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The Changing Nature of Competition.

Written by on 01 May 2012

From the international war on terrorism, the 2008 economic crash through to the Arab spring are we witnessing the changing nature of competition?

The turbulence that the global economic markets and international community are experiencing is symptomatic of underlying friction. The root cause of this instability is a controversial subject with political, economic and academic leaders presenting very different theories.

Is inequality the cause of all conflict?

Many have suggested that the underlying inequality of nations and increasingly within society has to be reconciled in order to provide a stable and sustainable solution. However inequality has always existed, the desire for social betterment has historically led to competition between societies. From the early roots of civilisation through to today’s international markets the thirst for advancement is insatiable. History teaches us that when resources become scarce the economic forces within a society are often the first indicators of more sinister outcomes.

Conflict and reconciliation.

The nature of conflict at the individual level has remained a bloody, frightening and violent affair, however the outcomes have become less conclusive and therefore less desirable. Once nations would raise military forces and send them off to fight competing nations forces, the outcome would then decide the dispute – ‘to the victor goes the spoils’. Although many would suggest that physical conflict is not the answer, that man should have evolved better ways of settling his own disputes without resorting to violence it still remains that conflict has been an ever-present outcome in all-social structures. Perhaps the evolving limitations of armed conflict are being played out in our lifetime.

Many academics and military practitioners have examined recent conflicts, one such study by Hammes (2006) crystallises the experiences of the changing nature of social prosecution of ideas, demoting military conflict to a component of wider social prosecution, executing the desired outcomes through multi channelled approaches in order to achieve a desired outcome that perhaps a single prosecution of military force would not have achieved. In Hammes book ‘The Sling and The Stone, he outlines the changing nature of conflict in order to define and understand the present complex context, unpicking events and activity in order to give decision makers a better understanding of the current events as they unfold.

Defining the evolution of generations of war.

Hammes has defined the evolution of warfare into simple stages. The intention is to delineate the different stages in order to give the reader a better understanding not only of the conflict but the social development that each stage represents, linking the prosecution of national interests through military activity and the advancements of society. These are:

First Generation Warfare

Invention of gunpowder and political, economic, social structures – transition from feudal to the system of National states ruled by monarchs. First generation warfare culminates at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 between Napoleon and Wellington. The focus of first generation warfare is the destruction of enemy close forces

Second Generation Warfare

Industrialisation and access to funds through taxation provides the funds for mass armaments, transportation (rail, telegrams) development of supply chains, enlarged armies, development of large staff – all factors gave superiority to defensive postures, examples of this are the U.S. Civil war culminated and culminates in the World War 1. The industrialisation of military capabilities supported by logistic infrastructures provides focus and sustained firepower, however the focus was still the destruction of the enemies fighting force.

 World War 1


Third Generation Warfare

Lightening war of World War 2 – Mission Command, combined arms blitzkrieg, large mechanised forces capable of rapid movement – focus on the destruction of command and control and logistic support in order to destroy will to fight. This represents a significant shift from a focus of the destruction of the enemies’ military force to the crippling of the force and therefore nullifying the main military fighting capabilities. The success of this concept has remained the dominant philosophy for Western military forces to this present day.



Fourth Generation Warfare

Sending a clear message to opponents’ political decision makers, not fighting conventional battles. (Moe, Chinese revolution, Vietnam, Sandinista, Al-Aqsa Intifada, Iraq, Afghanistan – Al-Qaeda)  This new or emerging form of conflict can be characterised through the following three-stage model:

  1. Insurgents build political strength – military action limited to political assassinations, propaganda etc
  2. Control of base area – administration
  3. Commit regular force in final offensive

There are various iterations of this model and the concurrent, delineated nature of the prosecution of this campaign can make it difficult to detangle and focus on how to combat or defeat 4th generation warfare. However, some suggest that we have already witnessed the beginning of Fifth generation warfare. This is the emergence of super-empowered individuals who have access or are prepared for mass destruction in order to prosecute their aims, examples of this could be the Ricin attack on Capital Hill in 2004.



What does the changing nature of conflict tell us about our society?

As the categorisation of warfare gives us valuable insight as to the changing nature of military activity it provides an interesting conceptual framework for the evolution of society and the nature of social structures. The breakdown of traditional barriers and regular formations are replicated in the erosion of traditional business organisations. The increasing use of outsourced solutions, home working, social networks, opinion formers and other channels is having a profound effect on how business is conducted.

What can we learn?

As the military space is changing so to is society. This change is reflected in the increasingly complex nature of branding and commercial success. The multi-channelled natures through which organisations exist engage the organisation in a multifarious number of activities, which requires a critical evaluation, and communication of organisational intent. It is increasingly important that organisational leadership fully understands and engage in the process of value creation.

Where do we see value?

Many organisations have been involved in interactions that have eroded value, whether this is through short term, highly geared transactional models or through blunt intervention for short-term gain the net effect is the erosion of sustainably political and economic practices. The emerging nature of social discourse is making the need for tangible shared value an imperative for the interconnected global community.

Just as Hammes has charted the evolution of warfare so to can the evolution of economy also be similarly charted, is 4th and 5th generation economics the emerging model post 2008?

This of course has much wider implications for leadership, economic and political policy formulation and implementation and a re-evaluation of international structures and practices – is the world becoming smaller or just more disruptive?

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