By Jason Ickes
Nov 22nd 2023
I was reading a 2021 article by Commander Cornelis van der Klaauw of the Royal Netherlands Navy a subject matter expert, strategic communications and information officer with NATO Joint Warfare Centre, titled “Generations of Warfare: An Outdated Concept?”. Spoiler Commander Cornelis doesn’t believe in the use of Generations of warfare and refers to them as “Relics of the past”. https://www.jwc.nato.int/application/files/6916/3280/9811/issue37_17.pdf
This is useful thinking in my opinion. I would like to redefine how we decide what a generation of warfare is based on by the strategic resource required to dominate the outcome of a conflict. For example the first generation of warfare would be determined by total number of humans and outcomes were determined by attrition. The second generation of warfare would be salt which enabled armies to preserve food enabling the conquest of vast territories by large armies. Iron would be the third generation of warfare as this strategic resource offered superior effectiveness of armies.
The fourth generation would be oil after the advancement of gas powered vehicles this had a dramatic impact on war targets and battlefield speed. The fifth generation of warfare has been largely determined by uranium for weapons and energy. We are now entering sixth generation warfare and the dependence on rare earth elements or REEs for advanced materials. I believe the 7th Generation we are rapidly approaching will be back to attrition but instead of humans it will be autonomous devices. If we survive an AI apocalypse the 8th generation will be determined based on humanities expansion into the stars with the many unknowns surrounding materials required for sub-light, faster than light, and teleportation.
Put simply: 1st: Humans, 2nd Salt, 3rd Iron, 4th Oil, 5th Uranium, 6th REE, 7th Drones, 8th is really anyone's guess should humanity survive so far?
The methods of warfare have not really changed which Commander Cornelis points out “Thinking in generations of warfare and timelines, as we have done so far, will not be helpful in the least.” This I can agree with. The center of gravity for all conflict is the mind. Beyond that is the perception of the required resources to secure life or longevity. Today those resources are food, fuel, fertilizer, water, weapons, and wisdom. While commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan might have been fighting for hearts and minds, the United States, Russia, and China were fighting for strategic positioning over the worlds farmland (United States, Ukraine, Brazil), oil (Iraq, Iran, Ukraine, Syria, Venezuela), fertilizer (Ukraine), water (U.S., Canada, Africa, Brazil), minerals (Africa, Afghanistan, Australia, South America) and universities (U.S., U.K., EU).
Our stubborn military command has left it’s rear guard down and the institutions became the targets of their enemies seeking to alter their future generations thinking. While focusing on wining hearts and minds abroad the home guard was courting the enemy. For this I agree with Commander Cornelis when he said, “Believing that history will only repeat itself may just cause us to repeat our mistakes.” With the methodology I have outlined here, the military priorities overlap with economic and social. While a previous, generational warfare strategic resource will likely never become irrelevant the abundance and alternate options over time mitigate it’s overall impact to the determinable outcome of a war.
In conclusion, the United States has failed to secure the 6th generational warfare strategic resource and therefore has lost to China since the 1990s after winning the Cold War against Russia. Dare I say that we are entering the 7th generation of warfare? Could the U.S. shake off the shackles of the Chinese communist party that has subjugated it’s elite for the last 30 years through promises of open markets? Is it possible to reclaim the institutions for capitalist minded constitutional republic thinkers?? Let's hope so.