UNTO THE FIFTH GENERATION OF WAR
” …each new generation required developments across the spectrum of society. Technological change alone has never been sifficient to produce a major change in how man wages war. It requires a complete societal change- political, economic social and technological – to create the conditions necessary for major changes in war “
– Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone.
William Lind, one of the fathers of 4GW theory has welcomed yet cautioned against attempts to ascertain with too much precision any outlines of a 5th Generation Warfare that might be evolving within the dynamic of 4GW conflicts we see in Iraq, Afghanistan and in transnational terrorism. Yet according to theorists and practitioners of 4GW like Colonel Hammes, that form of warfare, although just now coming in to its own has already been present for some seventy years ! Undoubtedly then 5GW is also here with us, waiting for the next Mao or Rommel to fit the disparate puzzle pieces into a coherent pattern.
4GW advocates disdain an overemphasis on particular technological breakthrough, criticizing in particular the Network-centric Warfare theory developed by Admiral Arthur Cebrowski . Or at least the celebration of high-tech warfare capabilities by some of Cebrowski’s followers in the Pentagon ( for a critique of both schools shaping of current policy, see ” The Pentagon’s Internal war Over what Iraq Means” by Dr. Barnett ). Therefore, I will generally accept some major premises of 4GW theory as articulated by Hammes in speculating about the parameters of 5GW, specifically:
1. Generational changes in warfare requires complete societal change.
2. Practitioners of warfare drove the evolution of warfare by seeking solutions to practical problems
3. Each succeeding generation reaches deeper in to enemy territory to defeat him.
The first question we should ask are what changes are driving society, nationally and globally ? Very briefly at the planetary level we have Globalization – an acceleration of the rate and degree of complexity of all forms of exchange ( in PNM theory Barnett’s “ Four Flows“); Post-Westphalianization – the rise of International, Transnational, Subnational and Non-state Actor challengers to the sovereign primacy of the Nation-State; and finally, State-Failure or severe State dysfunction where the ability of a State to constrain and police anarchic, nihilistic and disconnective forces is overwhelmed by post-Westphalian challengers, economic collapse and natural disasters.
Additionally, in the scientific and economic realm, the drivers of future societal changes in the next twenty to fifty years would most likely come from the following fields – Artificial Intelligence, Genomics, Alternative Fuels, Quantum Computing, Human Brain Research, Complexity and Chaos Theory, Nanotechnology and String Theory. it is impossible to assume the implications of any one of these fields over such a long timeline, much less all these fields in combination but what is a safe assumption is that the magnitude of changes that are coming will be very significant and result in substantial economic, social and political transformations.
In sum the global trends I have listed have in my view some fairly direct logical implications for warfare, already visible even today:
Superempowerment: The range of effect for each individual soldier ( or terrorist) will be vastly increased even as the economic costs are driven down by market forces and proliferation of dual-use technology to the civilian consumer.
Multidimensional Battlespace: War occurs in the context of everything else – physical space, cyberspace, the logosphere, financial, legal and societal networks – shaping the battlespace itself to the disadvantage of actual and potential opponents will become crucial aspects of strategy and not merely moving more effectively within it.
Autonomous Surrogates: Active regular military forces are seconded by a variety of substitutes to carry some aspect of the warfighting load – PMC’s, NGO’s, Paramilitary and Subnational networks, International Peacekeeping missions and increasingly, robotic agents.
Todays Predator drones and other prototype UAV are going to evolve and inevitably merge with Ai technology so that we will have, shades of science fiction, autonomous war machines that will have basic programing but also the capacity to learn, make independent decisions, cooperate with one another and adapt to changing circumstances on the battlefield.
These however are simply aspects of the emerging warfare and not the strategic purpose behind such a shift that make one generation of warfare different from its predecessor. The rise of 5GW will represent the solution to defeating 4GW forces in the field and here we come to a very troubling moral possibility.
4GW forces like al Qaida erase the distinction between Combatant and non-combatant and target an enemy’s will to resist, often moving submerged witin society itself as a clandestine network structure. Such forces have proven exceptionally difficult to defeat for traditional militaries and as Colonel Hammes pointed out in The Sling and the Stone, 4GW strategy has allowed inferior forces to defeat even the superpowers.
A strong possibility exists that given successive generations of warfare tend to drive ” deeper” into enemy territory, that 5GW will mean systemic liquidation of enemy networks and their sympathizers, essentially a total war on a society or subsection of a society. There is no where ” deeper” for 5GW to go but here. At the high tech end 5GW would be precisely targeted to winnow out ” the bad guys” in a souped-up version of Operation Phoenix but at the low-tech end we could see campaigns that would be indiscriminate, democidally-oriented death squad campaigns that shred 4GW networks by the same actuarially merciless logic that led the Allies to firebomb German and Japanese cities in WWII.
This is a terrible prospect but there is evidence that 5GW tactics of this kind have defeated 4GW Communist revolution in Guatemala and El Salvador, stymied FARC and ELN in Colombia, beat back Islamists in Algeria and the Kurdish PKK in Turkey. Contravening data would include the Hutu militia genocide in Rwanda designed to eviscerate the ethnic supporters of the Tutsi rebels but instead led to the rebels toppling the Hutu regime and spreading disorder to neighboring states.
My efforts here to outline 5GW are purely speculative. A second potential form of 5GW might be Thomas P.M. Barnett’s ” System Administration” based Global Transaction Strategy to export security and connectivity to the Gap, short-circuiting the political appeal of 4GW movements before they grow out of all control. Or we may see both forms used in tandem and even likelier, some new dynamic currently impossible for us to forsee at all.
What is certain is that 4GW movements like the Iraqi insurgency and al Qaida will drive the evolution of warfare to 5GW as nation-states struggle to find solutions to the strategic problem presented by 4GW enemies and the societal disintegration they bring in their wake.