There are all sorts of generations of warfare, waxed upon by military historians with tome upon tome of knowledge, history, and analysis.
Here’s the simple version, the four recognized generations plus my perfectly logical addition of 5th generation warfare.
1st Gen Warfare: think Greek and Roman phalanx and legion. Armies fight for the control of land and civilians who are essentially resources for the state.
2nd Gen Warfare: think US Civil War. Armies fight for the control of land and civilians.
3rd Gen Warfare: think WWII large scale fire and maneuver. Armies fight for the control of land and civilians.
4th Gen Warfare: think Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. If you have to ask, “who, or what are we really fighting?” it’s 4th Gen Warfare. Armies fight for questionably achievable objectives with regard to land and civilians.
5th Gen Warfare (a generation not yet recognized by the many luminary military historians): Armies conduct a lot of exercises to publicly to show strength, spy agencies work covertly to subvert opponent strength, and civilians ARE the battlefield.
So…why is it time for a 5th generation of warfare? Because it is time to recognize the renewed era of “consistent and persistent conflict between nation states short of outright conflict.” and the role of your military (whichever country you happen to belong to) in securing the interests, influence, and desires of your state.
Clausewitz is most famous for saying (in German, so pardon the fact that I’m quoting a translation of his actual words) that “War is politics continued by other means.” And he is completely correct.
But if you look at the level of political involvement across the generations of warfare, you’ll see something like this:
1st Gen Warfare: Soldiers fight, politicians politic.
2nd Gen Warfare: Soldiers fight AND vote, politicians politic.
3rd Gen Warfare: Soldiers fight AND vote AND influence policy, politicians politic.
4th Gen Warfare: Soldiers fight AND vote AND influence policy AND rely on non-military agencies to achieve military desire against some proxy force of another country, and politicians politic.
5th Gen Warfare: Soldiers fight AND vote AND influence policy AND rely on non-military agencies to achieve military desires, and politicians politic and the President’s Twitter Account is actively participating in information warfare against internal and external enemies.
Or, you could say that 5th Gen Warfare is 2nd Gen Warfare Politics backed by 4th Gen Warfare experience when superpowers decide to be dicks to each other.
Or you could say that 4th Gen Warfare was really just the simple truth that Afghanistan is where Empires go to die, no matter the generation or level of technology involved in conducting warfare in Afghanistan.
Either way, the primacy of information warfare is the fundamental truth behind 5th Gen Warfare and separating it from 4th Gen Warfare. And this is all enabled because the civilian populations of the world are glued to their smart phone and laptop screens, and if they do manage to watch network news it’s all “what shiny object has our attention for the next six seconds?” level of coverage without any real context or analysis.
The other big factor in 5th Gen Warfare is that nobody else is actually calling it “warfare” so much as “an environment of persistent struggle for dominance across all domains.” Which, if you go back to Clausewitz who said that “War is politics by other means” we need to examine now that “Politics is also war by other means.”
So take Trump and Putin for example. Putin is a corrupt oligarch who maintains control through domestic propaganda, lawfare against potential competitors and selective assassination if a selective competitor doesn’t back off. Trump is a media figure who keeps the news cycle all about him simply by being himself, as a brand he’s figured out how to utterly dominate the news cycle. As someone who doesn’t really give a rats ass about what a politician says, I could honestly care less because I focus on what a politician actually DOES. But, no one wants to talk about what the polician actually does, because in Russia that’s dangerous and in America that might put Trump in a sort of positive light and the press simply can’t have that.
But make no mistake, it’s a war, and a war that RT and Sputnik were deliberately crafted to operate in, a war that now includes Facebook and Twitter as key terrain, where a few hundred American Troops in Estonia or Poland is just posturing to let the other guy know that we know he knows our troops are there…
It’s the “Great Game” all over again, but played out with the transparency of modern communications and surveillance satellites in real time. The citizens aren’t the prize that comes with conquered territory, the minds of the citizens is the battlefield to get them to vote in your particular interest.
It’s a war where the more open a society is, the more vulnerable it is. At this rate South Korea will outlast us all….