Michael: 4th Gen War, MaturationI just finished reading Marine Colonel T. X. Hammes latest book on the evolution of modern warfare, The Sling and the Stone. Col. Hammes wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette which is essentially a summary of his book. It lays out the thesis more completely and cogently than I could hope to here.
In a nutshell, Hammes (along with many other eminent military theorists and professionals) proposes that war utilizing distributed networks of military, political, economic, and cultural power, driven by a broadly accepted ideological focus creates a much different kind of warfare which is capable of overcoming even superior arms and power. Such networks are empowered by new technologies, but certainly not dependent upon them, having been used successfully in armed struggle for at least the last 70 years.
There are four issues which Col. Hammes’ work brings up which I feel inspired to comment and expand upon for anyone who has interest in the topic of the emergent strategic environment of warfare in the present and near future. The result is too long for a single post, so I will be posting these reflections as a series over the coming weeks.
I) What does the maturation of 4GW means for American strategy in current conflicts? Specifically, what sort of enemy do we face in Iraq and what are our prospects for defeating them?
II) How does an understanding of 4GW inform our strategy in the struggle with Al Qaida and other future transnational terrorist insurgencies?
III) Whether 4GW is similar to 2GW in favoring defense over offense, and whether 5GW, as and when it evolves, will break open the 4GW strategic environment like the armored maneuver of 3GW did to the static defense biased battlefields of 2GW?
IV) What does the maturation of 4GW means for large-scale warfare with major nation-state powers? How should 4GW affect our military doctrine and our global strategy? Will the future of warfare make protection of civilian populations obsolete or impossible?
The Maturation of 4th Gen War:
It took the 20 years between WWI and WWII for the techniques of 3rd Gen Warfare of armored maneuver to evolve from their tentative beginnings in the successful German combined arms assaults on entrenched positions just prior to the Armistice to the first glimmerings of fully fledged strategy of blitzkrieg. Even now, however, the full potential of 3rd Gen Warfare has not been exhausted, though the American armed forces are the unquestionably the premier 3rd Gen War fighting force in the world. Even now, however, certain aspects of 2nd Gen strategy continue to prove an intractable problem for 3rd Gen forces and strategies. Deep bunkers and massed fortifications are a notable continuing 2nd Gen thorn in the side of 3rd Gen warriors. There will inevitably be such hangovers and strategic holdouts against the arsenal of the new generation. We still teach our soldiers hand-to-hand combat techniques (a 1st Gen stratagem), because in certain situations it still works and is necessary.
By its nature, a revolution in military affairs does not make the stratagems and equipment of the prior generation immediately obsolete; the revolution just makes the previous generation increasingly irrelevant. Inertia can thus bind a fighting force to the prior generation of strategy until catastrophe bumps the collective minds of the military out of their ruts. The American armed forces can likely continue to coast on their mastery of 3rd Gen War for some time to come, despite being defeated consistently by 4th Gen War opponents. Thus, our success and pre-eminence in 3rd Gen War may come to be the most dangerous challenge to our national security.
It seems to me that there is a rhythm to the balance between the strength of offensive and defensive strategies across the development of warfare. The 1st Gen favored coordinated maneuver between foot and horse, backed by artillery, over defensive formation. The 2nd Gen, typified by the elaborate and oft impenetrable fortifications and earthworks of the late American Civil war to the end of WWI, favored defense over offense – mainly due to the extraordinary deadliness of new iterations of 1st Gen weaponry. The 3rd Gen then cracked open the strategic stalemate by reintroducing maneuver and making battle lines fluid once again, to the point that today battle lines are nearly an anachronism.
It could be that the 4th Gen War is moving us once again toward a strategic bias for defensive war fighting. 4th Gen warriors decentralize command, eliminate defensive positions, rely on small irregular units, and blend with the indigenous population of the battle space to protect their forces until targets of opportunity are available. They make defense superior to offense by presenting as few as possible static targets. So long as the 4th Gen force is meshed with a sympathetic population, their defensive position is nearly unassailable, especially by 3rd Gen forces, except perhaps by means of genocide.
Is there any such thing as a 4th Gen vs. 4th Gen war? Absolutely, it is called civil war, revolution, or coup. It is simply not possible for a 3rd Gen force to use 4th Gen techniques to succeed: the two are mutually exclusive and incompatible. You cannot make aggressive 4th Gen war except within your own society. 4th Gen War relies heavily on social networks and an invading army or force cannot exploit those networks more efficiently that an indigenous force. Thus I would postulate a law: the longer an aggressor army is in the field, the less likely its chance of success in achieving its political goals becomes. Over the long term, any indigenous force has a decided political advantage over an invader when using 4th Gen War strategy.
Might 5th Gen Warfare, when it starts to evolve break the strategic advantage that 4th Gen has over 3rd Gen, just as 3rd Gen broke the defensive advantage of 2nd Gen? It is possible. Nobody really knows what 5th Gen war might look like. Likely it will not look much like what we would consider war at all. Likely, it would proceed over a time horizon of many years, even decades. It would utilize effectively indigenous social networks to compete politically with the enemy. It would look a lot like successful and smart efforts such those underway in Iraq. 5th Gen war would build economic ties, civil society organizations, political affiliations and social identities that compete with more traditional, extant social networks. Iraq may be like those tentative steps toward combined arms maneuvers by the Germans at the end of WWI: unsuccessful and incompetently handled, but pointing the way toward the future.
What we have seen instead of success at these 5th Gen efforts is the complete success of 4th Gen War by the strongest most affective social networks in Iraq: religious sectarianism and ethnic identities. These powerful claims on Iraqi allegiance basically beat the snot out of every American effort to provide alternative allegiances and identities. What we are likely to see before too long is a struggle to create a political settlement that prioritizes these affective networks above Iraqi national identity. That will entail a straight our civil war between 4th Gen forces, possibly culminating in a 2nd or 3rd Gen military endgame. The real question is whether our armed forces will be caught in the middle or off the game board. I opt for the latter, and thus support expeditious withdrawal.