Making sense out of 4GW

[Significantly revised at 6 pm EDST, on March 12th]

Fabius Maximus, in stark contrast to his nickname “Cunctator” (Delayer), takes the initiative:

When non-T conflicts become struggles for control of large geographic areas (not neighborhoods) AND involve substantial use of force, we call them 4GW’s. In the words of Martin van Creveld (private communication) 4GW is a tactic (or body of tactics) used in non-T conflicts. So is crime. So are private acts of violence by super-empowered individuals (see BNW [Brave New War] and Robb’s other writings for more on this). Although these three things can blur together, they are conceptually distinct concepts. Confusing them by calling them “war” can have bad consequences. This is one of the key contributions of Richards in IWCKI [If We Can Keep It].

Fabius may be on to something. He’s been researching non-Trinitarian conflict for well onto five years and I think he’s come up with a new paradigm in the original Kuhnian sense that may eliminate a lot of the confusion that now clouds discussion and hinders the creation of solutions. He leads off with the observation that there are many different forms of non-Trinitarian conflict but only some of these — I would personally argue that only a very few — merit the label “war.”

Consider, for example, the distinction between war and crime: War is prosecuted by military forces whose mission it is to force the other side to capitulate and destroy them if they don’t. Crime is dealt with by law enforcement, whose mission it is to protect the citizenry and apprehend — not destroy — perpetrators for processing by the criminal justice and corrections systems.

This looks to be the start of an seminal series on where the war segment of non-Trinitarian conflict is going in the 21st century and by implication, what we can do about (and with) it. Check it out.

5 Responses to “Making sense out of 4GW

  • 1
    March 13th, 2008 14:59

    An interesting article. As I read it, though, I experienced “cognitive dissonance” (a Dilbert term that I love). I’m struggling … I think I’m struggling with the notion that there is a clear demarcation between “types” of warfare. In other words, crime vs. law enforcement is not normally thought of as “warfare” per se - however - a criminal may think of it as “war” or “conflict.” When LE is working to take down a crime family, both sides may consider the conflict a “war.” In that vein, two crime families battling may be considered “war” and innocents that caught in between are “collateral damage.” Finally, when criminal syndicates funnel money to revolutionary forces, that, too, could be “war.”

    To further confuse things, there is no doubt in my mind that the FBI - if they were looking - could have stopped the 9-11 hijackers. So in that vein, 4GW combatants could have been “taken out” by law enforcement.

    Perhaps what is needed is a graduated scale of “conflict type” and an associated decision tree to help sort the wheat from the chaff.

  • 2
    March 13th, 2008 16:18

    dosco –

    Great comment, thanks.

    I didn’t mean in any way (nor, I think, did Fabius) that these are pure categories, that is, mutually exclusive and that most people would agree what belongs in which category.

    I agree completely with your comment about the FBI and 9/11 - that was a result of bureaucratic bungling here in the US. We had the intel, but didn’t use it effectively. I cite this very case in IWCKI (thanks for the PR).

    But it still seems to me that at the heart of the matter, there is a fundamental difference between LE and war despite their similarities. Soldiers, for example, don’t have to fill out reports and go on administrative leave when they discharge their firearms and kill a member of an enemy army.

    Tactically, I see your point about taking down a crime family. But that doesn’t imply to me anyway that we should use the military as an anti-Mafia force. Even when we’re taking them out, the goal is to apprehend them for trial, not to kill them. This is not to say that the military couldn’t provide support assuming Constitutional questions can be solved.

    As you say, very confusing. Hope Fabius keeps exploring the question.

  • 3
    Fabius Maximus
    March 13th, 2008 18:03


    Interesting that you are experiencing “cognitive dissonance” – as this was the subject of yesterday’s post, “The oddity of reports about the Iraq War”

    The cause might be your “notion that there is a clear demarcation between “types” of warfare”. I stated that these types blur together, with the greatest difference being the appropriate “treatment.”

    These debates often degrade into sterile discussions about the degree of contrast. One side wants only black/white, the other sees only poorly differentiate grays. IMO both miss the point.

    These differences are a component of the 4gw paradigm. Paradigms exist only to provide a common basis for communication and analysis. They do not describe categories that exist in nature (unlike “fish with bones”). To use a biological analogy, it’s not as though if we search an new animal carefully enough we will find the label “Family: Felidae”.

    The definitions have to be clear, but are always going to be somewhat arbitrary. That’s life in the social sciences. Folks unhappy with that should go next door, to the labs of the physical scientists.

  • 4
    March 14th, 2008 13:30

    Lots of thoughts running through my mind … one thought is that LE in the United States is somewhat unique. I can count on one hand how many nations have a largely un-corrupt LE that serves to maintain the rule of law. I think it would be possible to point out large numbers of 2nd and 3rd world nations where LE is really a “war organization.”

    Next, the constant factor is human conflict. I think the “blurring” occurs in terms of scale and response.

    At the local level, my neighbor stealing my bread (or worse) foments conflict. In this case, LE imposes the will of the state on the citizen - the goal of LE (at least in the United States) is to maintain social order. At the grandest scale, we have conflicts between states. The goal of interstate conflict is for one state to impose its will on the other. States can choose from different levels of intensity - large mass movements, or sending assassins to take out individuals.

    Where everything seems to get turned upside-down is when we can have 1 person (i.e. a non-state actor) launch a war on a state. When I think about this, though, it isn’t too weird as there are examples throughout history. Kings have launched wars on opposing states. Dictators have done the same. Were their actions examples of 4GW? If I think of Hitler, the answer is a resounding “maybe” … on one hand he marshaled the entire state to conduct a state-v-state conflict. As I understand the Romans did in their day, long-term occupation would lead to soldiers intermarrying with the populace, resulting in a de-facto takeover (I would consider this a 4GW tactic).

    In my mind, 4GW warfare is a way to think about all kinds of conflict, all kinds of political goals, and all kinds of response levels - with the end goal being success. Not simply “4GW=asymmetric employment,” but more a “4GW=all the ways you can fight and win.” In that vein, the other “GWs” are contained *inside* of 4GW, as 4GW is a way to examine *everything.*

    Maybe I’ve been spending too much time thinking about this and am going nuts.

  • 5
    March 14th, 2008 16:22

    Interesting discussion and perhaps it speaks to the heart of my own views of what is and what is not a threat to the West.

    “Social zones of control - Criminals establish a “social space” in which they can routinely operate, such as networks for prostitution, drug trafficking, smuggling, or money laundering.  If their victory is officially sanctioned by the State, these become semi-autonomous societies.  Europe might be seeing the early stages of this, as institutions develop to support and enforce Sharia for/on their Muslim citizens.”

    Our society has been to one degree or another influenced by a Christian Sharia. Is this integral to our concept of “Western Culture?”

    I am one of those who believe that when we speak of the superiority of Western culture we are talking about the superiority of Western Secular culture. I am not troubled if our society accomodates to Christian beliefs as long as that accomodation doesn’t undermine our Western values. The same is true of accomodating to Islamic beliefs as long as they don’t undermine our Western Values. Where in Europe is Sharia being made the law?

    In our society Jews and Christians can settle their internal moral disputes in their own courts. This is voluntary, and no where does it truly challenge our basic laws and norms.

    That’s not the Rule of religion because it doesn’t challenge the law. Biblical law, like Sharia, has basic precepts that none of us would want to live under. Where in the world is this being superseded by religious law? Is the nature of divorce, family or cultural disputes within a group, etc, etc, a challenge to our basic culture? Only if such courts are mandatory and supercede the norms of society.

    Very few challenge Jewish Sharia, for the simple fact that it’s only application is amongst religious Jews, over matters that don’t supercede The Law.


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