Defense and the National Interest
Fourth Generation Warfare
Roughly speaking, "fourth generation warfare" includes all forms of conflict where the other side refuses to stand up and fight fair. What distinguishes 4GW from earlier generations is that typically at least one side is something other than a military force organized and operating under the control of a national government, and one that often transcends national boundaries.
If we look at the development of warfare in the modern era, we see three distinct generations ... Third generation warfare was conceptually developed by the German offensive in the spring of 1918 ... Is it not about time for the fourth generation to appear? Lind, Nightengale, Wilson, et. al., Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989
The attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center are horrific examples of operations as part of a campaign conducted according to fourth generation principles. They dispelled forever the notion that 4GW is just "terrorism" or something that happens only in poverty-stricken Third World countries. But it is a strange form of warfare, one where, for example, military force plays a much smaller (though still critical) role than in earlier generations, often supporting initiatives that are more political, diplomatic, and economic. As important as finding and destroying the actual combatants, for example, is drying up the bases of popular support that allow them to plan and then execute their attacks. Perhaps most odd of all, being seen as "too successful" militarily may create a backlash, making the opponent's other elements of 4GW more effective.
The authors of one of the first papers on the subject captured some of this strangeness when they predicted:
The distinction between war and peace will be blurred to the vanishing point. It will be nonlinear, possibly to the point of having no definable battlefields or fronts. The distinction between 'civilian' and 'military' may disappear.
Is 4GW Just Another Word for "Terrorism"?
"Terrorism" (defined as seemingly gratuitous violence against civilians and non-combatants) can occur in all generations of war. Until recently, in fact, most wars killed many more civilians than military and not all of this was accidental - recall the Rape of Nanking, the London Blitz, and the firebombing of Dresden. As 4GW blurs any distinction between "military" and "civilian," we can expect more activities that the general population will regard as terrorism.
Similarly, because practitioners of 4GW are often transnational groups without territorially-based armies as such, much of their activity will resemble "guerilla warfare" or "low intensity conflict." These highly irregular practices have deep roots in the history of war. The word "guerilla" itself, for example, dates back nearly 200 years to Napoleon's campaigns in Spain. Until recently, however, such "special" operations harassed but rarely decidedó"sideshows" (as T.E. Lawrence once termed them) in wars fought mainly along 1st, 2nd, or 3rd generation lines. Examples could include operations by colonial militias and guerillas during the Revolutionary War, Nathan Bedford Forrest's cavalry raids, Sherman's March, and the tactics practiced in the early stages of most "national liberation" wars in the 20th Century.
Is 4GW Simply Using Military Force in New Ways?
The premise of 4GW is that the world itself has changed, so that terrorism and guerilla warfare--and other elusive techniques that are still being invented--are now ready to move to center stage. It would be a mistake, however, and perhaps a goal of our opponents might be to encourage this mistake, if we were to focus on the techniques and not the nature of 4GW itself. The place to begin is with fundamental differences between 4GW and earlier generations.
As Col T.X. Hammes eloquently argues in "The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation," social and political changes are driving this evolution. You can construct your own list of what is different about today's world than that of, say, 1950. Here are some ideas to get you started:
If these or similar factors are indeed driving the evolution of conflict, then solutions must lie primarily in this arena, that is, within the realms of economics, diplomacy, and law-enforcement. Military force will play a smaller role, performing specific tasks to solve problems that are intractable through other means. A coherent "grand strategy" is needed to ensure that military (destructive) actions harmonize with our overall objectives and do not provoke a backlash that negates tactical success. Technology is not unimportant, and may provide options, but the fact is that lack of suitable technology cannot explain our less-than-stellar track record in fourth generation warfare.
Editor's Note: Any discussion of 4GW, since it involves conflicts of culture and religion, is likely to generate a high degree of emotion. In the articles that follow, some may find the authors' views to be simplistic or even offensive. For the record: Defense and the National Interest does not endorse any political, cultural, or religious viewpoint. These papers, however, raise many important questions about the nature of future conflict, and we are publishing them to stimulate thought and debate.
Introduction to Asymmetric Warfare, Fourth Generation Warfare, and Maneuver Warfare, GySgt Bob Howard, USMC. Teaching 4GW concepts to the folks who are actually going to have to do it. (43 chart, 547 KB MS PowerPoint briefing - would not convert to PDF, as sometimes happens with PPT files)
Fourth Generation Warfare, LTC Greg Wilcox, USA Ret., and Col. GI Wilson, USMCR, Ret. A concise introduction to the subject and brief assessment of our operations in Afghanistan. Presented at the 2002 Boyd Conference at Quantico. LTC Wilcox's (USA, Ret.) 4GW experience includes three tours in Vietnam, and Marine Col. GI Wilson is co-author of the original paper on 4GW. 75KB PDF document.
Asymmetries and Consequences, Col Richard Szafranski, USAF, Ret. National leaders have insisted, correctly in our view, that we must take the offensive against terrorism. With few terrorist havens remaining to bomb, however, and with the majority of active al-Qa'ida operatives likely already in the US, western Europe, or in countries we are not going to attack, what does this mean? In this paper presented at the Global Strategy Conference in Priverno, Italy, May 2002, Richard Szafranski offers some concrete answers. Ultimately we can prevail: "My belief," he writes, "is that the September 11, 2001, attacks were unwise. Monumentally unwise." (55KB PDF file.)
e-Jihad Against Western Business. British consultant and war correspondent Giles Trendle warns that as participants in 4GW become more sophisticated, they will expand their battlefields to include western businesses, their Web sites, and their e-commerce infrastructure.
Fighting Stupid, Defending Smart, Col Richard Szafranski, USAF, Ret. If the attacks on September 11 were meant to cripple our economy, what role can aerospace power play in preventing or defending against such attacks in the future? In other words, is there a mission for the Air Force in 4GW? 103KB MS Word document; originally published in Aerospace Power Journal, Spring 2002.
When David Became Goliath, MAJ Christopher E. Whitting, RAAOC, Australia. Masters Thesis at the US Army Command and General Staff College, 2001. 393 KB PDF File. A thorough look at the problems that 2nd and 3rd generation armies (even very good ones) face in conducting 4GW.
"Tactical Notes from Afghanistan," anonymous note commenting on the quality of both sides and the way the fighting is evolving. Posted 4/02
"The Next War? Four Generations of Future Warriors," Eric Walters, Professor of Land Warfare, Military History, and Intelligence at the American Military University. Professor Walters has prepared this sweeping look at trends in modern warfare from materials used in his courses at AMU. Rather than extrapolating from trends in war itself, Prof. Walters approaches the question of future warfare by looking at what is happening with the people - the warriors - who will be fighting it. A spectacular PowerPoint briefing (2.5 MB) and great introduction to 4GW. For those with slower connections, we also have a .pdf version (714 KB) with the speaker notes. Bibliography in MS Word (26 KB).
Fourth Generation Warfare: What Does it Mean to Every Marine? Col Michael D. Wyly, USMC, Ret. The source of our advantage over fourth generation opponents lies not in the superiority of our technology or even of our ideology. In this prescient paper, Mike Wyly maintains that it lies in the very bedrock of our society - the Constitution. Those would would wage 4GW must read, ponder, and understand this remarkable document, to which all members of the military have sworn to protect from all enemies, foreign and domestic. [As a colleague of then-Commandant Al Gray, Col Wyly was one of the prime movers behind the Marines' adoption of third generation - maneuver - warfare in the late 1980s.]
New Order Threat Analysis: A Literature Survey November 2, 1996. Fred Fuller, Reference Librarian at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School. Comprehensive survey of the basic concepts of 4GW as they appeared in the literature in 1996. Good introduction to the field.
The Introduction to Spirit, Blood and Treasure, Ed. MAJ Don Vandergriff. Why 4GW is the type of warfare we should be preparing for, and what this means for doctrine, personnel policies, training, and force structure. From the new book (Presidio Press, June 2001.)
The strange battle of Shah-i-Kot, by Brendan O'Neill. How a battle that should have been over in 24 hours lasted a week and hundreds of bodies turned up missing. Only the absence of CNN kept it from becoming a second Mogadishu. More troubling, did Shah-i-Kot demonstrate that our commanders still have a fascination with "destroying infrastructure," and so fail to grasp the nature of fourth generation warfare? Link to the article at Spiked.com.
"Fourth Generation Warfare is Here," By Harold A. Gould and Franklin C. Spinney. Why the attacks of September 11 are not simply acts of "terrorism" but represent the opening shots in true 4GW.
For those new to 4GW, this is probably the best place to start: "The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation," by LtCol Thomas X. Hammes, USMC. LtCol Hammes observes that "generations" of warfare are not defined primarily by the technology employed since, to some degree, each generation can use any available technology. Rather, generations are better categorized by political, social, and economic factors. After buttressing his case with examinations of China, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and the West Bank (Intifada I), LtCol Hammes concludes this important paper with the prediction that, "By using fourth generation techniques, local antagonists can change the national policy of Western democracies. Then once the Western forces have gone, they can continue to pursue their local objectives using earlier generation techniques." Originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette, September 1994.
"The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation," by William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR). The classic article on why there really is something that should be called "fourth generation warfare," and why we should be paying very close attention to it, whatever it turns out to be. Originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989.
"Is The U.S. Military Ready To Take On A Non-Conventional Terror Threat?" Elaine M. Grossman, Inside the Pentagon, October 18, 2001. Another in ITP's comprehensive look at the changing nature of warfare and how the US military is - and is not - shaping the war against terrorism in Afghanistan.
The Transformation of War, Martin van Creveld (Free Press, 1991). An essential reference for fourth generation warfare. Required reading, at some point, for every serious student of the subject. Study it until you can say "non-trinitarian" with conviction.
"A New Kind of War," Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, September 27, 2001. Best evidence yet that when it comes to 4GW, our top leaders do get it.
"Terrorism Battle Like Drug War All Over Again," Hal Kempfer. Once money began flowing into the War on Drugs, it, and not narcotrafficantes, became the focus of attention.
"Key Review Offers Scant Guidance On Handling '4th Generation' Threats," Elaine M. Grossman, Inside The Pentagon, October 4, 2001, Pg. 1. Well executed analysis of the new (2001) Quadrennial Defense Review. Briefly, the parts dealing with 4GW were pretty much bolted on after September 11, and it shows.
Paradoxes of War, (500 KB PDF file) Grant T. Hammond, Professor of International Relations and Director of the Center for Strategy and Technology at the Air War College, originally published in the Spring 1994 Joint Force Quarterly; republished with permission of author. The techniques and philosophy of 4GW applied to nation-vs.-nation conflict. Strangeness persists: war and peace blur and intermingle, decisive wars are fought with little or no armed conflict, and operations on the moral and mental battlegrounds determine victor and vanquished. When it must be used, military force adds to the confusion and despair of the opponent, rather than simply bludgeoning him into surrender. Dr. Hammond is the author of The Mind of War. a recent biography of John R. Boyd.
"Letter From the Middle East (I)" Exclusive to DNI - how the attacks of September 11 played to a wide cross-section of Egyptians. A first-person report from the region. Letter from the Middle East (II) - an update from three Arab countries on the mood in January 2002.
"Terrorism: Near Eastern Groups and State Sponsors, 2001," Kenneth Katzman, Congressional Research Service, 10 September 2001. Latest comprehensive survey from CRS. "Based on U.S. allegations of past plotting by the bin Laden network, ... the network wants to strike within the United States itself." (PDF file on the CRS site.)
Water Resources of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, United Nations, 1992. Nations and other groups often fight over scarce resources, from hunting grounds to farm land to petroleum. In the Middle East, the West Bank has an abundance of the scarcest resource, water, and this is fueling an intractable conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. This report concludes that "Israeli policies ensure that most of the water of the West Bank percolates underground to Israel, and settlers are provided with increasing access to the water resources of the occupied Palestinian territory. As a consequence, a 'man-made' water crisis has been brought about which undermines the living conditions and endangers the health situation of the Palestinian people." (222KB MS Word) For an update, see Comment 425, The Struggle for Israel's Soul, August 20, 2001,
"Chaos in the Littorals," Chapter 1 from MCDP 3, Expeditionary Warfare, April 1998. Excellent overview of the nature of 4GW and the problems facing US armed forces attempting to find and engage "asymmetric" opponents.
Operations in Urban Terrain Website. As we enter the 21st century, several Third World cities are approaching 20 million inhabitants. These environments may present the most severe challenge yet to our techno-centric doctrines since satellite and reconnaissance sensors may find it difficult to separate "terrorists" from "ordinary citizen" amongst these teeming masses.
Maoist Revolution in Nepal. "Rain of Shadows," first of a two-part series in Outside Magazine, September 2001. Just when you thought old-style communist revolution was gone forever. This "on-line exclusive" article illustrates how changing conditions in Nepal are creating a favorable environment for revolution--where guerillas already control a large section of western Nepal and are continuing to grow in strength. The second part, "Last Days of the Mountain Kingdom," describes a visit to the guerilla stronghold in western Nepal and includes interviews with its leaders.
The US and the Genocide in Rwanda, 1994, sixteen declassified US Government documents detailing why the US refused to take actions to stop the Rwandan genocide (800,000 dead in 3 months) and even intervened in the UN to delay measures that might have ended the slaughter. Unlike France, which seems to have had a stake in the organizations that carried out the mass killings, the US was blinded more by simple incompetence and the failure to recognize the changing nature of warfare. On the National Security Archives site at George Washington University, August 20, 2001.
Anticipating the Nature of the Next Conflict, by Col G. I. Wilson, USMCR, Maj Frank Bunkers, USMCR, and Sgt John P. Sullivan, LA County Sheriff's Dept., April 2001. The Soviet Union is gone, only to be replaced by transnational crime, drug cartels with income greater than most countries, and wars over water and religion. Technology is an important player in this new 4th generation warfare, but it works both ways. Considering the events of September 11, 2001, a remarkably prescient paper (384 KB MS Word; reprinted with permission of authors and the Emergency Response and Research Institution.) A newer version of this paper is included in Comment 427, 20 September 2001.
The New Craft of Intelligence, by Robert David Steele. What type of intelligence, and intelligence community, do we need when the threat is primarily fourth generation?
An ongoing Case Study in 4GW: The Al-Aqsa Intifada. Charts and data that show why this conflict is going to be so hard to resolve. Also daily reporting from EmergencyNet: 28 Sep - 12 Oct 13 Oct - Present
Modern Conflict: The Reality, by Robert D. Steele, founder and CEO, OSS, Inc. The data on fourth generation warfare as it is actually practiced in the world today. Why the "revolution in military affairs" is not the answer.
"Back to the Future with Asymmetric Warfare," by Col Vincent J. Goulding, Jr., USMC. "Asymmetric warfare" is "as old as warfare itself," as the author reminds us in the very first sentence of this gripping paper. Drawing parallels and lessons from two widely separated but eerily similar campaigns--Teutoburger Wald (9 and 14-15 A.D.) and Chechnya (1994-1995)--Col Goulding illustrates the dangers in preparing only for the forms of warfare that suit us. In the early 21st century, we seem to favor high-tech, mechanized combat on gently undulating plains. Col Goulding concludes that we are inviting future enemies to engage us in such places as teeming urban slums, where a simple RPG fired from behind a fruit stand can destroy a $4 million armored behemoth, live on CNN. From Parameters, Winter, 2000 - 2001. [DNI Editor's note: "Asymmetric" is not the same as "4GW," since one of the aims of maneuver warfare - 3rd Generation - is to "hurl strength against weakness." Undoubtedly, however, warfare in the 4th generation will carry the asymmetric theme much farther than its predecessors, to where the participants may not be recognizable as "armies" in any usual sense.]
"Armed Conflict in the 21st Century: The Information Revolution and Post-Modern Warfare," by Dr. Steven R. Metz of the Strategic Studies institute at the Army War College. An alternative to the "generations" classification scheme: formal war (including the asymmetric aspects), informal war, and gray area war. In this innovative and thorough critique of DoD planning (i.e., JV 2010), Dr. Metz takes the official line to task for focusing on better ways to re-fight the Gulf War. Given his radical interpretations of modern strategy, though, readers may find his final recommendations somewhat tame. (361K, 129 pp. .pdf file on the Institute's site.)
"Community War," by Captain Larry Seaquist, USN (Ret.). As CAPT Seaquist notes, the fundamental question facing defense planners is "What is the purpose of the military in the modern world?" When this question is considered at all, answers range from gunboat diplomacy (see Comment 381 - esp. Gen Sullivan's article) to waiting around to see if a peer competitor develops (e.g., China). In this ground-breaking article, CAPT Seaquist suggests that these answers betray a lingering Cold War mindset and that there are more urgent, albeit unconventional, uses for military force today. Reprinted with permission from the August 2000 Proceedings. See also Comment 384.
"Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look," by William S. Lind, Maj John F. Schmitt, and Col Gary I. Wilson. Originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette, December 1994. An update of the authors' 1989 paper, which makes the case that future conflict may revert to its premodern past: Not just armies versus armies but "Families waged war, as did clans, tribes, cities, monastic orders, religions, even commercial enterprises."
"Sticks and Stones Can Break an Army" by Stan Crock in BusinessWeek OnLine. When armies fight teenagers, the "better" the soldiers do, the worse it looks on TV. Which is the whole idea. Readers with an interest in the Middle East may also want to consult Hal Gould's analysis in Comment 392.
"War Isn't a Rational Business," By Colonel T.X. Hammes, U.S. Marine Corps. Colonel Hammes argues that the currently fashionable concepts that go by the name "network centric warfare" will be unable to cope with any real war, much less the mess that is 4GW. On the USNI Proceedings web site, July 1998 issue.
Corruption undermines democracy, retards economic growth, and may be a major contributing factor to 4GW. In the latest survey by Transparency International, the most corrupt countries are Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Angola, and bringing up the rear, #90, Nigeria. The U.S. ranks 14th (and first in perception that it uses unethical practices to aid its own companies!) Read the complete 2000 findings on the TI web site.
"The Roots and Fruits Of Terrorism," by Prof. Harold A. Gould. Concise introduction to the subject, tracing its history and outlining the socio-political conditions that spawn it. Examines modern India as a case study in how to (and how not to) alleviate the threat posed by terrorist groups.
Terrorism: Middle Eastern Groups and State Sponsors 2000. Excellent survey of the origins and current status of the major terrorist groups in the Middle East. Ties the groups to their primary sponsors and outlines US efforts to counter them. 2001 update now available.
"Emerging, Devolving Threat of Terrorism," by Fred Fuller, USAJFKSWCS, Ft. Bragg, NC, and Colonel G.I. Wilson, OSD, USMC. As "stateless actors" (e.g., international drug cartels and bin Laden-style networks) employ increasingly sophisticated terrorist tactics, our activities to counter (and deter) must change as well. EmergencyNet News Service, November 30, 1996.
"Asymmetric Warfare, the Evolution and Devolution of Terrorism; The Coming Challenge For Emergency and National Security Forces," by Clark L. Staten, Executive Director & Sr. Analyst, Emergency Response & Research Institute, 04/27/98. The end of the Cold War is not turning out to be the dawn of universal peace. If the U.S. is supreme in the conventional military sense, those who oppose our interests will find (or evolve) other ways.
"A Scourge of Small Arms," by Jeffrey Boutwell and Michael T. Klare in the June 2000 Scientific American. The ultimate asymmetrical threat may be hoards of 6-12 year old kids. No, we don't mean throwing rocks.
A Commander's Reflections, Address by Gen Anthony C. Zinni, USMC, retiring CINCCENT, to the US Naval Institute. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and at times disturbing observations by the senior US commander responsible for perhaps the most likely venue for 4GW. Excerpt: "In reality, though, the only reason Desert Storm worked was because we managed to go up against the only jerk on the planet who actually was stupid enough to confront us symmetrically--with less of everything, including the moral right to do what he did to Kuwait."
"Culture Wars," MAJ Donald E. Vandergriff's thorough and often provocative study of why the U.S. Army must radically change its culture, and particularly its officer personnel management practices, to be successful in 4GW.
"Kosovo and the Current Myth of Information Superiority," by Timothy L. Thomas, LTC, USA (ret.) Parameters, Spring 2000. Information superiority is defined as "the capability to collect, process, and disseminate an uninterrupted flow of information while exploiting or denying an adversary's ability to do the same." Col Thomas shows that despite total information superiority dominance, Serbian forces were consistently able to deceive allied commanders to the extent that we still don't know exactly how many of Milosovic's armored vehicles we destroyed. Thomas reinforces Adm Ellis's conclusion that "information superiority overload can actually hurt mission performance." Interested readers may want to contrast the mechanistic definition of "information superiority" with Boyd's concept of organic design for "command and control."
"Dramatic Increase in Piracy and Armed Robbery" from the International Maritime Organization. High seas piracy increased by 52% over last year, claiming the lives of 71 crewmembers. Piracy has become another profitable activity for international crime syndicates, and perhaps another indication of the emergence of "non-trinitarian" warfare (not involving organized military forces of established states).
Links to 4GW Participants
Guerilla warfare--wars of "national liberation"--and similar highly irregular conflicts certainly did not end with the Cold War and will provide a component of any fourth generation of warfare. Like these precursors, 4GW will show a very strong moral dimension. Boyd, for example, observed that guerillas must:
Exhibit moral authority, offer competence, and provide desired benefits in order to further erode government influence, gain more recruits, multiply base areas, and increase political infrastructure, hence expand guerilla influence/control over population and countryside. ("Patterns of Conflict," p. 90)
To which one could add today: obtain funds from an affluent diaspora and influence US public opinion.
In other words, the moral may be to the physical as three to one in traditional conflict, but it is much more important to guerillas. As always, such movements must "swim in the sea of the people" in order to survive and grow. What better tool for moral warfare / grand strategy in the 21st Century than the World Wide Web, which allows participants to spread their message to tens of millions at very low cost and practically no personal risk?
Defense and the National Interest presents a collection of web sites from or about groups currently waging some form of 4th generation warfare. On this list, you will likely find our opponents or allies in future conflict. (DisclaimeróDefense and the National Interest is publishing these links to demonstrate the nature of 4GW and the level of sophistication of some of its participants. This most emphatically should not be construed as endorsement of the causes they claim to represent.) [DNI editor's note: You can witness 4GW in action as these web sites are attacked and periodically shut down by opponents in other camps.]
If you know of any similar links, please send them to us for inclusion.