Category Archives: 4GW

Theory and practice of 4th generation warfare.

How to use refugees as geopolitical weapons, brutal but effective

Summary: Today we have another in this series about migrations and their destabilizing effects, with excerpts from the insight works by Kelly M. Greenhill (Assoc Prof of political science, Tufts U). She describes the dynamics of past migrations, and how flows of people can become a powerful weapon.

“If we acknowledge that the new principles of war are no longer “using armed force to compel the enemy to submit to one’s will,” but rather are “using all means, including armed force or non-armed force, military and non-military, and lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one’s interests.”

— From the preface to Unrestricted Warfare (1999) by Qiao Liang (乔良) and Wang Xiangsui (王湘穗), Colonels in the air force of the People’s Liberation Army.

Geese flying

The appearance of so many new forms of conflict (aka 4th generation war) since WWII has produced many surprises. Perhaps none as strange as the mass movements of people, deliberate and inadvertent, spreading the contagion of disorder — the hatreds, enthusiasms, and chaos from unstable regions to stable ones. The US has experienced relatively benign but still politically and economically contentious flows from Latin America. Europe is gripped by destabilizing flows with no end in sight.

Kelly M. Greenhill (bio below) has pioneered investigations of this phenomenon, with conclusions of urgent current interest. For an introduction to her work see “Using Refugees as Weapons“, NYT op-ed, 20 April 2011 — Opening…

In the early days of what grew into the Libyan uprising, Muammar el-Qaddafi summoned European Union ministers to Tripoli and issued an ultimatum: Stop supporting the protesters, or I’ll suspend cooperation on migration and Europe will be facing a human flood of from North Africa. Given Libya’s history as an attractive transit point for North Africans seeking entry to Europe, it was a credible threat.

For one thing, it has worked to varying degrees at least four times in the last decade alone. Indeed, it was only the European Union’s promise to lift the last remaining sanctions against Libya in the fall of 2004 that persuaded Qaddafi to staunch what was then viewed as an alarmingly large flow of North Africans onto the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa and, from there, onto the Continent. To that point in 2004, about 9,000 people had landed on Lampedusa, 1,600 of whom arrived in the month prior to conclusion of the agreement between Brussels and Tripoli. Although these numbers were not trivial, they were nothing compared to the predicted 750,000 to one million North Africans anticipated by Western European leaders this time around.

… what happened in 2004 was not an isolated event. In 2006, and again in 2008, Qaddafi extracted from the E.U. additional financial aid and equipment (such as boats) that could be used for migration enforcement. In late 2010, the E.U. and Libya concluded a further £500 million accord, which succeeded in stopping, or at least demonstrably slowing, the flow of people across the Mediterranean — until the outbreak of unrest in Tunisia.

Tragic though it is for the victims of this kind of unconventional coercion, Qaddafi’s threatened use of demographic bombs is neither new nor unique. As I demonstrated in a study published last year, there were at least 56 attempts to employ the direct or indirect threat of mass migrations as a non-military instrument of influence between 1951 and 2006.

In about 73% of cases where it was attempted, would-be coercers got at least some of what they sought; in about 57% of cases, they achieved most, if not all, of their objectives. The majority of these coercive attempts were initiated by authoritarian dictators such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro, East Germany’s Erich Honecker, the former Yugoslavia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Uganda’s Idi Amin. However, it is worth noting that the threat and actual manipulation of mass migrations has also been employed by democratic leaders like West Germany’s Konrad Adenauer and Dwight Eisenhower of the United States.

There is a new government in Libya, but their tactics remain the same, as in this November 2 article in The Telegraph: “Libya warns it could flood Europe with migrants if EU does not recognise new self-declared government.”

Continue reading

China introduces us to the future of warfare (asymmetric)

Summary: This series about China’s perspective on geopolitics and strategy begins with an excerpt from one of the most important and most underestimated textbooks about modern warfare, published in 1999. The following posts have excerpts from a recent speech by one of the authors, now a Major General in the People’s Liberation Army. These give a glimpse into the future that the US military, glutted with money from the fantastic growth of the military-industrial complex, refuses to see.


One of the key texts describing 4th generation warfare is Unrestricted Warfare, published in 1999 by Qiao Liang (乔良) and Wang Xiangsui (王湘穗), both Colonels in the air force of the People’s Liberation Army. They describe the 1997 attack by western hedge funds on the currencies of Southeast Asia as an example of this new generation of warfare.

Not mentioned but fitting in their paradigm is America use of economic sanctions as a weapon, which we have done with increasing frequency: against Iraq, against Burma, against Russia, and especially against Iran — hampering its trade and cutting Iran off from the world’s financial machinery (e.g., the SWIFT interbank money transfer system).

America’s military has largely ignored this book, as hegemons usually do when rivals develop asymmetric tools to circumvent their power. We exult in the superiority of our super-sophisticated (and super-expensive) carriers and  aircraft, while they use their imagination to devise new paths to victory.


When people begin to lean toward and rejoice in the reduced use of military force to resolve conflicts, war will be reborn in another form and in another arena, becoming an instrument of enormous power in the hands of all those who harbor intentions of controlling other countries or regions. In this sense, there is reason for us to maintain that the financial attack by George Soros on East Asia, the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy by Usama Bin Laden, the gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the disciples of the Aum Shinri Kyo, and the havoc wreaked by the likes of Morris Jr. on the Internet {in 1988 created the first computer “worm”}, in which the degree of destruction is by no means second to that of a war, represent semi-warfare, quasi-warfare, and sub-warfare, that is, the embryonic form of another kind of warfare. …

Continue reading

William Lind: a voice from the past explains our broken army

Summary: We applaud the heroism and sacrifices of our troops, but remain blind to the incapacity of our army. Here William Lind explains our military’s core problem and how to fix it. Only our intervention will make this possible (excerpt through crushing defeat, as happened to Prussia).

“The spirit of the army is the spirit of its officers.”
— Attributed to Prussian General Ernst von Rüchel (1754-1823).

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666).

Samuel Pepys by John Hayls (1666). The National Gallery.


A Voice From the Past

By William S. Lind

From traditionalRIGHT
25 August 2015

Here with their generous permission


Last year, friends gave me a splendid Christmas present in the form of all ten volumes of The Diary of Samuel Pepys covering the years 1660-1670. (As if that were insufficient, they accompanied it with a richly decorated chamber pot for the Imperial Library). Pepys, a civilian, was primarily responsible for developing the first modern naval administration, which turned a collection of ships into the Royal Navy.

The diary’s entry for July 4, 1663, touches on a broader matter. After visiting a general muster of the King’s Guards, Pepys wrote,

Where a goodly sight to see so many fine horse and officers, and the King, Duke (of York) and others come by a-horseback . . . (I) did stand to see the horse and foot march by and discharge their guns, to show a French Marquesse (for whom this muster was caused) the goodness of our firemen; which endeed was very good . . . yet methought all these gay men are not soldiers that must do the King’s business, it being such as these that lost the old King (Charles I) all he had and were beat by the most ordinary fellows that could be.

Pepys’ theme, the defeat of parade-ground armies by “most ordinary fellows”, is an old one. It appears to be unknown to our own military, or, more likely, they know it but cannot conceive it applies to them.

But it does. With all their vastly expensive equipment, they can put on a wonderful show, shows such as Gulf War I and the initial phase of Gulf War II. But once they no longer face another king’s Royal Guards and come up against those ordinary fellows, they lose. The U.S. Marines, who put on a show all the time, and a very convincing one, are now 0-4 against guys in bathrobes and flip-flops armed with rusty AKs. Pepys’ age-old theme repeats itself.

Continue reading

We don’t need a new army to fight modern wars, we need a smart one

Summary;  Our long war goes badly, as the flames of Islamic revolution spread following our failures in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Libya. Some ask if the US military can cope with the challenges of fourth generation war. Here Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired) gives an answer.

USMC logo


We Don’t Need a New Army to Deal with Fourth Generation Foes;
we need a Smart One

By Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired)

One of the primary fallacies regarding Fourth Generational Warfare (4GW) is that the United States must totally retool its force structure to deal with this emerging evolution in warfare; this is not the case. 4GW means that foreign and domestic non-state actors are challenging the monopoly that nation-states have enjoyed on the application of force since the end of the Thirty Years War. That does not mean that war between nation-states has become obsolete.

The fact that the United States enjoys a temporary overmatch against most plausible conventional foes has not made traditional warfighting a thing of the past. Some potential American foes intend to combine a combination of conventional and unconventional warfare in any conflict with the United States in a concept known as hybrid warfare. However, any hybrid war will probably begin with a conventional stage, and only go hybrid if America’s enemy perceives that it is losing.

The United States would be ill-advised to sacrifice its technological edge to prepare to fight low-end 4GW opponents for two reasons. First, success in 4GW is primarily a matter of operational art, particularly in the application of counterinsurgency and counterterrorism principles. There is no special technological or force structure formula for 4GW warfare. Each situation will be unique and the studied application of task organization to meet the terrain and situation will be a key to success.

The primary difference between 4GW and traditional insurgencies is that insurgencies generally have the objective of replacing one form of government with another in a specific country. Many 4GW actors are transnational and look to control a region regardless of existing borders. In that; ISIL, Boko Harem, and to a lesser extent Islamic Courts (al Shabab) do not recognize traditional largely colonial drawn international borders. However, the tactics that they initially use more resemble the classic first two stages of insurgencies with terrorism being used as an early tool.

Continue reading

In our wars the tactics of the weak confound the strong

Summary: Few things are sadder in our long war than reading prescient articles from the past which we disregarded. Like the one shown below from 2003 which not only accurately predicted our failures but explained why and how they would happen. Perhaps ten years from now you will read it again and marvel at how well it predicted our failure in the new wars beginning today. Until then read this to help you better understand events, new game of rock-paper-scissors behind the headlines.


Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid

Introduction by GI Wilson

The debate about modern war continues, with the highest stakes — not just the almost trillion- dollars/year in US defense spending, but perhaps national survival as well. Have wars between nation states become obsolete, with 4th generation warfare (4GW) the real threat?

Most of DoD’s spending goes to preparing for conventional great power war, so 4GWs are fought largely with conventional tools (e.g., bombing). It must be so in order to preserve the many “rich rice bowls” in Washington, DC. As Eisenhower warned us, the DOD-Congressional-Industrial Complex (DICC) grows rich by preparing for wars with other nations. These are the wars DOD wants, but not the ones it gets.

DOD’s acquisition based strategy requires “peer competitors” to justify the vast wasteland of defense spending, habitual cost over runs, and dysfunctional weapons programs. If other nations don’t play the game, information operations on the US people manufacture the necessary threats.

Unfortunately, this high-tech-high-cost approach to national security against our serious foes (e.g., ISIS, AQ, Hezbollah) consistently fails, or even acts as an enabler.

Congress and DOD with their addiction to all-things-high-tech-high-cost do not recognize nation states have lost their monopoly on violence. We lack an adaptive and comprehensive strategy to cope with emerging 4GW threats. Our current wars fail because the in 4GW the weak confounds the strong. The following essay was written in 2003, but applies today because we have learned almost nothing.

Continue reading

Darwin explains the futility of killing insurgents. It makes them more effective.

Summary: During the past decade we have deployed our most skilled warriors and most advanced technology in an assassination program with few precedents in history. Result: the Middle East in flames and our foes resurgent. I and others predicted this, the natural result of putting the force of evolution to work for our foes. It’s called the Darwinian Ratchet. It’s a well-known concept in science, but one we prefer not to see. Victory remains impossible until we overcome our inability to learn this and other basics of modern warfare.  This is cross-posted on Martin van Creveld’s website; he described this as “absolutely fascinating.”

“What does not kill him, makes him stronger.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche in Ecce Homo: How One Becomes What One Is (1888).



  1. Our learning disability
  2. Biologists explain the Darwinian Ratchet.
  3. The Darwinian Ratchet at work in war.
  4. Conclusion
  5. For More Information.
  6. An insurgent’s theme song.

(1) Our learning disability

The great mystery of our post-9/11 wars is our inability to learn from history and our own experience. My previous post discussed one aspect of this: our blindness to the consistent failure since WWII of foreign armies fighting insurgents. Another aspect is what Martin van Creveld calls the “power of weakness”. This essay discusses a third aspect, how an insurgency brings into play a “Darwinian ratchet” in which our efforts empower an insurgency.

This post shows the origin and history of the “ratchet” concept and its slow recognition by American geopolitical and military leaders. But there are no answers to our inability to adapt our tactics to the ratchet, just as there are none for our failure to learn from the history of insurgencies (as explained in Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win).

(2) Biologists Explain the Darwinian Ratchet

It’s an old concept in biology, first developed by Herman Muller in his famous 1932 article “Some genetic aspects of sex”. We’re personally experience the Darwinian ratchet when we take antibiotics in too-low doses or for too short a time, creating a colony of slightly drug-resistant bacteria. When done by a society we breed superbugs, as Nathan Taylor explains in “What are the risks of a global pandemic?“ (Praxtime, 23 March 2013).

“The genetics of disease resistance are worth discussing here. We can think of resistance to disease as an arms race. As a population gets exposed to more and more diseases, a darwinian ratchet effect occurs, and only those with stronger immune systems survive.”

The literature of biology and medicine has many articles about the Darwinian ratchet, ranging from complex (Alexander Riegler’s “The Ratchet Effect as a Fundamental Principle in Evolution and Cognition”, Cybernetics and Systems, 2001) to the incomprehensible. The concept has spread to other fields, as in William H. Calvin’s The Cerebral Code: Thinking a Thought in the Mosaics of the Mind (1996).

Continue reading

When will our military learn modern warfare, & overcome the attritionist tendency?

Summary: Captain Grazier (USMC) writes another chapter in our series explaining why we lose at modern warfare despite the training, size, and fantastic tech of our forces. Another post by a Marine officer explaining our military’s internal struggle to overcome its attritionist tendency (i.e., fighting 21st wars with WWI methods). He explains the complexities of our wars (debunking the “kill until we win” mindlessness that often dominates discussions of our wars). These insights come from someone who has fought our wars. We should listen when he says that learning is the key to future success.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

Verdun: 2GW

Attritionists finest hour.


  1. Overcoming the attritionist tendency
  2. About the author
  3. What is attrition warfare?
  4. The Generations of War
  5. For More Infomration

A Manœuvre Renaissance: Overcoming the attritionist tendency

By Daniel R. Grazier (Captain, USMC)
Marine Corps Gazette, June 2015
Posted with their generous permission.

An eccentric retired Air Force colonel accepted an invitation to speak to the students of Amphibious Warfare School class of 1979 only after the staff grudgingly agreed to his demand for a five-hour block of time.1 From this slightly awkward beginning, the Marine Corps’ doctrine of manœuvre warfare sprouted and grew. The shift from attrition to manœuvre hardly occurred overnight. It took the efforts of many intelligent and dedicated officers and civilians years to create a critical mass of manœuvreists within the officer corps to bring about this momentous shift.

Now more than three decades later, almost everyone in the Marine Corps can identify that Air Force colonel as John Boyd and say he “invented” the OODA (observation, orientation, decision, action) loop. But few people appear to understand the real significance of Col Boyd’s work anymore. This becomes readily apparent any time a staff creates a synchronization matrix or a battalion attacks straight into an enemy defense during an integrated training exercise. We are doomed to backslide completely into old attritionist habits without a reexamination of our way of doing business. To prevent this, a manœuvre renaissance is necessary to move forward as we transition away from the long war and prepare to confront a future fourth generation adversary.2

Several factors are to blame for the current lack of appreciation of John Boyd and manœuvre. First, the bulk of intellectual energy over the past decade plus has been expended studying counterinsurgency theory and practice. This, combined with constant deployment preparation and theater-specific training, hardly fosters the proper study and understanding of manœuvre. Secondly, we are now a generation removed from those early revolutionaries of the post-Vietnam military reform movement. Most people take manœuvre for granted now, not realizing just what an all-encompassing concept it really is.

Continue reading