Saturday, March 25, 2006
4GW and Other Theories
The major wars of the 20th century also show that political,
social, and economic capabilities were, in many cases, employed
to the maximum extent possible. Some historians go so far as to
maintain that World Wars I and II were, in effect, examples of “total”
war precisely because of the extent to which the major combatants
mobilized the elements of their national power. Even the theoretical
offshoots of netcentric warfare, which 4GW rightly rejects, recognize
the need to integrate all the elements of national power in the pursuit
of strategic aims. The problem is that this notion of total integration
has become the new mantra; the idea itself has almost been elevated
to a panacea for the various ills plaguing the American way of war.
The fundamental rub, which even 4GW advocates do not address, is
how to coordinate diverse kinds of power, each of which operates in
a unique way and according to its own timeline, to achieve specific
objectives, and to do so while avoiding at least the most egregious
of unintended consequences. It is one thing to assert that all the
elements of power must be coordinated to meet the challenges of
this century, it is quite another to think through the next level of that
problem, and figure out how.
In sum, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel with regard to
insurgencies—super or otherwise—and their various kin. A great
deal of very good work has already been done, especially lately, on
that topic, to include the effects that globalization and information
technologies have had, are having, and are likely to have, on such
movements. We do not need another label, as well as an incoherent
supporting logic, to obscure what many have already made clear.
The fact that 4GW theorists are not aware of this work, or at least
do not acknowledge it, should give us pause indeed. They have
not kept up with the scholarship on unconventional wars, nor with
changes in the historical interpretations of conventional wars. Their
logic is too narrowly focused and irredeemably flawed. In any case,
the wheel they have been reinventing will never turn.
My Comments: Unnecessary Attachments
Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems, nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side. But it can give the mind insight into the great mass of phenomena and of their relationships, then leave it free to rise into the higher realms of action.
On War, Carl von Clausewitz
One of the things that can weigh us down in dealing with today's conflicts is an unnecessary attachment to a single theory or doctrine of war, be it EBO, NCW, or 4GW. No single theory or perspective can explain the totality and all the phenomena associated with what is perhaps the most complicated of human endeavors: war. In science, no single theory can't explain all aspects of a phenomenon (e.g. general relativity, quantum mechanics); the same applies for warfare. Neither the generational warfare model, nor EBO or NCW, represent, by themselves, a "theory of everything" regarding war.
It can be beneficial to study the concepts pertaining to each theory, but getting married to a single theory can prove to be detrimental. They way I see it, as warfighters we really have no dog in this academic fight. We should be fighting the war, not the doctrine. The concepts we learn studying the different theories live in our minds (not necessarily in our hearts), but ultimately when it comes time to take action we should try what suits each occasion best, regardless of whether it conforms to a theory or another. We have all this concepts in our toolkit, and that's precisely what these concepts are: tools for understanding certain aspects of warfare. No single tool is appropriate for every job.
The generational model of war, of which 4GW is a part, is more a representation of a different viewpoint than a reinvention of the wheel. What we now call insurgency has been a part of warfare since antiquity. 4 GW looks at insurgency, and war as a whole, from a different standpoint. The 4GW proponents added another layer to the discussion of war. If nothing else, they revitalized the concept. Whether you agree with 4GW or not, the discussions generated by the theory at least are getting us to talk about a topic long neglected by the military: insurgency and unconventional warfare.
Globalization has changed many aspects of our lives; commerce, politics, and or course, the way human beings wage war. Technology also changes how we fight, whether we like it or not. Even the "low-tech" insurgents and terrorists adapt technologies to their advantage.
In his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Thomas Friedman talks about the democratization of technology, finance, and information: "three fundamental changes-changes in how we communicate, how we invest and how we learn about the world."
Fareed Zakaria in The Future of Freedom adds, "We often read during the roaring 1990s that technology and information had been democratized. This is a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, technology helped reinforce centralization and hierarchy. For example, the last great information revolution--in the 1920s involving radio, television, movies, megaphones-had a centralizing effect."
The democratization of technology and information along with the weakening of the state has contributed to what Zakaria calls the democratization of violence. To those factors, I add the post-Cold War resurgence of ethnic and religious conflict. 4GW is growing on fertile ground.
Peaceful and hostile non-state actors have benefited from these democratizations. You can get in touch with anyone across the world cheaply and exchange news, make arrangements for your latest cocaine shipment, or put the finishing touches on your terrorist attack. The fact that governments can intercept some of these communications will not stop a determined adversary. They have ways to go around that.
The discussion on 4GW and insurgencies will remain front and center for a long time. Neither 4GW, NCW, or EBO deserve a blanket disapproval. Each perspective offers something useful in understanding certain, but not all, aspects of warfare.
You may also like the resource page that contains many interesting links on the subject: