A CRITICAL LOOK AT 4GW

Matt at Mountainrunner has dug deeply into 4GW theory and found it to be wanting:

Fourth Generation War theory relies on the readers to assume the state is the political actor. This stems from Martin van Creveld and Lind’s erroneous assumption of Clausewitz.

Let’s look for a moment at the “not merely how war is fought, but who fights and what they fight for” statement. Consider Martin van Creveld’s “Through a Glass Darkly”:

To sum up, the roughly three-hundred-year period in which war was associated primarily with the type of political organization known as the state — first in Europe, and then, with its expansion, in other parts of the globe as well — seems to be coming to an end. If the last fifty years or so provide any guide, future wars will be overwhelmingly of the type known, however inaccurately, as “low intensity”. Both organizationally and in terms of the equipment at their disposal, the armed forces of the world will have to adjust themselves to this situation by changing their doctrine, doing away with much of their heavy equipment and becoming more like the police. In many places that process is already well under way.

That, as Hammes wrote and Lind reinforces, the “last fifty years have led to a fundamental erosion of the state’s monopoly on the use of force” relies on the state actually possessing a monopoly on the use of force. First, it wasn’t a three hundred period, but more like one hundred and fifty odd years that the present state has existed. The notion of a monopoly of force entered the vernacular of international relations only in the late 19th early 20th Centuries when Max Weber wrote it. In the 19th Century, states did act to “de-legitimized, de-democratized, and territorialized” non-state forces as Janice Thomson wrote in 1994, but this did not limit the use of force as an exclusive right of to the state. Politics “owned” the use of force and the state was just one incarnation of the political actor with license to use force. 4GW’ers fail to contextualize history in the appropriate moment, instead imposing modernity on all instances of the “State”.

Matt has taken Martin van Creveld’s and William Lind’s theoretical assumption’s about the universality of the decline of the state head-on. The evidence that the state is failing and in varying degrees of dysfunction in some regions is fairly obvious. That the decline follows from the reasons cited by the 4GW school is not.

As my own writing of a review of 4GW has stalled temporarily, I appreciate reading Matt’s tightly-argued piece. A great contribution to the debate !

2 comments on this post.
  1. Dan tdaxp:

    Interesting discussiong. Thank you for the link.

    Dan tdaxp

  2. mark:

    no problema Dan