Category Archives: 4GW

Theory and practice of 4th generation warfare.

Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.

Martin van Creveld, among our time’s top historians and military theorists, asked for a submission to his website. I provided this essay about modern war, a summary of themes often discussed here during the past 8 years. It’s probably the most important contribution to readers of the FM website. The West’s failure to learn this simple lesson is among the greatest of our weaknesses, so large as to offset the power of even the greatest of nations.

Fake Churchill about success

Among the dumbest advice ever. Churchill didn’t say it.

Our wars since WWII

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought non-trinitarian (aka 4th generation) warfare to maturity. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again.

It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Only after the failure of our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq did the essential aspect of this new era become known, as described in Chapter 6.2 of Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (2006).

What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. … Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.

The two kinds of insurgencies

In January 2007 I gave a more detailed explanation to van Creveld’s conclusion. As a simple dichotomy for analytical purposes, we can sort insurgencies by the degree of involvement of outside armed forces (of course, there are other ways to characterize 4GW).

  1. Violence between two or more local groups, who can form from any combination of clans, governments, ethnicities, religions, gangs, and tribes.
  2. Violence between two or more sides, where at least one is led by foreigners – comprising, as above, any imaginable combination of factions.

{ Read the rest at Martin van Creveld’s website.
Post your comments here; he doesn’t allow comments.}

 

Is victory impossible in modern wars? Or just not possible for us?

Summary: Slowly America begins to absorb lessons from our fails in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet as with Vietnam we prefer not to see too deeply. Mark Kukis at aeon gives us another incisive analysis of modern war that misses the mark, and so sets us up for the next failed war.  {2nd of 2 wars.}

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

The Arch of the Victory in Genoa

Recommended reading: “The myth of victory” by Mark Kukis at aeon

“War isn’t like it used to be. Victory is more elusive & a strong military doesn’t count as much.”

Mark Kukis knows this subject well, having covered our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for the major media and author of Voices from Iraq: A People’s History, 2003-2009, and covered the Afghan and Iraq wars for Time, The New Republic and Salon. This fall he and Andrew Bacevich will work on an open online course, “War for the Greater Middle East”.

I agree in spirit with this brilliant article. But his analysis repeats the mistakes of the previous military reform movement that burned brightly but was proven ineffectual by our wars after 9/11. In that sense it’s similar to the also excellent article by James Fallows in January’s The Atlantic, as I described in this post, and later here. They are complex, academic in nature, unfocused, and obscure the important lessons. They’re guaranteed to have little effect.

Refusal to learn

Kukis begins, as those advocating reform usually do, by stating the problem: America’s refusal to recognize the changed nature of modern war (aka 4th generation war, non-trinitarian war).

How could the Taliban have bested the United States? A more uneven military contest is scarcely imaginable when you consider the state of the two factions on the eve of 9/11. Before the US invasion, the Taliban had an army of roughly 30,000. Taliban forces hardly qualified as a real army, though. They operated more like a decentralised militia scattered around a mountainous country, with few roads and no communications of any kind. They had no officers. A rotating crew of regional commanders oversaw garrisons around the country. Most fighters went unpaid except for the occasional handout from a commander before they went on leave.

In the US, meanwhile, armories bristled with sophisticated weaponry and equipment. {Etc, — we have lots of stuff, more and better stuff than anyone, anywhere, anytime.}

After this strong start he draws a quite fallacious conclusion, based on a strawman assumption.

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Why we lose wars so often. How we can win in the future.

Summary:  The previous post in this series asked why we lose when we’re great. This post gives a deeper answer, and points to two paths that at least make victory possible. It’s a brief review, with links to other sources giving more detail.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

{DoD is} ready for wars past and future, but not present. {T}he current military, an advanced version of the WWII force, is ready should the Imperial Japanese Navy return. It also has phenomenally advanced weaponry in the pipeline to take on a space-age enemy, perhaps from Mars, should one appear. It is only the present for which the US is not prepared.

— Fred Reed, A True Son of Tzu.

Victory poster

Contents

  1. We’re great! So why do we lose?
  2. Why do we lose?
  3. Let’s get better soldiers!
  4. Martin van Creveld explains.
  5. Other posts in this series.
  6. For More Information.

(1)  We’re great! So why do we lose?

A previous post asked “does America have the best military in the world?” The answer is “no”, and would have been obvious to any generation of Americans before WWII. We are inventors, explorers, and businessmen. Germans were considered great soldiers, part of their militarized society and so not esteemed by us. We came to consider ourselves military Übermensch after WWII, when we crushed little Japan and helped the Russians, who defeated NAZI Germany.

Japan’s leaders coined the term “victory disease” to describe the arrogance and over-confidence produced by their early victories, but WWII gave us a case worse than theirs.

A related question is “Why do the finest soldiers in the world keep losing wars”. The previous post gave the obvious answer: we don’t have the finest soldiers in the world (certainly not at fighting 4th generation wars). This post examines a deeper reason why we consistently lose 4GWs since WWII, and how we can win.

(2)  Why do we lose?

Why we lose has many answers, depending on your perspective. We lose because foreign armies almost always lose to local insurgents since Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WWII. We lose because we refused to see this simple fact, learning from the experience of others and our own. We lose because we repeat strategies and tactics that have repeatedly failed since WWII, including some that almost guarantee failure.  For details see this post about our FAILure to learn,

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A lesson about counterinsurgency that could change America’s future.

Summary: As we move forward to a new round of interventions let’s take a moment to look backwards. What can we learn from our failed interventions since 9/11, and more generally from the scores of failed counterinsurgency programs waged by foreign armies since WWII (when Mao brought 4GW to maturity)? There is a simple lesson, one that if learned could change our future. But the national defense complex (like Satan, it goes by many names) doesn’t want you to learn it. So you won’t (probably).  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.”

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Knowledge + Action is power

Our FAILure to learn, a weakness negating our great power.

Since 9/11 the US national security establishment has demonstrated its inability or unwillingness to learn.

By January 2007 it was evident that our occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq had failed (something I had seen by 2003, and many others had seen earlier), yet it was not clear why. I wrote a post (imo one of my best) with an explanation. I sorted insurgencies into 2 groups: local vs. locals (insurgents fighting their government), and foreign vs. local (when foreign forces took a major role fighting local insurgents) — and saw that foreigners almost always lose. Popular counter-insurgency works (e.g., Kilcullen’s “28 Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency”) showed why we this was: insurgency has a powerful home court advantage, which foreigners usually ignore.

Chet Richards’ 2008 magnum opus If We Can Keep It: A National Security Manifesto for the Next Administration took that insight and expanded it. A 2008 RAND study examined the history of 89 insurgencies and came to the same conclusion, as did the 2010 dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson (Political Science, Harvard).

For anyone not paying attention, the denouements of our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq should have provided ample evidence. For those wanting deeper analysis, Martin van Creveld wrote The Culture of War (2008).  But DoD doesn’t want to see that foreign interventions almost always fail, so we don’t. No matter how obvious. We believe what we’re told, and can see no other truth.

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What’s in a terrorist’s name? A step to understanding the Islamic State.

Summary: The fires expand over the Middle East, driven by centuries of relative decline and corrupt rule, stoked by our interventions. We struggle to understand this phenomenon, cutting through the lies and misinformation fed us. Today guest author Hal Kempfer takes us to the logical starting point: what to call this movement.

“Kindness is a mark of faith, and whoever has not kindness has not faith.”
— Attributed to Mohammad.

Islamic sky

What’s in a terrorist name? Perhaps some meaning.

By Hal Kempfer (Lt. Colonel, USMC, retired)

There is an active debate on terminology regarding the type of terrorists we see involving or inspired by groups such as Al Qaeda and ISIS. (aka the Islamic State of Iraq & Greater Syria, or ISIL, where they refer to the “Levant” vice “Greater Syria”). ISIS is a former Al Qaeda (AQ) affiliate that has almost eclipsed AQ.

The White House does not like the term “Radical Islam” in describing this threat. However, it is descriptive since it implies from whence their beliefs came. However, it also misses what makes them significantly different from mainstream believers of the Islamic faith.

When Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, most of them school kids, we didn’t call that “Radical Christianity,” nor did we do so in describing the events near Waco, Texas in 1993 or when Larry McQuilliams attacked the Mexican Consulate, Police Headquarters and federal courthouse in Austin, Texas, around Thanksgiving of last year. Further, when Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. attacked the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Assisted Living Facility in Overland Park, Kansas, in April of 2014, we didn’t call it “Radical Paganism,” even though his motivational beliefs were the same as the Nazi pagan cult of WWII.

So there does seem to be a semantic inconsistency.

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Our escalation shows the key US military strategy: FAILure to learn.

Summary:  The year is only 7 weeks old and we’ve already taken several steps accelerating phase two of our mad Post-9/11 Wars. Our primary method is FAILure to Learn, repeating the tactics that didn’t work during the past 14 years. This will not end well for us. (2nd of 2 posts today}

US foreign policy

A bad idea. Please hit the PAUSE button on our wars.

US forces have begun fighting along side the Iraq army (Apache attack helicopters supporting the Iraq army). Special Operations forces have increased their tempo of operations in Afghanistan. We’ve dispatched a brigade of 4,000 to Iraq, with a vague explanation of its mission (more are warming up in the US to go). Obama’s submitted to Congress a vague Authorization for the Use of Military Force against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (AUMF, to fight the wars already under way).

This makes no sense. We conducted our first wave of wars — Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen — in direct violation of the two lessons of post-WWII history. Both are quite obvious.

  1. Foreigners (especially foreign infidels) almost never defeat local insurgents. Their presence undermines the legitimacy of the host government and arouses opposition in proportional to their activity (i.e., the more we do, the more they hate us).
  2. Large numbers of troops are needed to have even a small chance of winning (large numbers as a ratio to the local population opposing us). Details here.

Having proven our incompetence at 4GW, now we escalate to outright madness by repeating the same failed methods but on a smaller (and hence less likely to work) scale. It’s a FAILure to learn, a weakness no amount of power can counterbalance. Not at WWI levels (doubling down with failed tactics), but still inexcusable.

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War mutates again to create a new strain: “hybrid warfare”.

Summary:  For the next chapter in our series about the 4th generation of war we have an essay by Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired), who draws on his long experience to explain the important role of hybrid warfare in our world, a new mutation of the ancient arts of war.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

GAO on Hybrid Warfare

GAO 2010 analysis of DoD military concept & briefing documents & academic writings.

4th Generation Warfare, Hybrid Warfare & Unconventional Warfare:
Similar but not Interchangeable

By Gary Anderson

The terms Fourth Generation Warfare, Hybrid Warfare, and Unconventional (Irregular) Warfare have been used interchangeably lately; they are different things. They employ some of the same tactics, but they are distinct concepts.

It has been a quarter of a century since a group of Marine Corps officers and civilian theorist William Lind coined the concept of Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) — “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”. This refers to warfare being conducted by armed non-state actors capable of challenging the mighty war machines of first world nations.

Martin Van Crevald, an Israeli historian and military theorist, reached similar conclusions in his book The Transformation of War (1991), at about the same time.

The Cold War was ending and many optimists such as Francis Fukiyama in his book The End Of History (1992) expected a new era of peace and democratic growth. Conservative military observers were pointing to the results of Operation Desert Storm as proof that conventional warfare was not yet dead. It turned out that the 4GW visionaries were correct, but it would take nearly two decades to prove them right.

By 1993, a US-led UN Coalition force had been bested by a non-state grouping of Somali tribesmen using asymmetric tactics that conventional forces were not prepared to deal with. A year later, the Russians were dealing with similar problems in the breakaway region of Chechnya. Meanwhile, the Israelis were trying to cope with similar asymmetric problems in the Palestinian Intifada.

The final signal that something had changed came on September 11th 2001 when a non- state group destroyed the World Trade Center and badly damaged the pentagon by making asymmetric weapons out of commercial airliners. 4GW had arrived with a vengeance and achieved strategic significance as an existential threat to the American homeland.

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