Sunday, February 12, 2006

Defining the Long War: Tony Corn's 4GW

Policy Review may just have done it again: published an agenda-setting piece of strategic analysis, which, while intellectually limber, is not academically irrelevant. Former State Department employee Tony Corn's "World War IV As Fourth-Generation Warfare" has some thoroughly interesting arguments; summarizes the central elements of the debate on the War on Terror; and addresses the organizational changes underway in the comprehensive interagency perspective. The article is a rare case of strategy proper: tying together separate realms in a practical framework. Do go read the whole thing here. Just a few comments:

* Corn is right that The Long War isn't primarily military in its nature, and neither can our means be. The political dimension is necessarily what this is about. This doesn't mean that the military will not play an important and some times predominant role. But it does mean that the military has to become a whole lot better at the political thing, including calculating effects of military operations in political currency, if it wants to succeed.

* Because the Long War includes an entanglement of military and political elements in its strategy; and of probably all of the foreign policy related organizations in its practice, the resolution of interagency problems is paramount. This includes, first, basic and still very challenging coordination in terms of both operations, planning, learning, and convergence on strategic levels. Second (and this is the hard part!), it means addressing the institutionalized perspectives that a) stem from the civilian and military organizations' raison d'etre and that b) are braking if not blocking proper reaction to the challenges ahead (in short, respectively: warrior spirit vs. the political dimension, and disinterestedness/bureaucracy vs. teleological thinking/strategy).

* Corn's use of the Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) concept is a little off in that he repeats some of the misunderstandings of its proponents: that 4GW is post-clausewitzian because it contains non-state actors and is focused more on the opponent's political will than fighting capacity. This mistake stems from a legacy interpretation of Clausewitz -- what he actually says in the full version of the most famous quote is exactly that politics does take precedence over the military, strategic level; that the political outcome is what we should be aiming at: "[d]er Krieg [ist] nur ein teil des politischen Verkehrs, also durchaus nichts Selbstständiges." Corn uses the concept of 4GW because he wants to justify the strategic importance of what State does and the strategic value of the knowledge and experience of State's employees. This is more than just an honorable intention: he has a valid point. The problem is that the "4GW" concept is part of a military internal debate over the evolving nature of warfare: as such it is much more of an office politics than it is a proper analytical device (see Echevarria's piece on 4GW for the full argument; thanks to Opposed Systems Design for leading me to it). Corn's analysis of the salafist challenge is the central claim of the article, not the 4GW stuff which seems like an afterthought. In any case, as Echevarria has shown, "4GW" is close to signify about whatever you would want it to.

* His jab at Thomas P.M. Barnett's "Disconnectedness defines danger" is unfair. In the context it looks like Barnett meant that the salafists are "disconnected" in the sense that they are not in touch, not using cell-phones or whatever. The proper meaning behind the slogan is instead that "disconnectivity" is a grand strategy heuristic device for identifying future troublespots: it deals with the macrolevel of absence of economic and cultural integration, not the microlevel degree of technology in tactics.

EDIT: According to the Washington Post Corn's article already is on the agenda.

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