On War #272: A Deeper Global Crisis

William S. Lind
August 18, 2008

Despite the recent drop in the price of oil, the world economy is still sailing into troubled waters. The U.S. credit crisis is intensifying and spreading to Britain. Europe is moving toward recession. The international financial system continues to depend on mountains of debt. If the financial panic the Federal Reserve Bank has thus far managed to stave off materializes, we could witness a meltdown of historic proportions.

What does all this portend for Fourth Generation warfare? Regrettably, it means the omens are favorable for some non-state entities, especially those which compete with the state in the delivery of vital social services.

Here we must remind ourselves that the root and origin of Fourth Generation war is a crisis of legitimacy of the state. One of the functions the state is now expected to perform, in free market as well as socialist countries, is to ensure that the economy functions as well. A world-wide financial panic followed by a world recession or depression would mean the state was failing in one of its core functions. That in turn would further diminish the legitimacy of the state.

Wilsonians and other “democracy” hucksters think that a state’s legitimacy is a function of elections. Even in established democracies such as the United States, those elections are becoming empty forms, political kabuki in which citizens are not given an opportunity to vote against the New Class. In most of the world elections do not even determine which collection of thieves will next get to plunder the treasury. The game is blatantly rigged.

In poor countries, the state’s legitimacy is more a function of its ability to provide vital services than the election of ju-ju. Often, those services include allowing people to eat. Most people’s diets depend on subsidized state rations, such as the bread ration in Egypt. Recent riots there when the issue of cheap bread was disrupted showed the potential power of hungry mobs.

A world-wide depression would cause hardship in rich countries. In poor countries, it would quickly lead to widespread starvation. The state would no longer be able to provide the subsidized rations millions of its citizens rely on. The rise in world food prices already underway would put states in a double squeeze: the state’s revenues would be falling at the same time that the difference between market and subsidized prices was growing. Add in global financial panic where credit dries up and we will see the number of failed states rise rapidly.

In the Great Depression of the 1930s, states’ economic failure brought governments and even systems of government, including democracy, into question. In both Europe and the United States, Communism and Fascism gained certain popularity because in the Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, everyone had a job. But the state itself was not challenged, because there was no alternative to the state.

Now, there is. Intelligent Fourth Generation entities, ranging from some drug gangs through organizations such as Hezbollah, are competing directly with the state for people’s primary loyalty. If those Fourth Generation entities can provide basic services, including food, when the state can no longer do so, they will gain the legitimacy that state is losing. In Fourth Generation war, that is a bigger win than any potential military victory.

In terms of 4GW theory, the lessons here are two. First, a global economic crisis is likely to lead to a much deeper crisis, a widespread existential crisis of the state itself. Second, the Fourth Generation entities that benefit from this crisis will be those that provide basic services more effectively than can the state. Once again, just as from a military perspective, we see that the “Hezbollah model” is the most promising model for Fourth Generation, non-state organizations. That model includes a highly competent military that can defeat state armed forces. But it employs its military capability sparingly, fighting only when attacked or when a low-risk, high-payoff military opportunity presents itself, which will be seldom. For 4GW entities as for states, the outcome of wars will remain unpredictable. Instead, the Hezbollah model focuses day-to-day on providing services to the people, building its legitimacy vis-à-vis the state and gaining the population’s primary loyalty. At some point, that loyalty will become so strong that not even military defeat by a state’s armed forces will destroy it.


  1. Do not assume the war between Russia and Georgia is over. So long as Mr. Saakashvili remains Georgia’s President, he will continue to challenge and taunt Russia. As the last week has made plain, he will be encouraged to do so by the Bush White House, his partner in folly. If Russia does not force his removal from office now, it will have to come back and finish the job.
  2. The will no On War column next week, as I will be in Ostland.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact (no e-mail available):

Mr. William S. Lind
Free Congress Foundation
1423 Powhatan Street, # 2
Alexandria, Virginia 22314
Direct line: 703 837-0483

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