4th Generation Warfare

Many guerrilla war tactics are not new. They’ve just grown more effective because economies are far more sophisticated and more vulnerable.

Infrastructure is one vulnerable network. The rest of the economy relies on communication, transportation, and energy networks. Information and resources flow through these networks. If critical nodes fail, or the links are severed, it causes a cascade failure throughout the economy.

Our infrastructure is built as a scale-free network. These types of networks are robust against a large number of random internal errors. However, hostile agents can observe the structure of scale-free networks and identify critical hubs. Scale-free networks are extremely fragile when under external attack.


Religious men of the 19th century believed that a benevolent God would only create a moral nature. How does one explain carnivores? At least they killed swiftly and prevented longer suffering from starvation. This was a form of just killing, so goes the reasoning. But they were at lost to explain the extreme cruelty Ichneumon Wasp. Stephen Jay Gould describes the nonmoral nature of this wasp. Wasp females paralyze other insects, then they lay their eggs inside the host. When those eggs hatch, they eat the immobilized but living host inside out, bit by bit, and kill it slowly.

The nation-state is playing host to its parasitic killer.

Here’s a fun idea. What if China or Russia use special forces to carry out attacks on economic infrastructure or assassinate individuals in the US… and get us to blame Al-Qaeda?

The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact did just that during the Cold War. The Stasis secret police in East Germany carried out assassinations and terrorist attacks in the West and shifted the blame onto a Leftist terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. The attacks copied the terrorist style but it was a bit too professional to have been done by amatuers. Now they have proof – the Stasi and KGB waged an unrestricted shadow war in the West and avoided responsibility.

All old things are new again. Mexican Intelligence is tracing the Pemex oil line attacks by left-wing radicals back to Hugo Chavez. Disguised disruption campaigns, what fun.

Robin Hanson warns that Catastrophes, like epidemics, earthquakes, forest fires, and wars, follow power law distributions.

Humans have slowly built more productive societies by slowly acquiring various kinds of capital, and by carefully matching them to each other. Because disruptions can disturb this careful matching, and discourage social coordination, large disruptions can cause a “social collapse,” i.e., a reduction in productivity out of proportion to the disruption. For many types of disasters, severity seems to follow a power law distribution. For some of types, such as wars and earthquakes, most of the expected harm is predicted to occur in extreme events…

The collapse is actually quite worse than the initial disruption.

To avoid a catastrophic collapse, you have to prepare for unpredictable Black Swan events. Well, alright…

Biotech continues to grow exponentially, just like Moore’s Law in computer industries. This could trigger a major economic revolution on par with the Industrial or Information revolution. Or not. Predicting the future goes into the realm of science fiction.

Any tech filters down to the individual and small group level over time. So this could continue to empower smaller networks at the expense of the state.

The People’s Liberation Army has been looking at 4th Generation War theory for some time too. They call it
Unrestricted Warfare.

Qiao was quoted as stating that “the first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden.” Elaborating on this idea, he asserted that strong countries would not use the same approach against weak countries because “strong countries make the rules while rising ones break them and exploit loopholes…”

Asymmetrical warfare breaks the rules to gain advantages over your opponents. These PLA officers analyze different methods of defeating a technologically superior United States. They advise disrupting networks, economic warfare, “lawfare” and strategic terrorism.

The theory suggests that China evade the military and technological strength of the US while waging a shadow war. And, as a matter of fact, China is vulnerable to the same strategy.

Here’s a goofy idea. Why don’t we negotiate with network insurgencies? We cannot for the same reason why assassinations do not work – decentralized leadership.

Thailand discovered this problem recently. In 10,000 years of recorded history, the art of diplomacy has never figured out how to “negotiate” with decentralized organizations. States negotiate with hierarchical organized tribes, corporations and other states. In all this time no one figured out how to negotiate with non-hierarchical non-state actors – that’s probably because you cannot

So anyway, some fools want to try it anyway and open diplomacy with al-Qaeda.

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