Another view of 4/5 GW

John Goelker had an interesting look at the issue in last Saturday’s Counterpunch:

Iraq has morphed from a fourth generation war (4GW)–for which US forces began belatedly to prepare under the leadership of General David Petraeus–into a fifth generation conflict (5GW). The difference is profound, and it obviates our political strategy, our military strategy and our superior firepower.

4GW is a known entity. It’s been around at least since Mao (and many would argue before), and has been well documented in Malaysia, Algeria and Viet Nam. Its key characteristic is asymmetric force levels and capabilities, which dictates that the militarily weaker side must primarily wage guerilla warfare.

You might contrast Goelker’s take on 4/5GW to that of Fabius Maximus or for that matter to mine. The question to consider — and I don’t have the answer — is “what is different?” If it’s armed groups fighting a government for control of a state, then it’s insurgency, as are all the examples he mentions above.

Comments are welcome — please observe our comment policy.

3 Responses to “Another view of 4/5 GW

  • 1
    March 17th, 2008 14:01

    I hesitate to speak authoritatively about definitions. War is about power, and the break between previous generations. 4GW, is not simply one of insurgences being Fourth, and wars between States being something else; rather the collapse of State power, and the vacuum that is produced, in which the new technology renders minor players, powerful. They are powerful, Not because they can blow up a structure, but rather because a $1K weapon can reliably take out a weapon that cost a million dollars to field.

    “5GW is sometimes called, “open source” warfare, or “war of super-empowered individuals”, because modern weapons and technologies have conferred tremendous power on small actors. One person with a kilo of plastic explosive and a simple detonator can do millions of dollars in damage to key infrastructure, such as pipelines, electrical grids, water treatment plants or bridges.”

    Not really. If this was so, then the Antwerp Hell burner of the 16th Century would qualify for the above status:

    “Houses were toppled down miles away, and not a living thing, even in remote places, could keep its feet. The air was filled with a rain of plough-shares, grave-stones, and marble balls, intermixed with the heads, limbs, and bodies, of what had been human beings. Slabs of granite, vomited by the flaming ship, were found afterwards at a league’s distance, and buried deep in the earth. A thousand soldiers were destroyed in a second of time; many of them being torn to shreds, beyond even the semblance of humanity.”

    The combatants in Holland had legitimate goals, and both an existing and an embryo State. Iraq has no legitimate State, not even one in embryo. We can take credit for this accomplishment…


  • 2
    Fabius Maximus
    March 17th, 2008 23:53

    What a strange article. He leads up to this proposition, the key to his case:

    “The actors are not necessarily political movements, or even recognized groups. Their motivation is as likely to be micro-economic as ideological, and may be social or–most likely–some blend of the above. To conflate these under any label, be it “jihadists”, “losers and dead-enders” or “militias” is to misunderstand them completely.”

    But he never describes these “non-political” actors. All I see in Iraq are political actors, plus the usual scum of criminals that thrive in failed states (the latter have large effect, but perhaps more significant as a symptom of political instability than a cause of it).

  • 3
    March 21st, 2008 12:33

    In my opinion, Goelker does the best job I’ve read describing the big picture of what we’re facing in Iraq — a large number of diverse groups with the knowledge and weapons to create and thrive on chaos.

    Not the picture provided by the Bush Administration or the media. Would that the American people were similarly informed.

    I assume that Goelker is, or has been, associated with the Santa Fe Institute. One of the cutting-edge research groups in the world today.

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