Salient Features Of Fifth Generation Warfare – OpEd


The history of wars is as old as human history. With coming to this earth, when humans started using things to fulfill their needs of life, competition started among humans on every front. From where the wars started. With the passage of time, as humans developed and innovated in other things, they also introduced new methods and techniques in wars to protect themselves and destroy their enemies. Because of these new techniques, different generations of war came out in different periods of time. Today’s era is considered as the era of fifth generation warfare. This is a popular word and is often heard but people do not have a proper understanding of this word. Generations means different methods, tools, techniques, and policies adopted in wars. Before understanding what a Fifth-Generation war is, it is important to understand the previous four generations of war. 

First Generation wars were considered as physical wars that were fought only on a small scale between two armies with swords and other short-range weapons. They were fought away from the human settlements in which civilians were not involved, only armies fought face to face. Ancient and Post-classical battles fought with manpower are examples of first-generation warfare. In Second Generation Wars, the use of large-scale weapons and fire powder were especially a feature of it. They were mainly fought on borders and civilians were also hit by these wars. World War I is believed to be the best example of second-generation wars. In the Third Generation Wars air and naval forces were also used. The loss of civilian population increased due to the involvement of air force.

The use of media, especially radio and newspaper were seen in this generation where it used to spread false news and to increase the popularity of own army. WWII is considered as an example of this war. India-Pakistan war of 1965 is another example of third generation wars. Next comes the fourth-generation war in which the use of psychological, religious, economic, political and propaganda warfare, along with conventional war methods, was also used. It was characterized by the blurring of lines between war and politics, soldiers and civilians, peace, and conflict. Media was used for propaganda and to create confusion among things. It mainly targeted civilians. Civilian groups were trained and funded to fight against a trained army of the state. Proxy war is also a feature of fourth generation wars. The same technique is called hybrid war. Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 is a notable example of hybrid war. Cold war in general and wars in Afghanistan and Vietnam are considered typical examples of fourth generation wars.  

Then comes the latest, the Fifth-Generation war that is conducted mainly through non-kinetic military actions. It uses all possible techniques of previous generations, especially hybrid war, with addition of latest tools and techniques like media, misinformation, and technology like artificial intelligence. It is also called the war of perceptions and information. In academics, there is no agreed definition of fifth generation warfare while the term was first used by Robert Steele in 2003. It does not remain limited to any specific dimensions. It works on the philosophy of targeting whoever, wherever and whatever. It is like a silent, smooth, sweet, and slow yet swift and sure poison that becomes extremely hard to fight for the targeted nation. The distinctive feature of this war is that it is unannounced and unrestricted.  

 The main purpose of the fifth-generation war remains the division of any society. Politically, in fifth generation war such politicians are targeted who are not loyal to their country and do not care about their nation or they are forced to take actions that proves against the state. They create political turmoil and bring the economy under heavy debts. They use foreign loans for their own interests. They receive massive amounts but do not utilize them for progress or development, recruit people on high authorities their own relatives. All such activities weaken and destroy the economic muscle of a state. Through various steps, corruption becomes common in society or corrupt people are placed in high positions, as a result, a state continues to degradation. The important thing in all this is that no one knows about all these steps whether it is just a coincidence or someone is doing it. Economy is also a fundamental target in fifth generation war. Creating economic instability including devaluation of currency, artificial shortages of commodities, economic sanctions, isolating the nation in international community so they cannot trade with others are the main objectives in fifth generation wars.  

Armed forces are the guarantor of the security of any state. In fifth generation war, the armed forces are most targeted, but its method is different. Such wars include creating a trust gap between the target army and the nation and demoralizing them. To do so, various propaganda campaigns are launched through the media and the army of the targeted country engaged in fighting on multiple fronts, internal and external. Different militant groups are formed by providing them with heavy amounts and training. Such groups carried out terrorist attacks that cause heavy losses. Such groups create and fight on the lines of a proxy war. Militant and terrorist activities are carried out throughout the country on large scale and magnitude that it becomes difficult to determine whether it is in a state of war. Even if they know that they are in a state of war, it is difficult to determine who to fight against. An organized and well-known army fights an unknown and invisible enemy in fifth generation war. Such a complex situation is called “Fog of War” and it is the unique feature of fifth generation wars. 

Media is used as a primary tool to target the minds of people. Civilians and armed forces are the major targets in fifth generations war. For this media is used as a powerful weapon for mass deception. Yuri Bezmenov, a former officer of USSR intelligence KGB, who held in high positions in the KGB, explains in detail in an interview how media personalities and the whole media are used against any state. He told that, Media houses and or media persons of the targeted country are hired, or even purchased, to broadcast deceptive, anarchist, confusing and demoralizing stuff. Anchorpersons, writers, and media-owners are made to write or broadcast anti-state material. They try to diffuse thoughts and ideas which are against even the values and beliefs of the nation they are from. 

 Similarly, they highlight non issues to create sensationalism. They often ridicule dignified personalities, ideas and even religion. They create a situation of confusion and conflict in the targeted nation. Social media has also emerged as a dominating tool or weapon of fifth generation war. This is called Cyber front of this war and people engaged through this front are called cyber force. With the help of cyber soldiers’ fake news, anti- state sentiments, sectarian violence is projected. But in this whole process it is very difficult to know that it is happening according to someone’s will and plan that is the unique characteristic of fifth generation warfare. 

Muhammad Adam Khan

Muhammad Adam Khan, Student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University,Islamabad, Pakistan. Contact: [email protected]

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