The View From Olympus: A Big Win for 4GW

A recent event in Culiacan, Mexico should have drawn a lot of attention but didn’t: a Fourth Generation entity, the Sinaloa Cartel, took on the Mexican state and beat it, not just strategically but tactically.  It did so by demonstrating a remarkably rapid OODA Loop, far faster than the state’s. This is a sign of things to come, not just in Mexico but in many places.

The most perceptive piece I have seen on these events was in the October 20 Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Gun battle involving El Chapo’s son highlights challenges to government” by Mary Beth Sheridan of the Washington Post.  It states,

What happened this past week was unprecedented.  When Mexican authorities tried to detain one of El Chapo’s sons, hundreds of gunmen with automatic weapons swept through the city, sealing off its exits, taking security officials hostage and battling authorities.

After several hours, the besieged government forces released Ovidio Guzman, who was wanted on U.S. federal drug-trafficking charges. . .

The offensive in Culiacan. . . exposed one of the country’s foremost problems: the government’s slipping control over parts of the territory.

There are an increasing number of areas “where you effectively have a state presence, but under negotiated terms with whoever runs the show locally,” said Falko Ernst, the senior Mexico analyst for the International Crisis Group. . .

Thursday afternoon’s attack came on the heels of several incidents highlighting the ability of organized crime groups to challenge the government.  On Monday, gunmen ambushed a convoy of state police in the western state of Michoacan, killing 14. Last month, the Northeast Cartel ordered gas stations in the border city of Nuevo Laredo to deny service to police or military vehicles, leaving them desperate for fuel.

All this is happening not in the Hindu Kush but on our immediate southern border.  That alone should have drawn greater attention from a defense establishment fixated on non-threats from Russia and China.  But there is more here than meets the eye.

Normally, when states fight non-state forces in Fourth Generation war, the state loses strategically but wins tactically.  Here, non-state forces won tactically as well, and won big. They were at least as well equipped as the Mexican state forces.  But what was really impressive was their speed in the OODA Loop. Apparently caught by surprise by the state’s seizure of one of their leaders, they were able to respond massively within a few hours.  They took complete control of a city of about a million people, isolating and surrounding the unit that had captured Ovidio Guzman. The President of Mexico was forced to order his release.

The cartel’s ability to observe, orient, decide, and act much faster than the state is not a surprise.  Years ago, when John Boyd was still alive, a friend of mine who was a Marine officer was in Bolivia on a counter-drug mission.  I asked him how the Bolivian state’s OODA Loop compared with the traffickers. He said, “They go through it six times in the time it takes for us to go through it once.”  When I told Boyd that, he said, “Then you’re not even in the game.”

4GW forces’ superior speed through the OODA Loop, in turn, has several causes.  They are fighting Second Generation militaries, where decision-making is centralized and therefore slow.  States are bureaucratic entities, and bureaucrats avoid making decisions and acting because it can endanger their careers.  The motivation of state forces is often poor because they have little loyalty to the corrupt and incompetent states they serve; mostly, to them its a job that offers a paycheck. In contrast, most 4GW forces have no bureaucracy, decentralize decision-making because they have to, and have fighters with genuine loyalty to what they represent.  Why? Money, plus what local women cited in the PD article explained:

 She acknowledged that the cartel members were part of the social fabric, sometimes more effective at resolving problems than authorities.  For example, if your car is stolen, it is more likely you would get it back by contacting cartel members through an acquaintance than by waiting for the police to crack the case, she said.

The drug cartels represent the future in many respects.  They do not seek to replace the state or openly capture it, which would make them vulnerable to other states; rather, they hide within its hollowed-out structures and are protected by its formal sovereignty.  They make lots of money while states go begging. They provide social services the state is supposed to offer but does not. Their highly-motivated forces with flat command structures have a faster OODA Loop than the state’s.  And locally, they often appear more legitimate than the state.

Again, all this is happening right next door.  Why can our national security establishment not read the words already written on the border wall we so desperately need?  Those words are, “Fourth Generation war.”

Interested in what Fourth Generation war in America might look like? Read Thomas Hobbes’ new future history, Victoria.