Thursday, August 04, 2005

4GW Books

There's an interesting "Ten Best" 4GW book list up at Defence and the National Interest.

It's nice to see, once again, John Nagl's brilliant counterinsurgency book getting another plug. That said, there are a few areas where I'd take issue.

Fizzy Gravy

First off, I'm not sure I'd list Bunker's "Non-State Threats and Future Wars" in the top ten. It's a smashing little collection in its own right, including reflections on their classic texts by Martin van Creveld and Ralph Peters, but I don't think it's particularly earth shattering as a whole - especially when one considers what books didn't make the cut.

One of my general criticisms of 4GW theorists is that they tend, in my view at least, to have a strange blind spot for classical counterinsurgency theory and texts. Lukin, in fairness, doesn't quite fall into this trap, but I think some of his core choices require context. Mao is, of course, classic and fundamental but it's important to put it into context - since Vietnam, most Maoist insurgencies have fallen flat on their arses.

I'm also wary of anything that is set up as providing insight into "the Eastern style of warfare". There isn't one. In fact "Eastern" styles of warfare are many and varied between and within China, Japan, SE Asia and the Indian subcontinent.* None of this is to say that various Oriental texts lack usefulness, merely that we need to be wary of a selective and indiscriminate reading of history and varied regional strategic cultures.

Finally - although it only makes the "Honourable Mention" section of the list - in spite of the fact that it widely has the term "classic" stapled to it I reckon you could afford to give Taber's "War of the Flea" a miss. It's not valueless but it's very much of its time and has dated substantially, with a confidence in the effectiveness of guerrilla groups that was largely demolished by events subsequent to its publication ("Che", for example [and his "foco" theory], is seen very much as the Wave Of The Future and it's amusing to read the parts of the book that deal with him, given that not long after the book's publication he got himself very dead indeed in a comedy fashion).

Hand Shandy

I think it's important for anyone interested in the 4GW concept to read quite broadly at this stage and not take it at face value. Although there is much of value emerging, equally lucid critiques exist (and I personally feel that we should be looking at 4GW as a supplement to traditional strategic thinking and threat assessment, not a substitute [which is what many of its advocates are pusing for]):

If you're going to read Bunker's "Non-State Threats", check out this at the same time:

Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Jan Angstrom (eds.) - Rethinking the Nature of War

Great collection in a similar format that broadly takes a far more sceptical look at the issues. Also includes defences of 4GW/"New Wars" theories by Mary Kaldor and Martin van Creveld.

Also these:

Colin Gray - Modern Strategy
Colin Gray - Another Bloody Century
David Lonsdale - The Nature of War In the Information Age: Clausewitzian Future
Various readings, primarily by Christopher Bassford, available at
Jeremy Black - War and the New Disorder in the 21st Century
On a final, rather self-glorifying note, I wrote a rather rambling critique of The Transformation of War a while back and I still think that it's more or less right.

On "Western" and "Eastern" ways of war, John Lynn's "Battle: A History of Combat and Culture" is an invaluable counterpoint to the VDH Western Way model.

*Beyond very broad generalisations with variable applicability through history, there isn't a Western Way of Warfare either. Sorry.