The following is excerpted from a paper on 4th and 5th generation warfare by Waseem Ahmad Qureshi. The article is certainly worth reading in its entirety.

Initially, theorists associated with fifth-generation warfare (5GW), such as Abbott, Herring, Safranski, Slog, and Weeks, attempted to define 5GW. A more thorough understanding by Slog defines 5GW as:

the secret deliberative manipulation of actors, networks, institutions, states or any [0GW, 1GW] 2GW/3GW/4GW forces to achieve a goal or set of goals across a combination of socioeconomic and political domains while attempting to avoid or minimize the retaliatory offensive or defensive actions/reactions of 2GW, 3GW, 4GW powered actors, networks, institutions, and/ or states.

5GW is the battle of perceptions and information. In 5GW, violence is so discreetly dispersed that the victim is not even aware that it is a victim of war and the victim is not aware that it is losing the war. The secrecy of this warfare makes it the most dangerous warfare generation of all time. This warfare hides in the background, and “the most successful [fifth generation] wars are wars that are never identified.”

5GW is also a cultural and moral war, which distorts the perception of the masses to give a manipulated view of the world and politics. By contrast, 4GW has mainly used asymmetric means, such as the use of nonstate actors. Lind’s portrayal of 4GW in moral and cultural territory is somewhat similar to Abbott’s analysis of 5GW, which departs from the cultural rage of the population as depicted in 4GW, and which considers the perception of the conflict’s context as a main focal point of analysis. The 5GW of perception and context combines the “rage of the people” and the “rationality of the state” to form an intended outcome of warfare, rendering military command useless.

5GW exploits cultural icons and religious sentiments to defeat an opponent. Any means of creating political support of the masses is a valid tactic, similar to other military warfare tactics, like the troop surge in Iraq. Abbott argues that an enraged mob, professional soldiers, and other irregular means can constitute destructive forces. According to him, information proliferation in warfare has technologically designed practices of warfare that obviate the requirement of violence and the direct physical involvement of the aggressors; instead, the information through networks and surveillance manipulates and exploits the public’s general perceptions. Sun Tzu defines this tactic of altering the perspectives of the world as the “acme of skill [a victory without fighting].” The effectiveness of 5GW depends on its disparity: it does not require any unity in its efforts and instead, the more a warfare is dispersed in its efforts, the more immune and effective it becomes. Wars of perception are 5GW, with information being the weapon, due to increased technology of cyberspace, media, social media, the noticeability of these tactics of deception and propaganda backed by identity construction and misperception, and the power of shaping the will of the adversary. Since the proliferation of information decides the ultimate victory of future wars, centricity is less effective than the absence of weak links. 5GW is the battle between the absolute concentration of power (aggressor) on one end, and the absence of power on the other, and this battle compels the enemy to achieve the desired outcome without using violence. Information about the desired political world perspective is entrenched through manipulating the culture at the unconscious level, rendering it impossible for the conscious mind to even detect it and heavily influencing the political division to obtain the desired outcomes. Adversaries are powerless to defend themselves against this infiltration of perspectives, and if they understand this change and infiltration, they will often mistake the aggressor’s true political motivation with distorted perceptions and with the manipulated information of diplomacy and propaganda. In effective 5GW, the embedded influence of perspective is harmonized with violence. This warfare of perspective makes the fifth generation “an influence, an idea, a thing invulnerable, intangible, without front and back, drifting about like a gas.” This is a kind of silent war, a “war where the war and political desires are visible but the combatants and the strategic forms of power used in the war are invisible, [not truly energetic] and lean towards . . . influence.” This concept of [silent] war was developed by Kautilya, as explained by Boesche:

Silent war is a kind of fighting that no other thinker I know of has discussed. Silent war is a kind of warfare with another kingdom in which the king and his ministers—and unknowingly, the people—all act publicly as if they were at peace with the opposing kingdom, but all the while secret agents and spies are assassinating important leaders in the other kingdom, creating divisions among key ministers and classes, and spreading propaganda and disinformation. . . . . In silent warfare, secrecy is paramount, and . . . the king can prevail only by 'maintaining secrecy when striking again and again.'

Previously, war aimed at gaining greater visibility of violence and energy, but currently the desired outcome is to influence rather than being visible, with the defeated target not knowing the fact that it is being attacked, how it is being hit or even that the enemy exists. In this battle of the minds, a cyberwar is taking place, turning ordinary people into insurgents against their own governments through propaganda and misinformation. This tactic creates leaderless resilience comprised of a phantom cell structure without any headquarters or hierarchical orders; where people within the movement have the same general outlook, the same philosophy, and where they react similarly and target perceived tyrannical state governments. Every independent person has the responsibility of acquiring the skills and intelligence to be able to execute a mission by himself, coordinated by an emergent network, connected through:

organs of information distribution such as newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc., which are widely available to all, keep each person informed of events, allowing for a planned response that will take many variations. No one need issue an order . . . Those idealists truly committed to the cause of freedom will act when they feel when the time is ripe, or will take their cue from others who precede them.

According to Beam’s definition, 5GW manipulates the perception of reality of the adversary, stealing the identity of the adversary and the identity of the host in the process, and works on an identity-constructivist framework of international politics.

From a victimized Middle Eastern perspective, within this tactic of silent warfare, aggressive states first try to install a “puppet leader” in the host state if the serving leader is not serving the interest of the established hegemony. Then, if traditional ways of political diplomacy fail, the aggressive state fuels rebel and anti-state insurgent sentiments against the sitting government. Protests start to erupt, often in the name of fighting corruption, fighting increased prices and inflation, dictatorship, or religious sentiments. Jihadists and terrorist organizations use propaganda in cyberspace to further their cause of manufacturing public discourse. Propaganda has long been a tool of rebellion and insurgent warfare. Nonstate actors, agents of chaos, terrorists, foreign infiltrators, and paid mercenaries subsequently use unlawful force against the state and destroy public property by means of nonpeaceful protests. As in a predicted chess game, the state responds by using legal force to disperse these agents in the hope of restoring the peace and the security of the state. Collateral damage result from government actions. Media and social media play a negative role in fueling this rebellion against the targeted government, by dubbing the state a child killer and by criminalizing it because it used force against innocent people while ignoring the fact that the use of force and chaos were created by the agent or agents of chaos in the first place. Media play on building perspectives of people against the government, while portraying a positive character of the next “puppet leader.” The state next loses its public mandate when people start to cheer for the removal of the current government. At the same time, aggressive foreign powers politically support the chosen candidate. If the sitting government refuses to step down, or to kneel down to the regime change agendas of foreign aggressors, a civil war or a guerilla starts in the host state against the government; aggressive foreign states actively and explicitly support the rebels with arms, ammunitions, technology, and political backing to fight the state by targeting the infrastructure and institutions of their own country. Syria and Yemen are recent examples of host states victims of regime change and of the resulting civil wars, where foreign aggressors have openly supported rebels with arms and finance. By contrast, if the sitting government chooses to step down, the rebellion starts to cool, and the aggressor wins a silent war of perception.

Fighting 5GW can be characterized as counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency liquidates the ideological and ethnic perceptions created by 4GW, breaking the social relationship between nonstate actors/insurgents and the general public. The counterinsurgent must drive societal change, target the cultural values of insurgents and the general population, fight on an intellectual level, and deny insurgents an enemy to fight against, rendering it impossible for the public and insurgents to identify the counterinsurgents’ intentions. These tactics form a nonhostile relationship between counterinsurgents and the people; as a result, it protects civilians’ well-being and survival. Counterinsurgency creates a safe space, popular security and cooperative identities. However, paradoxically this counterinsurgent involvement contributes to the dependence of the population on counterinsurgents. Therefore, states must instead resist this neocolonial Raj of imposed perspectives in shaping ideologies in the hopes of resolving all political matters.

Waseem A. Qureshi, Fourth- and Fifth-Generation Warfare: Technology and Perceptions, 21 San Diego Int'l L.J. 187 (2019)