“I think there should be regulations on social media to the degree that it negatively affects the public good.”
– Elon Musk, before his bid for Twitter
“How do you get up every day and write about this stuff?” I asked John Robb after speaking to him for about an hour.
As you know, I’ve been writing about the financial mayhem for over two decades. It takes a bit to give me the willies. During our discussion, John outlined what he is preparing for: “The arrival of the ‘long night’ of networked tyranny.” It’s not nearly as pleasing as it sounds.
As I mentioned yesterday, I first met the polyglot John Robb after the invasion of Iraq during the Second Gulf War. His description of “network swarms” fundamentally changed the way I view international politics and its extended family, war. He’d done a stint with the Navy Seals and had been a data analyst in the defense industry. He’d just published a book called Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and The End of Globalization.
(The book and Mr. Robb’s explanation of how networks would transform politics, the economy and commerce also led me to completely overhaul how we do online marketing in our business. That’s, of course, a story for another day.)
Below, I excerpt an email John dug up from that era, some 15 years ago, when we first met. He thought it was important enough to send to his Global Guerillas readers this morning. And so, here, I follow suit. – Enjoy, Addison
The Changing Face of War:
Into the 5th Generation (5GW)
In 1989, as the Berlin wall was being torn down, Bill Lind (with Nightingale, Schmitt, Sutton, and Wilson) wrote “The Changing Face War: Into the Fourth Generation” for the Marine Corps Gazette. This seminal article made the case that while large-scale interstate warfare was going the way of the dodo, low-intensity guerrilla warfare and terrorism would thrive in its stead. They were right.
To make their point, Lind and his collaborators divided warfare over the last two centuries into four generations, where a successive generation of warfare defeated each previous generation. On the surface, many of the elements described as core to the fourth generation are not new and reflect guerrilla wars we have seen in the past:
- The emphasis on extreme dispersion. Maneuver at the expense of firepower.
- Decentralized logistics. An ability to live off of the land.
- Psychological warfare. To collapse the moral cohesion of the enemy (internal collapse).
However, Lind argued that the use of these methods of warfare on a global scale, with new technology, and through new methods of employment in combination with the decline of the West would radically increase the threat posed by fourth-generation opponents. This has proven out as these opponents use our strength against us (judo moves), and our rear areas are targeted (rather than our military forces).
Lind: “Whoever is first to recognize, understand, and implement a generational change can gain a decisive advantage. Conversely, a nation that is slow to adapt to generational change opens itself to catastrophic defeat.”
Things would be bad enough with just fourth-generation opponents. Still, as the research on global guerrillas has borne out, a new, more dangerous generation is forming: potentially the 5th generation of warfare. Much of this new generation was derived and accelerated in the cauldron of Iraq, just as the basis for 3rd generation of warfare was proved in the Spanish Civil war.
What we see is jarring:
- Open-source warfare. An ability to decentralize beyond the limits of a single group (way beyond cell structures) using new development and coordination methodologies. This new structure doesn’t only radically expand the number of potential participants; it shrinks the group size well below any standard viability measures. This organizational structure creates a dynamic whereby new entrants can appear anywhere. In London, Madrid, Berlin, and New York.
- Systems disruption. A method of sabotage that goes beyond the simple sabotage of physical infrastructure. This method of warfare, which can burst onto the scene as a black swan, uses network dynamics (a new form of leveraged maneuver) to undermine and reorder global systems. Through this Schumpeterian “creative destruction,” new environments favorable to opposition forces are built (often due to a descent into primary loyalties and pressure from global markets).
- Virtual states (ala Philip Bobbitt). Unlike the guerrilla movements of the past, many of the 4GW forces we are fighting today have found a way to integrate their activities with global “crime.” No longer are guerrilla movements or terrorists aimed at taking control of the reigns of the state or merely proxies for states. A new form of economic sustenance, this black globalization is already vast (a GDP of trillions per year) and gains momentum through the weakening and disruption of states. This military/economic integration creates a virtuous feedback loop that allows groups to achieve greater degrees of independence and financial wealth through the warfare they conduct.
Whether you call these developments 4th generation warfare on steroids or the start of a 5th generation, what matters is that there is a shift underway.
for The Wiggin Sessions
P.S. Despite having initially written the essay above in 2006, during our Session, Robb brings these insights to bear on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine.
He further pontificates on how the private networks of Google, Facebook (now, Meta), Twitter et al have superseded the protections afforded to US citizens under the 1st Amendment. Click below…
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine represents history’s first ‘social media’ war.” Watch or hear John’s full description of the global “network swarm” and what it means for the future of markets and the economy, here.