I enjoy discussing 4GW…

I enjoy discussing 4GW because there are just so many problems with the “theory”. This is probably why I read Arms and Influence’s Mao or Less with a grin on my face:

OK, I’ve officially had it with the “netwar” crowd. An interesting observation–successful guerrillas and terrorists operate in loosely-networked organizations, instead of hierarchical chains of command–has turned into a distorted view of revolutionary warfare. “Netwar” is an overstatement, a description of a trend that is not entirely new, nor is it exactly the strategy of many revolutionary groups described as “net warriors.” If the United States is going to get smarter about counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, it shouldn’t posit a brand new kind of warfare that may not exist.

Then I read Simulated Laughter’s Fighting in the War Room:

Arms and Influence attacks netwar theory, specifically Martin J. Muckian’s article in Paremeters. Being biased towards 4GW and 5GW theory, I find many parts of his argument convincing, especially his insistence that insurgent groups have used “netwar” methods long before Iraq. Of course, Arms and Influence is looking at this from a classical, Galula-esque counterinsurgency perspective, so he doesn’t mention 4GW, and probably doesn’t think too highly of it anyway.

I’d wade in right now, but it’s late and I’ve already written on this already here. This is certainly a topic I’ll revisit with an expanded, updated, and smarter rebuttal.

A point A & I rightly questions of modern netwar / 4GW is Boyd’s OODA Loop, a critical concept to 4GW (and 5GW ??). Like so much else, this emphasizes our perception of violence and imposes a collective high power that’s simply absent in insurgencies that aren’t actually monolithic. Nigeria’s MEND is more, but not entirely, united that the actors in Iraq. From my review of Richard Schultz and Andrea Dew’s Insurgents, Terrorists and Militias:

In addressing American operational art, the combination of time and tempo (popular example: “Shock and Awe”), the authors don’t make specific prescriptives but suggest incorporating new (to us) understandings of how the enemy organizes and operates. Schultz and Dew show that OODA loops don’t matter when the invaded don’t see war as “organized violence” requiring “paper, forms, and documents”, don’t mirror our hierarchy, and have different priorities. The behavior of the enemy is far different from modern Western principles and thus has different levers and pressures points for manipulation. Our focus on whether or not the engine of insurgency is religious or socio-political may ignore the underlying realities of the why and how in specific instances. Like in the West, religion may be a Gramscian distraction and our focus on it blinds us to the levers and pressure points necessary for successful operations.

5 Replies to “I enjoy discussing 4GW…”

  1. Thanks for the link add.I read your original attack on 4GW. I find it much more convincing than Echevarria’s, especially the takedown of OODA loops.

  2. Actually, I do have a lot of respect for 4GW theory. I think that it’s less useful as a perspective on how revolutionary groups do operate, than a perspective on how modern governments should act. The increasing realization that the normal determinants of national power (economic strength, military capability, etc.) are often overshadowed by “softer” concerns is an important evolution. It’s also one that old man Clausewitz would probably applaud, since it puts the political consequences of warfare–whether achieved through blitzkrieg or a media blitz–back on its pedestal.

  3. Tom,That’s very interesting–4GW as a continuation of Clausewitz. I’m sorry I misjudged you.
    You should probably expand on that idea at Arms and Influence. 4GW is usually thought of as a “nontrinitarian” doctrine.

  4. There are so many things wrong with 4GW… let alone the taxonomy of it being a Fourth Generation when you did into the selective reading of history it requires. But on a higher level, as Tom points out, Clausewitz and “4GW” (quotes intentional) aren’t at odds. The various trinities of Herr C aren’t kicked open by contemporary events or the rise of non-state actors, as I noted in my old piece attacked “4GW”, nor is contemporary activity all that unique. Note the use of mercenaries, er, privateers, to hit Britain economically to challenge their political will from the inside out during the Revolution. But you can go to Max Weber, the likely source of the favorite quote “monoploy of force” and you’ll find the old Cali Cartel, Hamas prior to the election, etc satisfied the requirements to be an Administrative Unit, and thus have the foundation of a state. But that’s just my interpretation.

  5. To revist this, I agree with Tom that 4GW has reminded / informed some actors of the reality of modern war. There are indicators that war is both evolving and devolving but “4GW” fails to bring anything original (or truthful to be excessively harsh) to the debate. What is 4GW? I was once told by a proponent that my queries to reduce 4GW to unique elements (see the end of my Misleading post) was like trying to nail jello to the wall. This is more than a strawman of the “monopoly of force” argument, it goes into power and who wields it. 4GW unifies actors in far too great a way.Reinforcing my agreement with Tom on the value 4GW does provide, T.X. Hammes’ book was truly an eye opener and a significant and positive contribution to the literature of modern conflict, but that doesn’t change the failure of 4GW in being a “theory” and discovering something revolutionary new.

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