Book of the Month

Donal's picture

The Unrestricted Warriors


You may be familiar with the theories of military historian and conservative political adviser William S Lind, that warfare has undergone several major transformations, or generations, since the formation of nation-states.

Very briefly, First Generation, or Formation Warfare (1GW) is where armies line up in formation and fire at each other. Second Generation, or Trench Warfare (2GW) is where armies use trenches as cover from massed firepower. Third Generation, or Maneuver Warfare (3GW) is where armies exploit machinery to maneuver much more quickly than the opponent. And Fourth Generation or, Insurgent Warfare (4GW) applies asymmetrical strategy and tactics against a superior conventional military force, intending to sap the opponent nation's political will to fight.

Genghis Khan's Mongol hordes certainly won by out-maneuvering their victims, and the precepts of Sun Tzu are highly regarded, but since Lind focuses on nation-states, thousands of years of warfare between monarchies and empires don't figure into his summary. Some critics have dismissed 4GW as an inflated term for insurgency, and note that many insurgencies have been suppressed. Others note that Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld predicted much the same in his 1991 book, The Transformation of War. In 2003, Lind's theories were further discussed by retired US Marine Colonel T.X. Hammes, in The Sling and the Stone where he described 4GW as the response of practical people to a superior force.

Hammes analyzed the insurgencies that the US faced in Iraq and Afganistan and the Palestinian insurgencies in Israel, and noted that 4GW action was also how Mao took China, how the Viet Cong defeated the French, and later the Americans, how the Sandinistas took Nicaragua and how the Afghans staved off the Soviets. 4GW forces employ low-tech weaponry, Kalashnikovs and RPGs, and highly loyal cadres often under anonymous networked leadership. Their goals are economic attrition and control of political propaganda rather than quick, decisive victories. They are content to struggle for decades.

Hammes felt that 3GW armies in which the commanders don't even speak the local dialects will have little chance against embedded 4GW groups with local support. He predicted that information technology would be the key to future encounters, with dispersed, fast-evolving networks finding ways to exploit IT weaknesses. Hammes' solution was for US forces to become better trained, better-informed, more flexible and more committed—like the 4GW cadres themselves. To some extent that has happened.

The Sling and the Stone briefly discussed Fifth Generation Warfare, but in 2004 Lind warned against rushing too soon to declare a 5GW:

From what I have seen thus far, honest attempts to discover a Fifth Generation suggest that their authors have not fully grasped the vast change embodied in the Fourth Generation. The loss of the state's monopoly, not only on war but also on social organization and first loyalties, alters everything.

But there already is a 5GW Institute out there. Though they acknowledge that 5GW is as yet undefined, like Hammes they lean towards "Unrestricted Warfare":

Fifth generational warfare (5GW) theory is still being studied, not yet having a clear definition.  Some terms used have been “unrestricted warfare” or “financial jihad [warfare]”.  ... “unrestricted warfare is warfare that uses all means whatsoever - means that involve force or arms and means that do not involve force or arms; means that involve military power and means that do not involve military power; means that entail casualties and means that do not entail casualties – to force an enemy to serve one’s own interest.”

The 2001 anthrax attacks in the US, the 2004 bombings in Madrid and instances of computer hacking are often put forth as examples of 5GW. But whether we are dealing with 4GW or 5GW, it seems to me that during Insurgent Warfare the resisting forces were and are already using all means at hand, hence were and are already unrestricted. We haven't yet seen nuclear devices, but we have seen large civilian casualties in the WTC attack, Madrid bombings, Beslan School massacre, etc.

Under 4GW theory, the superior military force, which answers to its nation-state, is apparently "restricted" in that civilian massacre, such as at My Lai or Kandahar, if reported, could discredit the war or occupation effort at home. Flavius reminded us about Germans executing Belgian townsfolk, and as we are seeing in Syria right now, the 'superior forces' have certainly been known to target civilians or take any other measures available to suppress insurgencies, so it might seem naive to consider nation-states in any way restricted. But less desperate governments are at least self-restricted to what they can justify as counterinsurgency, or the acts of a lone madman, rather than war crimes.

I see these predictions of 5GW unrestricted warfare as a part of the escalation of the conflict between America and those who would rather not be part of its economic empire. Unrestricted or Jihad warfare by Al Qaeda becomes justification for less and less restricted warfare on the part of the US and its coalition. As David Coates noted, Imperial America is under increasing internal stress, and US and coalition forces have become more and more willing to conduct war in a manner that would formerly have been politically unacceptable. They have done so through controlling information and news sources, by making the war less visible, by conducting covert special ops, by conducting remote war, whether by precision bombing, attack helicopter, missiles or predator drones and through internet surveillance and exploits. And finally, they have done so under a moderate President with the tacit acquiescence of citizens who are preoccupied with domestic prosperity and are willing to overlook the faraway deaths of bystanders as collateral damage if they can keep gassing up, or charging up, their automobiles.

As Andrew Bacevich notes in Unleashed, the US increasingly relies on special forces that can be deployed without congressional approval and that can operate in secret:

Obama’s ... essential contribution has been to broaden the special ops mandate. As one observer put it, the Obama White House let Special Operations Command “off the leash.”

The displacement of conventional forces by special operations forces as the preferred U.S. military instrument—the “force of choice” according to the head of USSOCOM, Admiral William McRaven—marks the completion of a decades-long cultural repositioning of the American soldier. ... his place taken by today’s elite warrior professional.

This cultural transformation has important political implications. It represents the ultimate manifestation of the abyss now separating the military and society. ]]]

Americans have always enjoyed the political stability of both a prosperous middle class and of a citizen military that answers to the civilian government. We see that the middle class is declining. In blunt terms, in allowing an elite professional military to flourish, are we protecting ourselves, or have we sown the seeds of a future junta or military strongman?

 

Sun Tzu (more accurately Ping-fa) is a generic methodology for engagement management (without conflict) that is independent of domain; in other words, it is no more focused on "nation states" than street lights are focused on cyclists.

It should have been obvious that Lind focuses on nation-states, not Sun Tzu, but I have made it more so.

The book, Art of War, is focused entirely on the problems of "Empire" and assumes that there are people who are responsible for what happens to this Empire who can make either good or stupid decisions. The lessons it offers regarding conflict is certainly a portable feast and can be applied to many different situations. But to say that it only concerns itself obliquely with matters of Nations and the fortunes of States is just wrong.

It would seem that the Roman Legions smacked of the mercenary forces that are evolving today.  I maintain that any force that doesn't have a dog in the race can ultimately be defeated.

IHMO, our law enforcement is saturated with exmilitary personnel.  We have created a military force within our civilian authorities.  May I suggest that the only logical response to an arresting officer is "Yes, sir!"  Then, hope for the luck of the draw!  Do not "even think" of moving your hands without being ordered to do so!  Let some professional determine which officer has PTDS.

And our military is saturated with contractors, both ex-military and civilian.

Why would a civilian cop or a  mercenary give up their freedom to kill at ten times the salary to become a grunt in the armed forces?  At one time, the UCMJ had meaning and the military had an honorable influence...Alas - no more!

My prediction is this comment on this other thread

which is really sayin': how the fuck can anybody with any imagination about all the possible variables predict this stuff? It boggles my mind that they try.

Will we be saying shortly: if everyone doesn't eventually have drones, only the criminals will have drones? But couldn't it also be that drone detectors will also be selling like hotcakes?

Predicting the future, it's hard work, lots of unknown unknowns, especially with capitalism around, but even without it.

It goes in circles who has the upper hand: "elite" forces or brilliant hacker or secret agent one day, doofus victims of box cutters, slingshots or cheap IED devices or their own pride before the fall the next (or see Ninja vs Samurai) As often as not you're going to have those moments when "oopsie the Pentagon predictors were on the wrong foot in the predicting-the-future games once again," and their name will be Mudd for awhile. New Golden Fleece awards for that new toilet seat or thingamabob that was the bestest elite tool or tactic for a sec but was quickly out-thought.

The only thing I'm willing to bet on is that boys will be boys:

Caption: Young boys playing army in a village on the boundary with South Ossetia, 2009

Credit: Nathan Hodge @ Danger Room @ wired.com

Another source of political instability is the collapse of the space between overt and covert conflict.

During the most recent Iraq war (using the word "last" is too optimistic), there were agency turf wars where DOD fought against CIA who fought against the people at State, who fought amongst themselves, etcetera. The Rumsfeld crowd mostly won those battles and now that guy's vision of a unified Executive branch has become the new normal.

While much can and has been said about the hypocrisy, inefficiency, and corruption that has resulted from keeping these functions of our Nation/State as separate bureaucratic fiefs, the system of sovereign nations depends upon devices that limit the totality of war. Limiting the scope of aggression in order to maintain the appearance of lawfulness is better than abandoning such niceties and simply hoisting the Jolly Roger. 

Dismantling institutions in order to carry out this or that operation more quickly is a short sided view of our circumstances and a misunderstanding of power and the advantages of having a lot of it.

 

Every single time I think about this I come to one conclusion:

IT'S A HARD RAIN GONNA FALL

Just ran across these 3 at Asia Times:

The golden age of special operations
By Andrew Bacevich, May 31, 2012

We are now officially in the age of special operations forces, the secret military that's been growing for years. Special operations soldiers have a distinct mentality, they have privileged status that provides them with maximum autonomy while insulating them from the vagaries of politics, budgetary or otherwise, and they wage a very special kind of war.

and


A drone-eat-drone world
By Nick Turse, June 1, 2012

Barely a decade after America's drone wars began, the unmanned hunter-killers are set to fill the global skies, with initial dreams of technological perfection giving way to the reality that as their use soars, so will the number of dead civilians on the ground. But drone warfare is here to stay, and will escalate as other nation's acquire more remotely controlled weaponized hardware.

(This is the final chapter of the newly released book Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 published by Dispatch Books, a venture by TomDispatch.)....

and


Obama and the generals
By Brian M Downing, June 1, 2012

Long-held mistrust between the United States' military and Democrat administrations has deepened following President Barack Obama's defiant decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. As US military culture increasingly aligns with political conservatism, Obama is starting to view costly ventures such as the failed Afghan counter-insurgency program as evidence of his generals' folly.

Companies Jockey for Share of Special Operations Market

TAMPA, Fla.At the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, companies large and small are looking to cash in on the increased profile of U.S. Special Operations Command.

The president has said a new defense strategy will put an emphasis on special operations, which grows in Obama's five-year budget proposal while the rest of the Defense Department shrinks. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton even delivered a keynote speech at the conference this year, which saw attendance by representatives from more than 90 other countries. What does all of this mean for the companies exhibiting on the show floor? A couple of industry representatives simply rubbed their fingers together to signify “money.”

You have to go where the money is,” said Steve Graves, vice president of sales and marketing for Acumentrics, a small business that is marketing a new rugged uninterruptible power supply for troops on the move. "Everything is getting cut except special ops. Look at how we fight. You don't need an Abrams tank to drop eight guys out of a helicopter.”

Just restricted  by the civilian government:

Elite Military Forces Are Denied in Bid for Expansion
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, June 4/5, 2012

Congress and the State Department rejected a request from Adm. William H. McRaven, the leader of Special Operations Command, for new authority to train foreign security forces.

WASHINGTON — In late April, the military’s Special Operations Command presented the State Department and Congress with an urgent request for new authority to train and equip security forces in places like Yemen and Kenya.

The request, which included seeking approval to train foreign internal security forces that had been off-limits to the American military, was the latest effort by the command’s top officer, Adm. William H. McRaven, to make it easier for his elite forces to respond faster to emerging threats and better enable allies to counter the same dangers [....]

Given the command’s influence in shaping American strategy toward extremism, the proposal seemed to have momentum [....]

...  in a rare rebuke to the admiral and his command, powerful House and Senate officials as well as the State Department, and ultimately the deputy cabinet-level aides who met at the White House on the issue on May 7, rejected the changes. They sent the admiral and his lawyers back to the drawing board with orders to use security assistance programs already in place, particularly one created last year by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the defense secretary at the time, Robert M. Gates, for just these types of issues [....]

Latest Comments