A week or so ago, I did a post on 5th Generation Warfare (5GW), and it apparently stirred up some interest among the readers of Security Debrief. Given that interest, I thought I would look a little deeper into this subject.

5GW is not some new science fiction-based concept of war and war fighting. In fact, old warriors of all sorts will see their individual specialties represented in the threads that make up 5GW. I use the term “old warriors” very broadly here. This is because I am including many who have never lifted a weapon in anger, and who would probably balk at being included in the category.

In 5GW, we will still need hardcore kinetic systems like aircraft, tanks and missiles. Their presence and potential use will still provide key components to this newest form of war. A nation with international interests and responsibilities absolutely must have such capabilities. There will also be a need for a world class logistics system that can deliver goods, personnel and yes, heavy forces anywhere in the world they are needed.

Swinging to the opposite end of the spectrum, we will need deep thinking scholars who understand historic, linguistic and cultural nuances on which physical battles may hang.  The best outcome is to never have to fight at all, and the scholars contribute to that as much as any element of traditional deterrence.

In between these extremes, we find the key day-to-day practitioner of 5GW. These are the individuals who will actually go among the populations over whom we struggle.  Their goal is to not merely survive in these situations, but to bring care and concern, strength and security, training and tangible improvements to places and circumstances where they did not before exist. These practitioners must understand the history, the culture, and the languages (there is seldom only one), must have the compassion for the people caught in the middle, the know-how to bring short term relief, as well as long term enablement, and lastly, be ready to fight themselves, and to reach back to any means available to protect, defend and maybe defeat an enemy.

My title will probably bother some. Isn’t it always about “winning?” Actually, life would be much simpler if it were. Vince Lombardi’s famous quote (“Winning isn’t everything, it is the ONLY thing.”) works for football but not for 5GW.  As much as Americans love a winner, in 5GW it will not be quite so clear cut. Success may not be defined in Clauswitizian terms. Everything is a potential target, and all means are available for use, by both sides. Using cyber means to corrupt medical data in a civilian hospital is a tactic our enemies may use. What are we prepared to do to stop them? If the world is defined by achieving an acceptable level of risk, how do you define a win? Can you do so?

Not only will 5GW take a different mind set; it will take a completely different psychological and sociological way of approaching the problems. This is why we need anthropologists, psychologists and sociologists on the team as well. These experts will not be there to help prepare the warriors but will help define how we fight and what we fight for. Having the correct goals will not (must not) be left to professional politicians but must be crafted with a level of understanding of both our potential enemies and the Human Terrain on which we fight.

No one yet has all the answers for this newest type of war, but frankly, it is upon us today.  We must have a national conversation about it. We must seek out those who have the vision to properly address these challenges. We must be willing to reach out to those who have something to teach us, some tool to add to our kit bag, and be humble enough to realize we may not be the teachers/experts we envisioned ourselves to be.

Do you have something to offer? Are you willing to humble yourself to learn?

Dr. Steven Bucci is director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation. He was previously a lead consultant to IBM on cyber security policy. Bucci’s military and government service make him a recognized expert in the interagency process and defense of U.S. interests, particularly with regard to critical infrastructure and what he calls the productive interplay of government and the private sector. Read More
  • Al Holbert

    The author is way beyond the thinking of warfare.