Wars burn out.

There are “dampening effects” that reduce the amplitude of wars. Moral and material effects place an upper limit on the intensity of warfare as well as the duration. Eventually, these effects slow and end the war.

4GW seems to have limitless potential in theory. It can disrupt economic systems, win an information war, and generally wreck havoc. In practice, not so much, at least yet. Even in theory, we need to remember there are restraints on the ability of any militant faction.

The Islamist Insurgencies seem to have reached a maximum limitation on the effectiveness of 4GW strategies. Compared to WWII Germany and its 3GW Blitzkrieg strategy, these Islamists are small-fry.

So why aren’t they killing people by the tens of millions and shutting down the world economy by now? It’s not because they are stupid. Many of the insurgents are well educated, Middle Class radicals. They are engineers, doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. They know how to build bombs, they know how to tear down electrical power grids and government organizations.

Al-Qaeda even has its own 4GW theorists and strategists such as Abu Musab al-Suri.

And yet, there has been no major Islamist victories. There is no Caliphate, no overthrown monarchies in the Middle East, nada.

4th Generation Warfare seems to face what I call the “Air Force” problem. Air Forces boast that they can shut down critical nodes in states through bombings. Likewise, 4GW tries to do the same thing but with insurgents and terrorists on the ground.

So to the 4GW doomsayers – how effective was air power again? Air Forces use more tons of explosives with better targetting than highly decentralized insurgents. And yet Armies still win wars. The Islamists lack an army and an alternative government.

So here are some dampeners in 4GW. These are in addition to conventional friction. Many of these are social factors which are constant at any level of technology.

Moral Factors
Terror attacks and network disruption may not have the intended psychological effect. Like Air Force bombings, these types of attacks are counterproductive. They marginally weaken the enemy material power, but bolster the enemy’s morale and will to fight.

The moral factor of warfare greatly outweighs the material factors.

Organization Structure:
Large, centralized hierarchies can handle a large mass of materials and men. The larger a movement grows, the more management it needs.

Small decentralized networks lack the ability to stick to a common plan for an extended period. Autonomous leaders have differences of interests and goals. As time goes on, there is greater social distance between individuals in different networks because there is no “grooming” and social upkeep. Group and individual needs and interests change in unpredictable ways. This causes social networks to fragment over time, especially when under attack.

For instance, there is a greater amount of friction in communications and transportation of info and resources between networks than in hierarchies.

Conflicting Interests
I called this a Strange Balancing Mechanism.
Network insurgencies are really a confederation of alliances. And, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, alliances are unreliable. What’s true for states is also true for non-state actors. Allied interests are not exactly the same, so network insurgencies are likely to fragment and begin in-fighting if they do not develop an unified command hierarchy.

Different groups have different goals. Criminals, Tribes, Insurgents, and Terrorists only cooperate in the face of a common enemy. But if one group begins growing too powerful, its former allies often turn upon it and tear it down. For example, criminal organizations are business competitors, so if one cartel grows to big, it’s rivals attack it.

Insurgents have an internal balance of power mechanism that leads them to challenge each other.

Criminal Funding
Modern insurgencies have to self-finance without state sponsors. This means they turn to criminal organizations to supply weapons and cash flow from smuggling and other criminal activity.

Gradually, pragmatic criminals supplant the radicals and take command of the organization. Criminals have little interest in bringing down states to the extent called for by 4GW theory. Criminals are parasitic, not nihilistic. They want to weaken the police and protect smuggling routes – not halt commercial activity and turn the population against them. Criminals sometimes romantically think they are nationalists of some sort – some things they will not do.

Lack of a Political Alternative
Insurgencies must win over the civilian population with an alternative ideology and governing system. Communism came the closest to doing this during the Cold War, but it is a spent force today.

Because decentralized insurgencies are so fragmented, they often put off discussing post-war governments in order to prevent internal strife over goals. This gives 4th Generation Warfare a vague, pointless moral feeling. Civilians are not likely to respond to this across much of the world.

Radical Islamism does not seem effective at creating an alternative government to fill a vacuum of power. Since the insurgents cannot fill the vacuum, governments and tribes do instead.

I believe these are just some of the factors that minimize the intensity of war. There are some social limitations at work, here, because in a technological sense, 4GW insurgents should be much more destructive than they are.