Of war without victory

LTC Kratman points out one critically important aspect of 4th-Generation Warfare that I missed in my last post on the subject:
My major problem with the notion of 4GW is that it isn't 4GW; it's that it's 0GW V. 2.0. It's simply a descent into / reversion to barbarism, with no redeeming virtues that I can see. For example, how does one make peace in a world of 4GW? The simple answer is you don't, indeed, you don't even know who to make peace with, and even if you do he's unlikely to be able to control his movement to the point that there will not be splitters to continue the war.
Anyone who has read The 4th Generation Warfare Handbook will know immediately the validity of these points. One of the questions that has puzzled me exceedingly during my reading into 4GW theory does indeed come down to: what are the "victory conditions" for 4GW combatants?

From what I can see, there are two solutions, but each applies to a different side- though perhaps it is more appropriate to think in terms of "type of combatant", as 4GW conflicts rarely come down to one easily identified and clear-cut opponent fighting against another.

From the perspective of the decentralised, amorphous, rapidly evolving "David" type, victory appears to consist of demoralising and destroying the enemy in every engagement, preferably before physical confrontation even begins. An enemy that is so incapable of fighting on any battleground has already lost. Such a victory does not need to be purely physical in nature; it is possible for the "Goliath" type to exist physically in the battlespace while still being defeated mentally and especially morally. An occupying enemy that is incapable of maintaining order, civilisation, or the appearance of strength, will never be able to mount an effective resistance against an entity that can take advantage of disorder and chaos.

From the perspective of the centralised, hierarchical, much more rigid "Goliath" type, however, victory appears to consist of taking the fewest casualties while maintaining the greatest amount of order over the maximum extent of territory. These conditions are enormously difficult to achieve when the "David" types refuse to play by the rules that the "Goliath" types are themselves restricted to use- whether those constraints are imposed by law, tradition, morality, or any other external force.

It is immediately apparent that defining victory is far easier for the "small" than it is for the "big". And the history of 4GW as presented by Mr. Lind and LTC Thiele certainly supports this argument. Looking at the last 40 years' worth of engagements between powerful, technologically advanced Western militaries and their much smaller Third World opponents, one is much struck by the fact that it is extremely rare for a Western-style military to have achieved victory. Whether we are talking about America's war in Vietnam, Israel's many wars against the Gazans or its incursion into Lebanon, or the allied Western experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, victory of any kind has proven extraordinarily difficult to achieve.

The example that Mr. Lind has provided, repeatedly, of a successful 4GW engagement from the perspective of "Goliath" is the United Kingdom's experiences in Northern Ireland. And Mr. Lind contends that the reason why Her Majesty's forces prevailed in that land, to the extent that they can be said to have achieved victory through stability, is that they were willing to absorb far more casualties than they were willing to dish out.

There is a very great deal of merit to all of these arguments. I am certainly not nearly enough of a military historian to closely analyse each of them and present clear conclusions as to what Mr. Lind and his fellow 4GW theorists have gotten wrong or right.

But it seems to me that 4GW theory is nonetheless still exposed to the glaring flaw that LTC Kratman pointed out above: there is no such thing as "victory".

Instead, there is only war.

The problem with this point of view is that it completely ignores a fundamental reality of war: if you kill and destroy enough of your enemy, with sufficient ferocity, it just doesn't matter what he does. You win through sheer weight of numbers.

It is, by the way, possible to win a war in precisely this fashion, even against modern Islamist opponents. The analogy is not a precise one, but it is worth remembering that there was once a time when a non-Islamic entity completely destroyed an Islamic enemy. The entity in question was the empire of Genghis Khan, and his enemy was the Khwarezmid Empire.

Genghis Khan did not merely defeat his opponents. He virtually wiped his enemies from the face of the Earth. (That's from back in the good old days, when Cracked was actually an interesting source of information and trivia, rather than the social justice mouthpiece that it has since become.) He did so by employing truly breathtaking cruelty and viciousness in his campaigns, in battles that were also marked by the unusual tactical innovations that the Mongol hordes had perfected during their previous conquests.

As I said, the analogy is imperfect. The opponents were in this case clearly identifiable on each side- Mongols on one, Khwarezmians on the other. Yet there is no question that the Mongols were, in this case, vastly outnumbered; they were tactically nimble and rapidly shifting in their thinking; and they had no compunctions about unleashing the most savage brutality upon their enemies.

Another point that must be noted about "winning" 4GW conflicts is brought up by LTC Kratman above: who do you negotiate with in order to achieve victory? And how do you ensure that such negotiated settlements will actually be kept?

Consider that, in Islam's Long War against the West, we are currently facing many different Islamic entities, each with their own agendas and ideologies that are only loosely linked but which follow roughly the same basic strictures. Do Western governments somehow contrive to negotiate truces with Ansar al-Sharia while fighting ISIS? Will the USA lend aid to the government of Pakistan while attempting to fight Lashkar e-Taiba- and thereby alienating the government of India no matter what it does?

Furthermore, even if the West does come to a negotiated treaty settlement with any given 4GW opponent through de-escalation and the use of low-impact police tactics over outright brute force, what guarantee is there that such a treaty will be kept?

Remember, when fighting against Islamic opponents, the concept of hudnah is critically important. This is an idea that goes back all the way to the Koran and the Hadith, and it basically means that when Muslims are fighting against a more powerful and technologically superior enemy, it is permissible to enter into a temporary truce of up to 10 years in length, to allow the forces of the "prophet" to gather strength. That treaty may be broken at any time by the forces of Allah.

In other words, a treaty with Islamics is worth less than the paper it's printed on.

To get around this, Mr. Lind and LTC Thiele present a certain amount of handwavium related to "codes of honour" and "chivalric modes of conflict". Well, yes, fine, but that only works if each side acknowledges the Laws of War.

Those Laws are not pretty. They are not pleasant. They are not easy to live with. But they do delineate very clearly the differences between soldier and civilian, between what is and is not a target, and what is and is not permissible in times of war.

One of the best illustrations of the incredibly brutal but ultimately fair realities of the Laws of War actually comes from LTC Kratman's own books. If you read A Desert Called Peace, and its sequel Carnifex, you will read through several scenes of appallingly bloody warfare in which the Laws of War are nonetheless front and centre, and which show what kinds of force can and cannot be used in fighting against an enemy that obeys no recognisable flag or uniform.

Indeed, I am strongly given to thinking that a major part of the reason why the West constantly loses wars against much less skilled and powerful opponents is because Western militaries spend vast amounts of time studying the Laws of War- but rarely actually apply them in combat.

For one of the natural consequences of the Laws is that, if you end up fighting an enemy that refuses to obey those Laws, there is no mercy for him.

If the West were to start treating Islamic enemies according to the dictates of the Laws of War, I strongly suspect that Islam would be retreating, not advancing, and in a damn big hurry, too.

One final thought on the question of how to win a war against a formless entity without borders or limits. It is said, justifiably, that "nation building" in foreign lands is basically impossible under situations where 4GW becomes a daily reality. I agree with this. The recent US experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan bear this out.

Yet there are examples in the not-too-distant past that prove that it is possible for an invading colonial power to not only survive in a foreign land, but thrive in it.

Consider the example of the British Raj. Most people don't realise that, at the height of the Raj, Britain's colonial administration in the Indian subcontinent amounted to roughly 100,000 people- ruling over well over 300 MILLION. That is the magnitude of Britain's incredible achievement. They brought the light of civilisation to lands that were still stuck in feudalism and tribalism, created roads and hospitals and schools and infrastructure where none had existed before, and built a nation out of the jungle and the swamp and the desolate plains. And they did it with a mere handful of brave men and women.

How was this possible? There are many factors involved, including of course the fact that Western culture back then was strong and virile, and like all such cultures was in expansion mode. But a major factor was Britain's clearly elucidated and often-used policy of "divide and conquer".

That policy pitted Hindus against Muslims, high-caste against low-caste, and princelings against would-be kings. It was a brilliantly effective tactic. Its parallels in the modern war against Islam are immediate and obvious- I've explored them myself in the past and have often wondered why the West doesn't use them, or appears to be so terribly clumsy at using them.

To split the Islamic world into feuding enemies requires only the application of pressure into the historical divides between Sunni and Shia; between Arab and non-Arab; between the very few rich and the very, very many poor. Yet the West ignores this tactic, or refuses to use it, instead entering into foolish and fatal treaties with Islamist enemies that will inevitably end up breaking those alliances the moment that they are strong enough to challenge the West directly.

To conclude: is 4GW a complete theory of warfare? I do not believe it to be so. It has tremendous explanatory power, to be sure; I have yet to see a better way of explaining the victories won by #Gamergate, or the Rabid Puppies, or even Donald Trump's Presidential campaign, than the paradigm of 4GW conflict. But there are simply too many gaps and holes, too many questions left unanswered, to trust in it blindly. The careful and thoughtful student of war must question all of its assumptions, repeatedly and thoroughly, and must not accept its easy explanations at face value, if one is to make the most of its ideas and applications.


  1. Eduardo the Magnificent11 May 2016 at 14:53

    4GW is perfect for the current elite, because endless wars equal endless borrowing/spending, and thus endless profits. 4GW is also perfect for Muslims, as is gives them the vehicle needed to continue their religion, which is based on endless war with infidels. Both of those groups are the only ones currently interested in war, so 4GW is what we get. A return to nationhood will return all the former purposes and stratagems.

  2. The Only way to defeat an established 4G enemy is to so thoroughly win over or terrorize those that give them shelter and support that they turn any enemy combatant in rather than face the consequences of assisting him.

    Since winning over Muslims is nearly impossible, we need to turn to horror.


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