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23 May 2007

Of puppeteers and 5GW

At Dreaming 5GW, Purpleslog has an interesting and evocative little post regarding the manipulation of 4th generation (and earlier) tactics by smaller groups of 5th generation warfare (5GW) actors. tdaxp has further comment.

We are intrigued by the idea, not least of all due to the applicability of the theory to certain types of proxy support problems. But we are also strongly reminded of the similarities between this theory and the Militant Shangri-La futures scenario developed during the original Proteus study. As their first paper summarizes:

"Militant Shangri-la is a frightening world of unexpected events and difficult-to-trace villains. The world in general, and the U.S. in particular, has continued into a third decade of a prosperous, information-driven economy. But the world is also continuing along the road to Complexity, with new structures of influence on the globe-some which hardly could have been imagined in the 1990s. The Newtonian diplomatic and military calculus of the past 400 years since nation states arose closing the Middle Ages seems to be giving way in turn to another New Age. In particular, the global man-in-the-street has endured a past century of 200 million deaths in war, dizzying and difficult technological change, and is listening sympathetically to the very Earth groan under the burden of pollution and extinction."
Familiar enough, but the key feature of the scenario lay in the deliberate construction of an “Alliance” in opposition to the United States. The composition of the Alliance was far less relevance than its connectivity, and the lack of apparent orchestration in those linkages that yet still allowed for synchronized events and strategic action. In this, we see the seeds of 5GW theory.

"But things are never what they seem in a complex world. Political, military, and economic actions yield unpredictable reactions in dimensions of policy - as the West was to learn in the decade from 2010-2020 when the Alliance was teaching it new tricks. For the Alliance operated both legitimately as a block of aligned nation-states and illegitimately as criminal cartels, and the twain often met. What was good for business was good.
"For the first time since the rise of the British Empire, the Alliance had created a genuinely effective Grand Strategy. It would keep the world on the edge of chaos; simply that and no more. And from that chaos-it would profit, never letting the Americans and their allies settle the world down into a single "balance of power." It was enough to make Henry Kissinger roll over in his grave. More, the Alliance saw with clarity what the West's bureaucratic governments refused to see: there were now no longer "spheres of influence" so familiar to Whitehall and Foggy Bottom. Now, the means for multiple planes of influence - new instruments of power, involving global media, new weapons, and profitable criminal enterprises had arisen. The Alliance was in space, on the seas, in the media and working into the hearts and minds of the world to kill the idea of personal liberty. With religion, nationalism, ethnicism, media, philosophy, art, music, the Alliance was harnessing the New Age yearning of the common man for its own use. One for all-and all for the Alliance. To the dismay of the West, many a man was ready to be domesticated."
It is a compelling scenario that has stayed with us for years – not for the direct prescriptive applicability as an actual future, but rather as a lens by which new events and indicators can be viewed. (This was, and remains, the core purpose of the Proteus Insights.)

If ever a 5GW puppeteer were to develop in actuality, we suspect the effects would look very much like what was gamed through MSL, as would the responses (and lack thereof) of the major Western powers. Of course, in scenario-building – as in most futurism - it is common to see exaggeration for effect to get certain points across. An MSL style 5GW puppeteer need not be a world-spanning conglomerate of all forms evil – rather, one could small groups, alternatively competing and cooperating, across a range of tactical and operational effects. In this, we see also parallels to John Robb’s Global Guerrilla theory outlining the concept of the “bazaar of violence”, but taken into the full range of 5GW through the inclusion of other actors and other means apart from direct conflict engagements.

Perhaps what interests us most in this discussion is the sense that it is more a matter of sideways applications (of the future that is already here, but not evenly distributed) than forecasting. In this, we not only quote William Gibson, but also take to heart his recent comment that “Glancing sideways is becoming more generally recognized as about the best way of doing what we used to call futurism.”

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