By James Corbett - February 17, 2023
We’re in the middle of a world-changing war right now
Oh, I don’t mean the war in Ukraine, the one that all the media are asking you to focus your attention on.
Yes, that conflict continues to escalate. and every day there are new stories about provocations and threats that could lead to a nuclear exchange . . . but that’s not the war I’m referring to.
And I don’t mean the war in Yemen or the other military conflicts that the media are ignoring entirely.
Yes, these wars are every bit as bloody, gruesome and devastating as the Russian invasion of Ukraine (if not more so), and they also risk an escalation into a broader geopolitical and geo-economic crisis . . . but they’re not the wars I’m referring to, either.
No, the war I’m talking about is an even broader war. A war that is taking place everywhere on the globe, even as I write, and that involves virtually everyone on the planet, young and old, male and female, military and civilian. It is the war of every government against its own population and every international institution against free humanity.
This is no ordinary war, however. Most of the victims of this warfare aren’t even able to identify it as war, nor do they understand that they are combatants in it.
It’s called fifth-generation warfare, and I’m here to tell you all about it.
What is fifth-generation warfare, anyway? And, come to think of it, what were the first four generations of warfare?
Good questions. For an in-depth answer to the latter question, you’ll want to read “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation“—a 1989 article from the Marine Corps Gazette co-authored by William S. Lind—and you’ll want to watch “William S. Lind & Philip Giraldi – Fourth Generation Warfare & The Deep State,” especially the presentation by Lind from 13 minutes onward.
In a nutshell, Lind et al.’s thesis is that the “modern age” of warfare began with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, which, Lind opines, “gave the state a monopoly on war.” From that point on, modern warfare went through three generations, namely:
- First-generation warfare: the tactics of line and column, developed in the era of the smoothbore musket;
- Second-generation warfare: the tactics of indirect fire and mass movement, developed in the era of the rifled musket, breechloaders, barbed wire and the machine gun; and
- Third-generation warfare: the tactics of nonlinear movement, including maneuver and infiltration, developed in response to the increase in battlefield firepower in WWI.
This, according to Lind and his co-authors, brought us to the late-20th century, when the nation-state began to lose its monopoly on war and military combat returned to a decentralized form.
In this era—the era of fourth-generation warfare—the lines between “civilian” and “military” become blurred, armies tend to engage in counter-insurgency operations rather than military battles, and enemies are often motivated by ideology and religion, making psychological operations more important than ever.
But, some argue, we have now entered a new era of warfare, namely fifth-generation warfare. There is still much debate about what defines fifth-generation warfare, how we know we are engaged in it, or even if it exists at all (Lind, for one, rejects the concept).
Various scholars have made their own attempts at defining fifth-generation warfare (5GW), like Dr. Waseem Ahmad Qureshi, who identifies it as “the battle of perceptions and information,” or Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui of the People’s Liberation Army, who write of the era of “Unrestricted Warfare” in which “a relative reduction in military violence” has led to “an increase in political, economic, and technological violence.”
If academic debates about the changing nature of warfare are your thing, then there’s plenty of reading for you to do on the subject, from The Handbook of 5GW: A Fifth Generation of War? to a slew of academic articles.
But for the purposes of this editorial, I’m not interested in that debate. In fact, we’re going to use a decidedly non-academic definition of fifth-generation warfare from an Al Jazeera article as our starting point: . . .