Arrows in the Eagle’s claw – about 4GW analysts

This series describes the various types of solutions to modern warfare, herein called fourth generation warfare (4GW).  It sketches out a typology, showing the five types of writings about 4GW, their relationship to one another and their relative potential.

  • Analysts – the foundation of the pyramid.  All solutions rely on sound analysis.
  • Visionaries -bold imaginations seek solutions to 4GW, outside of the confines of real-world constraints.
  • Things, applying America’s trump cards — technology and logistics — to defeat 4GW opponents.
  • Ideas, solutions based on new ways of thinking to defeat new modes of war.
  • People, solutions based on new ways of leading people:  selecting, training, organizing, and promoting them.

See Chapter I for a summary of this schema.  Chapter II considers those works providing analysis of 4GW.  4GW analysts have drawn on a range of resources, including history, military theory, and the social sciences.  Their work is foundational to the development of solutions, for nothing can be done except by luck without a deep understanding of factors such as…

  • our situation (strengths, weaknesses, goals, etc),
  • the other players on the world stage (both state and non-state actors),
  • and the almost infinite range of scenarios possible in the near and far future. 

Since most of those writing about 4GW combine analysis and recommendations, included in this group are those whose work focuses on more on description than prescription.  Any simple categorization is somewhat arbitrary when applied to individuals.


  1. Some highlights of 4GW analysis to date
  2. The future of 4GW analysis
  3. Afterword and for more information

(1)  Some highlights of 4GW analysis to date

There are too many brilliant works in this literature to adequately cover in a one post, but here are a few highlights.

(a)  Most important of all, there are the insights of Martin van Creveld.  To mention just two of his many contributions…

  1. The Decline of the State as the major theme of 21st century geopolitical dynamcis, providing the necessary conditions in which 4GW has evolved into the dominant form of war. 
  2. Showing that successfully waging 4GW means using force either massively or lightly, as history suggests anything in between will fail.

(b)  Building on van Creveld’s work, the term 4GW was coined in ‘The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation” by Lind, Schmitt, and Wilson (Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989), which describes how war has evolved during the modern era.

(c)  Placing 4GW in a historical context and describing its characteristics:  the Patterns of Conflict presentation by John Boyd (edited by Chet Richards and Chuck Spinney). 

(d)  Defining “The Human Terrain of Urban Operations” (Ralph Peters, Parameters, Spring 2000).  This article, esp. his challenge at the end, was a milestone in the re-introduction of the social sciences to fighting 4GW. 

(e)  Defining the two types of 4GW’s:  foreigners fighting local insurrections, and locals fighting locals.  With this insight, we then see that the home court advantage is usually decisive in 4GW, as the locals tend to own two keys to victory:  intelligence (knowledge of the human terrain), and legitimacy (it is easy to hate foreign occupiers).  This solves the “how often do insurgents win” debate:  local governments usually (not always) defeat local insurgents, foreign-dominated forces usually (not always) lose to local insurgents.  Here is my original article about this. 

(f)  4GW analysis derives much of its vigor to collaborative nature.  For example, note the number of fine works discussing the extraordinary power of individuals in 4GW — from “super-empowered individuals” to “strategic corporals.”  For two recent articles on the former see Zenpundit’s discussion of their nature and Adam Elkus’ Night of the Lone Wolves

(2)  The future of 4GW analysis

It is difficult to accurately describe a literature as large and diverse as that discussing 4GW.  That being said, it seems to display some characteristics suggesting exhaustion or sterility.  4GW is a theoretical concept, only useful to the extent it generates insights for practitioners of statecraft, war, and intelligence.  Otherwise it is either a hobby or an academic pursuit.  The following tendencies seem to be appearing more frequently in discussions of 4GW.

(a)  An over-emphasis on description and classification.

Theory always risks reification, treating analytically-useful abstractions as if they had a real existence.  Some recent 4GW literature resembles van Creveld’s description of 17th century writings about military drill:

“Prescribing motions and evolutions in minute detail, these books soon proliferated into an enormous literature as professionals and amateurs tried their hand, the amateurs acting in conformity with the spirit of an age that regarded war as part of a gentleman’s education. Soon competition developed between the authors themselves, with the result that their brainwork is replete with evolutions which were often too complex for practical use, and sometimes completely imaginary.”

Technology and War, chapter 6

(b)  Increasingly divorced from the real world.   4GW analysis becomes fantasy unless integrated with grand strategy:  national needs, strengths, and limitations.  For example…

  • Cost-benefit analysis appears only rarely.  No nation can approach every conflict as an existential war, such as the Civil War or WWII, where survival requires spending whatever it takes – whether treasure or blood.  Many have tried, and gone from super-power to minor-power (e.g., Spain).
  • 4GW analysis too seldom provides a realistic appraisal of our capabilities.  No organization — or society — does everything well.  Every organization/society does some things poorly.  Awareness of weakness is as — or more — important than of one’s strengths. 

(c)  Ignoring how we get from here to there. 

Proposals without a path to implementation are fantasies.  Them means some form of organizational or political analysis — contentious and complex, but unavoidable except when telling bedtime stories.   This is jumping ahead to the discussion of solutions in the next chapter, but gets mentioned here as perhaps the primary weakness of the entire 4GW literature.

These things might result from 4GW analysis becoming over-collaborative, too congenial.  The rapid development of the sciences results from the open clashing of views, often with fierce criticism between those of different views.  The 4GW literature contains little of this.   Of course  little is not none.  For example, see  Please list in the comments other sites with vigorous debate about 4GW.

Next:  Chapter III:  solutions by visionaries.  Unleash your imagination to determine how America must change its m.o. (modus operandi) for an era in which 4GW becomes the dominant form of war.


If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below.  You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Post in the series “Solutions to 4GW”:

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  4. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  5. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  6. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  7. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  8. 4GW: A solution of the third kind

7 thoughts on “Arrows in the Eagle’s claw – about 4GW analysts”

  1. Have enjoyed your past posts on DNI and I’m glad to see a bit of structure forming about 4GW (Arrows in the Eagle’s Claw). Debate is great and I hope you’ve initiated some thoughts containing useful insights.

  2. Sitting at my desk earlier today, it occoured to me to look
    at the Iraq war of occupation, instead of a calamity,
    but rather a brilliant war of conquest and expansionism
    by the USA.

    Turn the indigeonus population in on itself, divide and
    conquor. Provoke a war amoung themselves, standby
    as safely as possible out of harms while they slaughter
    each other, for a long as possible to sustain.
    Then waltz in and declare victory, and gather the spoils.


  3. “An over-emphasis on description and classification.”

    Exactly, to “define” 4GW in very specific
    and precise terms is to attempt to
    nail jello to the ceiling.

    It’s by nature a nebulous concept, that
    transends conventional warfare, guerilla warfare, esponage, civil disbodiance, policing, terrorism, politics, public realations & media, propiganda.

    I can’t tell you exactly what it is either,
    but I know it when I see it, since I grew
    up experiencing it.


  4. Fabius, can we draw the conclusion by your re-posting of the two “Arrows…” that your intent is to continue this with a next step soon?

    I very much hope this is your intent, since you and your readers bring a level and variety of consideration not found easily in regard to the issues of 4GW. My only regret is that most on the “blogosphere” are unknowns to all (mostly) in regard to their personal background for commenting. Personal case in point, as retired Naval Aviator, I have opinions but am not qual’d and thus do not comment on aspects of 4GW rightly within the experience base of those who have “walked the streets.” As you so well stated, some smart people have over extended in theorizing on 4GW.

    I do comment in regard to how the definition (and therefore action) impacts our view of the world, specifically how it impacts (or should) building reasonable preparation and response capabilities within the homeland context. Specific case in point very simply noted as lessons to be learned and in what context of the 25 year “long war” against the Tamil Tigers – terrorism, insurgency, piracy, politics, eventual political will and resources provided with little concern for civilian collateral damage. “Long war” as per Sun Tzu to be avoided, BUT is it not the nature of 4GW? and can it be ignored?

    You ask for refs to 4GW debate. Small Wars Journal about a year ago had some long discussions on Lind/generations of war, Boyd/OODA, and 4GW. By inlarge they seem to dismiss all, despite some of the best thought I have seen provided by Marine Col Eric Walters.

    IMO, the most important thing Von Clausewitz stated was not “politics by other means,” but rather that the most important function of commanders is determination of type war he’s in. Approaching eight years after WTC/Pentagon attacks our leadership, our media, and we the people still can’t define it in actionable terms. Would you agree?

    Still submit General Rupert Smith’s conflict-confrontation and “war amonst the people” is essential for understanding the morale context of 4GW.

    Repeat, hope you intend to press on this.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for your thoughts on this. I agree that General Smith’s “The Utility of Force” is one of the modern classics about war.

  5. FM, Freudian slip maybe – last line intended to be in reference to the “moral plane” of 4GW battle, but “morale” also at issue given that the battlespace for 4GW by choice of the non-state actor is “amongst the people.” Few if any engagements in this warfare style do not place decision makers on the horns of the dilemmma of engagement with hostiles in close proximity to women and children. Once engaged, the results both in the reality and within the media and Internet environments rush headlong into the trinity dynamics of people-government-military.

    How dastardly of General Washington to attack at Trenton the day after Christmas? Of course King George didn’t find out until March. And some say, nothing in war has changed, hmmmm?
    Fabius Maximus replies: War takes place in the context of existing technology (which has risen and falled over time) and among one or more cultures (which vary both geographically and chronologically). So war never changes in the sense that food never changes. I doubt totally new foods have been invented (at come level they are all based on carbohydrates, water, etc), but the style and emphasis changes.

    So it is with the moral dimension of war. War has always placed women and children at risk, such as in the taking — and sacking — of cities, among the great prizes of war. In another sense, the moral dimension of war has often been decisive, as mentioned above in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. In 4GW the emphasis shifts so that the moral dimension often becomes decisive.

    BTW — I do not believe that Washington’s attack on Christmas was considered a great outrage at that time.

  6. anna nicholas

    A clip on the BBC website last night showed a roadside group of ( I think ) women , in Mogadishu .They seemed to be chatting while waiting for a gap .Only they werent waiting for a gap in traffic , but a gap in a gunfight .
    A glimpse of all our futures ?

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