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October 09, 2006



"Zen, then we are likely seeing it in some of the evolutionary behavior I have documented on GGs"

I think that's right.


"...that something worse is ultimately going to be the super-empowered individual that can use the technologies of self-replication to collapse/kill on a grand scale. That is, in a nutshell, is what 5GW is all about. It is the end game in human conflict..."

John, I think you are describing a possible high-tech (nanotech or biotech) version of 5GW. Or do you ideas – memes as replicators?

There are other possible variations. Also, countermeasures will develop to any tech that can be developed.

I think hi-tech is more likely to be deployed in 3GW and 4GW. The use of flash/new hi-tech at the 5GW level will bring to much attention and exposure to the 5GW org.


"So WW1 was less bloody than the Napoleonic wars? WW2 was less kinetic than WW1?"

Nope. WW1 and WW2 (and parts of the Napoleonic wars) were mostly both fought as 2GW. The difference in kinetic force and carnage is explained by the populations involved and the evolution of technology.

It is unfortunate the Lind et al… used the term generations in the Generations of Modern Warfare framework (xGW). It is true that the generations evolved over time, but they should not be considered historic periods or timelines for the most part. This has caused much confusion in people (including me). The fact that Lind sometimes treats them as historical periods doesn’t help. Also, perhaps “emerged” is a better term then evolved.

It is best to think of it this way:

All sorts of warfare and power modes have existed in human history: linear infantry, cavalry, flanking, diplomacy, bribes and economic pressure, guerrilla fighting etc. In the modern era, version of these started to emerge that were distinct to the modern era (and which themselves evolved a bit over time and as technology changed). This is not quite how Lind describes it, but it is how I keep it straight.

1GW emerges as bringing order to the battlefield (whether that is through birth of the Greek Phalanx or later 1600’s – think Cromwell and the New Model Army – it doesn’t matter much.

2GW is really industrial warfare (massing firepower and the states peoples and industrial might) to destroy and attrit an enemy. The side that can throw the most and biggest rocks and absorb the rocks from the other side wins. Over time in 2GW, the rocks get bigger and bigger (and with a greater economic cost).

3GW emerges to avoid the firepower and economic costs of 2GW and still provide victory. It does this by among other things, better use of information, speed, and tempo while at the same time being more effective (better results for each $ then 2GW). Less human resources are required then in 2GW.

Both 2GW and 3GW really need States to be effective.

4GW emerges to avoid the firepower and economic cost of 3GW and 2GW and still provide victory. It does this by among other things using kinetic power in new and unusual ways that often resemble advanced/evolved guerrilla warfare, and by using time and non-kinetic power in interesting / new / unusual combinations to provide victory (maybe not on the physical level but on the moral, and somewhat on the mental level) at the same time being more effective then 3GW and 2GW (better results for less $). 4GW does not require an actor to be a state – both state and non-state 4GW forms are emerging (I think). It can generally be operated with less direct human resources then 4GW and 3GW.

5GW will (and maybe is) emerging to avoid the power and economic of 4GW (and GW, 2GW). It should follow the trend of smaller human resources required and greater efficiencies.

Okay, I have been meaning to write my own post on this for the last week or so. Maybe I will in a few days.



"It can be argued -correctly in my view- that we do not even understand everything about 4GW"

I agree with the above. 4GW is still emerging. It should be much more then evolved / advanced guerilla warfare. We can still discern difference between where 4GW could go, and where 5GW can go.


"I agree with the above. 4GW is still emerging"

I think the international conditions or " habitat" for 4GW did not become ideal until after 1991. The omnipresence of potential superpower escalation damped down a lot of problems even if it aggravated others.


With the first 3 generations of war, it seems that victory was possible. What I mean by this is that even though immense damage could occur, it was possible for one side to hold the field and declare victory. Maybe it was illusory and impermanent, but it could hold for a considerable time.

With 4GW as it currently exists, I do not see the same possibility for victory. This is because victory in the usually understood sense means holding the battlefield. It seems that the State organization is the only way that we can concieve of to hold territory. (Sure, in 4GW terretory is not essential, but ultimately when talking about power and human relationships, we need to be connected to a piece of ground in some way. And security on that ground is the real issue.)

Victory is not possible in the current environment of 4GW because of its tendency to fracture. If a 4GW entity is victorious, that entity tends to evolve into a State or State-like organization. That opens the door for other 4GW opponents to take them down.

With current trends, I think it likely that the period of time that an organization will really be able to hold power and provide security on a piece of ground will continuously decrease. This is the logical conclusion that I draw from observing modern armed conflict, and particularly seeing it through the lens of open source war.

The State as an organization is on ever shakier ground. I do not put my own faith for personal security in the hands of the State, even though I live in a fortunate area where global guerilla violence is extremely low to non-existent, and the police are honest and effective. Perhaps many people reading this may have similar feelings.

With the fall of the State, the fracturing of warfare, and the empowerment of ever smaller groups to do significant violence, the modern way of looking at security, warfare and social organization no longer holds. The US State cannot and will not win lasting and meaningful victories in the emerging way of war. No State can.

Yet there is always something that can be done. What is worth fighting for? What is worth dying for? What is worth killing for? With primary loyalties all over the map, the answers to this question are massively varied. Yet I also feel that all people have a common humanity and a common bond. Is it possible to frame our connection with each other in a way that unifies us above and beyond these primary loyalties?

The force that can find an answer to that question is a force that can actually be victorious in 4GW. When people talk about 5GW, I see it as simply 4GW forces finding the ways to actually achieve victory.

4GW destroys, it does not unify, and it does not build. When a military finds a way to acheive victory through destructive 4GW methods, yet also build meaningful and constructive victory, then 4GW will become the dominant generation of war. Until we see what that looks like, talk of the next generation is futile.

That said, I think the 5GW ideas that I've encountered are completely valid. It is simply a difference in classification. I would still call it 4GW.




While I find the 4GW argument very persuasive, the few stabs I've seen at "5GW" are far less so.

The focus on small groups acting in conspiracy to manipulate unaware larger players, frankly smacks of people who have been playing too many games of Illuminati the card game.

To look for this "hidden group" creates a kind of paranoia, I think, that will loop someone's decision cycle back in on itself. It is difficult at best to find hidden motivations for groups which operate in the open. Look at the mess that liberals have gotten themselves into by trying to look at the Republicans through some kind of Kremlinological lens-- they miss the point of what the GOP stalwarts are often doing exactly what they say they will. Pat Robertson etc. aren't hiding their agenda at all, it's all out in the open.

Trying to figure out what "secret groups" are manipulating the agenda is a recipe for never ending paranoia, and jumping at shadows. Furthermore, I don't see how this is even "new" at all-- there have been small cabals operating throughout the ages.

Basically, what does the concept of "5GW" give analysts other than an excuse to jump at shadows? I'd think people and organizations would be wiser to look at the resiliency concepts and staying flexible, as well as focusing on their own goals, rather than spending time looking for hidden enemies.

Stalin spent a lot of time doing that, and all he did was kill his doctors and generals. Not a good move.

John Robb

Thanks everyone (purpleslog et. al.) for these long posts, I am still digesting.

tim, concur. 5GW is too early to call. We are still determining the trend lines through research of actual events.


Is 5GW too early to call? Maybe.

I will concede that it seems very unlikely that a fifth generation of warfare is emerging even before the fourth one has reached its pinnacle but I think it is more of an issue of trying to fit the generational warfare model into a linear timeline. I think 5GW in practice has been around for a long time, as has 4GW. It is merely the exploration of the concepts and theories which has come recently. After all, 3GW has been around since before Sun Tzu, at least in theory.

A) I am not sure that 'secret societies' and 'shadowy conspiracies' are necessary for 5GW organizations. I think 5GW organizations can exist in full view of the public.

B) I do think there is an inherent sort of secrecy involved in a 5GW operation because 5GW is about creating a situation where people, in their own best interest, willingly walk down a path you have prepared for them.

By the way, it looks like my trackback to this post didn't go through. More thoughts on the flavors of 5GW may be found here.



Another question re 5GW:

If 5GW is getting others to do what you want them to do of their own free will (though maybe that is not the best definition?), where is the "war" part?

The 4 generations are tracking the evolution of modern war. Sure, it is valid to look at the generations in a non-linear way, but the original concept is the Four Generations of MODERN War - starting with the Treaty of Westphalia. This theory tracks the evolution of organized large scale violence since that time. Violence does not seem to be an integral part of the theory of 5GW. To me, that seems to set it outside this framework of understanding.

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