4GW describes the modern form of network warfare and strategies. What will this new form of war look like?

“4th Generation Warfare”
William Lind et al, describe the current military evolution. As the authors state,

“Whoever is first to recognize, understand, and implement a generational change can gain a decisive advantage. Conversely, a nation that is slow to adapt to generational change opens itself to catastrophic defeat.”

Each generation of warfare evolved in response to technological innovations and organization.
Following the Gunpowder Revolution:

  •  1st Generation: Linear formation. Gunpowder favored mass formations of musket infantry. Regimental organizations of modern nation-states emerged. Eg: Napoleonic War
  • 2nd Generation: Mass Firepower. Railroads and telegraphs increased strategic mobility, while massed firepower and defenses defined combat. Eg: WWI
  • 3rd Generation Warfare: Maneuver. Motorized transports provide tactical mobility and strategies developed to disrupt enemy logistical systems. Eg: Armored blitzkrieg tactics WWII

4th Generation Warfare is a return to pre-Westphalian warfare and bypasses the military capabilities of 3rd generation Western militaries by weaponizing any tool possible. The Chinese military calls it “unrestricted warfare.”

4th Generation militants share the following characteristics:

  • Non-state actors, who may be independent or state sponsored.
  • Greater dispersion and faster tempo of operations
  • Asymmetrical warfare and disruption tactics (assassination, raiding, crime, terrorism, etc.)
  • Advanced technology to allow mass coordination
  • Disrupt enemy operations and cause gradual collapse
  • Death of a thousand cuts. There are no decisive battles.
  • “Idea-based warfare” directly attacks the enemy’s cultural and political structures

I posit these transformations are cyclical depending on technology and organizational capability.
In the Stone/Bronze age
1st generation – Spearmen
2nd generation –Archers following the Bow revolution
3rd generation – Bronze weapons and specialized armies with logistics
4th Generation – The Chariot revolution and conquests by the Steppe nomads

Iron Age in Europe
1st Generation – Greek hoplites
2nd Generation – Macedonian phalanx and heavy cavalry using hammer and anvil tactics
3rd Generation – Roman legions with flexible formations and long-distance maneuver
4th Generation – Germanic war bands and Steppe nomads

The 4th Generation Warfare of the Iron Age destroyed the Roman Empire. The Gunpowder Revolution brought back 1st generation military tactics.

The land near the Oxus and Jaxartes Rivers is a fertile ground for revolutionary 4th generation warfare. Twice in the past, Central Asians created the ways and means to destroy civilized empires. The culture of pastoral nomads might explain the affinity for this style of nomadic warfare. So it is in Central Asia that the modern 4th generation emerged. Right now, the potential for 4th generation warfare is untapped. In the hands of a military genius, like Genghis Khan, it can bring down entire nation-states.

 The Nexus of Crime and Warfare

Independent Non-state actors form social networks of roughly 100 men and link together in confederations of various magnitudes. Criminal financing supplies their logistical needs. International crime engages in:
1) smuggling (arms, drugs, and stolen goods);
2) human trafficking (slavery, prostitution, illegal immigration);
3) violence (kidnapping and ransom, robbery, protection rackets, piracy).
4) Illegal control and taxation of informal markets

Widespread crime weakens the rule of law in the Peripheral-state and affects neighbors. Criminals prefer to operate in a “low-risk jurisdiction” region like failed states, while extending their trade into richer markets. This logical strategy keeps the ‘brains’ of the operation protected, while low-ranking expendables work in the high-risk environments. Militants operate on the same principle. Excellent police work in the United States or Europe has only a limited effect as the source of crime or warfare is not extinguished.

Max Manwaring “Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency” And Gary Wilson and John Sullivan’s Gangs, Crime and Terrorism discuss this issue in more depth.

Manwaring summarizes the problem:

“The Western mainstream legally-oriented security dialogue demonstrates that many political and military leaders and scholars of international relations have not yet adjusted to the reality that internal and transnational nonstate actors ― such as criminal gangs ― can be as important as traditional nation states in determining political patterns and outcomes in global affairs. Similarly, many political leaders see nonstate actors as bit players on the international stage. At best, many leaders consider these nontraditional political actors to be low-level law enforcement problems, and, as a result, many argue that they do not require sustained national security policy attention. Yet, more than half of the countries in the world are struggling to maintain their political, economic, and territorial integrity in the face of diverse direct and indirect nonstate ― including criminal gang ― challenges.”

Manwaring discusses the evolution of criminal gangs:
-1st generation: Street Gangs. Local control and recruitment. Weak and amateurish. Countered by municipal police departments.
-2nd generation: Cartel and Mafia Organizations. Broad regional networks and markets. Substantial ability to use violence. Countered by national police or paramilitary forces.
-3rd generation: Transnational Criminal Organization. Commands international black markets. Employs paramilitary forces and politically controls territory. Countered by military forces.

Transnational criminal organizations piggyback onto existing trade routes, using container shipments, cell-phones, airlines, offshore banking etc. 3rd Generation criminal organizations have sufficient funds to raise a small army and defend production sites and transportation “choke points” from rival criminals or the regional government. Criminal Organizations tap into the wealth of advanced Core states while remaining protected in failed states. On that basis, they cannot be treated as a matter for local law enforcement. For example, the illicit drug trade flows from Colombia to the United States, from Afghanistan to Russia, and from Indonesia to Australia.

Many of these gangs do not have traditional revolutionary or state ambitions, because “rather than directly competing with the nation-state, sophisticated and internationalized street gangs and their criminal/narco allies can use a mix of complicity, indifference, corruption and violent intimidation to co-opt or seize control of a state or a portion of a nation-state quietly and indirectly” (Manwaring).

Worse yet, these illicit activities fund intrastate wars in failed states and non-state attacks on the Core. The most sophisticated organizations develop an ideology to attract more recruits and to link together networks. While ideology is important, successful rebellions occur, not through attractive political ideologies, but through financial viability. For any military operation to succeed, they need cash. Insurgencies rely on narcotics smuggling, “blood” diamonds and gems, kidnapping and ransom, bank robbery and assorted crimes.

Let’s clear up the confusion. These organizations become warlords. They have armies, territory and money. They cannot be a ‘law enforcement’ problem. They are a national security threat to any civilized society.

As individual problems, non-state organizations might be manageable, but transnational criminal organizations network together to create larger economies of scale. Criminally funded organizations are less ideological than states. The central insight from this economic perspective is these organizations do not care about the nation-state, much less nationalism or Marxism or any other quaint ideology. It’s business.

As Peripheral states decline and lose their monopoly over legitimate violence, criminals and non-state actors take over. Normal people rely on any power that can protect them, typically ethnic vigilantes, gangs and thugs using rudimentary and decentralized violence.