ZenPundit
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
 
DOWNGRADING "THE UNTHINKABLE" TO "THINKABLE"

John Robb at Global Guerillas had a post up entitled " The Lost Generation of Warfare" in which he remarks on the stance of the 4GW Theory school toward nuclear warfare:

"The Lost Generation

As per the framework, states that used the most recent form of warfare could reliably defeat those states that still clung to the previous generation. This continued to hold true until the final thrust at the end of WW2 at Hiroshima and Nagasaki proved that nuclear warfare was the new salient generation. Lind and his cohorts ignore this generation of warfare, since with its advent the generational advancement of inter-state warfare breaks down. The technologies of this "lost" generation of warfare quickly progressed to MIRVed (multiple independent re-entry vehicles) ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) that could mobilize for global war in minutes, maneuver to enemy rear areas in fractions of an hour, and unleash firepower that could destroy the entire urban infrastructure of a state. At that point, the trends of interstate warfare reached their logical conclusion in their negation. The well founded fear of this form of warfare made hot war between the great powers unthinkable. "

As I remarked in John's comment section, Martin van Creveld discussed nuclear war in several of his books but Robb is probably right that so important a subject merits it's own generation in the 4GW taxonomy. The amount of nuclear war planning and gaming by the militaries of " the nuclear club" states, to say nothing of the fiscal expenditures and infrastructure, would be strong evidence.

Moreover, the large body of nuclear deterrence theory literature created by theorists, planners, officials and foreign policy experts like Wohlstetter, Kahn, Kissinger, Brodie and so on ought to be reviewed, particularly for their more outlier speculations. As we move into an era of proliferation, "micro-atomic" and specialized nuclear arms, "uncertain" proliferators (do thay have it? Will it work ? To what extent) and non-state actors, the old calculus of massive nuclear arsenals held by two superpowers upon which deterrence is based comes undone.

The unthinkable edges ever closer to thinkable.
 
Comments:
State vs State Nuclear Warfare is clearly the pinnacle of 2GW - massed industrial resources to create and sustain the nuclear warfighting infrastructure. Nukes are the ultimate in attrition warfare. The ability to do mass damage in no uncertain terms by both sides (US and Soviets) brought mutual deterrence or MAD - Mutual Assured Destruction (works only if both sides love their children and are not 100% confident in the contractor who built their command bunkers).

3GW develops to bypass the strengths and cost associated with 2GW (attrition warfare / industrial warfare). I am not sure what the role, if any, for nukes in 3GW might be. Perhaps small tactical nukes that could be used to advantage against a 2gw or 3gw opponent without bringing on a 2GW nuke response. Mostly, though it is an idea or meme - "nuke use is bad and the user is evil/immoral" - that serves as a deterrent to first use in 3GW even at the tactical level.

In 4GW, nukes could be (I don't want to say will be) for new forms of terrorism or for leveraging/forcing non-kinetic reactions by 2WG/3GW forces to 4GW actions. They could also be used disrupt/distract/demoralize the opponent of the 4GW.

Just because Lind doesn't talk about it, doesn't mean nukes don't fit into xGW. I don't think the xGW's are about historical technology, they about mindsets and approaches to warfare.
 
You said it better than I could, PS.
 
I think the observation is dead on but I'm going to add something to PurpleSlog's last sentence;

"I don't think the xGW's are about historical technology (or a specific time period), they (are)about mindsets and approaches to warfare."
 
Mark,

While I strongly agree with PurpleSlog's approach to the question, I also have this in mind:

"The amount of nuclear war planning and gaming by the militaries of "the nuclear club" states, to say nothing of the fiscal expenditures and infrastructure, would be strong evidence."

Can a theory of warfare strategy which is never implemented be considered a generation of warfare; or should it merely be considered a generation of theory of warfare? ;) I ask, because the use of nukes in actual wars has been quite limited, thus far, so I'm not sure it crosses the threshold from theory to actual warfare, for a consideration of 'generations.'

In general then, since it's really the idea or theory of nuclear war that has been operative, rather than actual nuclear war, the nuke perspective seems rather 4GW. We don't slaughter Iraqis willy-nilly, because we know our 4GW opponents would use that slaughter in their media campaign to erode our justification for our efforts in Iraq. As such, the dawning of the nuclear age seems to have been the dawning of 4GW. Plus, there is the comment you left elsewhere about the subsequent rise in proxy warfare, the greater significance of guerrilla warfare, and so forth, once that idea of nuclear war became operative.
 
Wonderful comments PS. I'll tackle them in the a.m.

Hi Curtis

You wrote:

"Can a theory of warfare strategy which is never implemented be considered a generation of warfare; or should it merely be considered a generation of theory of warfare? ;)"

Hinges on the definition of "implemented" and whether you consider calculated deterrence posture a form of conflict ( much like the endless marching of 18th century European armies that sought to avoid battle unless conditions were one-sidedly advantageous)
 
"it's really the idea or theory of nuclear war that has been operative"

:)

The idea of the gun is not identical to the actual gun, although either might be used! The use of the idea is not identical to the use of the thing.

It so happens that earlier generations involved not only the use of the things but also the use of the ideas of those things; but can the same be said for the so-called Lost Generation?
 
Actually, nukes were used and that demonstration alone was all that it took to trump the previous generations of warfare.
 
Again, mad props to Purpleslog and Aherring for getting things right. I think Curtis's question is interesting, but ultimately nuclear war is not a distinct generation in any case. A "generation" is not defined by a technology used.

Anon,

Actually, nukes were used and that demonstration alone was all that it took to trump the previous generations of warfare.

Not sure what you mean here. So does victory in any battle "trump all previous generations of warfare"? Does the use of any shock weapon "trump all previous generations of warfare" What does "trump all previous generations of warfare" mean?
 
Question: did you guys miss out on an entire 40 years of strategy? Nuclear weapons changed warfare root to branch. The strategies developed were complex and multi-faceted. They weren't merely attritive.

Sincerely,

JR
 
Question: did you guys miss out on an entire 40 years of strategy? Nuclear weapons changed warfare root to branch. The strategies developed were complex and multi-faceted. They weren't merely attritive.

Sincerely,

JR
 
Dan,

ultimately nuclear war is not a distinct generation in any case. A "generation" is not defined by a technology used.

Although Anonymous might disagree, I don't think we can call two uses a "nuclear war." They were used in a context of another type of war, another generation. There has been no nuclear war. So how can nuclear war be considered a generation?

Actually, that last paragraph goes for JR as well: a million years of theory about war is not actual warfare.

And while I understand that the overemphasis on types of technology for distinguishing between generations must be countered by a reality check, I do not think we should dismiss the role that technology has had in shaping what PurpleSlog has called "mindsets and approaches." So say that the existence of nuclear weapons on the planet has shaped mindsets and approaches; did what follow constitute "nuclear war"? No, but proxy warfare and 4GW warfare and limited 3GW warfare (at least in comparison to WWII.)
 
Shame on you Curtis, of course nukes have been used in war.

I remember looking out the second story windows of my grade school building towards the direction that the "flash" came from as I was instructed to hide under my desk. It seemed to me, at the time, to be a silly idea; I had the feeling if there really was a nuclear detonation close enough for us to see the flash, it wouldn't help us much to hide under our desks.

Of course being a third grader it also sounded like a cool idea that our teachers were letting us hide under our desks, so I complied to her request anyway. I was amazed, upon looking up, at all the used gum hidden under our desktops, so the effort was not unrewarding.
 
I think the issue, as far as Generational Warfare is concerned, comes down to this.

A nuclear weapon is essentially nothing more than a weapon albiet a powerful one. It is the use of the weapon based on the midset and approach of the user that defines it classification as xGW much as a tank or an aircraft is used in a manner consistent with xGW.

That said, I've never seen an approach to using nuclear weapons that didn't fall into an existing generational mindset.
 
Addressing Purpleslog's original remarks:

"State vs State Nuclear Warfare is clearly the pinnacle of 2GW - massed industrial resources to create and sustain the nuclear warfighting infrastructure"

Neatly put. Wish I had said that.

Still true today but it is not impossible that a private actor could put one together given that the " how-to " R& D are sunk costs expended previously by others-particularly if they shoot for a simpler Hiroshima type atomic device. Microsoft certainly could afford to build one. So could lesser entities. Privatization of atomic weapons is a possibility that should not be excluded.

Mostly, though it is an idea or meme - "nuke use is bad and the user is evil/immoral" - that serves as a deterrent to first use in 3GW even at the tactical level.


Can't agree here. If morality had anything to do with it, we would have never nuked Japan in 1945. This debate was played out with Truman, Byrnes, Oppenheimer,Vannevar Bush, Szilard, the Franck Committee and so on. We used nukes because we were secure from retaliation and we were facing a mind-boggling casualties if we invaded the Home islands and Japan opted to go out of existence fighting.

We are not prevented from using nuclear weaponss by morality but because *every* other great power would react with the greatest alarm at our cavalier use of nuclear weapons. The French and Brits didn't create independent nuclear stockpiles to stop the Russkies but to stop us in the event the Americans ever went " mad" or just decided to abandon them to Moscow.

That being said, anyone who imagines that we would *not* use nuclear weapons once again, if sufficiently injured or threatened and we could get away with so doing, is a fool.

And if you don't believe me, just ask the folks involved with the national security apparatus of the other nuclear powers.
 
I've expanded my thoughts on the issue of 'nukes and 4GW' as an update to this post on D5GW:

Toward a Better Understanding of 4GW
 
Me/Purpleslog said: "Mostly, though it is an idea or meme - 'nuke use is bad and the user is evil/immoral' - that serves as a deterrent to first use in 3GW even at the tactical level."

Not-zen Mark said
"Can't agree here. If morality had anything to do with it, we would have never nuked Japan in 1945. This debate was played out with Truman, Byrnes, Oppenheimer,Vannevar Bush, Szilard, the Franck Committee and so on. We used nukes because we were secure from retaliation and we were facing a mind-boggling casualties if we invaded the Home islands and Japan opted to go out of existence fighting.".

I think we agree with each other in a way. The counter-nuke meme that exists now, did not really exist in 1945. While there was debate among some, in the aftermath the general US public weas okay with what happened. I would say the Japanese were lucky they lost at Midway, so that when US nukes started being produced they were almost done for.

Not-zen Mark said "We are not prevented from using nuclear weaponss by morality but because *every* other great power would react with the greatest alarm at our cavalier use of nuclear weapons."

I see what you are saying...I think most of that I had covered as the "evil" part of the meme, but there does seem to be more to it. Most of that is 2GW though and mutual nuclear deterence comes in.

Not-zen Mark said "That being said, anyone who imagines that we would *not* use nuclear weapons once again, if sufficiently injured or threatened and we could get away with so doing, is a fool."

I can certainly see that there is a threshold were any side-effect/blowback from first nuke use would clearly be of lesser concern then some other threat. From the US PoV (mostly - I think - I hope), if comes to down to survival or in the face of massive WMD attack of some type, the full arsenal of US power will be used. I hope it doesn't come to that though. My interest in 5GW theory spring somewhat from that hope.


Curtis: A great post!
http://www.fifthgeneration.phaticcommunion.com/archives/2007/01/toward_a_better_understanding.php
 
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