The Generations of War Model and Domestic Policing

Dr Simon Newman
Senior Lecturer in Law
University of Westminster, UK

[Note: Dr. Newman has been kind enough to share some working notes he made for the London’s Metropolitan Police Department. It’s an excellent example of how that framework can help stimulate insights and creativity, which to me is the real purpose of models — Chet]

1st Generation - a culture of Order, “Line of Battle” and the parade ground, e.g., Napoleonic war. 1st generation entities emphasise order at any cost. WW1 tactics ‘walking into machine guns’ was probably the last gasp of 1st gen culture on the battleground.

2nd Generation - a culture of Process, characterised by 20th century industrial mass production techniques. Inward focused, measuring success by process metrics such as bodycounts (Vietnam War) or for policing number of arrests & convictions is characteristic of a 2nd-gen culture. Most modern militaries and other government entities are basically 2nd generation.

1st & 2nd generation entities tend to be strongly hierarchical, with limited discretion by subordinates.

3rd Generation - a culture of Maneuver War/Blitzkrieg, outward focused on the changing environment and on the desired end state / goal / commander’s intent / “Schwerpunkt” (e.g., attack through the Ardennes in the 1940 German conquest of France). For policing, a suitable Schwerpunkt might be the absence of crime. Maneuver warfare inculcates a high degree of initiative in junior elements in deciding how best to achieve these goals, as opposed to enforcing detailed instructions from the top. The theorist John Boyd’s Orientate-Observe-Decide-Act system - the “OODA Loop” - is a classic statement of 3rd generation principles.

The essence of 3rd gen theory is to collapse the enemies’ will to fight by outthinking and outmaneuvering them by, for example, attacking with multiple thrusts in order to create or uncover gaps in the their positions. The high degree of initiative mentioned previously then “pulls” (as 3rd gen theorists like to say) increasingly large formations into the gaps so created and exploits the penetrations before the other side can react or even understand what is going on. This can be easy facing a cumbersome bureaucrat 2nd generation entity, but highly decentralised networked entities like criminal gangs and loose terrorist groups may not have physical gaps that can be exploited or even any observable decision-making process.

It is worth pointing out that ‘Broken Windows theory’ policing with its emphasis on rapid flexible reaction to new minor threats shows characteristics of 3rd gen culture, and there are others that may prove operationally useful, but 3rd generation concepts by themselves cannot decisively defeat such dispersed, networked, non-state organizations.

4th Generation - The basic argument of 4th gen theory is that the Westphalian State system that has dominated at least the Western world since 1648 is weakening and may be breaking down under the influence of globalisation, the ceding of State and authority power to transnational bodies (UN, EU etc) and unprecedented population movements. In this environment non-state actors such as terrorist and criminal organisations and others, often very loosely organised, can now use Mao-style insurgency techniques (isolate-infiltrate-destroy) to potentially tear States apart at the moral level, destroying their cohesion and creating Stateless zones within and across States.

At a lower level they can influence State governments, such as the Al Qaeda attack on Spain’s train network which probably changed the result of an election and resulted in Spanish withdrawal from Iraq. Importantly, these 4th generation threats usually combine violent and non-violent elements (eg the IRA’s “Armalite & Ballot Box” strategy), and Al Qaeda style mass casualty terrorism may be only a minor strategic element for 4th gen entities, possibly even a counter-productive one. The activities of some eg Revolutionary Marxist, Islamist and other groups may be entirely non-violent while fitting within the 4th generation paradigm, for instance gaining control of an education system and using it to create more adherents of that organisation’s goals.

This then raises the question to what extent, if any, Liberal Democratic States can act against such non-violent organisations to prevent their destruction of the Liberal State. Lind also characterises major criminal networks such as Mara Salvatrucha 13 as 4th gen entities, and these may be just as dangerous to State survival as religious and politically motivated entities.

It is argued that policing and enhanced community cohesion via local organisations (such as Neighbourhood Watch) are potentially much more effective actors against many “4th generation” forces than are traditional armies and weapons systems: the battlefield of the future is the city street, and words are potentially more powerful weapons than guns and missiles.

There is no existing document on “This is how you win 4th generation war” from the point of view of the State (Mao’s Little Red Book explains how to win from the POV of the stateless actor!) but I will concluded with a couple of points I’ve taken from my reading re: techniques that work in a 4th gen environment.

  1. De-escalation is very important. This applies to police officers calming potentially violent individuals on the streets, to calming of angry groups within a community, and to calming of entire communities. US writers aware of British policing and military techniques are usually very admiring of British proficiency at de-escalation. Malaya and Northern Ireland are often cited as successes where de-escalation was a vital part of successful counter-insurgency, although in both it’s notable that support for the insurgency was always confined to a minority ethnic group (ethnic Chinese in Malaya, Catholics in Northern Ireland).
  2. Networking - creating and expanding links to community networks that strengthen and legitimise the State, in contrast to 4th gen networks that seek to weaken and de-legitimise the State. Networks can be vulnerable to entry by 4th generation actors, but decentralised networks that contact State representatives at many different points - e.g., local police in frequent contact with local community members - seem much less vulnerable than cases where a high level government official deals only with a single individual or group claiming to represent a larger community. In the latter situation the official and the individual/group are both potential gaps, as it were, for 4th generation actors. In that sense, exploiting them can form Schwerpunkts for such actors: If they can influence or control either they can do a lot of damage to the State, most notably they can use control of the Schwerpunkt to feed the State false information, shaping the State’s perception of reality in accordance with the goals of the 4G

12 Responses to “The Generations of War Model and Domestic Policing

  • 1
    March 7th, 2008 17:51

    One way to smooth out the symmetry in this presentation and succinctly capture the “culture of…” for the different generations is:
    1st - culture of order
    2nd - culture of process
    3rd - culture of adaptivity
    4th - culture of networking

  • 2
    March 7th, 2008 18:01

    Just to clarify that I wrote this in response to an unofficial request for information on 4GW theory by an employee of the Metropolitan Police engaged in training police in problem-solving methodology, not as official work for the Met. :) - Simon Newman

  • 3
    March 7th, 2008 18:02

    sjilcott –

    I like that!!

    3GW is also sometimes described as the culture of agility, which roughly means adaptivity with time relative to opponents factored in.

  • 4
    March 7th, 2008 18:07

    Also, the section on 3rd Generation War is edited by Chet following our email discussion. I would regard absence-of-crime not so much as a Schwerpunkt, more as a final desired end state or equilibrium state. A policing Schwerpunkt would be eg the prolific criminal, especially one whose activities create a general climate of lawlessness, perhaps a gang leader. It might also be a particular locale - cleaning up a nexus location can have positive knock-on effects throughout the wider area; eg the derelict house on my street that had been used as a drugs den, now partly thanks to action by local police and local politicians (councillors) it’s a cleaned-up high value rental property.

  • 5
    March 7th, 2008 18:12

    “1st - culture of order
    2nd - culture of process
    3rd - culture of adaptivity
    4th - culture of networking”

    Yes, I think that’s good terminology, although I agree with Chet that ‘3rd generation - culture of agility’ is good as it captures the importance of rapid adaptation in a time limited environment. 4GW entities are so decentralised they are more ‘evolutionary’ than ‘adaptive’, fighting them is more like fighting a disease than fighting a conventional army opponent.

  • 6
    March 7th, 2008 18:15

    Some further comments I made this morning, wherein I mention the dreaded ‘cultural Marxists’:

    My main goal is to look at how 4GW theory can usefully be applied to current police work. Most work on 4GW has emphasised the need to police-icise the modern military (and avoid militarising the police), emphasising the value of what the police already do; and in general the Metropolitan Police are probably already world leaders in the development and use of successful techniques, but I think that 4GW theory still has a lot of useful insights to offer, even if they often coincide with what the Met is already doing. At the very least it provides additional justifications for existing successful techniques, and warns against some possible innovations (such as the increasing military/SWAT approach in some parts of the USA, or degeneration of community policing into ‘raider’ type tactics as happened in my home country of Northern Ireland during the Troubles, and seems to be happening in the French banlieux).

    I think the most important insight I’ve taken from Lind’s 4GW writings is the concept of Legitimacy: that perceived legitimacy is vital to the successful functioning of the State, and that legitimacy can no longer be taken for granted by governments in the way it was 100 years ago, due to:

    (a) The hollowing out of States at the hands of international institutions - in Europe primarily the EU, in Africa it’s NGOs/development agencies et al.
    (b) Mass population movements, creating large immigrant populations with no ancestral allegiance to the State, and other competing allegiances, such as ethnic and religious.

    Added to this is Lind’s concept of 4GW actors as genuine threats to the survival of the State; I’m particularly interested in the non-violent means by which they can disrupt and potentially destroy Western states. I think Lind’s work on the techniques of the Frankfurt School cultural Marxists is particularly interesting here, although as far as I know Lind has never directly related his work on cultural Marxism to his work on 4GW theory. Gramsci’s “Long March through the Institutions” and the efforts of his successors looks to me like a form of 4GW, although almost entirely non violent; it was and is aimed at collapsing the Liberal Democratic State through control of its vital points and inculcation of ‘cultural pessimism’.

    BTW I wrote an article on cultural Marxism in the UK a couple of years ago:

  • 7
    March 7th, 2008 19:22

    Simon –

    Thanks for the excellent comments (my role in the post was minor and editorial). The usefulness of military force in the 21st century and in particular, how developed states deal with violent transnational organizations, forms one of the major themes of this site.

    One note to potential contributors — I’m trying to close off debate on the merits of “cultural Marxism.” This site is not the place for that. As you can see, I’m not achieving total success, but I won’t approve comments where the main subject is that topic.

    Bill Lind is grandfathered in.

  • 8
    March 8th, 2008 00:26

    simontmn wrote:

    Added to this is Lind’s concept of 4GW actors as genuine threats to the survival of the State; I’m particularly interested in the non-violent means by which they can disrupt and potentially destroy Western states

    What is a legitimate State? May I suggest a quick re-reading of the preamble of our Constitution?

    It’s an easy leap to call any non violent political movement a potential terrorrist group. Who needs to deal with their actual stated aims? This is dangerous thinking, and one of the reasons I think Mr. Lind should stick to strictly military analysis.

    Let’s take illegal immigration. Essentially, these people have been invited here, by those seeking cheap labor who will not, and by definition, cannot complain. In turn, they lower the saleries of native Americans - Yet they are feared, blameed, and held responsible for the “criminal activity” of taking up that invitation.

    What if some of them become potential 4GW actors? Who then bears the responsibility?

    It’s no accident that the number of employers, knowingly hiring illegals, who have gone to jail as the law calls for, can be numbered on one hand.

    It’s easy for a State to maintain it’s legitimacy - Simply BE legitimate.


  • 9
    March 8th, 2008 10:18

    “What is a legitimate State?”

    The important thing is *perceived* legitimacy, not legitimacy in some abstract normative sense of compliance with universal principles. Eg the current Russian government enjoys high levels of support from its population although it doesn’t meet Western norms of legitimacy; that’s not what matters to the Russian people.

    “It’s an easy leap to call any non violent political movement a potential terrorrist group.”

    Yes, although that’s not what I or Lind are doing. Terrorism is a tactic, inherently violent, terrorists are those who engage in terrorism. Lind’s definition of a 4GW actor is a group/network, often very loose, whose aims include tearing apart the State at the moral level. It’s the aim that is important to the definition, not whether the 4GW actor’s tactics are violent. For Liberal Democratic states, as I said, this raises the question whether non-violent 4GW actors can legitimately be opposed - opposition that takes a repressive form risks destroying the Liberal-Democratic nature of the State. I would argue that decentralising and networking offers some protection against 4GW actors even without identifying them as such.

    A further point is that 4GW itself is a tactic; some Marxist and Islamist groups are particularly notable as practitioners, but they are not the only ones, nor are all Marxists and Islamist groups practitioners of 4GW.

    On the first point, apart from the Latin American criminal groups that can threaten state survival, I wouldn’t be surprised if Western powers had encouraged 4GW networks in eg the ‘Orange Revolution’ in Ukraine, and similar activity in other post-Communist and Communist states. Any State is potentially vulnerable to 4GW, although relatively free societies may be particularly vulnerable.

    On the second point, of course there are plenty of Muslim organisations which are not 4GW actors, although Western States seem to have a lot of difficulty identifying which ones are and which aren’t. The Muslim Brotherhood looks like a classic 4GW entity under Lind’s definition, originally aimed at tearing apart the Egyptian state but now active in many Western States, the many Brotherhood linked organisations such as CAIR (USA) and Muslim Council of Britain (UK), being non violent, do not seem to be identified as threats and have successfully created high level links into the power structures of their target States.

    Conversely, the ‘Libertarian Marxists’ of Spiked! ( ) are often barely distinguishable from the Paleocons of The American Conservative ( ) - both of which are exactly the sorts of healthy contrarian publications a Liberal Democratic state needs for successful functioning.

  • 10
    March 8th, 2008 10:36

    “What if some of them become potential 4GW actors? Who then bears the responsibility? ”

    One of the insights from analysis of 3GW theory is that to be effective you focus outwardly on desired end-state goals and tactics likely to achieve those goals, not on inward-focused questions like this. >:)

    A further insight from 4GW theory as I understand it is that you (the State seeking to maintain its integrity) don’t necessarly want to draw clear bright lines between groups of the Bushian “You’re either with us or against us” model - declarations like MeCHA is an evil 4GW actor, La Raza is a legitimate organisation (or vice versa) may be meaningless and potentially counter-productive.

  • 11
    March 8th, 2008 13:26

    from gpanfile [rescued from DNI2]

    I think this discussion would benefit from looking at some other ways the State is losing legitimacy… besides population movements and devolution of power ‘outward’ to transnational agencies and NGOs, there are other trends that may be even more important. One, perhaps the primary one, is corruption. This may be the main reason the Soviet Union fell, for example, and it is certainly at a crisis point in the United States.

    Another is simple bureaucratic stodginess in that when the bureaucracy scales up to a certain size, it becomes inevitably slower, and when technology accelerates the pace of change in day to day life, institutions, their very vocabularies, are simply unable to keep up the pace. It may also be true, that like tyranny, religious rule, and royalism based on tribe, the current model of the State is simply obsolete. In which case a managed transition that devolves power both upward and downward is the only real response… all efforts to maintain or restore the State are efforts at turning the clock back, doomed.

  • 12
    March 8th, 2008 13:28

    from mycophagist [brought over from DNI2]

    simontmn wrote:

    “Eg the current Russian government enjoys high levels of support from its population…”

    “…is that to be effective you focus outwardly on desired end-state goals and tactics likely to achieve those goals, not on inward-focused questions like this. >:)

    States, by definition are structures to achieve the ends and desires of the population. To the degree they meet those ends, they justify their existence. They are legitimized.

    Obviously many States, and States that are in no danger of being overthrown, don’t meet the above criterium. But just how long will they exist? The old Soviet Union was also a “legitimate” State by your definition, but it’s inability to meet minimal standards caused a collapse that took place with breathtaking speed. Revolutionary situations, like a smouldering coal fire, are not necessarily readily apparent until the fire actually leaps from the ground. Let’s not forget that the collapse, first took place in the leadership…

    How many predicted the French Revolution? For that matter, in 1765 how many predicted the American Revolution?

    Is the United States a legitimate State by my definition? You bet it is, but what is the trend?

    And those who oppose this trend? Cannot what is being said on this board be defined as delegitimizing the State? Are we 4GW warriors attacking America?

    I don’t think so, but others would and do!

    Mr. Lind sees himself as trying to save the State - He attacks the elite, but is terrified of those who bear most of the burden of the acts of the elite.

    NB. All movements seeking political change have extremist elements seeking more than reform. Truly legitimate States accommodate to legitimate grievances, and by doing so undermine or even incorporate the movement. Extremists are then fish out of water. Sam Adams was dead in the water after the repeal of the Stamp Act.


    PS. I wouldn’t bet big bucks on the long term existence of the Russian Federation.

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