Thursday, January 4, 2007


We are fighting World War II, they are fighting 4GENWar. Want to win? Here are some ideas about why we are losing in Iraq, and why the Israelis didn't do so well in Lebanon, and why Islamism needs a new tactical approach for a new era.

Challenges in fighting a global insurgency
David W. Barno

"War is ... an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will."--Carl yon Clausewitz (1)

The strategic nature of war has changed, and our military and government are striving to adapt to fight and win in this new environment. Today we are engaged in a global counterinsurgency, an unprecedented challenge which requires a level of original strategic thought and depth of understanding perhaps comparable only to that of the Cold War. Our ongoing political-military actions to achieve success in Iraq and Afghanistan are simply subordinate efforts of this larger, complex world war.

Our enemies today dearly understand the value of asymmetrical approaches when dealing with the overwhelming conventional combat power of the United States military. Unfortunately, our unmatched conventional capability has slowed the US response to the changing, asymmetrical nature of modern war. (2) We as a military are at risk of failing to understand the nature of the war we are fighting--a war which has been characterized as "a war of intelligence and a war of perceptions." (3) We must confront this dilemma and take our thinking to a new strategic level in this era to understand the tools and strategic approaches required to create victory in this very different 21st-century environment.

Fourth Generation Warfare: Global Insurgency

Retired Marine Colonel T. X. Hammes, in his recent book The Sling and the Stone, outlines an innovative construct to better understand the evolution of warfare. (4) The book's striking cover photo epitomizes the paradox in today's warfare of "weak against strong": it shows a young Palestinian boy, arm upraised, about to hurl a rock at a huge, US-made Israeli M60 tank. The shades of meaning are rich. In his insightful work, Hammes describes four evolutions of warfare, which he characterizes as First through Fourth Generation War. This theory is helpful as we examine the context of war today and assess the effectiveness of today's military to engage in--and win--these wars. Hammes' description provides us an alternative model to compare with our current "network-centric" model of war, which often seems primarily designed for nation-states engaged in force-on-force battles. (5)

First Generation Warfare in this alternative construct dates from the invention of gunpowder, which produced the first military formations and tactics cued to firearms. First Generation Warfare was an offensively-oriented type of war, where light weaponry, limited-size armies, and horse and foot mobility provided very limited strategic mobility--armies walked everywhere--but some modest tactical mobility, with small armies unencumbered by extensive heavy weaponry. This era culminated in the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s, and warfare began to change dramatically by the middle of the 19th century. By the time of the US Civil War, the advent of advanced transportation and communications systems, combined with heavier mobile firepower, signified the emergence of a new model--Second Generation Warfare.

Second Generation Warfare revolved around rapidly growing strategic speed of communication and transport--telegraphs and railways--in concert with massed armies armed with ever-deadlier small arms and artillery. This phase encompassed the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s, the turn-of-the-century Boer War and Russo-Japanese conflicts, and ultimately the huge, million-man armies of World War I. The latter were massive formations linked to devastating direct and indirect firepower, leading inexorably to the strategic and tactical stalemate of trench warfare. Second Generation Warfare was characterized by large armies with strategic (but limited tactical) mobility, unprecedented weaponry and explosive "throw weight," resultant heavy casualties, and gradual diminishment of maneuver, all of which pointed toward the defense achieving gradual dominance over the offense.

In response to this battlefield paralysis, Third Generation Warfare emerged in the 1920s and 30s and produced "blitzkrieg" and the age of maneuver warfare, with the offense once again gaining supremacy. This era of mounted mechanized maneuver continued from World War II through the Arab-Israeli wars of the 1950s and 60s, included Desert Storm in 1991 (perhaps its zenith), and culminated with the race to Baghdad in March 2003. (Excursions into counterinsurgency conflicts in places like French Indochina, Algeria, Malaya, Vietnam, and the two Intifadas in Israel not only failed to significantly affect mainstream military thinking, but they often turned out rather badly for Western armies.) Today, after 40 years of Cold War experience and billions of dollars spent on weapon system investments, the United States and most Western militaries remain optimized for Third Generation Warfare, reflecting nearly 50 years of tactical, operational, and strategic thought and resource commitments originally designed to contain and deter the Soviet threat, and if necessary to defeat a Warsaw Pact armored invasion of Western Europe. (6)

Hammes contends that we have now entered into the age of Fourth Generation Warfare, which he brands "netwar." (The term is a bit confusing given the better-known "network-centric operations" terminology. (7)) Fourth Generation Warfare "uses all available networks--political, economic, social, and military--to convince the enemy's political decisionmakers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. It is an evolved form of insurgency." (8) Fourth Generation Warfare argues that the enemy's target becomes the political establishment and the policymakers of his adversary, not the adversary's armed forces or tactical formations. The enemy achieves victory by putting intense, unremitting pressure on adversary decisionmakers, causing them to eventually capitulate, independent of military success or failure on the battlefield. Fourth Generation Warfare deserves to be studied closely by the military, primarily because it outlines a compellingly logical way to look at asymmetrical warfare, a challenging topic for Western militaries.

Competing Paradigms of War

Another way to view the challenge we face with an asymmetrically-oriented enemy is to examine our current warfighting construct: the strategic, operational, and tactical levels of war, often represented as a triangle, as shown in Figure 1 on the following page. At the base is the tactical level where engagements and battles are fought, entailing direct combat actions ranging from squad to brigade echelon. The tactical level is the stage at which the vast preponderance of our troops and equipment are committed and engaged daily. The second level, the center of the triangle, is the operational level. At this echelon, campaigns are developed which give shape to the battles and connect them in ways that ultimately lead to campaign, and eventually strategic, success. Next, most often displayed at the top of the triangle, is the strategic level where policymakers lay out the broad political-military goals and end-states which the operational campaigns are designed to serve. (9)


This model represents an accepted view of modern warfare which has become largely institutionalized as the warfighting paradigm within the US military since the Vietnam War. In fact, the addition of the operational level of war was perhaps the most significant change in US military doctrine to emerge as the military's direct response to the largely unexamined lessons of Vietnam. (10) Of note is a distinct "political" level, often omitted from this paradigm, which rightfully belongs at the apex. This top-most position reflects recognition of the "grand strategic" level but also acknowledges the inherent purpose that lies beyond the purely military character of war and its intended results--results that are often if not always political in nature. (11) Students of war and military professionals overlook the political level in our paradigm of warfare at great risk.

Arguably, Figure 1 also represents the investment balance of organizational effort within the US military as it prepares for and thinks about war. Doctrine, organization, training, leadership, materiel, personnel, and facilities are weighted heavily toward the tactical level--the large base of the triangle--with proportionally much less effort assigned to the operational and strategic levels. A cursory look at defense spending will identify that by far the greatest amounts of both procurement and future research and development are allocated for tactical-level requirements. (12) Tanks, helicopters, fighter planes, individual body armor, assault amphibians, cruise missiles, munitions of all sorts, unmanned aerial vehicles, "littoral combat ships"--all provide the combat power to fight and win battles at the tactical level. Unfortunately, winning more tactical-level battles in an era of Fourth Generation Warfare does not lead inevitably to winning the war. In point of fact, with more and more responsibility for the operational and strategic levels of war shifting to joint organizations--a byproduct of the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act--the military services have become more tactical in their focus, charged to "organize, train, and equip" rather than to "fight and win." Service jargon is replete with references to "warfighting," but rarely speaks of the vastly more important "war-winning." The decisive strategic responsibility of "winning our wars" has been largely shifted away from the services toward others in the "joint world" with far shallower institutional, intellectual, and resource foundations. This is a little-recognized development with complex implications when fighting a global "long war."

The Insurgent Paradigm

Ironically, our enemies in this "long war" may have developed their own version of our paradigm of warfare. Assessing the enemy's efforts over the past five years, one could argue that they are employing the same construct and levels of war, but with the orientation reversed--apex low, base high, as shown in Figure 2, on the following page. Al Qaeda and their associated elements--the "global insurgents"--have clearly chosen to place their foremost effort at the top: the political and strategic level. They appear to understand and seem to be employing Hammes' concept of Fourth Generation Warfare. Their political-strategic targets are the decisionmakers and influencing elites in the United States and in the global community. Their operational level works to string together minor tactical engagements (often carefully chosen) via global media coverage to create international strategic and political effects. Their lowest dollar investment, unlike ours, is at the tactical level, where improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers carry their strategic freight with great effect. Their command and control system is the internet, the laptop, the courier, and the cell phone, drawing on technologies which were invented and paid for by their adversaries in the developed world. Their intelligence system does not rely on satellites or unmanned aerial vehicles, but commonly upon human sources inside our bases and near our operational units, employing a family, tribal, or ethnic-based network that is impenetrable to Westerners. Their biggest operational weapon is the global information grid, particularly the inter national media. Indeed, the media are a weapon system of "mass effect" for the terrorist to achieve his strategic and political "grand strategy" objectives, and he relishes the fact that we rightly cherish and protect both our freedom of speech and an adversarial media as central tenets of one of our most important freedoms, because it aids him immensely in pursuing his strategic goals.


An interesting example of the terrorists' sophistication in blending these levels occurred in March 2005 in Afghanistan. One evening in the area of the Afghan-Pakistan border near Khowst, a major enemy attack began to develop. Three border checkpoints controlled by Afghan forces came under mortar and ground attack, and at the same time, two US sites which hosted reinforcing artillery and attack helicopters also were hit with rockets. One Afghan border post was pressed hard by more than 100 enemy fighters. Despite the unprecedented nature of this nighttime, five-point coordinated attack, Afghan forces fought back well, and in concert with attack helicopters and timely artillery support, they repulsed the border-post attacks and inflicted many enemy casualties. This attack occurred with no apparent advance warning during a traditionally quiet winter period in a rugged mountainous region of the country. What made it particularly notable was that it coincided precisely with Afghan President Hamid Karzai's first official state visit to meet with his Pakistani counterpart, President Pervez Musharraf, in Islamabad--and that early in the morning following the attack, an Al Jazeera news crew suddenly drove up to the point of the main attack in this very remote part of the border to capture what they obviously expected to be a very different outcome on film. Clearly, this enemy understands the political and strategic level of a global insurgency.

General John P. Abizaid, commander of US Central Command, has described the war against al Qaeda and their associated movements as "a war of intelligence and a war of perceptions." (13) Both aspects present enormous challenges for the United States and our Coalition friends and allies. Our intelligence systems and capabilities are among the most sophisticated and expensive in the world, but their ability to give us credible insight into the minds and planning of our adversaries remains problematic. The war of perceptions--winning a battle of ideas, influencing other cultures, countering the virulent message of hate and intolerance promoted by our enemies--is a bitter conflict fought out every day in an environment of 24/7 news coverage and a continuous global news cycle. Both of these crucial battlegrounds remain arenas where the West and the United States face serious challenges and are often swimming against the tide in a complex foreign culture.

Intelligence: The "80/20 Rule" and "Boiling Frogs"

Clausewitz observed that "many intelligence reports in war are contradictory, even more are false, and most are uncertain." (14) What military intelligence officer today would publicly stand up and endorse Clausewitz's admonition during a senior-level intelligence briefing? Yet the assertion that intelligence reports tend to be contradictory, false, and uncertain represents intelligence realities. To the contrary, the 40-year Cold War gave us powerful capabilities and unprecedented levels of confidence in our modem intelligence systems. At the height of this half-century conflict, we had devised technological solutions to our intelligence challenges which surpassed any capabilities previously known in the history of conflict. From the modest successes of the U2 surveillance aircraft program (brought into high profile after the 1962 shootdown of Francis Gary Powers over the Soviet Union), the United States designed, built, and deployed a comprehensive satellite surveillance program which ultimately provided unprecedented overhead access to historically denied territories around the world. Listening posts dotted the periphery of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). A human spy network behind the Iron Curtain provided uniquely sensitive information. After four decades of primary focus on a fixed enemy, our intelligence capabilities became singularly optimized to peer at ICBM fields, observe submarine fleet anchorages, scan bomber-packed airfields, monitor Warsaw Pact tank divisions, and--with a network of spies--look deep inside the Soviet governmental and military bureaucracies.

Our human intelligence penetration of the USSR was significant and priceless, tragically revealed by the betrayals of numerous American agents by Soviet moles Aldrich Ames inside the CIA and Robert Hanssen inside the FBI. (15) The ideological power of our Western influence as functioning and prosperous democracies of free people gave us leverage in recruiting Soviet citizens to spy on their own country, a "Free World" ideological advantage noticeably absent in penetrating terrorist networks today. Billions of dollars were devoted to these holistic intelligence efforts, and the results were clearly impressive. One could unscientifically estimate that a US President sitting down to his daily intelligence briefing in the 1960s, 1970s, or well into the 1980s could have perhaps an 80-percent confidence level in the veracity and completeness of the intelligence picture painted on at least the Soviet Union, our most dangerous opponent. The existence of an aggressive foreign power with the largest nuclear arsenal in the world aimed at the United States was a powerful incentive for massive spending on intelligence and unsparing efforts to discern not only the capabilities, but the intentions, of this prime adversary.

As the Soviet Union began to disintegrate in the late 1980s, however, our intelligence system remained largely unchanged. Presidents continued to get their daily worldwide intelligence briefings, but gradually the levels of confidence and certainty in the picture began to slip from the peak Cold War performance levels of an optimized system. It was a slip unnoticed by the participants, and perhaps by the briefers as well. Institutional momentum and past successes kept investments steady or growing in high-technology systems, and one can surmise that satellites and other overhead collectors continued to receive robust resourcing.

But in comparison to the perhaps 80-percent confidence level in the accuracy of the products against the Soviets, our level of confidence in today's intelligence products against an obscure worldwide enemy network ought to perhaps be more like 20 percent. In an environment of global insurgency, fighting a loosely organized worldwide terrorist network enabled by modern technology, a movement based upon twisted religious interpretations and playing upon feelings of economic and political inadequacy in a world racing toward globalization in all aspects of life, our technology-dependent intelligence system is operating at a huge disadvantage. Our enemy has no ICBM fields, no submarine pens, no tank divisions, and no standing governmental or military bureaucracy to penetrate. Aside from cars, trucks, and motorcycles, he has no "platforms," yet most of our costly intelligence tools tend to be optimized to find and report on just that. Acquiring high-value human intelligence continues to be extremely difficult, and penetrating a closed culture with intense internal loyalties and a strong bias toward family and tribal lines is immensely tough.

Most important, though, our military leaders and commanders today have to recalibrate their thought processes to better understand what they are seeing and what they are not. In my experience, no intelligence officer worth his or her salt will give a senior leader an intelligence briefing without crisp certainties in the conclusions. In fact, in our military we expect and demand the intelligence officer, the "G2," to take a defined stance, to tell us definitively what the enemy is going to do. Again, in the Cold War era, the West had multiple overlapping and redundant means of detecting, assessing, and confirming key intelligence findings. In today's environment, operating against a shadowy terrorist network distributed globally in loosely aligned autonomous cells, our ability to have any significant degree of confidence in our intelligence certainty should be very much in question and viewed with extreme skepticism. In my estimation, we simply do not know what, or how much, we do not know. We're back to the world of Clausewitz. What was an 80-percent certainty during the Cold War is now 20 percent--this is "the 80/20 Rule" of modern intelligence.

The "Boiling Frog" theory characterizes another intelligence challenge that bedevils our professionals: the tyranny of short time horizons. When fighting an enemy who views time in decades or generations, Americans--perhaps particularly those fighting overseas on one-year tours of duty--are at a great disadvantage. We live in a "microwave society" of instant results, and our trend analysis in counterinsurgency operations reflects this. During 2003-2005 in Afghanistan, our "long-term" time comparisons were inevitably to events just one year prior. We essentially had no data from 2001 or 2002 for a variety of reasons--early-stage operations, inadequate records keeping, staff turnover--so our longitudinal assessment of the counterinsurgency was at best a one- to two-year comparative look.

My US military intelligence team in Afghanistan dreaded the inevitable question: "Are we the boiling frog?" Legend has it that a frog placed in a shallow pot of water heating on a stove will remain happily in the pot of water as the temperature continues to climb, and will not jump out even as the water slowly reaches the boiling point and kills the frog. The change of one degree of temperature at a time is so gradual that the frog doesn't realize he is being boiled until it is too late. Our limited Western time horizons often precluded any serious look at a ten-year (much less a 25-year) timeline to discern the long-term effect of our policies, or a long-term comprehension of what the enemy might be attempting, ever so slowly. This is a significant risk to any Western intelligence system, perhaps most so with Americans and our perceived "need for speed." In a culture of generational conflicts, centuries-old tribal loyalties, and infinite societal and family memories, we are at a significant disadvantage.

The War of Perceptions: Information Operations

Clausewitz also wrote that war "is a trial of moral and physical forces through the medium of the latter. Naturally, moral strength must not be excluded, for psychological forces exert a decisive influence on the elements involved in war." (16) The counterinsurgency campaign waged in Afghanistan from late 2003 until mid-2005 was underpinned by information operations. Unfortunately, in a war of ideas, our ability to influence ideas and shape perceptions as Westerners briefly transplanted into this remote, isolated region of the world with an infinitely different culture was an enormous challenge. As Westerners and Americans, we tended to be linear and impassive thinkers focused on quick solutions--operating in a foreign world of nuance, indirection, and close personal relations tied to trust, with extended time horizons. The Taliban often reminded villagers: "The Americans may have all the wristwatches, but we have all the time."

Our US information operations doctrine was designed for a different era and in many ways simply did not fit the war we were fighting. It doctrinally bundled together "apples, oranges, pianos, Volkswagens, and skyscrapers" into one package--psychological operations, operational security, military deception, offensive and defensive computer network operations, and electronic warfare. (17) This official collection of disparate conceptual entities did little to assist us in our struggle to understand and operate in a war that was ultimately about winning hearts and minds, and about keeping our side resolutely in the fight.

The enemy instinctively seemed to understand how to exploit the media (international and local), tribal customs and beliefs, rumors and cultural predispositions toward mystery and conspiracy, and a host of other subtle but effective communications. Al Qaeda and the Taliban targeted their messages to influence both decisionmakers and ordinary people--in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in the Gulf region, in Europe, in the United States, and across a global audience. Ablatant lie or obviously false claim by the Taliban would resonate throughout the cultural system of Afghanistan down to every valley and village, and it would be next to impossible to subsequently counter such falsehoods with facts. In a tribal society, rumors count, emotions carry huge weight, the extreme seems plausible, and "facts" reported outside the trusted confines of family, village, and tribe are subject to great skepticism. This "local" phenomenon carried weight throughout the region and is arguably the norm across much of the Islamic world.

The deadly outbursts in Afghanistan following the ultimately false reports of American desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo demonstrated the emotional power of "breaking cultural news." Widespread rioting and protests across the Muslim world after the publication in Europe of cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad reflect the same powerful and emotional cultural-religious phenomenon. Messages from "the West" were often viewed with inherent suspicion, simply because they were from outsiders. We worked hard to overcome these difficulties, mostly through exercising the most effective information operations technique--having a good story to tell, and always telling the truth.

The public affairs component of this strategy deserves some discussion. In late 2004, General Richard Myers, then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, published a directive message explicitly separating public affairs from information operations in the US military, and he articulated some very powerful reasons why this separation should be so. (18) US public affairs officers around the world cheered, but many commanders cringed. The work of winning a "war of ideas" was not made any easier for deployed commanders, but Myers' point was a valid one--the recognition that we waged 21st-century warfare in the "spin zone" of both international media and domestic politics could not permit or excuse an environment where facts might be changed or reporters manipulated to deliberately create false perceptions.

The line remains a fine one for commanders. In an environment where the enemy leverages global media to get out a recurrent message of hopelessness and despair, of carnage and fear, how do military leaders counter the overwhelming impression that all the victories are on the enemy's side? How do we overcome the perception that every bombing or ambush resulting in American casualties signifies that we are "losing"? As some pundits have noted, if Americans at home had been able to watch the 1944 D-Day invasion of Normandy in real time on CNN from the first wave at Omaha beach, there would have been little hope in the public mind that the Third Reich would surrender just 11 months later! Some Americans might have clamored for a negotiated settlement. But no one in the global audience in 1944 viewed Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan as the "moral equivalents" of the Allies, nor did any news organization in the West report on World War II as though it was a neutral observer at a sporting event. The Allies against the Axis was not a game show where the outcomes were unimportant to the average citizen, and the news media did not report on it as though they were neutral about the results.

It's increasingly apparent that this "values-neutral" approach and largely detached moral position prevail across much of the international (and US) media today. Are the bloody terrorists who decapitate innocent hostages on camera morally equivalent to the democratically elected governments of the United States and Great Britain? Are they as deserving of empathy and respect as the freely elected leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq? Some media outlets--and not insignificant numbers of citizens in the Muslim world--would contend it is so. We do not have to agree with these chilling perceptions to register them and to reflect seriously on what measures are required to reverse them. The painful implications of this set of arguably common Islamic perceptions should give us pause. Is nothing commonly reprehensible to all peoples? All these complexities of perception and culture are alive in a 24/7 news-cycle world of instant communications, and they utterly change the dynamics of fighting and winning a war against a global insurgency today.

Finally, a growing phenomenon subtly capitalized on by our terrorist enemies is the instant politicization of distant battlefield events (especially reverses) in the American political process here at home. There are surely disturbing echoes of the bitter political contentiousness of Vietnam in today's party-centric debates over the nature and strategy of this war, but that debate also reflects a healthy symptom of politics in a free society. That said, it is unfortunate that in an era of continuous electoral politics, somehow successful activities in this war--from battles won to elections held to civil affairs projects completed--seem to be scored as "wins" for the present Administration, while tactical setbacks, bombings, heavy casualties, or local political reverses are construed as "losses," and seem to somehow be twisted to add to the political capital of the opposition party. Although largely unintentional, this perverse situation is flat-out wrong, and it does a disservice to our fighting men and women in harm's way. Wars should always supercede "politics as usual," especially in an age of Fourth Generation Warfare with the enemy deliberately targeting decisionmakers on the home front as part of its premeditated strategy. There was a time in American politics, especially in time of war, when politics stopped at the water's edge and our friends and enemies alike saw a unified, bipartisan approach to foreign policy from American elected leaders. In the current "long war," fought out 24/7 under the bright lights of continuous talk shows, and where resolve, staying power, and American and allied unity are the very principles that the enemy is desperately trying to undermine, that once respected bipartisan principle in our foreign policy needs to be recaptured.

Conclusion: Our Strategic Challenge

Strategy in a global counterinsurgency requires a new level of thinking. A world of irregular threats and asymmetrical warfare demands that we broaden our thinking beyond the norms of traditional military action once sufficient to win our wars. The focus of this global insurgency of violent Islamist extremism exploits the concepts of Fourth Generation Warfare with a calculated assault on perceptions at home, on our decisionmakers and on the public. In a war of intelligence and a war of perceptions, we grapple to understand how to best devise a war-winning strategy given the predominantly conventional warfighting tools in our military toolbox--and our vulnerabilities outside the military sphere. Realities are that an unbroken series of tactical military victories in today's war, the primary focus of our Army and Marine Corps, will not assure strategic success, yet our conventional military organizations and service cultures seem increasingly tactical. An effective strategy does not result from the aggregate of an unlimited number of tactical data points. Commanders assert, "'We simply cannot be defeated militarily in this war." That may be true, but this statement masks the fact that we can potentially be defeated by other than purely military means.

How big is our concept of war? With our enemies committed to an unlimited war of unlimited means--al Qaeda will clearly use a nuclear weapon against the United States if it gains the means--how can we continue to regard this fight as a limited war and keep our focus chiefly on accumulating an unbroken series of battlefield tactical successes which we somehow think will collectively deliver victory? How do we justify our military services' institutional fixation with accruing more and more tactical capability in the face of an enemy which places no value on tactical engagements except to achieve his strategic and political objectives? Where do we best invest our future defense dollars to gain leverage over this new "global insurgent," an enemy with no tanks, no air force, no navy, and no satellites? What type of provocation will it take for Americans to fully commit to a "long war" against an enemy who is engaged in a war without limits against us? And what does an all-out "long war" mean for America within the ethical and moral values of our nation in the 21st century?

Many of these questions are beyond the scope of this article, but they point to the complex dimensions of understanding the nature of the war we fight today--a Fourth Generation War--and the means required for us to win. As a military charged with fighting this new type of war, a global insurgency, we must better grasp ownership of the fight. In some sense, as society's trustee in the conduct of our nation's wars, we must accept the full range of war, tactical to strategic level. After all, winning wars--and preventing them--are the only reasons our military exists. If we as a nation or a member of a coalition are ultimately defeated by our enemies, the reasons for that defeat--whether military, political, or economic--will be far less important than the result. We must more fully leverage all the intellectual as well as physical capabilities inside our military to assure such a defeat remains unthinkable. We need to contribute more directly toward a comprehensive strategy leading to long-term victory. Battlefield victories result from good tactics, training, and leadership; strategic victories result from thinking through the right strategy and executing it aggressively. Our military should be the repository of the deepest reservoirs of strategic thinking on winning our wars--of any type. But for our military to deny that an asymmetric defeat at the strategic level is even possible in this unconventional war is the equivalent of burying our heads in the sand and increases our risk.

While protecting against tactical or operational-level defeat on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, our military needs to also guard against the dangers of strategic-level defeat. This is not just "someone else's problem." We need to understand the nature of the war we are fighting, and we need to avoid the temptation to define our war as the tactical battle we would like to fight rather than the strategic fight we are in with a thinking enemy who strikes daily at our national political will here at home.

The military's role in addressing this asymmetrical "war of wills" is hyper-sensitive. This predicament is a very real problem inherent in 21st-century warfare, and the military needs to understand and support the civilian leadership in defending this flank. Bipartisan recognition and defense of this Achilles' heel is also necessary to deprive our enemies of its effect. America's military contribution needs to evolve toward designing a war-winning series of campaigns and, perhaps even more important, helping our civilian leadership to craft the broad political-military grand strategy necessary to succeed against a dangerous and resourceful enemy in this "long war." We as a military must fully understand, accept, and take ownership of "war-winning" as well as "war-fighting" if we are to fulfill our role in defending the society we are pledged to serve. If this conflict is truly a "long war" against violent global extremism, against an ideology of hate and destruction as dangerous as fascism in the 1930s and communism in the 1950s, then we as a military have to take on the institutional and intellectual challenges to fight and to win this very different war against a determined and dangerous enemy.


(1.) Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1976), p. 75.

(2.) Asymmetrical warfare in this context is best described as the means by which a conventionally weak adversary can fight and win against the conventionally strong opposite number. The term "insurgency" in this article describes irregular warfare characterized by unconventional elements battling against a prevailing or established order.

(3.) General John P. Abizaid, personal conversation with the author, 2004.

(4.) Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (St. Paul, Minn.: Zenith Press, 2004). This is perhaps the most original book on present-day warfare in an era of weaker powers battling conventionally strong adversaries via asymmetrical approaches. Hammes casts serious doubt on the notions of technology, information, and speed of decisionmaking as effective attributes in dealing with an insurgent enemy.

(5.) Arthur K. Cebrowski and John J. Gartska, "Network Centric Warfare: Its Origins and Futures," Proceedings, January 1998.

(6.) Hammes, pp. 16-31.

(7.) Cebrowski and Gartska. "Network-centric operations"--much different from Fourth Generation netwar--describes a theory of war which argues in effect that rapid war-winning results can be rendered by speed of decisions and actions produced by centralized networks of communications, intelligence, and command and control.

(8.) Hammes, p. 2. Italics added.

(9.) US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Joint Pub 1-02 (Washington: GPO, 2005). The tactical level of war is defined as, "The level of war at which battles and engagements are planned and executed to accomplish military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces." The operational level is, "The level of war at which campaigns and major operations are planned, conducted, and sustained to accomplish strategic objectives within theaters or other operational areas." The strategic level is, "The level of war at which a nation, often as a member of a group of nations, determines national or multinational (alliance or coalition) security objectives and guidance, and develops and uses national resources to accomplish those objectives."

(10.) Harry R. Summers, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1981).

(11.) The essence of grand strategy is described by Colonel John Boyd (USAF Ret.) as to "shape pursuit of the national goal so that we not only amplify our spirit and strength (while undermining and isolating our adversaries) but also influence the uncommitted or potential adversaries so that they are drawn toward our philosophy and are empathetic toward our success." Boyd, "Patterns of Conflict," briefing, December 1986, slide 140,

(12.) US Congress, Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, H. R. 1815 (Washington: GPO, 2005). Available at US House Armed Services Committee website,

(13.) Abizaid conversation.

(14.) Clausewitz, p. 117.

(15.) Chitra Ragavan, "Kings of Cold War Treachery: Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames," U.S. News & World Report, 27 January 2003.

(16.) Clausewitz, p. 127. Emphasis added.

(17.) US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Doctrine for Information Operations, Joint Pub 3-13 (Washington: GPO, 1998), p. 18.

(18.) General Richard B. Myers, "Myers Letter to Commanders on Public Affairs and Information Operations," 27 September 2004, quoted by Mark Mazzetti, "US Use of Media in War Sparks Debate," Los Angeles Times, 1 December 2004: "Although both [public affairs] and [military information operations] conduct planning, message development, and media analysis, the efforts differ with respect to audience, scope and intent, and must remain separate."

Lieutenant General David W. Barno (USA Ret.) is the Director of the Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies at National Defense University. From 2003 to 2005 he served as commander of over 20,000 US and Coalition forces in Combined Forces Command--Afghanistan. He is a 1976 graduate of the US Military Academy and holds a master's degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. General Barno is a 1995 graduate of the US Army War College and served in combat with Ranger battalions during both the Grenada and Panama invasions.

COPYRIGHT 2006 U.S. Army War College
COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group

The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation

LtCol Thomas X. Hammes

Marine Corps Gazette
September 1994

The move toward fourth generation warfare is occurring in parallel with the move into the information age—i.e., with the political, economic, and social changes affecting society as a whole-and the essential characteristics of this new form of warfare have been clearly illustrated in recent conflicts.

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? -Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989

In 1989, the authors of this article challenged their readers to consider whether the passage of 70 years meant it was time for a generational shift in war. During the 5 years since the article was published, the world has undergone incredible changes in its political, economic, and social structure. There is a growing consensus that the world is on the cusp of a fundamental shift from an industrial society to an information-based society. History shows that societal shifts of this magnitude cannot occur without a fundamental change in the way we conduct war. It is clearly time for a fourth generation of modern war.

In this article, I intend to show that the fourth generation of war has, in fact, evolved in conjunction with the political, economic, and societal changes that are modifying our world. Further, like its predecessors, the fourth generation of war did not arrive on the scene as a fully developed instrument but evolved (and is continuing to evolve) at widely scattered locations. Finally, like its predecessors, fourth generation tactics will not be used in isolation but mixed with those of earlier generations.

The First Three Generations of War

Prior to challenging us to consider the implications of the fourth generation of modern war, Mr. Lind and his co-authors presented a brief sketch of the three previous generations of war. They theorized that the first three generations of modern war focused, in turn, on massed manpower, then massed firepower, and finally on maneuver. What these generations had in common is the fact each sought to defeat the enemy militarily.

Why Generational Change?

While Lind and his fellow authors outlined the tactical changes between the generations of modern war, it is essential we understand what actually caused these generational shifts in warfare.

The most commonly cited reason is the evolution of technology. While technological changes clearly have a major impact, attributing the generational changes in warfare primarily to technology oversimplifies the problem.

The true drivers of generational change are political, social, and economic factors. Each of these factors was pivotal in the evolution of the first three generations of war. While brevity prevents a detailed discussion, the single example of World War I will illustrate the point.

While the evolution of rifled artillery, machineguns, and barbed wire brought about trench warfare on the Western Front, these technological developments alone were not sufficient to bring about the firepower-intensive second generational war that evolved from 1914-1917.

The second generation required not just improved weaponry, but the evolution of an entire political, economic, and social structure to support it. Second generation war grew from the society of the times. It required the international political structure that focused on the balance of power, formed the alliances, and stuck to them through four incredibly expensive, exhausting years of war. Further, it required the output of an industrial society to design, produce, and transport the equipment and huge quantities of ammunition it consumed. Finally, it required the development of a social system that brought catastrophic losses. Technology, while important, was clearly subordinate to political, economic, and social structures in setting the conditions for World War I.

Having completed this very brief introduction of the previous generations of modern war and why they evolved, it is time to take up the challenge of the authors quoted at the beginning of the article. We must try to determine the form and impact of the fourth generation of war. Based on the observed correlation between each generation of war and the society it grew from, it is logical to assume the fourth generation of war will also take its shape from society.

High Tech War as The Fourth Generation?

In keeping with this observation, many authors writing on the future of war have predicted it will be based on the impact of the information revolution on tactics and weapons. Numerous articles have traced the development of information-based warfare from the incredible success of the Israeli Air Force in the Bekka Valley in 1982 to the culmination of information war—Operation DESERT STORM.

Each of these articles focuses on the exceptional lethality gained by linking real-time information to precision guided weapons and controlling them with digital command and control. In fact, some authors have speculated that societies capable of producing such weapons will dominate warfare to a degree not seen since Western Europeans conquered and colonized most of the known world.

While it is clear that the information revolution will affect the future of war, the focus on the weapons and tactical aspects of the information revolution is as erroneous for the fourth generation as it was for its predecessors.

Factors Shaping the Future of War

To understand the potential shape of the fourth generation of war, we must look at the political, economic, and social changes in society as well as the changes in technology since the advent of the third generation of war.

Politically the world has undergone vast changes. The third generation of war developed when international relations were defined in terms of the European nation states that dominated them. In contrast, the fourth generation of war is coming of age during a period of exponential increase in the number and type of players on the international scene.

While the outward trappings of the international system are still in place, there have been massive changes in how it really operates. Besides the huge increase in the number of nation states, there has been a fundamental change in the type of player involved in international affairs. Nation states still remain the primary actors, but increasingly international actors in the form of the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Community, Organization of African Unity, and a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations are making themselves felt in the international arena. In addition, transnational actors in the form of the media, religious movements, terrorist groups, drug cartels, and others influence international relations. Finally, subnational groups (e.g., the Zulus, the Serbs, the Kurds, and the Palestinians) are attempting to elevate their issues from matters of internal politics to a level of international concern.

Economically, the world is becoming both much more heavily intertwined and simultaneously more divided—intertwined in terms of trade, divided in terms of wealth distribution. For both rich and poor countries, this economic integration has resulted in a steady and significant reduction in their sovereignty. In 1918 states exercised virtually absolute control over what nations they traded with, the interest rates within their own nations, the tariffs they charged, and the information they released. The rapid integration of world economies has resulted in major restrictions on in the ability of nation states to exercise these and other traditional instruments of nation sovereignty—to include the unilateral use of military power.

Socially, we are developing international networks in virtually every field of endeavor. There has been an exponential increase in the number of transnational business associations, research groups, academic societies, and even hobbyists who maintain contact through a wide variety of media. These networks tie people together in distinctly nontraditional ways. As a result, we no longer conduct international affairs primarily through official diplomatic and military channels. Further, these associations provide a rapidly increasing flow of nonofficial information between societies and a weakening of the links tying the citizen to his nation state. Simultaneously, as national bonds become less important, allegiance to subnational groups based on ethnic, religious, or cultural ties are increasing. Finally, we are raising a generation completely at ease with the tools of the evolving information age. Education combined with the relatively low cost technology; has led to its rapid dissemination to all corners of the globe.

In essence, the world is organizing itself in a series of interconnected networks that while in contact with other networks are not controlled by them. Simultaneously, nation states find themselves torn in two directions-upward toward the international security, trade, and social organizations and downward by subnational movements that want to splinter the state.

The exceptionally broad changes across the spectrum of human activity will clearly shape the fourth generation of war. Yet, the question remains "What form will this generation take?"

Netwar as a Model for the Fourth Generation

A number of authors have addressed exactly that question. The boldest, John Arquilla and David Ponfeldt, provide a thesis for the future of war and then go on to provide a model for both mid-to high-intensity war and one for low-intensity conflict in their article "Cyberwar is Coming," which appeared in Comparative Strategy, Vol. 12, pp. 141-165, Nov 93. They theorize that:

the information revolution will cause shifts, both in how societies may come into conflict and how their armed forces may wage war. We offer a distinction between what we call netwar—societal-level ideational conflicts waged in part through internetted modes of communication—and cyberwar at the military level.

While the thesis is clearly futuristic, their concept of cyberwar is essentially third generation warfare made vastly more lethal through the use of information technology.

In contrast, their vision of low-intensity conflict as "netwar" may be a highly accurate model for the next generation of war.

Netwar refers to information-related conflict at a grand level between nations or societies. It means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about itself and the world around it. A netwar may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve public diplomacy measures, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception or interference with local media, infiltration of computer networks and databases, and efforts to promote dissident or opposition movements across computer networks. Thus designing a strategy for netwar may mean grouping together from a new perspective a number of measures that have been used before but we're viewed separately … In other words, netwar represents a new entry on the spectrum of conflict that spans economic, political and social, as well as military forms of "war."

In summary, they see netwar as information-based conflict that:


Disrupts, damages, or changes what a society thinks about itself and the world.

Targets elite or public opinion based on the political structure of the enemy State.

Uses all available networks to carry its message to the target audience.

Martin van Creveld, in The Transformation of War, agrees with this netwar vision of future war. He contends future war will not be relatively simple, high-tech conventional war, but rather extremely complex low-intensity conflict.

Van Creveld states that war will turn to the complex environment of low-intensity conflict simply because computers have come to dominate the relatively simpler environments of mid-to high-intensity conflict.

Thus both the article and the book see fourth generation war as complex engagements fought across the spectrum of human activity. Antagonists will fight in the political, economic, social, and military arenas and communicate their messages through a combination of networks and mass media.

While these authors agree on a coherent theory for the fourth generation, theories, even by highly respected authors such as van Creveld, are insufficient justification for policy changes. National security decision makers must demand a higher standard of proof before committing a nation's resources to face a threat that may or may not be valid.

Therefore, the key question is whether we can validate these theories through observation of past and current conflicts. I contend we can.

Evolution of the Fourth Generation of War

Each element of fourth generation war proposed by van Creveld and Atquilla and Ponfeldt can be seen in the evolution of insurgency. While a wide-ranging study of insurgency will provide numerous examples of this new type of war emerging, the length of this article requires that I focus my study on the experiences of Vietnam, China, Nicaragua, and the Palestinians.


As the first practitioner to write extensively about insurgency, Mao, like Clausewitz, understood war is fundamentally a "political" undertaking. However, he went much further than Clausewitz in his definition stating:

Our job is not merely to recite our political program to the people … (we must) transform the political mobilization for the war into a regular movement. This is a matter of the first magnitude on which the victory primarily depends.

Mao further exhorted that:

… political mobilization is the most fundamental condition for winning the war.

Mao believed that political strength is the primary requirement in war and is decidedly more important than military prowess. This is a fundamental shift from the third generation concept that victory is won primarily through military superiority to the fourth generation concept of defeating the enemy primarily through political action. Only after establishing the overriding political nature of insurgency did he outline his famous three phases for the successful conduct of insurgency:


Phase I, The Strategic Defensive: The insurgents will concentrate primarily on building political strength, Military action will be limited to harassment attacks and selected, politically motivated assassinations.

Phase II, The Strategic Stalemate: The insurgents gain strength and consolidate control of base areas. They begin to actively administer some portions of the contested area. Military activity increases as dictated by political requirements.

Phase III, The Strategic Offensive: Only after the correlation of forces has shifted decisively in their favor do the insurgents commit their regular forces in the final offensive against the government.

Though apparently very simple, these three phases show a sophisticated understanding of the powerful political, social, and economic elements that constitute the base of military power.

Mao knew insurgents could not match the government’s conventional military forces initially. Therefore, he conceived the careful buildup of political, social, and economic organizations during Phase I and II. His goal was nothing less than to change the "correlation of forces" between the government and the insurgent. Only after that shift would the insurgent be ready to move to Phase III, the final destruction of the government by conventional communist forces.

Mao insisted on a united font of all parties and groups, people in all walks of life, and all armed forces, a united front of all patriots the workers, peasants, soldiers, intellectuals and businessmen. He used Phase I and II to carefully build that united front of "mass organizations." He planned to involve every member of the community in one or more organizations-young communists, agricultural workers, women's groups, students' groups, etc. In effect, he built a broad base of interconnected networks that made every member of society part of his war effort.

Mao further foreshadowed the future when he wrote that in order to maximize their political power, insurgents must project it beyond their borders.

It is not enough for China to rely on her strength alone, and she cannot win without utilizing the aid of international forces and the change within the enemy country, her international propaganda and diplomacy will become more important …

Mao wrote that through propaganda, insurgents must attack their enemy by undermining the political will of that enemy's allies and sponsors. Further, they must mobilize neutral political opinion to pressure the enemy's major allies into withdrawing support for the war.

The final task of the insurgent propagandist was to generate material and economic support for the movement from friendly and neutral countries. Essentially, Mao sought to "damage, disrupt, or change" how Chinese society saw itself and how other societies saw China.'

Although firmly convinced of the primacy of the political aspects of the struggle, Mao also conceived a military strategy that reinforced his political efforts. Mao wrote that while the final campaign would be a conventional attack, earlier phases must include a mix of guerrilla and conventional military operations. The dual nature of insurgency would place the enemy on the horns of a dilemma. If the counterinsurgent concentrated his forces to deal with the conventional threat, the guerrillas would thrive. If he dispersed to deal with the guerrillas, his outposts were vulnerable to the insurgent's conventional operations and guerrilla operations in the same area. The objective of these Phase I and II military actions was s much to make the government appear ineffective in the eyes of the people as to destroy the government's forces. The increased complexity of the fourth generation of war is definitely present in this strategic approach.

In summary, Mao envisioned many of the elements Arquilla and Ponfeldt identify as fourth generation. He built networks, shaped opinions in target groups, and conducted intense propaganda and psychological operations campaigns. He used those networks to maximize his political, economic, and social power while minimizing the military aspects until the final offensive.

Mao's ideas obviously belong more to the fourth than the third generation of war. Mao still believed final victory could only be won by a third generation military campaign. It was to Ho Chi Minh, Mao’s principal successful imitator, to take the evolution of war a step further.

Viet Nam

On the verge of winning the Second Indochina War in 1965, Ho suffered a major setback when U.S. ground forces were introduced into the conflict. With the entrance of these units, the communists were forced back to Phase II operations until such time as the correlation of forces once again changed in their favor. Aware of his military and economic inferiority, Ho sought to use international political maneuvering in conjunction with guerrilla war to bring about this change. He knew a key factor in the outcome of the war was the international political situation.

The length of each stage depends on … the changes between the enemy forces and ours, and also on the changes in the international situation whether the general offensive will come early or late.

To accomplish those changes in the international situation, Ho went beyond Mao's concept of national networks and introduced yet another aspect of fourth generation war. He built or tapped into a variety of international networks. Ho actively encouraged and supported international peace movements (Vietnam Veterans Against the War), international charities (Quakers), and even individuals Jane Fonda and Harrison Salisbury). While he could not control these networks, he could influence them and use their assistance in getting American society to change its view of the war.

In 1968, Ho and his principal strategist, Giap, provided another major step forward in the evolution of war. They used the media and international networks to turn the tactical disaster of the 1968 Tet Offensive into a major strategic success that eventually led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.

While the communists apparently did not anticipate the tremendous casualties and tactical failure of Tet, they did carefully select targets for maximum political impact. They were certainly aware of the fact it was an election year in the United States. They were aware the first significant cracks in U.S. support for the war were showing. Their massive commitment of irreplaceable resources to the Tet offensive shows they hoped for a major impact on the outcome of the war. But despite all their planning, they could not foresee the extent of the political impact in the United States.

Yet unlike the U.S. leadership, the communists were quick to recognize the impact Tet had on U.S. public opinion and to capitalize on it. Worldwide they hammered at Ho's theme:

The truth is that President Johnson wants neither peace nor peace negotiations. As a matter of fact, at the very moment when he talks a lot about peace discussion, the U.S. imperialists are further expanding the war of aggression in South Vietnam, massively sending there tens of thousands of U.S. troops and extending "escalation" in North Vietnam.,' The peoples of the world have clearly seen this. That is precisely the reason why the progressive American people are actively opposing. the U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam.

Given insurgency's political nature, Ho understood the U.S. center of gravity was our political will. He used both the mass media and his carefully cultivated international networks to magnify the impact of Tet. Based on the media coverage of Tet and his own information campaign, he portrayed the Viet Cong as a militarily insoluble problem for the United States. He set out to directly attack the U.S. center of gravity and succeeded. Within months of Tet, President Johnson had withdrawn from the 1968 presidential race and U.S. public opinion turned against the war.

This is Ho's unique contribution to the evolution of war. He shifted the emphasis from the defeat of the enemy's military forces to the defeat of his political will. Further, the enemy's will was not to be broken through direct attacks on the battlefield but rather through indirect attacks on his will to continue.

Ho, using the tools of fourth generation tactics, had defeated the much more powerful United States because the United States never understood the kind of war it was fighting. After the withdrawal of U.S. support, it was only a matter of time before the communists, using basic third generation tactics, conquered the south.


Another step toward the fourth generation of war was taken by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The FSLN went a step beyond Ho by developing a strategy based on the assumption that they could not win a military victory.

According to Alfonso Robelo, one of the early opponents of the Somoza Regime, the FSLN "never expected a total victory. This was something that they made clear. They never expected it …" Instead of military victory against Somoza, the FSLN planned to win the war through internal and external political pressure against the Somoza regime. It worked.

According to Col John Waghelstein, an insurgency analyst with the Strategic Studies Institute, the FSLN achieved their victory by employing the following strategic approach:


Bringing the mass appeal of broad front political organizations into the movement to ensure not only better and wider internal support but outside support that did not have Cuban, Eastern Bloc, or Soviet taint.

Using the Church, through Liberation Theology, to give the guerrillas the moral high ground.

Not losing sight of U.S. attention level.

Controlling or influencing U.S. and world opinion through the media. Guerrilla chiefs actually wrote editorials for The New York Times.

Targeting the U.S. Congress through public opinion and orchestrating the propaganda campaign to minimize the U.S. response.

Establishing front groups outside the country to function as public affairs/information offices to generate support for the movement and to pressure the United States into a less responsive mode.

Orchestrating and financing guest speakers to U.S. academic, civic and church groups. These groups, in turn, will write letters to U.S. congressmen who hold key committee positions overseeing security assistance operations.

Based on this foundation, the Sandinistas established a two-tiered approach that attacked the Somoza government across the spectrum of political, economic, and social issues while maintaining a low-level guerrilla campaign. On the first tier, the international political front, the Sandinistas carefully cultivated contacts with mainline U.S. churches, academics, and peace groups. By sponsoring visits to Nicaragua and sending speakers to the United States, the Sandinistas were able to portray themselves as a democratic movement in sharp contrast to the despotic and oppressive Somoza regime. These networks in turn made sure that message was passed clearly to the U.S. Congress.

On the second tier, the internal political scene, the Sandinistas supported and, to a degree, covertly controlled a coalition of groups that touched the life of almost every Nicaraguan. For instance, Moises Hassan, one of the founders and key leaders of the United People's Movement (an organization of residents of poor neighborhoods), did not reveal the fact that he was a member of the FSLN until after the government was overthrown. The FSLN understood the internal and international political value inherent in the support of an apparently untainted member of this key movement. The FSLN applied this lesson to all sectors of Nicaraguan life. They made great efforts to align the Chamorro family (the owners/publishers of La Prensa, the key newspaper in Nicaragua) with their movement. This not only gave them a powerful and untainted voice but also one that the government could not suppress except at great political cost. Any effort by Somoza to suppress La Prensa brought strong protests from the U.S. press and thus further legitimized the anti-Somoza coalition. The FSLN rounded out its political effort by associating itself with and attempting to control a wide variety of other organizations such as the Patriotic Front (an umbrella group for leftist political and labor movements).

In the social field, the Sandinista leadership recognized the Catholic Church's exceptional influence in the lives of Nicaraguans. By attaching themselves to the philosophy of Liberation Theology—the idea that the Catholic Church should assist the poor in overthrowing repressive regimes—the Sandinistas gained the respect and support of many of the junior members of the Catholic Church. While Liberation Theology never gained the approval of the Church's hierarchy, it served the purpose of aligning many parish priests with the FSLN, a communist movement. This was of particular importance because the clergy attracted to Liberation Theology were the same ones genuinely dedicated to improving the lives of the poor of Nicaragua. Thus the Sandinistas were able to exploit Liberation Theology by associating their movement with the local priests and sisters most respected by the people.

The net effect of all these internal and international networks was to build a coalition that isolated Somoza. This isolation so paralyzed Somoza that although he still had the capability to win on the battlefield, he fled the country. The Sandinistas had achieved a genuine fourth generation victory.

Subsequent to their victory, the Sandinistas surprised and angered many of their supporters when they excluded all other members of the coalition from positions of real power. Yet despite this open shift from a coalition to a "dictatorship of the parry," the FSLN was still able to mobilize its international networks to defeat the Reagan Administration's efforts to fund the Contras.

Despite some glaring mistakes in dealing with the U.S. Congress, the Sandinistas definitely advanced the art of war. They twice won a victory using a fourth generation information approach of focusing on political and social activity rather than military action. The Sandinistas proved fourth generation war focused on the political level could defeat a weak, inefficient, and unpopular government. The question remained: Can it do the same to a strong, efficient, popularly elected, highly legitimate government?

The Palestinians

The answer is "yes," as proven by the intifada uprising in the Occupied Territories. This step in the evolution of war exploded onto the television screens of the world when the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip took to the streets against the Israeli security forces. Initially, the incident looked like another spasm of spontaneous anger on the part of the Palestinians in the camps. What made it different was the fact that it grew, spread, and sustained itself.

There is still a good deal of debate about exactly how the uprising ignited, but for the purposes of this paper, why the intifada came into being is not as important as what happened—and how it illustrates the fourth generation of war.

Most writers on this subject agree on the following sequence of events.


The intifada started on 9 December 1987 when Palestinian youths took to the streets in riots against Israel occupation forces.

Within days of its ignition, the uprising had spread throughout the occupied territories.

Within a month, three levels of leadership emerged on the Palestinian side: neighborhood leaders of "popular committees," the Unified National Command of the Uprising (UNCU), and finally key Palestinian academics, journalists, and political representatives.

All three leadership groups existed before the intifada broke out. Yet, by bringing together the street protesters and the three leadership groups, the intifada created a unique organization ideally suited to exploit the advantages of fourth generation war. The local neighborhood networks dealt with grassroots issues—food, water, and medical care. They maintained the morale and effectiveness of the uprising during various attempts by Israeli forces to stamp it out. The UNCU, consisting of representatives of the four main Palestinian nationalist factions, but excluding the fundamentalists, provided overall direction and coordination to the neighborhood committees. The academics, journalists, and political leaders used their ties to U.S. and Israeli political and media leaders to explain the Palestinian side of the issue. By appearing reasonable, educated, and concerned about peace and justice in the Middle East, they drastically increased the impact of the action the local committees were orchestrating in the streets. Their very status as media stars neutralized attempts by Israeli security forces to detain and silence them.

Working together, the three levels of leadership developed a well thought out strategic approach to the struggle using all the tools of fourth generation war: political, economic, social, and mass media. (Figure 6.) They opted for a strategy of limited violence (no use of firearms or explosives), maximum media exposure for their side of the issue, division of the "battlefield" into a contested zone (the occupied territories) and, a safe zone (Israel proper). In short, they sought political victory rather than a military one.

Internationally, the Palestinians sought to portray themselves as the underdogs. By rejecting the use of firearms and explosives (even though it was not always honored by the local elements), they projected the intifada as a struggle of teenagers armed with rocks and stick against the best armed, best equipped, and best trained military force in the Middle East. Internally, the Palestinians wanted to develop the image of an insoluble problem. By creating a contested zone and a safe zone, they wanted to show the Israelis that while Israelis would never be safe in the Occupied Territories, there was no threat to Israelis inside Israel. It was a conscious information campaign designed to push the Israeli electorate toward the desired political solution.

This new message was not easy to transmit. It had to overcome years of terrorist attacks inside Israel. The intifada leadership understood that these attacks had strengthened the Israeli hard-line Likud Party by making the Occupied Territories seem like a buffer zone against terrorist attacks. By limiting the attacks to the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians showed that the Territories were not a security buffer but the source of trouble. Although the intifada leadership could not control all attacks inside Israel, the message did get through.

On a local level, the Palestinians built on a broad network of pre-existing local organizations to solve practical problems of governing and to bind their people together in a concerted political effort. As Ian S. Lipstick has noted:

Studies of volunteer work cooperatives, student associations, youth groups in refugee camps, and other grass-roots organizations repeatedly show that these mobilizing frameworks for collective action evolved gradually, from discrete, small-scale cooperatives responsive to the practical needs of Palestinians … into networks linked through representative of the various PLO factions to the overall nationalist movement.

These practical, humanitarian networks provided a significant tactical advantage. Given the international and domestic media coverage of these organizations, it was simply unacceptable for Israeli security forces to take action against them. Israel could not move against groups dedicated to improving the health care of the local population. This remained true no matter how much evidence the security forces could produce that proved the health-care providers were linked to the PLO. Several observers have noted that the intifada could have been crushed quickly if Israeli security forces had used the same brutality Syria used in Hama. These same observers noted that the Israeli people simply would not allow it.

Economically, the intifada leadership turned the Israeli-ordered lockout of West Bank labor to Palestinian advantage. They stressed three results of the lockout. First, Israeli businesses suffered heavy losses due to lack of labor. Second, Israeli exports fell over $650 million—much of the loss coming from the closing of markets inside the Occupied Territories. Finally, due to the 50-percent reduction in Palestinian income, tax revenues from the Territories fell sharply at the same time Israeli expenditures on policing the Territories shot up in response to the unrest.

Socially, the local Palestinian leaders used the labor lockout as a reason to emphasize self-reliance. The adversity brought Palestinian communities together against a common threat. As the intifada continued, it became apparent the Israelis were on the defensive across the spectrum. The intifada leaders stressed that they were succeeding where the combined armies of all Arab states had been defeated repeatedly for 40 years. The intifada became a matter of pride not just for Palestinians but for all Arabs.

The Palestinians used the international, Israeli, and Arabic media as a specific tool. The international media, by repeatedly broadcasting scenes of the Israeli Army firing on rock-throwing Palestinian teenagers, changed the image of Israel from a besieged nation in the midst of power enemies to that of oppressive occupier. The constant repetition of this image even neutralized the powerful Jewish lobby in the United States. The Palestinians used the Arabic media to show their own people and their Arab brothers how they were challenging Israel on a daily basis. These broadcasts built the pride and solidarity of the movement. Most important, the Palestinians used the Israeli media to hammer home to Israelis the idea that the cost of maintaining Israeli presence in the occupied territories far exceeded its dubious security benefits. According to former Prime Minister Shamir "the most important question of the (1992) election was retention of Greater Israel."

Palestinian action in the Occupied Territories and restraint in Israel proper shattered the Likud coalition and allowed the Labor Party to build a solid coalition for the first time since 1977. Once in power, the Labor government was willing to conduct the serious negotiations that led to the 1993 agreement on Palestinian autonomy. While the final Palestinian goal of an independent state is still to be achieved, their use of fourth generation broad-spectrum tactics against what was essentially a third generation Israeli response has achieved more than anyone dared predict as recently as last year.

Generational Conflicts

These four case studies—China, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and the West Bank—each confirm the characteristics of the fourth generation of war as described by van Creveld and Arquilla and Ronfeldt. All four examples were fought across the political, economic, social, and military spectrums. Just as important, these studies show that fourth generation tactics are rarely employed exclusively. Rather they exist side by side with the tactics of earlier generations.

The conflicts in Lebanon (1976-84), Somalia, and Bosnia provide contemporary reinforcement of this fact. Taken as a group, these events illustrate that insurgent leaders understand and apply the techniques of fourth generation war to manipulate Western democracies. When dealing with Western democracies, these insurgent leaders focused on winning a political victory by changing the minds of the enemy's policymakers. They found that when national interests are not at stake, a direct message delivered via international media is an exceptionally effective strategic approach.

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.


Recent conflicts confirm that war is in fact evolving in conjunction with the political, economic, and social changes affecting society as a whole.

Beginning with Mao's initial concept that political power was more decisive than military power and progressing to the intifada's total reliance on the mass media and international networks to neutralize Israeli military power, warfare has undergone a fundamental change. The fourth generation has arrived.

Strategically, it attempts to directly change the minds of enemy policymakers. This change is not to be achieved through the traditional method of superiority on the battlefield. Rather it is to be accomplished through the superior use of all the networks available in the information age. These networks are employed to carry specific messages to enemy policymakers. A sophisticated opponent can even tailor the message to a specific audience and a specific strategic situation.

Tactically, fourth generation war will:


Be fought in a complex arena of low-intensity conflict.

Include tactics/techniques from earlier generations.

Be fought across the spectrum of political, social, economic, and military networks.

Be fought worldwide through these networks.

Involve a mix of national, international, transnational, and subnational actors.

The strategic approach and tactical techniques of fourth generation warfare will require major changes in the way we educate, employ, structure, and train forces. Professional education, from initial-entry training to war-college level, will have to be broadened to deal with the wide spectrum of issues commanders will confront in a fourth generation conflict. As Arquilla and Ponfeldt stated, leaders must be prepared to "group together from a new perspective a number of measures that have been used before but were viewed separately." Training (as distinct from education) must expand to deal with tactical situations unique to fourth generation warfare, such as staged confrontations between security forces and unarmed women and children. Further, this broadened education must not be limited to military officers but must include decision makers from all agencies of the government involved with international security issues.

We must go beyond joint operations to interagency operations. If the enemy is going to strike across the spectrum of human activity, our national response must be coordinated across the multiple national agencies that deal with international issues. Just as joint undertaking had to evolve gradually into full-fledged joint operations, so will interagency operations have to mature from simple meetings to discuss cooperation into fully integrated national operations. Force structure must be reconsidered in light of fourth generation issues.

Fourth generation war will require much more intelligence gathering and analytical and dissemination capability to serve a highly flexible, interagency command system. At the same time, the fact that f
Fourth generation war will include elements of earlier generations of war means our forces must be prepared to deal with these aspects too.

Finally, just as many current conflicts do not employ third generation tactics, not all future conflicts will be fought primarily using fourth generation tactics. Therefore, it will be essential for national leaders to make an accurate analysis of the war they are about to enter. The complex mix of generations of war with their overlapping political, economic, social, military, and mass media arenas makes determining the type of war we are entering more critical than ever. While much of Clausewitz' On War has been rendered obsolete by the enormous changes in the world, his admonition to national leaders remains more important than ever. Clausewitz wrote:

The first, the supreme, the most far reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.

Colonel T. X. Hammes is now (2004) a senior military fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, DC.
January 15, 2004
Understanding Fourth Generation War
by William S. Lind

Rather than commenting on the specifics of the war with Iraq, I thought it might be a good time to lay out a framework for understanding that and other conflicts. The framework is the Four Generations of Modern War.

I developed the framework of the first three generations ("generation" is shorthand for dialectically qualitative shift) in the 1980s, when I was laboring to introduce maneuver warfare to the Marine Corps. Marines kept asking, "What will the Fourth Generation be like?", and I began to think about that. The result was the article I co-authored for the Marine Corps Gazette in 1989, "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation." Our troops found copies of it in the caves at Tora Bora, the al Quaeda hideout in Afghanistan.

The Four Generations began with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the treaty that ended the Thirty Years' War. With the Treaty of Westphalia, the state established a monopoly on war. Previously, many different entities had fought wars – families, tribes, religions, cities, business enterprises – using many different means, not just armies and navies (two of those means, bribery and assassination, are again in vogue). Now, state militaries find it difficult to imagine war in any way other than fighting state armed forces similar to themselves.

The First Generation of Modern War runs roughly from 1648 to 1860. This was war of line and column tactics, where battles were formal and the battlefield was orderly. The relevance of the First Generation springs from the fact that the battlefield of order created a military culture of order. Most of the things that distinguish "military" from "civilian" - uniforms, saluting, careful gradations or rank – were products of the First Generation and are intended to reinforce the culture of order.

The problem is that, around the middle of the 19th century, the battlefield of order began to break down. Mass armies, soldiers who actually wanted to fight (an 18th century's soldier's main objective was to desert), rifled muskets, then breech loaders and machine guns, made the old line and column tactics first obsolete, then suicidal.

The problem ever since has been a growing contradiction between the military culture and the increasing disorderliness of the battlefield. The culture of order that was once consistent with the environment in which it operated has become more and more at odds with it.

Second Generation warfare was one answer to this contradiction. Developed by the French Army during and after World War I, it sought a solution in mass firepower, most of which was indirect artillery fire. The goal was attrition, and the doctrine was summed up by the French as, "The artillery conquers, the infantry occupies." Centrally-controlled firepower was carefully synchronized, using detailed, specific plans and orders, for the infantry, tanks, and artillery, in a "conducted battle" where the commander was in effect the conductor of an orchestra.

Second Generation warfare came as a great relief to soldiers (or at least their officers) because it preserved the culture of order. The focus was inward on rules, processes and procedures. Obedience was more important than initiative (in fact, initiative was not wanted, because it endangered synchronization), and discipline was top-down and imposed.

Second Generation warfare is relevant to us today because the United States Army and Marine Corps learned Second Generation warfare from the French during and after World War I. It remains the American war of war, as we are seeing in Afghanistan and Iraq: to Americans, war means "putting steel on target." Aviation has replaced artillery as the source of most firepower, but otherwise, (and despite the Marine's formal doctrine, which is Third Generation maneuver warfare) the American military today is as French as white wine and brie. At the Marine Corps' desert warfare training center at 29 Palms, California, the only thing missing is the tricolor and a picture of General Gamelin in the headquarters. The same is true at the Army's Armor School at Fort Knox, where one instructor recently began his class by saying, "I don't know why I have to teach you all this old French crap, but I do."

Third Generation warfare, like Second, was a product of World War I. It was developed by the German Army, and is commonly known as Blitzkrieg or maneuver warfare.

Third Generation warfare is based not on firepower and attrition but speed, surprise, and mental as well as physical dislocation. Tactically, in the attack a Third Generation military seeks to get into the enemy's rear and collapse him from the rear forward: instead of "close with and destroy," the motto is "bypass and collapse." In the defense, it attempts to draw the enemy in, then cut him off. War ceases to be a shoving contest, where forces attempt to hold or advance a "line;" Third Generation warfare is non-linear.

Not only do tactics change in the Third Generation, so does the military culture. A Third Generation military focuses outward, on the situation, the enemy, and the result the situation requires, not inward on process and method (in war games in the 19th Century, German junior officers were routinely given problems that could only be solved by disobeying orders). Orders themselves specify the result to be achieved, but never the method ("Auftragstaktik"). Initiative is more important than obedience (mistakes are tolerated, so long as they come from too much initiative rather than too little), and it all depends on self-discipline, not imposed discipline. The Kaiserheer and the Wehrmacht could put on great parades, but in reality they had broken with the culture of order.

Characteristics such as decentralization and initiative carry over from the Third to the Fourth Generation, but in other respects the Fourth Generation marks the most radical change since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In Fourth Generation war, the state loses its monopoly on war. All over the world, state militaries find themselves fighting non-state opponents such as al Quaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the FARC. Almost everywhere, the state is losing.

Fourth Generation war is also marked by a return to a world of cultures, not merely states, in conflict. We now find ourselves facing the Christian West's oldest and most steadfast opponent, Islam. After about three centuries on the strategic defensive, following the failure of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, Islam has resumed the strategic offensive, expanding outward in every direction. In Third Generation war, invasion by immigration can be at least as dangerous as invasion by a state army.

Nor is Fourth Generation warfare merely something we import, as we did on 9/11. At its core lies a universal crisis of legitimacy of the state, and that crisis means many countries will evolve Fourth Generation war on their soil. America, with a closed political system (regardless of which party wins, the Establishment remains in power and nothing really changes) and a poisonous ideology of "multiculturalism," is a prime candidate for the home-grown variety of Fourth Generation war – which is by far the most dangerous kind.

Where does the war in Iraq fit in this framework?

I suggest that the war we have seen thus far is merely a powder train leading to the magazine. The magazine is Fourth Generation war by a wide variety of Islamic non-state actors, directed at America and Americans (and local governments friendly to America) everywhere. The longer America occupies Iraq, the greater the chance that the magazine will explode. If it does, God help us all.

For almost two years, a small seminar has been meeting at my house to work on the question of how to fight Fourth Generation war. It is made up mostly of Marines, lieutenant through lieutenant colonel, with one Army officer, one National Guard tanker captain and one foreign officer. We figured somebody ought to be working on the most difficult question facing the U.S. armed forces, and nobody else seems to be.

The seminar recently decided it was time to go public with a few of the ideas it has come up with, and use this column to that end. We have no magic solutions to offer, only some thoughts. We recognized from the outset that the whole task may be hopeless; state militaries may not be able to come to grips with Fourth Generation enemies no matter what they do.

But for what they are worth, here are our thoughts to date:


If America had some Third Generation ground forces, capable of maneuver warfare, we might be able to fight battles of encirclement. The inability to fight battles of encirclement is what led to the failure of Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, where al Qaeda stood, fought us, and got away with few casualties. To fight such battles we need some true light infantry, infantry that can move farther and faster on its feet than the enemy, has a full tactical repertoire (not just bumping into the enemy and calling for fire) and can fight with its own weapons instead of depending on supporting arms. We estimate that U.S. Marine infantry today has a sustained march rate of only 10-15 kilometers per day; German World War II line, not light, infantry could sustain 40 kilometers.

Fourth Generation opponents will not sign up to the Geneva Conventions, but might some be open to a chivalric code governing how our war with them would be fought? It's worth exploring.

How U.S. forces conduct themselves after the battle may be as important in 4GW as how they fight the battle.

What the Marine Corps calls "cultural intelligence" is of vital importance in 4GW, and it must go down to the lowest rank. In Iraq, the Marines seemed to grasp this much better than the U.S. Army.

What kind of people do we need in Special Operations Forces? The seminar thought minds were more important than muscles, but it is not clear all U.S. SOF understand this.

One key to success is integrating our troops as much as possible with the local people.

Unfortunately, the American doctrine of "force protection" works against integration and generally hurts us badly. Here's a quote from the minutes of the seminar:

There are two ways to deal with the issue of force protection. One way is the way we are currently doing it, which is to separate ourselves from the population and to intimidate them with our firepower. A more viable alternative might be to take the opposite approach and integrate with the community. That way you find out more of what is going on and the population protects you. The British approach of getting the helmets off as soon as possible may actually be saving lives.


What "wins" at the tactical and physical levels may lose at the operational, strategic, mental and moral levels, where 4GW is decided. Martin van Creveld argues that one reason the British have not lost in Northern Ireland is that the British Army has taken more casualties than it has inflicted. This is something the Second Generation American military has great trouble grasping, because it defines success in terms of comparative attrition rates.

We must recognize that in 4GW situations, we are the weaker, not the stronger party, despite all our firepower and technology.

What can the U.S. military learn from cops? Our reserve and National Guard units include lots of cops; are we taking advantage of what they know?

One key to success in 4GW may be "losing to win." Part of the reason the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are not succeeding is that our initial invasion destroyed the state, creating a happy hunting ground for Fourth Generation forces. In a world where the state is in decline, if you destroy a state, it is very difficult to recreate it. Here's another quote from the minutes of the seminar:

"The discussion concluded that while war against another state may be necessary one should seek to preserve that state even as one defeats it. Grant the opposing armies the 'honors of war,' tell them what a fine job they did, make their defeat 'civilized' so they can survive the war institutionally intact and then work for your side. This would be similar to 18th century notions of civilized war and contribute greatly to propping up a fragile state. Humiliating the defeated enemy troops, especially in front of their own population, is always a serious mistake but one that Americans are prone to make. This is because the 'football mentality' we have developed since World War II works against us."

In many ways, the 21st century will offer a war between the forces of 4GW and Brave New World. The 4GW forces understand this, while the international elites that seek BNW do not. Another quote from the minutes:

"Osama bin Ladin, though reportedly very wealthy, lives in a cave. Yes, it is for security but it is also leadership by example. It may make it harder to separate (physically or psychologically) the 4GW leaders from their troops. It also makes it harder to discredit those leaders with their followers… This contrasts dramatically with the BNW elites who are physically and psychologically separated (by a huge gap) from their followers (even the generals in most conventional armies are to a great extent separated fro their men)… The BNW elites are in many respects occupying the moral low ground but don't know it."


In the Axis occupation of the Balkans during World War II, the Italians in many ways were more effective than the Germans. The key to their success is that they did not want to fight. On Cyprus, the U.N. commander rated the Argentine battalion as more effective than the British or the Austrians because the Argentines did not want to fight. What lessons can U.S. forces draw from this?

How would the Mafia do an occupation?

When we have a coalition, what if we let each country do what is does best, e.g., the Russians handle operational art, the U.S. firepower and logistics, maybe the Italians the occupation?

How could the Defense Department's concept of "Transformation" be redefined so as to come to grips with 4GW? If you read the current "Transformation Planning Guidance" put out by DOD, you find nothing in it on 4GW, indeed nothing that relates at all to either of the two wars we are now fighting. It is all oriented toward fighting other state armed forces that fight us symmetrically.

The seminar intends to continue working on this question of redefining "Transformation" (die Verwandlung?) so as to make it relevant to 4GW. However, for our December meeting, we have posed the following problem: It is Spring, 2004. The U.S. Marines are to relieve the Army in the occupation of Fallujah, perhaps Iraq's hottest hot spot (and one where the 82nd Airborne's tactics have been pouring gasoline on the fire). You are the commander of the Marine force taking over Fallujah. What do you do?

I'll let you know what we come up with.

Will Saddam’s capture mark a turning point in the war in Iraq? Don’t count on it. Few resistance fighters have been fighting for Saddam personally. Saddam’s capture may lead to a fractioning of the Baath Party, which would move us further toward a Fourth Generation situation where no one can recreate the state. It may also tell the Shiites that they no longer need America to protect them from Saddam, giving them more options in their struggle for free elections.

If the U.S. Army used the capture of Saddam to announce the end of tactics that enrage ordinary Iraqis and drive them toward active resistance, it might buy us a bit of de-escalation. But I don’t think we’ll that be smart. When it comes to Fourth Generation war, it seems nobody in the American military gets it.

Recently, a faculty member at the National Defense University wrote to Marine Corps General Mattis, commander of I MAR DIV, to ask his views on the importance of reading military history. Mattis responded with an eloquent defense of taking time to read history, one that should go up on the wall at all of our military schools. "Thanks to my reading, I have never been caught flat-footed by any situation," Mattis said. "It doesn’t give me all the answers, but it lights what is often a dark path ahead."

Still, even such a capable and well-read commander as General Mattis seems to miss the point about Fourth Generation warfare. He said in his missive, "Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face NOTHING new under the sun. For all the ‘4th Generation of War’ intellectuals running around today saying that the nature of war has fundamentally changed, the tactics are wholly new, etc., I must respectfully say…’Not really…"

Well, that isn’t quite what we Fourth Generation intellectuals are saying. On the contrary, we have pointed out over and over that the 4th Generation is not novel but a return, specifically a return to the way war worked before the rise of the state. Now, as then, many different entities, not just governments of states, will wage war. They will wage war for many different reasons, not just "the extension of politics by other means." And they will use many different tools to fight war, not restricting themselves to what we recognize as military forces. When I am asked to recommend a good book describing what a Fourth Generation world will be like, I usually suggest Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century.

Nor are we saying that Fourth Generation tactics are new. On the contrary, many of the tactics Fourth Generation opponents use are standard guerilla tactics. Others, including much of what we call "terrorism," are classic Arab light cavalry warfare carried out with modern technology at the operational and strategic, not just tactical, levels.

As I have said before in this column, most of what we are facing in Iraq today is not yet Fourth Generation warfare, but a War of National Liberation, fought by people whose goal is to restore a Baathist state. But as that goal fades and those forces splinter, Fourth Generation war will come more and more to the fore. What will characterize it is not vast changes in how the enemy fights, but rather in who fights and what they fight for. The change in who fights makes it difficult for us to tell friend from foe. A good example is the advent of female suicide bombers; do U.S. troops now start frisking every Moslem woman they encounter? The change in what our enemies fight for makes impossible the political compromises that are necessary to ending any war. We find that when it comes to making peace, we have no one to talk to and nothing to talk about. And the end of a war like that in Iraq becomes inevitable: the local state we attacked vanishes, leaving behind either a stateless region (Somalia) or a fa├žade of a state (Afghanistan) within which more non-state elements rise and fight.

General Mattis is correct that none of this is new. It is only new to state armed forces that were designed to fight other state armed forces. The fact that no state military has recently succeeded in defeating a non-state enemy reminds us that Clio has a sense of humor: history also teaches us that not all problems have solutions.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

4GW (fourth generation wafare) is the term used by military thinkers to describe conflict at the end of the 20th century. In general, 4GW is an extremely effective method of warfare that the US and its allies will find very difficult to defeat (a slow burn, rather than complete eradication, may be the best possible outcome). I have outlined the basics of 4GW warfare below to enhance your understanding of the term.

4GW can be defined as a method of warfare that uses the following to achieve a moral victory:

* Undermines enemy strengths (this may seem obvious, but most of modern warfare has involved direct attacks on enemy strengths -- find the enemy army and destroy it).
* Exploits enemy weaknesses.
* Uses asymmetric operations (weapons and techniques that differ substantially from opponents).

The rise of 4GW is both a product and a driver of the following:

* The loss of the nation-state's monopoly on violence.
* The rise of cultural, ethnic, and religious conflict.
* Globalization (via technological integration).

4GW is fought on the tactical level via:

* Rear area operations -- 4GW warriors do not confront a nation-state's military but rather it society.
* Psychological operations -- terror.
* Ad-hoc innovation -- use of the enemy's strengths against itself.

Generations of Warfare
The generational development of warfare can be outlined as:

* First generation -- wars of Napoleon, conscription and firearms (the decline of mercenaries).
* Second generation -- the US civil war and WW1, firepower and nation-state alignment of resources to warfare.
* Third generation -- WW2, maneuver and armored warfare.
* Fourth generation -- ad hoc warriors and moral conflict.

Many of the methods used in 4GW aren't new and have robust historical precedent. However, there are important differences in how it is applied today. These include:

* Global -- modern technologies and economic integration enable global operations.
* Pervasive -- the decline of nation-state warfare has forced all open conflict into the 4GW mold.
* Granularity -- extremely small viable groups and variety of reasons for conflict.
* Vulerability -- open societies and economies.
* Technology -- new technologies have dramatically increased the productivity of small groups of 4GW warriors.
* Media -- global media saturation makes possible an incredible level of manipulation.
* Networked -- new organizational types made possible by improvements in technology are much better at learning, surviving, and acting.

Winning a 4GW conflict
Victory in 4GW warfare is won in the moral sphere. The aim of 4GW is to destroy the moral bonds that allows the organic whole to exist -- cohesion. This is done by reinforcing the following (according to Boyd):

* Menace. Attacks that undermine or threaten basic human survival instincts.
* Mistrust. Increases divisions between groups (ie. conservatives and liberals in the US).
* Uncertainty. Undermine economic activity by decreasing confidence in the future.

Posted by John Robb on Saturday, May 08, 2004 at 10:11 AM |

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
It will be the case that a planner who is adroit at systempunkt selection will have the capacity to completely shut down a target system. This should be approached carefully. Complete disruption of the target system or the destruction of critical parts will result in the growth of redundancies and alternatives. It may also lead to an increase in the moral cohesion of the target state. Partial disruption carries the hope that the system will be made whole again and thereby increases its coercive value and the delegitimization of its protector.

Posted by John Robb on Wednesday, February 01, 2006 at 08:00 AM |

Fifth Generation Warfare?

by William S. Lind
by William S. Lind

Despite the fact that the framework of the Four Generations of Modern War is relatively new, first appearing in print in 1989, some observers are now talking about a Fifth Generation. Some see the Fifth Generation as a product of new technologies, such as nanotechnology. Others define it as the state’s struggle to maintain its monopoly on war and social organization in the face of Fourth Generation challengers. One correspondent defined it as terrorist acts done by one group in such a manner that they are blamed on another, something traditionally known as "pseudo-operations."

These ideas are all valuable, and if people try to think beyond or outside the framework of the Four Generations, that is probably a good thing. An intellectual framework must remain open or it descends into an ideology, something poisonous per se (as Russell Kirk wrote, conservatism is the negation of ideology). At the same time, I have to say that these attempts to announce a Fifth Generation seem to go a generation too far.

One reason for the confusion may be a misapprehension of what "generation" means. In the context of the Four Generations of Modern War, "generation" is shorthand for a dialectically qualitative shift. As the originator of the framework, I adopted the word "generation" because I was speaking to and writing for Marines, and "dialectically qualitative shift" has more syllables than the Marine mind can readily grasp (think of the Emperor Joseph II’s response when he first heard Mozart’s music: "Too many notes."). Most Marines vaguely remember that Hegel pitched for the Yankees in the late 1940’s.

As that old German would be quick to tell us, dialectically qualitative shifts occur very seldom. In my view, there were only three in the field of warfare since the modern era began with the Peace of Westphalia; the Fourth marks the end of the modern period.

One simple test for whether or not something constitutes a generational shift is that, absent a vast disparity in size, an army from a previous generation cannot beat a force from the new generation. The Second Generation French Army of 1940 could not defeat the Third Generation Wehrmacht, even though the French had more tanks and better tanks than the Germans. The reason I do not think the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon mark a generational shift is that Wellington consistently beat the French, and the British Army he led remained very much an 18th century army.

While attempts to think beyond the Four Generations should generally be welcomed, there are some shoals to avoid. One is technological determinism, the false notion that war’s outcome is usually determined by superiority in equipment. Martin van Creveld’s book Technology and War makes a strong case that technology is seldom the determining factor.

A related danger is technological hucksterism: coming up with Madison Avenue slogans to sell new weapons programs by claiming that they fundamentally change warfare. This kind of carnival sideshow act lies at the heart of the so-called "Revolution in Military Affairs," and it dominates all discussions of national defense in Washington. Every contractor who hopes to get his snout in the trough claims that his widget "revolutionizes" war. As the framework of the Four Generations spreads, you can be sure that the Merchants of Death will claim that whatever they are trying to sell is an absolute necessity for Fourth (or Fifth) Generation war. It will all be poppycock.

From what I have seen thus far, honest attempts to discover a Fifth Generation suggest that their authors have not fully grasped the vast change embodied in the Fourth Generation. The loss of the state’s monopoly, not only on war but also on social organization and first loyalties, alters everything. We are only in the earliest stages of trying to understand what the Fourth Generation means in full and how it will alter – or, in too many cases, end – our lives.

Attempting to visualize a Fifth Generation from where we are now is like trying to see the outlines of the Middle Ages from the vantage point of the late Roman Empire. There is no telescope that can reach so far. We can see the barbarians on the march. In America and in Europe, we already find them inside the limes and within the legions. But what follows the chaos they bring in their wake, only the gods on Mount Olympus can see. It may be worth remembering that the last time this happened, the gods themselves died.

February 4, 2004

William Lind [send him mail] is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.

Copyright © 2004 William S. Lind

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