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August 28, 2009



Your point on threats based planning is valuable.

We're not just trying to defeat or prevent things, we're trying to build and/or maintain things.

Also, with regards to capabilities based analysis: you've got to want it before you do it.


Yes. It goes back to Boyd too. A means of vitality and growth.

david ronfeldt

hi adam -- a thoughtful, stimulating article. and thanks for the mention.

i quite agree that notions about state failure -- notably about states being eroded by tribal, market, and new network actors, as well as by internal corruption and incompetence -- have acquired excessive memetic momentum these past few years. my view remains that the state is far from finito. it’ll go through adaptations and reformulations, remaining essential for the construction and governance of complex societies.

speculations about the decline of the state get tied to the rise of 4GW. it’s a concept i find attractive, but i’m continuing to have a problem with it: 4GW is presumably a postmodern kind of warfare. but i’ve yet to identify a wholly postmodern bunch engaging in 4GW in a violent manner. instead, the ablest postmodern practitioners appear to be lobbyists, public-relation firms, and activist ngos. plus some cyber gangs dedicated to malevolent hacking.

but as for violent conflict, most (all?) of 4GW’s perpetrators so far -- to the extent that al qaeda, the taliban, la familia michoacana, etc., reflect 4GW -- are laden with antique tribal and clan dynamics and engage in old modes of violence. in that sense, many of today’s exemplars of 4GW are really practitioners of PGW (pre-generation warfare, if i may?). the 1GW, 2W, 3GW, 4GW spectrum is geared to professional warfare, and as i understand it, leaves out this earlier mode, and recategorizes its modern-day manifestations under 4GW.

i wish i could find some clarification about this. i’m not asking for it here, but i thought i’d mention it because it relates to your able points: many of these actors aim to reinstitute the state in some form. -- onward, david


I'd suggest looking at Lind's various writings in the 90s as well as Van Creveld's writings in the Bunker volume.

I think the concept has utility but I feel that as time as has gone on its utility has progressively declined. The "high point" of 4GW's predictive capability was 2001-2007, but even then some of the analysis correlated to it became somewhat simplistic in scope (see the discussion of the 2006 Lebanon war for example).

david ronfeldt

I took a bit of a look-back as you suggested, and it mostly left me reverting to my point above. Today, however, I came across an interesting timeline about 4GW that starts with the notion of a pre-formal generation of war: 0GW. It corresponds to my concern. To take a look, go here:


But, though it means repeating myself from a comment left elsewhere too, I continue to prefer a view that John Arquilla and I have elaborated before, including before I knew about 4GW: Accodringly, the history of warfare is a history of the progressive development of four fundamental forms of engagement: the melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming. Briefly, warfare has evolved from chaotic melees in which every man fought on his own, to the design of massed but often rigidly shaped formations, and then to the adoption of maneuver. Swarming appears at times in this lengthy history, but its major advances as a doctrine will occur in the coming years. Some are now underway.

If this formulation ever looks interesting, go here to download our old Rand study on "Swarming and the Future of Conflict":
Chapter Two (pp. 7-23) is about the evolution of military organization and doctrine: melee, massing, maneuver, and swarming, with reference to the roles of information and information technology in the evolution of these four forms.

What that write-up does not show, except in a passing footnote, is that this formulation derives from a view of social evolution — my pet theory about TIMN — which holds that, across the ages, societies have come up with only four major forms of organization: tribes, hierarchical institutions (as in states and their militaries), markets, and networks. Thus, early tribes are associated with melees, hierarchical institutions with the rise of massed formations, the rise of market-oriented societies with the turn to maneuver doctrines, and now the age of networks with swarming.

4GW overlaps with networked swarming.


Thanks for the link to the RAND study. You might also find this of interest, though it comes from a more classical school of military analysis: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/Pubs/display.cfm?pubID=939

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