In the last month or so, there has been a lot of talk considering if we have crossed into the Fifth Generation of Warfare (5GW). In reading these blogs, I rejected the notion because there was nothing novel or unique about them, for me to consider expanding the taxonomy of warfare. But, more or less I left it at that. More recently, I have been reading the thoughts of others stating that various ways of influencing nations and populations can be considered one generation or another of warfare. Minutes ago, I read this:

For that reason it was disappointing that the Independent Panel had very little to say about the defense strategy enunciated in the QDR. It preoccupied itself, puzzlingly, with proposals for developing civilian capacity in other departments and a new national security strategy formulation process—important issues, to be sure, but outside the purview of the QDR that the panel was to review.

From over at DoD Buzz. That is the author lamenting the fact that even the Quality Assurance process for the QDR missed the mark in giving us clear strategic guidance for the near to mid-term. Because of this, I am becoming convinced that much of the DoD and strategy junkies on the web are forgetting just what warfare is and is not. Or, possibly even worse, we as a nation are deciding to include things in warfare which previously have been considered wholly outside of warfare, though related.
Essentially I view what is warfare as being similar to Clausewitz’s definition
war is the continuation of politics by other means
by other means. That distinction is important, incredibly important. Using soft power to influence other nations should not be looked as a precursor to war. Rather, it should be looked at as what will achieve for us the change we wish to see, without having to result in war. In a very big sense we get this in the Navy and the military. We talk about the possibility of influence squadrons, we do enough work concerning Psychological Operations we chose to change the name to MISO, we even go as far as for our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs to say that there are at times, ‘no military solutions to problems’. But, it seems the effect of this is to blur the line between politics and war so much, that politics itself becomes a weapon in the war. Let me be clear, I do not deny the constant political dimension of warfare and that every resolution to a war is a political one. But, I do worry that what we consider going to war against another nation is not truly warfare. I worry that war in the minds of strategists (at least online) is starting to take an omnipresence to it. Which, even after a near decade at war, it still has not; and we must ensure that the line between what is and is not war is stark, bold and well defined.
If the line between how we influence nations peacefully and with war blurs and is viewed the same, we risk viewing influencing other nations with our popular culture as being at war with their culture. Perhaps a nice analogy to draw in describing how cultures influence with each other, but it is only that: An analogy. We risk cultural dialog becoming a war, rather than a consensus and mutual understanding or even just simple interaction. We risk going to war for the wrong reasons.
But what is warfare and how does it differ from the other forms of influence?
Warfare is killing for affect. Full stop.
The only reason to go to war is because there is no way to come to an understanding with who you disagree with. You kill until they have decided to see things your way.
Are there dimensions to warfare that can cause someone to come to your understanding without outright slaughter? Yes, and that is why there is a political dimension to war at all times. But, those things must be viewed as what will end the conflict sooner and with less bloodshed, rather than an aspect of waging war itself.
I am sure this all seems like I am arguing semantics, and that the argument can be made the inverse of what I am saying here. However, what underscored my point and motivated me to write this blog, is that I am actually at war right now and have been for 10 months. Influencing short of war is a billion times preferable to what I’ve been through, and I’m just some fobbit (derived from hobbit. the ‘fob’ as in Forward Operating Base) who’s never been outside the wire. Seeing warfare encroach on what should be considered something less than warfare causes me to worry that war will just continue, and nations competing with each other will look more and more like war with each passing year, until we reach the point to where we just do not know what peace looks like any more. Perhaps I am being intellectually fatalistic. But, after these last 10 months, I’d rather err on the side of ensuring that this point is understood than seeing the last 10 months becoming the ‘norm’ for our Nation.
Further reading: – An opportunity to de-militarize public diplomacy – Strategic Communication & Influence Operations: Do we really get it? – Unconventional weaponry #69 – by Great Satan’s Girlfriend

Posted by CTR1(SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III in Foreign Policy, Policy

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  • I don’t know which 5GW blogs you have been reading but I can sympathize with the war/not war conundrum. I’ve wrestled with that myself. My best answer is this: The Fifth Gradient Warfare (5GW) that my co-bloggers and I theorize about, the XGW variant not the Generations of Modern Warfare of Lind, encompasses and describes doctrines for all kinds of conflict, not just warfare. In other words, the theory has grown beyond the terminology it was created with, but still seems to be stuck with it. Conflict has a much less slippery definition than warfare even if it isn’t any easier to deal with in the real world.
    It seems to me, however, that you want a clear dividing line between ‘war’ and ‘not war.’ Sorry, I can’t give it to you, it doesn’t exist as far as I can tell. Grandfather Clausewitz it right, “war is the continuation of politics by other means.” The thing is ‘other’ isn’t the word you should be focusing on, rather ‘continuation’ should bring you more insight into 5GW.

    I hope that helps.

  • Rick Wilmes


    I think the following link and quote is relevant to the topic under discussion.

    “Consequently a war must be directed at the enemy’s will to fight. To fight a war effectively you must understand clearly what an enemy’s motivations are. In my book I take seven examples from history and demonstrate how victory over the will to fight in an enemy has led to long-term peace between former enemies.”

  • As the progenitor of, I have wrestled with this notion of generations and gradients of warfare. First, it is important to look at the definition of war-fare. At its root, it is the ‘cost of direct violent confrontation’. Second, consider the qualities used by Lind to characterize ‘generations of warfare’. These qualities are a combination of force organization, identification, and norms for weapons. The interaction of force organization and weapons use is what underscores the terminology of generations of war-fare. The concept is, organize yourself such that you can still kill the other while minimizing your own losses. So yes, I also disagree with soft power as a form of war.

    This is how I note the generations of warfare:

    1. Line and column and rifles
    2. Machine gun and indirect fire
    3. Aerial, heavy bombing
    4. Informal and temporary insurgency
    5. Formal and sustained insurgency
    6. Unmanned and unattended (drones)

    Of course, one can nitpick it, (and I may even lump together #4 and #5) but that’s the short and skinny 1-6gw status quo. One trend that emerges therein is the element of the simultaneous maximization of distance and force. I identify the distance component with the raison d’etre of weapons. The whole point of a weapon is to separate self and other by distance, to buy time. Weapons also change the warfare equation, in both directions (for self and other). In terms of force, the same rule of distance applies – hide your forces the best you can to minimize losses, but secretly organize to maximize operational effectiveness. Given these equations, one can refine the 6gw definition to be drones as force multipliers, and predict 7gw in the realm of drones organized in tandem or aside from human operators.

    A brief comment on the utility of war is relevant to round out the context. It is important to distinguish between an offensive (barbaric) and defensive (strategic) war. This distinction is more or less in the eye of the beholder. In a barbaric war, the aim is violence for its own sake. Total eradication of the other. There is no peaceful aim of integration of acquiescence. In a strategic war, violence is a tool that buys time. Time is used to devise a plan to pacify and integrate the opposition. Either side can draw from the range of the 1-6gw+ playbook. In either case, both sides (presumably) want to minimize self loss and maximize other loss. Barbarians don’t care about self loss and are rather indiscriminate in attributing loss to others. It is this strategic slash barbaric difference underneath that distinguishes a just from an unjust war. Hopefully, that intention is clearly articulated. In the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, our Presidents have articulated the intention as characteristically defensive and strategic. On the other hand, Al Qaeda and its affiliates have taken the barbaric route. The question is: can there ever be peace in such a dichotomous situation? In order for there to be, the strategy of the United States has to invent a method to cause terrorists to define limited political aims. In my mind that is the only way, and I don’t know if that will happen.