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Monday, October 9th, 2006


John Robb – ” Lot’s of discussion of what 5GW is
Thomas P.M. Barnett -“Fifth Generation (political) warfare

Notice how in these two posts how both Tom and John link 5GW on the expanding potential of individual actors, whether it is political conflict (Tom) or military conflict ( John), to achieve a systemic effect.

The vulnerability of individual actors vis-a-vis groups or the state puts a premium on secrecy for 5GW actors, as previously noted by Dan. The state in turn, is vulnerable to a proliferation of such superempowered individuals and will have to defend itself with a combination of surveillance and active cultivation of primary loyalties ( reducing the motivation for such individuals to act out in antisocial ways).


Shloky mates the 5GW superempowered individual with Ray Kurzweil’s Singularity.

Curtis asks if Thomas Barnett is a 5GW Warrior ?.

Monday, October 9th, 2006


Dr. Barnett dramatcally revived last year’s discussion of 5GW with his post today, putting theoretical speculations into a concrete, global, context. Tom’s post was a tour de force and I had to go back and re-read a number of the links, in particular Dan’s excellent exploration of OODA Loop implications, before finishing it:

The sandwich generations-of-war strategy

I’m now going to offer commentary on some of Tom’s points. Dan of tdaxp is also providing feedback with a post “5GW and Ruleset Automation ” :

“One reason why I never advocate getting rid of the Leviathan is because it keeps the door closed on Great Power War (essentially Third Generation, or WWII-style warfare).”

This point is underappreciated by strategists who give short shrift to economics.

China and the EU, Japan or Russia or a future emerging New Core power like India all maintain a more limited degree of conventional military power than they otherwise would because the attainment of parity or near-parity with the U.S. in military power is prohibitively expensive and is affected by diminishing returns. Not merely in absolute dollar terms for procuring high tech equipment, but longitudinal GDP costs in investing in the infrastructure, R&D and human resources required to build and maintain that kind of defense establishment. The opportunity costs here are very high. The United States itself never would have done so either had not the U.S.S.R. represented an absolutely existential threat to its security.

And of course, American primacy and global power projecton capabilities damp down, on the margin, the natural incentive for great and middle powers to war against one another. Our intervention would too easily tip the scales regardless, thus making their additional military expenditure beyond a certain useful regional balancing point, a waste.

“Logically, nukes would have generated its own generation of warfare, but because of their overwhelming destructive power, they instead killed great power war (ending its generational evolution at three). As such, limited war rose to the top of the operational pile in the form of insurgencies, and the “victories” of 4GW (I say “victories,” because I’ve yet see one generate a truly out-of-system outcome over the long haul, as yesterday’s 4GW “victors” become today and tomorrow’s “emerging markets”) basically defined the low-end of the cost-benefit ratio for great powers in warfare (I will wage war by proxy, but not directly–and only if the cost doesn’t get too bad).”

Again, there is an important point of economic history in the subtext of Dr. Barnett’s post.

The last genuine opportunity for an alternative economic model to globalization to succeed was in the 1930’s when Fascist and Communist states practiced a radical form of autarky based on Military Keyensianism, state capitalism and managed trade. The defeat of the Axis and the reintegration of western Germany ( the industrial heartland of Europe) and Japan into the Western economy and the end of European empires isolated the less productive Communist economies which eventually gave up the Stalinist ghost (Russia, China) or today rattle a tin cup ( Cuba, North Korea).

“Now, the natural counter is simply to support authoritarian regimes across the Gap as the next best alternative, but that likewise favors the 4GW warrior over the long haul by creating horrible political and economic and social conditions that feed popular support for insurgencies and rebels and jihadists because–hey–how much worse could it get under them?”

The strategic choice isn’t globalization or statism so much as globalization vs. anarchy – and even that failed state chaos contains a a corrupt strand of connectivity to the Core. 4GW forces are primarily reactionary movements, regardless of whether they are Nepal’s Maoist guerillas or al Qaida’s neo-Salafi terrorists, trying ” to stand athwart history and yell ‘Halt!’ ” ( National Review writers with IED’s instead of typewriters). Being reactionary however does not mean that these insurgencies are without moral traction for the reasons Tom cites. Who are al Qaida’s foot soldiers ? Not the poor of the Islamic world, but middle-class engineers, doctors, lawyers and other university graduates suffering from status anxiety, alienation, a lack of opportunity, misgovernment and oppression.

“But say we get the SysAdmin up and running, are we entering the realm of 5th Generation Warfare?

I would say yes. “

Me too. Offensively shaping the battlespace and…

“The key phrase from Dan’s analysis that clicked it for me is that once you’re observed doing your thing in 5GW, the gig is up, and that follows nicely with my NASCAR scenario (BTW, Art Cebrowski and I were going to set up a research project on this concept at the Naval War College, but our dual “falls” prevented that–his from disease, mine from whatever it was that got me fired).

But the natural counter to that (much like relying on authoritarian govs in the Gap as the natural counter to 4GW–although it’s a long-time loser strategy) is the notion that you win by extreme transparency: you democratize “observe” for the world, for nations, for individuals”

And defensively bring the Gap into the light.

This part is very, very interesting in terms of dynamic tension and success here is going to depend on a number of variables that have not been in evidence in the American performance in Iraq ( the good news is that globalization is bringing many of them anyway). Vastly increasing the connectivity and transparency of a Gap state also increases the opportunities and parameters for John Robb’s Global Guerillas or superempowered individuals – we can see this in how the Islamist insurgency makes use of, for example, the internet. On the other hand, it expands opportunities for millions of others at the same time who will use the increased individual choices (which most insurgents are fighting to deny) in constructive ways.

Who will win this contest over Globalization will depend on who dominates and shapes issues at the moral level -us or the insurgents – and does in conditions of real-time global connectivity.

“Development-in-a-Box really gets you into 5GW because it alters the observed reality–pre-emptively–in a sort of bribe-the-proles mode that steals the thunder of the 4GW warrior of today in the same way that social welfare nets and trade unions stifled the rise of socialism in Europe.

So, in effect, DiB helps move the Core from the Horatio Alger phase of lecturing the Gap (just pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try all over again!) to the seriously seductive phase of active recruitment “

The trade union movement was a neat analogy.

Revolutionary pressure was defused in Western Europe to the point where the extreme Left’s few attempts at violent seizure of power – the Paris Commune, the Spartacist Revolt – were speedily crushed. Interestingly enough, when the system failed to keep both its capitalist and welfare state promises during the Great Depression, it was the radicalized reactionaries -Fascists and Nazis – who came to power instead of the totalitarian Left who were awaiting capitalism’s collapse. Likewise, the threat today to Globalization does not come from Nasserites or Baathists, their ideology is dead, but from apocalyptic Islamism. Reducing the appeal of Islamist extremism with practical improvements and nonzero sum partnership is vital.

Strategy cannot be compartmentalized into separate boxes anymore.


Curtis Gale Weeks has launched a blog devoted to 5GW

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