Book Preview: Fifth-Generation War in Africa



Daniel Abbott over at tdaxp is editing a new book on fifth-generation warfare, to be published by Nimble Books. I’m writing a chapter addressing Somalia, piracy (pictured), human security and 5GW in Africa. Here’s a brief sample:

The “fourth generation” of war entailed irregular combatants fighting for an ideological cause, seeking to remake society according to their ideals. Fifth-generation war, or 5GW, now coalescing, is less clearly ideological but just as sweeping in its goals. 5GW is when a party exploits or encourages an existing or emerging crisis to achieve strategic goals that those most directly involved in the crisis might not even be aware of. 5GW is a form of stealthy proxy war.

“The systematic alteration, or replacement of, an existing rule set is your strategic goal,” Thomas Barnett wrote of 5G fighters. “You’re not happy with things the way they are, so you make those around you unhappy enough that they too, are unhappy with the ways things are. Shock them hard enough, and you can trigger their own movement toward new rule sets that move the pile for you.”

Where fourth-gen combatants might blend in with the surrounding populace most of the time, they still periodically emerged to form military-style units. 5G fighters, by contrast, remain “subtle actors.” They may never once wear a uniform or carry a rifle. Their weapon is the desperate population of a society on the brink; their major tactic is unrest; their goal is to undermine the established order in the interest of changing it, or just leaving it in ruins.

No continent poses less of a traditional military threat to the United States than Africa. But in an age of 5GW, where subtle actors can exploit humanitarian, economic and other crises to undermine the power and legitimacy of the industrial state, no continent poses a greater non-traditional threat. An increasingly volatile Africa begs for greater U.S. intervention and risks corrupting that very intervention, turning American strength into weakness.

For America, 5GW in Africa is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t proposition. There are no easy answers to Africa’s worsening crises, and there is no consensus on how, or whether, the United States should intervene. Doing anything might make the continent’s problems worse. So might doing nothing. And despite its distance and its still-tiny slice of world trade and military power, in the age of 5GW, a suffering Africa is a threat to the United States.