Flashback: Fourth Epoch Warfare

Posted on January 4, 2012



Recent discussion amongst a group of military strategists revolved around whether “non-state actors pose an existential threat to the United States?” Further how to describe the threats and challenges that the future poses for the U.S. military. I think some answers can be found during the last soul-searching period of strategic thought, notably the mid-to-late 1990s.

First, in considering non-state actors as existential threats, Fourth Epoch War theory (Dr Robert Bunker) provides a useful model. Fourth Epoch War theory posits that in periods of transitions between dominant epochs, non traditional war fighting entities challenge the dominant mode of warfare and it’s practitioners.

“The common and single most significant aspect of this process of human advancement is the emergence of distinct eras of warfare dominated by mercenaries or warriors unaffiliated with extant governing structures. During these periods, rulers and their followers lose exclusive right to warmaking.”

To the second question, implications of current threat analysis exist in parallels made between the immobile heavily laden French knights dominated by light footed English archers at the Battle of Agincourt to the heavily burdened MRAP bound American infantry and IED armed insurgents.

“Battlefield dominance was lost in those earlier periods, not because the people and the government were incapable of continuing to function on the traditional battlefield, but because those challenging the governing structure, free of the dead hand of the past, redefined the battlefield to their advantage.”

I’d recommend those strategist see Robert J. Bunker, “The Transition to Fourth Epoch War,” Marine Corps Gazette, 78 (September 1994), 20-32; “Generations, Waves, and Epochs: Modes of Warfare and the RPMA,” Airpower Journal, 10 (Spring 1996), 18-28; and “Epochal Change: War Over Social and Political Organization,” Parameters, Summer 1997, pp. 15-25).