5th Generation Warfare (5th GW) – OpEd


5th Generation Warfare is not new, revolutionary or a novel invention. It is part of the human experience. In the xGW framework, it is defined as “the secret deliberative manipulation of actors, networks, institutions, states or any earlier generational warfare forces to achieve a goal or set of goals across a combination of socioeconomic and political domains while attempting to avoid or minimize the retaliatory offensive or defensive actions/reactions including powered actors, networks, institutions, and/or states.

Under this definition, 5th GW might include a form of warfare that manipulates: This warfare is a perception-based warfare focused on the context of conflict. It is fought through manipulating perceptions and altering the context by which the world is perceived. Since 5th GW is the manipulation of observational context in order to make the enemy do our will, an act of force is not required to manipulate observational context, and therefore force is not required to wage 5th generation warfare. 5th GW can succeed by manipulating the identity perception of the enemy and their indigenous population in relation to each other as well as to friendly forces. It involves presenting potential adversaries with new observations that falsify hostile orientations and socialize those actors into developing more cooperative orientations.

The strategic goal of 5th GW is to fight the war with the adversary “not knowing who it is fighting”. BLA, BLF, such actors have been funded by India to create anarchy in Baluchistan, Kulbhushan Jadav involvement in an Indian spy network and saying he was planning subversive activities against the recently launched multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. He had allegedly been living in Chabahar, an Iranian port on the Gulf of Oman, west of Pakistan, before illegally entering Baluchistan to creating insurgencies fifth generation warfare also explains that opponent states exploitations economic vulnerabilities as Indian spy is good example to mobilize indigenous peoples.

This is how 5th GW attacks the intellectual strength of insurgent adversaries, by literally denying them an enemy against which to fight. 5th GW strategies seek to problematize enemy’s knowledge of who it fights against and why the adversary must be resisted. In other words, “the enemy must not feel that he is not on your side.

According to (Clausewitz 1989), war is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will. While quite comprehensive, it misses other, more subtle forms of war. It has two major components, ie ‘act of force’ and ‘compelling our enemy to do our will’. A more expansive definition of war may be the one emphasizing the second part of Clausewitz’s formulation, “compelling the enemy to do our will” (the goal of war) more than the first part, the “act of force” (the means of war). In essence, the goal of war is essential in defining the nature of war. The means of war are not. In the same context, making the enemy do our will is essential to war. An act of force is not.

In 5th GW, new attacks are conducted by an individual or, at most, a very small group. Super-empowered individuals or small groups would be in keeping with several emerging global trends—the rise of biotechnology, the increased power of knowledge workers, and the changing nature of loyalties, e.g the anthrax and ricin attacks on Capitol Hill may be early examples of fifth-generation warfare.

Features of 5TH GW

Some of the salient features are as follows:

  • In 5th GW, violence is so dispersed that the losing side may never realize that it has been conquered
  • The very secrecy of 5th GW makes it the hardest generation of war to study. Most successful 5th GWs are those that are never identified.
  • 5th GW attacks occur below the threshold of observation.
  • 5th GW focuses on open-source warfare, systems disruption, and virtual states as a new form of political organization
  • In 5th GW, actors are single individuals who perform their roles in a grand strategy without realizing their roles.

So fourth and fifth-generation warfare are ‘pre-Westphalia in the sense that they mark the end of the nation-state. The armed groups or networks neither fight in the name of the state nor are under its control. This argument cuts both ways. It challenges those who argue that jihadi groups still function as a ‘veritable arm’ of Pakistani state agencies (that nurtured and created them in the first place).

And it undermines the logic of conspiracy-mongering patriots who argue that these groups are free agents being financed and used by foreign forces to sow mischief within Pakistan. The understanding of fifth-generation warfare still doesn’t take away from the fact that state policies will remain the most crucial factor in defeating these new combatants. We now know that these terrorist groups are structurally horizontal and not hierarchical, which adds to their resilience.

The nation-state isn’t their unit of analysis and territorial boundaries don’t obstruct their objects and goals. They are willing to co-opt other networks or be co-opted whenever there is synergy: TTP and LeJ share anti-Shia agenda; and LeT share anti-India agenda; and Al-Qaeda, Afghan Taliban and share anti-US agenda. Given that these networks are not structured organizations but loose constellations, they are free agents and are probably co-opted by foreign agencies against Pakistan and its security forces for select operations.

But what we frequently miss in our analysis is that common amongst all these non-state networks of violence – and probably at the top of their list– is their anti-Pakistan agenda. They don’t accept the constitution of Pakistan and the rights and responsibilities it imposes on citizens; they don’t accept the writ of the state and the government and the legitimacy of the policies crafted by the state; and they don’t accept the rights and responsibilities of Pakistan as a nation state under international law.

These networks will agree to be co-opted by the Pakistani state so long as state agenda overlaps with theirs. So if our formal policy is to send jihadis into Kashmir and Afghanistan, TTP, LeT and Daesh are willing partners. But if our national security and foreign policy changes and exporting jihadis isn’t seen as promoting Pakistan’s national security interests, the same groups turn on the state. The biggest failing of our national security establishment has been the two-pronged delusion that (i) violent jihadi networks can be controlled and employed to singularly further state objectives, and (ii) the religion-based ideology of hate that drives them can be turned off will. What we have witnessed instead is reverse indoctrination.

It is the state agents that have come to be indoctrinated with the religion-inspired ideology of hate that then leads them to sympathize with the jihadi outfits, as evident from reportedly insider-facilitated attacks on security establishments. And this makes logical sense. Nationalism and the nation-state are contrived concepts. Religion isn’t (except for atheists, of course). While our soldier is motivated both in the name of country and religion, it would be hard to assert that his state identity trumps his religious identity in the event that there is a perceived conflict between the two.

What the history of conflicts in Vietnam and Afghanistan has taught us is that even when powerful states fought a fourth-generation war with a third-generation strategy they lost, Fifth-generation warfare has further blurred a lot of boundaries: What is a battlefield and what isn’t? What is a combatant and what isn’t? What is a weapon and what isn’t? If you take the war to North Waziristan, they will bring it to the urban centers. If you attack throat-slitting brutes, they will attack 14-year-old school girls. While you ponder over the legality and reasonability of the use of airpower and heavy artillery, they will brainwash 14-year-olds to blow themselves up amongst unsuspecting civilians.

This is a new form of warfare. The combatants or terrorists are no misguided fools. These are shrewd and ruthless tacticians fighting a no-holds-barred conflict. They understand the moral, psychological, social, economic and political dimensions of this war. They see a growing national consensus against their agenda and their tactics led by the media after the attack on Malala, and they threaten to attack the media. But deterrence isn’t enough. So they justify the attack in religious terms, while relying on examples from the lives of our prophets. And that helps sow enough confusion to stem the rising tide against them.

An Era of Asymmetric warfare.

Cyber warfare attacks are also part of 5th GW warfare which can disable official websites and networks, disrupt or disable essential services, steal or alter classified data, and cripple financial systems — among many other possibilities states use to go war through insurgents and technology basis that their image wouldn’t show front the other states we have good examples on it about Indian naval officer.

In this regard, the USA surpasses other countries of the world. According to Snowden USA has an access to all major markets of the world. Even USA has traced calls of vice Chancellor of Germany Angela Markel. The USA annually spends 360 billion dollars on research and development. They have orchestrated couple of innovative technologies which can fetch a great deal of destruction for other countries of the world.

China is going to be confronted with cyber warfare from USA. As 500 million Chinese use the internet on a daily basis. China is quite concerned about cyber warfare of USA. In 2014 internet contributed approximately 14 percent to GDP of China. If China does not take drastic steps in future there would be a monolithic destruction for china as for as her economy is concerned. It is very fascinating in international arena that warfare is being changed with every passing year. Hence, the upcoming era would be an era of proxy war and sub conventional warfare. In the Cold War both super powers, the USA and USSR, had conventional weapons, but they did not use them. If they had used conventional warfare the entire world would have been destroyed. Therefore they used proxy war in different part of the world. Under current circumstances many states of the world espouse the trajectory of USA and USSR. The USA also uses fifth generation warfare to counter hegemony of China. There is a strong perception about USA that they created ISIS to counter the hegemony of China and Russia. It was predicted in National Security Council in Bush administration in 2004 that there would be a group which would implement the principles of Islam. A Group of Islam would follow the path of Khilfa Rashideen they would start expansion from Mediterranean Sea to South East Asia. One can see that USA through asymmetric warfare countering both Russia and china. In this regard ex-president Hamid Karzai said that ISIS was created by the USA and they would deliberately trigger instability in Central Asia for the purpose of countering hegemony of China in Central Asia and South Asia.


The recent era is thoroughly engulfed by fifth generation warfare. Every state is fully vigilant of other states nuclear state capability. They are cognizant of devastation of nuclear weapons. Hence, they instead of conventional warfare would use fifth warfare to secure their political interest. Most impotently, conventional warfare by all means will destroy or affect the entire world. But fifth generation will save the world from complete destruction. It is quite obvious that Afghanistan is used by both regional and global powers as a battle ground by them to secure their geopolitical interest. In the same way, the apprehension of Indian spy in Baluchistan is another lucid example that fifth warfare is in full swing. India cannot use nukes against Pakistan as Pakistan itself is a nuclear state. Indian cannot use conventional warfare they TTP as fifth generation to destabilize Pakistan.

On the other hand, the USA uses innovative technologies as a cyber-warfare to accumulate worthwhile data of the world. In this current era every state is concerned about fifth generation Warfare. But one thing is crystal clear, the more a state is advanced in research Technology the better they will steal a march on other vulnerable states of the world.

The USA is still considered a superpower as they are still having superiority and ascendancy in science and technology. China in this regard raised issue of cyber security in world form but United Nation which is a cat’s paw of US is not taking stringent steps against USA.

*Imran Shahani has a Masters in International Relations from National Defence University Islamabad.

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