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12 November 2006

War in the next generation

We have been following the emerging definitions of “new” conceptual generations of warfare with great interest. They build upon the earlier concepts not entirely yet accepted within military theory, but with great resonance at the operational levels to help explain the nature of what we see around us in this Long War.

There are a number of thinkers in the space whose work deserves attention. Each has chosen particular aspects of the problem space to dissect with some notable success in identifying that threshold of enduring insight: a unique, reproducible strategic concept (in the words of Dr. Barnett).

Zen Pundit
Dreaming 5GW

We enter slightly late to this debate, as usual, for we have spent some time pondering the questions raised by these gentlemen. In part, we also pause as most of these writers focus on issues of policy analysis (with a heavy dose of political punditry), a close cousin but nonetheless a different breed entirely from our professional and personal interests. The admittedly narrow focus of this blog is on the art and science of intelligence analysis (with the occasional minor digression into the abstract theory of operations). Our Ven diagram of interests thus primarily overlaps when examining the insights raised by this debate into the changed nature of the enemy and the strategic environment. We seek then to understand the implications for the next generation of analysts and collectors which must confront these challenges.

We as a community and as individual contributors see many aspects of the current fighting in which can be found the seeds of the next war. As the noted science fiction author and futurist William Gibson said, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed.” Of course, our interest is almost in the novel and foreseen, for this is where the boundaries of our profession may be pursued in ways that may never have before been done. Call it the start-up mentality, so to speak, or the inclination towards the edge; but perhaps more accurately it is a honed variation of the academic’s instinct for specialization. The language of the debate is fast evolving, and the professional literature growing rapidly thanks in no small part to the “khaki tower” – the military service schools and the other unique academia which serve to educate our nation’s military, a fairly singular and fascinating set of structures in both comparative and historical terms.

From the viewpoint of those here at Kent’s Imperative, our greatest challenge on the intel side lies in weaponizing the insights of the strategic thinkers to maximize opportunities to collect against, and to understand these new enemies and their actions. While perhaps this too narrow of a focus for some people’s tastes, it is essentially the mandate for the operational and tactical levels involved in actually fighting this Long War.

(These differences have been touched upon by some of these new theorists, including the “disparity between observational capability” and the time constraints of analysis under operational pressures.)

Much of the body of this new theory of warfare relies not upon the things of technological innovation (although the toys are always easiest to point to when seeking out the novel), but rather the patterns of use and shifting of behaviors enabled by these introduced objects and capabilities. The skillsets required to piece together these behaviors and the exploitable weaknesses therein (particularly under the time and operational constraints found in the field), are often fundamentally different than those currently taught by the methodologists or the structured analysis proponents that currently dominate the community’s schoolhouses. We are seeking alternatives but thus far find few.

As the body of literature regarding 5GW and its conceptual descendents accretes, it provides its own pressures to our small cohort to wrap our heads around not only the output of the strategic thinkers exploring that space; but also drives us to grapple with the challenges for our profession not yet fully articulated. For this we are most grateful.