The term “Fifth-Generation Warfare” has been getting bandied about a lot, lately. The YouTube channel “S2 Underground” even did a lengthy video about it, explaining its somewhat amorphous nature. In short, “Fifth-Generation War,” coming on the heels of “Fourth-Generation War,” which is supposed to be largely guerrilla-based, is so low-level that it’s hard to detect it at all.

The full video is here, and well worth checking out:

However, when you really start to dig into history, you see that while technology and the geopolitical situation might change some of the details, many of these forms of war have been around since time immemorial. Guerrilla warfare didn’t suddenly appear in the mid-20th century, and as you might have seen from the earlier Setting the Stage post on the T’ai Kung, the use of influence operations, bribery, and crime to plant the seeds of an adversary’s downfall from within is just as ancient.

So, what if the whole “Generations of War” idea is bunk?

In The Handbook of 5GW, Daniel H. Abbott introduces what he calls the “xGW Framework,” which, in his words, “rejects the theory of sequential emergence, and the Generations of Modern War (GMW) school that is associated with it. While some theorists in the xGW framework still us the term generation, the elements of the taxonomy are now generally known as gradients. The gradients of war, like gradients we see in other elements of social organization (wealth, height, skin color, and so on) flow indefinitely into each other, and their emergence pre-dates written history.”

This framework, I think, summarizes things much better. It’s not a matter of new forms of warfare emerging, it’s more a matter of different gradients, ranging from total annihilation to a combination of non-martial warfare that’s so insidious that it’s hard to detect. The latter fits pretty neatly into the Chinese “Three Warfares” strategy, of Media Warfare, Psychological Warfare, and Legal Warfare. There are a few other forms touched on in Unrestricted Warfare, to include economic warfare and (perhaps most importantly for the upcoming Pallas Group Solutions series) “drug warfare.”

It is entirely possible that we are already at war, against an enemy (or enemies) using a combination of the Fourth and Fifth Gradients of warfare against us, keeping the bleed slow enough that it evades notice.

Setting the Stage – Gradients of Warfare

Peter Nealen

Peter Nealen is a former Reconnaissance Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed to Iraq in 2005-2006, and again in 2007, with 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Recon Bn. After two years of schools and workups, including Scout/Sniper Basic and Team Leader's Courses, he deployed to Afghanistan with 4th Platoon, Force Reconnaissance Company, I MEF. Since he got out, he's been writing, authoring many articles and 24 books, mostly Action/Adventure and Military Thrillers, with some excursions into Paranormal Fantasy and Science Fiction.

One thought on “Setting the Stage – Gradients of Warfare

  • December 9, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    Reasonable question, are we already at war. The answer is almost certainly. Somebody must be working against us, even if there is no kinetic dimension involved.

    Now we just need to know who we are as a group. Are we a coherent group? Can we if we are a group respond effectively to whatever groups may be targeting us?


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