t my mother’s tongue after all might serve as an excuse).
    I also realized that my knowledge on 4GW is superficial at best. I will have to dig far deeper there. So bear in mind that my basic understanding of 4GW was something like “war now focusses more on the informational battle space than before”. Anyway, here we go.
    I’m obviously biased here but insofar 4GW theorists declare something like non-trinitarian warfare they’re not correct. Like you wrote, this is based on a misreading of “On War” – one that is focused solely on the secondary trinity.
    I also tend to agree with you that there’s no crisis of legitimacy of the state. It certainly is true that states have become less autonomous than before but I doubt we’ll see the end of the nation state any time soon.
    There is something you said in one of your comments, however: “I still do not agree this leads to a legitimacy crisis. The state is a bureaucratic unit of governance for the provision of services, including protection and regulation etc.”
    Think of the states of the Middle East. The governments of these states often have proven themselves to be unable or unwilling to provide these services to their respective citizens. That’s why groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hizb’Allah or Hamas have often been able to supplant the state in these areas. Add to this the notion of pan-Arabism or more recently pan-Islamism and there may be a crisis of legitimacy in the minds of the people there.
    I agree with you when you wrote “Religious radicals that question the legitimacy do not actually cause a legitimacy crisis except in their own minds.”
    I do wonder, however, whether that local crisis of legitimacy in the minds of the people will have repercussions on the state system at some point.
    I’ll have to admit that I didn’t really catch the relationship of compartmentalized reasoning and 4GW. I do however agree with you on this: “Phase IV should not be the transition from “militarily dominated process to civilian dominated process in the wake of an intervention”, it should be included with military operations from the get go.”
    Here’s the reason why I objected OIF in the first place. Since Vietnam there’s been a tendency in the US military to avoid nation building and leave it to the Canadians and Europeans. This has proven to be disastrous in Iraq (though I marvel at the speed at which a bureaucracy like the military has adopted that role).
    You referred to John Robb and wrote that you rejected the idea of the loss of the nation-state’s monopoly on violence.
    I believe both of you are right and wrong at the same time here. IMHO, the nation-state never had that monopoly in the first place. It claimed that monopoly and was largely successful because most people accepted it. However, there were always some folks who took the law in their own hands or who fought against the state for some reason. The question is whether that constituted a form of warfare. Along the lines of Robb, technology has empowered the individual to do far more harm than ever before. There is a qualitative difference between the terrorists of the extreme left that started their revolutionary “war” 40 years ago
    “The society, most notably throughout the 20th Century, has been targeted by the opposing side. To say it hasn’t and that there is some NEW “thing” here is disengenious.”
    True. From my obviously limited knowledge of the 4GW theory I always assumed this was more about a qualitative shift.
    While the civilian population was a target of both, kinetic a non-kinetic operations during the World Wars and beyond, the war ultimately was won on the battlefield. In today’s asymmetric/insurgency/4GW/whatever environment that battlefield has moved to the information sphere and the center of gravity (especially of the Western militaries) is increasingly immaterial.
    For some reason, though, I haven’t really thought about the Cold War up until now …
    Concerning the IEVP aspects: True. And empirically verifiable. That’s why even the Bush administration tried to convince the world of the legality and necessity of the Iraq War.
    I fully subscribe to that paragraph in your last comment: “As Mao said […] from gaining footholds.”
    It’s noteworthy that Ayman az-Zawahiri basically adopted Mao’s lesson and emphasized the need of winning the people’s support in “Knights under the Prophet’s banner”.
    A final note on Gramsci. Even though I attended a German university I was always able to avoid Marxist theories 😉 I do remember, however, that Gramsci was about cultural hegemony. Looks like he was somewhat successful 😉
    Sorry for any typos or grammatical errors, it’s late here. I hope I addressed everything I intended to, I should’ve taken notes. Anyway, great article!

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