Redefining 5GW, again

For quite a while, I was involved in discussions relating to 5GW (which sometimes stands for the fifth generation of modern war, other times stands for the fifth gradient of warfare, but always implies a technique of armed conflict that can defeat a large-sized 4GW force).

The term is becoming fashionable again, with appearances in the Marine Corps Gazette and now Wired.

How to Win a ‘Fifth-Generation’ War | Danger Room from Wired.com
5GW is anchored in the global Islamic jihad espoused by Al Qaeda, Coer writes. But that doesn’t mean that fifth-gen warriors necessarily are clearly ideological, with aspirations of setting up alternative political systems. They’re opportunists, intent only on destruction. But even seemingly pointless violence can have a perverse logic, for the sudden, irrational destruction undermines the idea that nations — and especially the most powerful nation, the U.S. — are viable in the modern world.

So how do you beat a fifth-gen enemy? By not fighting, first of all. Beebe says ending the vortex of violence in Africa means alleviating “the conditions of human beings that create these insecurities across state borders.” In other words, focus on economic development, humanitarian assistance and communication, with nary an M-16 or Abrams tank in sight.

The article reads like a re-terming (or rediscovery) of John Robb’s ideas, but without any reference to John. Both Robb and Coerr base their work off line, seem to accept the chronological emergence of the first four generations of war, and then predict that the next force will be either a “bazaar of violence” (Robb) or “clearinghouse for
violence” (Coerr) without any coherent ideology, desire for control
over population, desire for a state, etc. Robb, like Coerr, even for
a time branded his idea 5GW, but I think he determined that it was
best to stick to terminology he owned.

My monograph, Revolutionary Strategies in Early Christianity, briefly discusses 5GW. I have written about 5GW on this blog, and I participate in Dreaming 5GW, a website dedicated to the phenomenon.

26 thoughts on “Redefining 5GW, again”

  1. hi Dan,

    Good post. There is blogospheric cribbing here.

    I think the consensus of the offline discussion was that, while interesting, Coerr gets 5GW wrong and does not clearly separate it from 4GW. Despite there being conflicting interpretations of 5GW, it certainly isn’t radical Islamism any more than 5GW is say, Nazism. Even thinking of generations of war in a nonlinear taxonomy sense, 5GW in the 1880’s or the 1920’s, when Islamism was taking shape, is difficult to credit. That’s not alinear, simply ahistorical.

    I don’t want to slam the man too hard because getting all kinds of ideas infront of an audience of military practitioners is *exactly* what should be happening, not uncritically dismissing like some at SMC or imposing old orthodoxies, as the “big Army” crowd might prefer to do. That said, the subject of 5GW requires much wider discussion again.

  2. zenpundit,

    I think you hit the perfect tone.

    Coerr should get big props for introducing and defending these ideas to a serious and importance audience. At the same time, it would be valuable of he integrated his ideas into what others have written, as well as addressing the sorts of questions you raise.

  3. Coerr’s problem is the same problem that many of D5GW’s discussions snagged on for so long. In defining 5GW he looks to Lind’s Generations of Modern Warfare where there isn’t really a higher generation than 4GW (a point well argued by Lind).

  4. aherring,

    Could you elaborate on your point?

    During Boyd’ 07, Lind said there was no “Generation” higher than 4GW because 4GW was still “unfolding,” and hence any new developments were really part of 4GW.

    I found that to be both unfalsifiable and unhelpful, and is probably one of the things that inspired me to junk the GMW framework.

  5. That’s exactly the argument I was talking about, and as far as GMW goes it is entirely accurate. All before Westphalia is pre-modern warfare, all after Maoist insurgency is 4GW. To have a fifth generation/gradient a framework that allows for the possiblity of new generations must exist. Indeed, the framework should demand that new generations must be created in order to respond to previous generations. Lind’s GMW framework in no way does that.

    Coer starts from a bad premise by using Lind to formulate 5GW just as we at D5GW did before discarding GMW and creating XGW.

  6. Aherring, well said!

    There needs to be some work on creating, if not a primer, then at least some deadtree product out to clear up these confusions.

    The distinction between GMW and xGW is critical, for instance, but I regularly hear people mention one when describing the other.

  7. “The distinction between GMW and xGW is critical, for instance, but I regularly hear people mention one when describing the other” (Dan)

    Could you summarize the distinction? (or link it for me?)

  8. Seerov,

    I can most easily find what I wrote, but I recall a consensus at dreaming5gw.com that keeping Lind’s “Generation of Modern War” was more trouble than it’s worth. Posts from May [1] and June [2] of last year were some of the first post-GMW work on xGW I wrote, though I think I was slow to realize what others had already figured out.

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/05/27/the-terminology-of-xgw.html
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2008/06/07/defenses-against-4gw-what-xgw-theory-says.html

  9. It would seem that “generations” would suggest that each form of warfare grew out of the last? They grew out of, or in reaction to, a force that dominated the battlefield within that respective “generation.” The problem with calling them “generations,” is that they really didn’t evolve this way.

    Forth generation warfare may have existed before maneuver warfare? Then again, some people claim that maneuver warfare started with the Germans when what the Mongols did, could be just as much 3GW as the blitzkrieg.

    Also, its possible to use two or more of these “generations” at once. The North Vietnesse used a 4GW strategy with the Vietcong, while using 2 or 3rd GW with their regular Army.

    Second GW didn’t really evolve out of reaction to the first, as much as new technology contributed to this change.

    Is this why “generations” got scrapped?

    It seems to make sense that “generations” isn’t quite right for what we’re describing here. In Fact, the more I think about it the more I’m not even sure I like this whole 0,1,2,3,4,5 GW taxonomy?

    I was planning on starting “Thinking about the Unthinkable” by Herman Kahn tomorrow, but may start “The Sling and The Stone” by Hammes due to my sudden interest in this instead.

  10. When you started writing about 5GW I thought about the possibility of using elements of each generation, sort of like a grand strategic version of combined arms. So I typed in “fractal war” in google, somehow confusing dimension with generation. But it was fruitful nonetheless. It led me to Paul Virlio, a French cultural theorist who claims the 1991 Persian Gulf War wss the first “fractal war”, being at once local and global.

    http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.05/virilio.html

    Are you familiar with his works? He has some interesting ideas on the future of warfare. His concepts of the logistics of perception and the integral accident I think mesh nicely with your notion of secret war. There is a nice summary at wikipedia with a link to an interview at ctheory.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Virilio

    One thing he doesn’t get into though and neither has anybody else from what I’ve seen is where robots and AI factor into 5GW. I see those tools as the key to beating 4G warriors much more quickly. If they can be identified and then killed discriminately one of their main advantages would be nullified. Thus they’d be squeezed from both sides of the camera lens.

  11. These debates keep things abstract and theoretical, writing on war ought to be clearly related to real world examples. Lind claimed that Columbia wasn’t a 4th Gen. conflict.

    The war between the Colombian state and the Marxist FARC is not a Fourth Generation conflict, because it is fought within the framework of the state. The Colombian government seeks to maintain control of the state, while the FARC want to replace it. It’s all about who runs the state, not offering alternatives to the state.

    I am begining to wonder about the value of his ideas, (Israeli trained) Guatemalan, El Salvadorian ect. armies won their insurgencies with old fashioned brute force as far as I can see.

    Can Reading Clausewitz Save Us from Future Mistakes?

    The range of possible interpretations of Clausewitz’s messy chef
    d’oeuvre may well be the reason for its ongoing fascination: to a large degree, it is a mirror of the person reading it. And the problems intrinsic to Clausewitz are those of all moralists. Be the rules never so clear, to the person in the moment, his or her own situation trumps them. “It seemed like a good idea at the time” is the epitaph of human actions.

    I propose that On War be taught as poetry, even in the staff colleges,
    an expression of the intrinsic contradictions of the human condition—our desire to nail down the future in theory and our necessary concession that reality always has the last word. It’s a great work. But it’s great because of its contradictions
    .
    Which means that we can’t use it as a stick to beat anyone with—unless
    we are prepared to have it used on us in turn.

  12. If seeking to seize the state makes a force non-4GW, does this mean that Lind considers people’s war to not be 4GW?

    This is opposite of what Hammes wrote in The Sling and the Stone.

    A focus on poetry and the humanities is part of what took Britain down in the 19th century, while her competitors focused on engineering (Germany) and commerce (America). Let’s hope we don’t repeat Britain’s mistakes!

  13. “If seeking to seize the state makes a force non-4GW, does this mean that Lind considers people’s war to not be 4GW?” (Dan)

    Perhaps the political goals shouldn’t matter in the classification? The tactics and strategy will determine what generation/gradient it is, regardless of political goals. I see no reason why a group can’t use 4GW and try to seize a State?

    At the same time, its very unlikely that a non-State actor would use 1,2,or 3 GW, as most non-state actors don’t have the resources for this kind of war. So in determining whether a force is conducting 4GW or not, we should NOT focus on the end state, only on the methods.

    Some of you may have read “Unrestricted Warfare.” Its a book dealing with China’s plan to use 4GW/5GW to “destroy the US.” The book lays out how a State can use 4GW/5GW (although they don’t call it 5WG, in fact I think this was before anyone coined the term GW?) to to win wars for the State.

    So bottom line: Anyone can use any form/generation/gradient of war they believe will achieve them their goals. It doesn’t matter if they’re a State, or non-State. It doesn’t matter what their goals are. It only matters how they fight. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care what their gaols are, only that it doesn’t matter in determining what “generation/gradient their using.

    So this is how we should think about a war:

    1) Realize you’re in war (this is most difficult in 5GW). This may happen after an attack?

    2) After determining that you’re in a war, take security measures so as to not take anymore damage.

    3) Determine who and what your enemy is trying to accomplish.

    4) Determine how they’re trying to accomplish their objectives. It is at this point when you determine what GW they’re using on you. They may be using a combination.

    The US is good at beating actors who use 1,2,3 GW. We’re learning how to beat 4GW in Iraq and Afghanistan. Its important that we think about what people are calling “5GW” so that we recognize it, and understand how to beat it/defend against it.

    And that’s where we’re at now.

  14. As far as I’m concerned, Seerov’s analysis is spot on and has always been the approach I’ve taken when thinking of the XGW framework.

    My only change would be to #1: Assume you are in war (if it is well executed 5GW you may never be able to observe actions against you even after the fact).

  15. “My only change would be to #1: Assume you are in war (if it is well executed 5GW you may never be able to observe actions against you even after the fact).” (Aherring)

    This may be where the Resilient Community comes in?

    “May I suggest the call for chapters [1] as a way of elaborating this conversation” (Tdaxp)

    Are you saying you want us to go to that thread to continue this conversation?

  16. Seerov,

    This may be where the Resilient Community comes in?

    I think so. A 4GW can be defended by a 5GW, but besides throwing up static (to make it hard for 5GW groups to exist) and being resilient, I’m not sure what a defense against 5GW would look like.

    Are you saying you want us to go to that thread to continue this conversation?

    Not at all — though I was hoping for an agreement to write a chapter. 🙂

  17. “A 4GW can be defended by a 5GW,” (tdaxp)

    Can you explain this?

    “Not at all — though I was hoping for an agreement to write a chapter.” (tdaxp)

    Did you get the email I sent you?

  18. Seerov,

    I got the email — very exciting!

    As to 5GW as a defense against 4GW, I say more in my chapter in Threats in the Age of Obama [1], but my earlier post in defense of the money/fantasy machine [2] makes much the same point:

    Both posts can be summarized like this: America needs to subvert her own population, to enlist Americans, to shrink the Gap. Most thinkers are stuck in a low-G paradigm, so obvious solutions are for “everyone to pitch in” (0GW), “organize everyone to shrink the gap” (1GW), write harshly-worded letters (4GW), etc.
    However, a 5GW solution is wiser. If shrinking the Gap is a public policy option, it could be rejected. Shrinking the Gap is a long-term process, and should be insulated from politics as much as possible. We have a model of how to proceed.

    Ideas are nice. Money is real.

    [1] http://www.nimblebooks.com/wordpress/2009/01/from-michael-tanjis-threats-in-the-age-of-obama/
    [2] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/06/12/5gw-shrinking-the-gap-the-moneyfantasy-machine.html

  19. “America needs to subvert her own population, to enlist Americans, to shrink the Gap.” (Tdaxp)

    In my study of ethnic management in America, I’ve concluded that this “subversion” strategy is already in use widely. I call it “Operation: Diversity is Strength.”

    Does this mean that 5GW is being conducted against our own citizens, or is subversion just a 5GW method of calling citizens to war? So during WWII when we fought a 2GW against the Axis powers, we had a draft, and everyone was singing “Over There, Over There.” The 5GW equivalent is subverting the population into the war. This time the song is “Give Peace a Chance” while the smelliest hippies join the war effort by serving in the Peace Corps (building wells in the Congo).

  20. That’s closer to 4G — a battle of ideas. Some people believe “diversity is strength.” Others don’t. Some use the idea as proxies for something else.

    But for a fighting force that is too weak to use ideas as weapons, they have to retreat to 5G tactics, where the popularity or not of an idea does not matter.

    Consider the military-industrial-complex, which seemingly everyone despises, but still hums along.

  21. “That’s closer to 4G — a battle of ideas. Some people believe “diversity is strength.” Others don’t. Some use the idea as proxies for something else.” (Dan)

    I think you missed my point? I’m saying the establishment in the US is propagating “Diversity is Strength” (DIS) as an ethnic management strategy. The establishment is subverting the US population into accepting diversity through subversive methods. This is similar to the establishment subverting the population to shrink the gap. The goal of the DIS strategy is ethnic integration, for the purpose of stability. The purpose of subverting the population to shrink the gap is American hegemony.

    Both end-states would be and are rejected by the population. Most people in the US aren’t willing to “Shrink the Gap” becuase they don’t think America should “Police the world.” Most people aren’t willing to accept integration for reasons which are more complex. So subversion is necessary to achieve these gaols.

    The power structure subverts the populace through the use of agents. The agents for forced integration are the education and media systems, along with the ethnic intimidation lobbies. Cognitive warfare is utilized through the weapon of political correctness. The population is conditioned to see diversity as good, strength, progress and homogeneity as bad, weakness, and lacking progress. Too much “whiteness” will eventually lead genocide.

    The power structure must also subvert the population to shrink the gap. The agents used are the media and the military industrial complex. Cognitive war is utilized through the weapon of patriotic correctness. The population is conditioned to see shrinking the gap as necessary for American safety. We must “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” America is a “city of the hill” that should “spread Democracy” and free markets. If America doesn’t shrink the gap, genocide will occur.

    The most optimal way to subvert the population to shrink the gap is by combining the powers of political correctness with that of patriotic correctness. Tom Barnett is very effective at this. He combined his Marxist roots with tough talk that appeals to the right. He’s a natural showmen as well.

    He described Samuel Huntington as being a “scared old white man” for bringing up the possibility of ethnic conflict in the future. This shows Barnett’s skills in the use of political correctness and white male bashing. During the Presidential campaign, Barnett liked pointing how he supported Obama every chance he could. Barnett understands he must reach the left in order to shrink the gap.

    At the same time, Barnett attracts the military industrail complex (MIC) for obvious reasons. There’s big money to spent fixing the world, and since the military is “never coming home,” this money is going to flow for a long time.

  22. A 5GW force is capable of winning even if it’s ideology is widely reviled, and even if it does not have the manpower for a 4GW effort.

    Considering that, how does “Diversity is Strength” qualify as 5G? It appears to be politically active people pushing their beliefs with some success.

    Of course it is subversive, but then many 4G efforts (Christianity, Maoism, etc) are, as well.

  23. I wasn’t claiming DIS is 5GW. I’m saying that DIS is a subversive technique used by the establishment to get the public to accept forced integration. This form of subversion is similar to what “gap shinkers” will need to utilize to get the population motivated to shrink the gap.

    The population doesn’t want integration, just as they don’t want to shrink the gap. So pro gap shrinkers will need to think up a program of subversion that “helps” the population see why its “good.”

    The same way people claim “diversity is strength,” pro gap shrinkers should have the goal of one day hearing the population say stuff like “shrinking the gap is good for the world’s people.”

    As a soon to be psychologist, this type of project should be right up your ally?

  24. Seerov,

    The population doesn’t want integration, just as they don’t want to shrink the gap. So pro gap shrinkers will need to think up a program of subversion that “helps” the population see why its “good.”

    Well said.

    Changing orientation state — which we may refer to as implicit memory — is typical of 4GW.

    As a soon to be psychologist, this type of project should be right up your ally?

    Of course! [1] 🙂

    [1] http://www.tdaxp.com/archive/2007/07/16/orientation-and-action-part-ii-the-ooda-pisrr-loop.html

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