A few days ago, I did a post on the UK government’s current horizon scanning exercise – part of the process leading up to its second National Security Strategy – in which I suggested that “the really stand-out risk that barely got a mention in the events I attended was the possibility that serious erosion of states’ capacity and legitimacy [will undermine] their ability to respond to all the global trends that we were discussing”.
As regular readers will know, that observation comes straight out of the writings of ‘fourth generation warfare’ theorists like William Lind, Martin van Creveld and John Robb. But what may come as more of a surprise is the interesting revelation that Kaiser Wilhelm II made a similar point yesterday in his birthday conversation with Lind*:
“My generation of kings and emperors were fixated on the age-old contest between dynasties. Would the houses of Hapsburg and Hohenzollern defeat those of Romanoff and Savoy or the other way around? We could not see the paradigm shift welling up all around us, the onward rush of democracy and equality and socialism and all the rest of that garbage. What we needed was an alliance of all monarchies against democracy. Instead we wiped each other out, putting the levellers in charge everywhere, to the world’s ruin.”
“Does that hold any lessons for our time?”, I asked.
“From Olympus, the picture could not be more clear,” His Majesty replied. “As we were mesmerized by dynastic quarrels, so your politicians cannot see beyond the state. They think only of states in conflict. Will America be threatened by China? Should India go to war with Pakistan? Is Iran a danger to Israel? They cannot see that states are now all in the same, sinking boat, just as all the dynasties were in 1914.”
“What should states then do?”, I enquired.
“Form an alliance of all states against non-state forces, what you call the Fourth Generation,” the Kaiser answered. “The hour is late, and the state system itself has grown fragile. That is the lesson of America’s quixotic war in Iraq. You destroyed the state there, and now no one can recreate it. That is what will happen almost everywhere when states fight other states. But none of your leaders can see it, because they, too, are time-blinded. It is the human condition.”
* Since you ask: in addition to being one of the top experts around on counter-insurgency and fourth generation warfare, William Lind is also an ardent Prussian monarchist. Consequently, he marks the birthday of Kaiser Wilhelm II (“my reporting senior and lawful sovereign”) with a column each year in which he records a conversation with that leader’s ghost. Previous editions are highly recommended – e.g. here and here.