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.