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Lind on “the Navy’s Intellectual Seppuku”

Saturday, February 22nd, 2014

William Lind had a very important piece regarding an extraordinarily ill-considered move by the Navy brass:

The Navy Commits Intellectual Seppuku 

The December, 2013 issue of the Naval Institute’s Proceedings contains an article, “Don’t Say Goodbye to Intellectual Diversity” by Lt. Alexander P. Smith, that should receive wide attention but probably won’t. It warns of a policy change in Navy officer recruiting that adds up to intellectual suicide. Lt. Smith writes, “Starting next year, the vast majority of all NROTC graduates will be STEM majors (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with minimal studies in the humanities … As a result of the new policy, a high school senior’s best chance of obtaining a Navy scholarship is to apply for Tiers 1 and 2 (engineering, hard sciences, and math), since CNO guidance specifies that not less than 85 percent of incoming officers will come from this restricted pool.”

….The engineering way of thinking and the military way of thinking are not merely different. They are opposites. Engineering, math, and other sciences depend on analysis of hard data. Before you make a decision, you are careful to gather all the facts, however long that may take. The facts are then carefully analyzed, again without much regard for the time required. Multiple actors check and re-check each others’ work. Lowest-common-denominator, committee-consensus decisions are usually the safest course. Anything that is not hard data is rejected. Hunches have no place in designing a bridge.

Making military decisions in time of war could not be more different. Intuition, educated guessing, hunches, and the like are major players. Hard facts are few; most information is incomplete and ambiguous, and part of it is always wrong, but the decision-maker cannot know how much or which parts. Creativity is more important than analysis. So is synthesis: putting parts together in new ways. Committee-consensus, lowest-common-denominator decisions are usually the worst options. Time is precious, and a less-than-optimal decision now often produces better results than a better decision later. Decisions made by one or two people are often preferable to those with many participants. There is good reason why Clausewitz warned against councils of war.

Read the whole thing here.

Rarely have I seen Lind more on target than in this piece.

Taking a rank-deferential, strongly hierarchical organization and by design making it more of a closed system intellectually and expecting good things to happen should disqualify that person from ever being an engineer because they are clearly too dumb to understand what resilience and feedback are. Or second and third order effects.

STEM, by the way, is not the problem. No one should argue for an all-historian or philosopher Navy either. STEM is great. Engineers can bring a specific and powerful kind of problem solving framework to the table. The Navy needs a lot of smart engineers.

It is just that no smart engineer would propose to do this because the negative downstream effects of an all-engineer institutional culture for an armed service are self-evident.


Update: DNI

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Two bloggers have stepped forward to lend a hand in preserving and carrying on DNI’s legacy. In each instance, both efforts are “under construction”.

John Robb has set up a page for William Lind to continue his column and to house 4GW docs, also a page to house materials from strategist Col. John Boyd, whose ideas were at the core of DNI.

Ed Beakley of Project White Horse is developing a Boyd Compendium that will eventually be greatly expanded to include much of interest at DNI.

Dr. Richards announced he will be keeping DNI up until he can find another person or organization to take over site management.


When 4GW Forces Weigh Becoming a State

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

At the most excellent site Jihadica, I found this obscure gem:

Interview with Umarov, North Caucasus Amir

More interesting is Kavkaz Center’s newly-released interview with Dokka Umarov, the amir of the North Caucasus Emirate that he declared at the end of 2007. Here’s what stands out:

  • The decision to declare an emirate was not taken lightly and occurred after much debate.
  • Umarov acknowledges that he has taken a lot of heat from fellow travelers for aligning himself ideologically with al-Qaeda and declaring war on the world.
  • The mujahids do control some territory, but their control is not absolute. Therefore, he does not want his supporters rushing to form a state.

The two translations, Arabic and English, diverge over what sort of state Umarov is talking about. In Arabic, he says he doesn’t want his supporters rushing to form an “actual state” (dawla fi`liyya). In English, he says he doesn’t want them rushing to form a “virtual state.” The difference is significant and if anyone can download the video and make out the right translation, I’d appreciate it

Almost two years ago, William Lind, musing on the prospects of the much more militarily and politically formidible HAMAS terrorist group, pointed to the question for 4GW entities “To Be or Not to Be a State”:

Normally, that captured Israeli would be a Hamas asset. But now that Hamas is a state, it has discovered Cpl. Gilad Shalit is a major liability. Israel is refusing all deals for his return. If Hamas returns him without a deal, it will be humiliated. If it continues to hold him, Israel will up the military pressure; it is already destroying PA targets such as government offices and arresting PA cabinet members. If it kills him, the Israeli public will back whatever revenge strikes the Israeli military wants. Hamas is now far more targetable than it was as a non-state entity, but is no better able to defend itself or Palestine than it was as a Fourth Generation force. 4GW forces are generally unable to defend territory or fixed targets against state armed forces, but they have no reason to do so. Now, as a quasi-state, Hamas must do so or appear to be defeated.

….Hamas faces what may be a defining moment, not only for itself but for Fourth Generation entities elsewhere. Does it want the trappings of a state so much that it will render itself targetable as a state, or can it see through the glitter of being “cabinet ministers” and the like and go instead for substance by retaining non-state status? To be or not to be a state, that is the question – for Hamas and soon enough for other 4GW entities as well.

Statehood appears to be a risky tipping point for an irregular movement to cross.  A strong insurgency only makes for a vulnerable state and a targetable, semi-disciplined, conventional force unless the new state can devote years and resources to consolidating it’s fragile position. For that reason, in the era of State vs. State warfare, guerilla armies were careful to create separate civilian political wings or, better yet, “governments-in-exile” that could safely operate in some remote capitol, playing the diplomatic game of winning legitimacy under the protection of a foreign power. This is not an option for 4GW movements because being an overt pawn of foreign powers conflicts with the ability of the 4GW entity to compete on the moral level of warfare with the regime.

What about “virtual statehood” ?

This is easier to manage, being mostly free of the responsibilities of governance of fixed territory. A virtuual state is still targetable, being composed of social and economic networks but it is a highly elusive target, very adaptive, quickly evolving and with a propensity toward symbiotic behavior, grafting itself onto a host nation-state, willing or unwilling, such as Pakistan in the case of al Qaida ( and before Pakistan, Afghanistan. And prior to that, Sudan).

Wielding sophisticated information networks, the virtual state can cultivate primary loyalties anywhere on Earth that is within range of an ISP or area of mobile phone reception.


Irregular Warfare

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

SWJ Blog posts up on a very 4GW-van Creveldian shift at the DoD:

Last week, Air Force Brig. Gen. Robert H. Holmes, Central Command’s deputy director of operations, told reporters that an interagency task force on irregular warfare is about to be announced. He called it “our way at the combatant command to be able to focus all of the instruments of power in order to prosecute the irregular warfight in our region.”

But what does “irregular warfare” mean?

Essentially, it is an approach to future conflict that the United States has been carrying out ad hoc in Iraq and Afghanistan. Two years ago, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England signed off on a Pentagon “working definition” that described it as “a form of warfare that has as its objective the credibility and/or legitimacy of the relevant political authority with the goal of undermining or supporting that authority.” …

Given the fluidity of the geopolitical situation and it’s own internal political divisions, American military doctrine will be better off if doctrinal definitions are “working” and lean toward the “open-ended”.


Superempowered Individuals and 5GW

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

Interestingly, William Lind, who previously has dismissed 5GW as a premature concept, has returned to the subject to dismiss it once again in the context of superempowered individuals. In regard to the spree of crazed gunmen shooting up schools, Lind wrote:

Is this war? I don’t think so. Some proponents of “Fifth Generation war,” which they define as actions by “superempowered individuals,” may disagree. But these incidents lack an ingredient I think necessary to war’s definition, namely purpose. In Fourth Generation War, the purpose of warlike acts reaches beyond the state and politics, but actions, including massacres of civilians, are still purposeful. They serve an agenda that reaches beyond individual emotions, an agenda others can and do share and fight for. In contrast, the mental and emotional states that motivate lone gunmen are knowable to them alone.

The whole “Fifth Generation” thesis is faulty, in any case. However small the units that fight wars may become, down to the “superempowered individual,” that shrinkage alone is not enough to mark a new generation.

Generational changes are dialectically qualitative changes, and those are rare. Normally, a dialectically qualitative change only occurs after time has brought many dialectically quantitative changes, such as a downward progression in the size of units that can fight. In effect, quantitative changes have to pool behind a generational dam until they form so vast a reservoir that their combined pressure breaks through in a torrent. I expect it will take at least a century for the Fourth Generation to play itself out. A Fifth Generation will not be in sight, except as a mirage, in our lifetimes.

In my view, Lind is partially correct in the sense that actions of superempowered individuals – of whom the school shooters in question, mundanely “empowered” by small arms, are definitely not examples – might not be representative of 5GW or even warfare of any kind. Several commenters have previously raised the possibility of nonviolent, constructive rather than destructive, SEI’s. I can also see SEI’s acting in concert with the objectives (peaceful or otherwise) of national authorities to whom they are loyal; or the advent of technologically upjumped “superempowered soldiers” fighting as part of a larger 3GW action by a state military.

On the other hand, while there is no consensus regarding the nature of 5GW, which would have to be an emergent phenomenon, I can’t buy Lind’s a priori dismissal and assertion of a century of 4GW needing to play out first. Frankly, that’s a figure pulled out of thin air. Why not fifty years? Or five ? Or five centuries? Why would the length between generations suddenly get longer between 4GW and 5GW than between 2GW and 3GW when conventional militaries, states and societies would be trying to adapt to 4GW right now ? Why wouldn’t 4GW and 5GW simply overlap for an extended period of time the way 2GW, 3GW and 4GW military forces have and continue to do so ?
If so, SEI’s, successfully attacking national, regional or global systems ought to at least make the cut for consideration as a form of 5GW.

Lind is on target though, in his discussion of alienation as a psychological factor motivating both 4GW forces and hostile SEI’s.  Characteristically, Lind favors a sociopolitical-moral explanation:

This is not to say that the lone gunman phenomenon, and its increasing frequency, are wholly unrelated to Fourth Generation war. They have some common origins, I think.

At the core of 4GW lies a crisis of legitimacy of the state. A development that contributes to the state’s crisis of legitimacy is the disintegration of community (Gemeinschaft). Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the powerful, highly intrusive state, community has increasingly been displaced by society (Gesellschaft), where most relationships between people are merely functional.

That progression has now gone so far that never before in human history have so many people lived isolated lives. I sometimes visualize a conversation between a Modern man and a Medieval man, where the proud Modern says, “You poor man! It must have been terrible living without air conditioning, automobiles, washing machines and hot showers.” The Medieval man replies, “You poor man! It must have been terrible living so alone.”

Isolation and the alienation, anomie and rage that proceed from it fuel both lone gunmen and a broad sense of detachment from the state. Why give loyalty to the state if the society if governs offers nothing but alienation? In turn, alternatives to the state, such as gangs, offer alternatives to isolation as well.

Lind’s analysis here is rooted in a philosophical tradition for which Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind provides a concise overview and one that probably does not resonate with everyone reading here. One alternative would involve a clinical psychological perspective but in the end, I agree that profound isolation, alienation and disconnection from a larger social network would likely be a common denominator in destructive SEI’s, much like school shooters and lone wolf terrorists like Ted Kacyznski.

John Robb offered a rebuttal of to Lind at Global Guerillas:

 however I do disagree strongly with Bill’s definition of a superempowered individual. Superempowerment is a much richer and more complex phenomenon than a mere reduction in scale (down to a single attacker). Instead, superempowerment describes the process by which individuals and small groups are using;

  • rapidly improving tools (the doubling rate of Moore’s law applied to technologies accessible to the average individual),
  • connectivity to a global community and its resources (how to use those tools from MIT courseware to Jihadi “how to” sites),
  • and newly accessible forms of economic activity that transcend state control,

to radically improve their productivity in warfare. This is definitely a qualitative change in the conduct of warfare, although it is still early. It will become transformational as the technologies of self-replication begin to reach their full potential.

Insofar as SEI’s could be 5GW warriors, I’m pretty comfortable with John’s exposition on the characteristics of superempowerment ( a separate issue from motivation).  You can’t be “superempowered” without some kind of a platform(s) to leverage, adaptively and creatively, against the very complex system of advanced Western society that is providing you with your tools of destruction and decent grasp of what targets could best maximize your leverage. My comment would be that the scalar effect is greater than it seems – as the actor scale is reducing down toward a single individual even as the potential effect of the actor is scaling upward in orders of magnitude to initiate national, regional or even global system perturbations. This too represents a qualitative change.




Empowered individuals – and super-empowered ones! 

What Should Superempowered Individuals Do?

Night of the Lone Wolves

Super-Empowered Individuals and 5GW: Heads or Tails


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