Summary: Today Chet Richards takes us into the heart of modern conflict, the 4GW techniques that will play a large role in shaping the 21st century (as 2nd generation warfare shaped the 19th century and 3GW shaped the 20th century. He shows us them in practice, as used by Venezuela.
While we write clever pieces of sophistry proving that there is no such thing as 4GW (“Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths“, Antulio J. Echevarria II), our less discerning opponents go right on applying it. And calling it by name.
You may have read GI Wilson’s latest on 4GW here at Fabius Maximus. If not, I strongly recommend it. He makes the point that leaders of al-Qa’ida, far from mocking the concept, studied it, unfortunately applied it, and may be continuing to develop it:
An article entitled “Fourth-Generation Wars” by Abu ‘Ubeid Al-Qurashi, appeared in the now defunct al-Qaeda affiliated Internet magazine Al-Ansar acknowledged that 4GW forms the foundation of al-Qaeda’s combat doctrine.
And now, hot off the press, we have a study from the US Army War College detailing how Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela has picked up on the idea of 4GW, is studying it, and is most definitely pursuing its implementation:
Excerpt from “Venezuela as an Exporter of 4th Generation Warfare Instability”
By Max G. Manwaring (Prof of Military Strategy, US Army War College)
Published by the Strategic Studies Institute, 19 December 2012
Phase Six: Directly, but gradually, confront a demoralized enemy military force and bring about its desired collapse—or militarily invade a failing or failed state. The objective in either case would be to impose (compel) appropriate 21st-century socialist governance.
Additionally, until the last moment in the third and decisive phase of the Latin American liberation process—when a targeted government is about to collapse—every action is preparatory work and not expected to provoke great concern from the enemy or its bourgeois allies. (p. 19)
As an aside, it appears that Gen Rangel Briceno, author of the above speech, understands the concept of shih, not unusual because Manwaring shows how Venezuelan doctrine is in complete harmony with the famous “Two Colonels'” paper, Unrestricted Warfare, by Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui (links here)
Incidentally, what gives Chavez’s approach a 4GW flavor are elements like:
This type of conflict is not won by seizing specific territory militarily or destroying specific industrial or nuclear capabilities. It is won by altering the political-psychological-economic-social factors that are most relevant in a targeted culture. (p. 6)
For more on 4GW, after you’ve finished GI’s and Manwaring’s pieces, check out the Defense and National Interest archive at POGO.
Synopsis: “Venezuela as an Exporter of 4th Generation Warfare Instability”
Almost no one seems to understand the Marxist-Leninist foundations of Hugo Chavez’s political thought. It becomes evident, however, in the general vision of his “Bolivarian Revolution.” The abbreviated concept is to destroy the old foreign-dominated (U.S. dominated) political and economic systems in the Americas, to take power, and to create a socialist, nationalistic, and “popular” (direct) democracy in Venezuela that would sooner or later extend throughout the Western Hemisphere. Despite the fact that the notion of the use of force (compulsion) is never completely separated from the Leninist concept of destroying any bourgeois opposition, Chavez’s revolutionary vision will not be achieved through a conventional military war of maneuver and attrition, or a traditional insurgency.
According to Lenin and Chavez, a “new society” will only be created by a gradual, systematic, compulsory application of agitation and propaganda (i.e., agit-prop). That long-term effort is aimed at exporting instability and generating public opinion in favor of a “revolution” and against the bourgeois system. Thus, the contemporary asymmetric revolutionary warfare challenge is rooted in the concept that the North American (U.S.) “Empire” and its bourgeois political friends in Latin America are not doing what is right for the people, and that the socialist Bolivarian philosophy and leadership will.
This may not be a traditional national security problem for the United States and other targeted countries, and it may not be perceived to be as lethal as conventional conflict, but that does not diminish the cruel reality of compulsion.
About the Author
Dr. Max G. Manwaring is a Professor of Military Strategy in the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) and is a retired U.S. Army colonel. He has served in various civilian and military positions, including the U.S. Southern Command, the Defense Intelligence Agency, Dickinson College, and Memphis University.
Dr. Manwaring is the author and co-author of several articles, chapters, and books dealing with Latin American security affairs, political-military affairs, and insurgency and counterinsurgency. His most recent book is The Complexity of Modern Irregular War, forthcoming. His most recent article is “Security, Stability, and Sovereignty Challenges of Politicized Gangs and Insurgents in the Americas,” Small Wars & Insurgencies, December 2011 — gated copy here. His most recent SSI monograph is The Strategic Logic of the Contemporary Security Dilemma, Strategic Studies Institute, December 2011.
Dr. Manwaring is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, and holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.
For More Information
Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about military theory and practice, and especially these about 4GW:
- Why We Lose at 4GW – About the two kinds of insurgencies
- How to get the study of 4GW in gear
- Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics
- About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century
- Is 4GW magnifique?, 22 June 2012 — By Chet Richards
- The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be
Also see this series about solutions to 4GW:
- A solution to 4GW — the introduction
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
- Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
- Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
- 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
- 4GW: A solution of the second kind
- 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions
Examples of 4GW:
- About the 4GW between India and Pakistan
- 4GW in India – more people who want to watch the world burn
22 thoughts on “Is 4th generation warfare dead?”
I might prove worthwhile to inquire whether the Republican Party is currently engaged in 4GW against America.
I have a question for anyone with more knowledge og 4GW than me. Do you think the attack in Newtown, Conneticut coulde be an example of 4GW?
“To be attacked by the enemy is not a bad thing but a good thing“, Mao Tse-tung, said On the Third Anniversary of the Founding of the Chinese people’s Anti-Japanese Military and Political College, 26 May 1939:
Really, I don’t see why this has to be so complicated. Provoke the state to over-react, and then hope the government takes the bait, which happens pretty reliably. The USA is always the most stupid in this regard. Do this for a few decades, and then something like Muslim Brotherhood can win an election because they are supported.
The old system is rotted out, and the underground party becomes the new power. Rinse and repeat.
“I don’t see why this has to be so complicated. Provoke the state to over-react, and then hope the government takes the bait, which happens pretty reliably”
The missing ingredient: someone willing to be the “bait“. To sacrifice oneself. As in Aesop’s tale:
Revolution is for desperate people with no other options and nothing to lose. The USA has quite a few really desperate people among the homeless and prison populations, but Americans generally still see the homeless as ‘the other’ — and not what they might become themselves. When Americans identify with the homeless and not the police clearing them out of town, that’s when things change. I think this would be the modern equivalent of Mao’s ‘line of demarcation.’
Maybe more likely it starts in Greece or Spain — how much austerity can these people take? I think we’re going to find out.
“Revolution is for desperate people with no other options and nothing to lose.”
That’s often said, but I don’t believe it is historically accurate. Desperate people are a commonplace in history; revolutions are rare.
I’d like to see some of the literature on this. From what little I know, successful revolutions often result from an element of an upper class (eg, merchant class) mobilize the desperate. Seldom do the desperate successfully revolt (eg, the slave revolt in Haiti).
You have a point there. I concede — that perhaps desperation isn’t enough. Seems to me, often the anti-government feelings are often co-opted by the military. Like that Cory Aquino stirred up things with large demonstrations, but it was a split in the military caused the Marcos government to actually fall, and the full-scale revolution never plays out.
Fabius: my analysis was that revolutions happen when the *middle class*, Marx’s bourgeoisie, become desperate. So contrary to Marx, I think the bourgeoisie are the key to any democratic or populist revolution. The upper class can’t actually hang onto power on their own. They can do so either with the assistance of the bourgeoisie, or with the assistance of a large military caste (10% of the population minimum).
Echeverria’s essay is “sophistry?” That’s simply b.s from someone who doesn’t understand or doesn’t wish to understand logic and evidence applied to the case. While 4GW enthusiasts will complain, the reality – as well demonstrated in Echeverria’s piece as well as several others – 4GW is more a slogan than a way of war. It was useful when militaries, especially our military, was so focused on highly conventional warfare as a means for addressing highly unconventional warfare (the alleged 4GW.)
4GW is not new, not generational, and not unique. It is a form of war that has been around for millenia (e.g. the Jews in Egypt can be understood to have conducted a form of 4GW.) Stating that pre-4GW warfare focused on territory and attrition while 4GW focuses on social-political-economic dislocation fails to recognize the lessons of military history.
What has changed is the near instantaneous nature of the cognitive and moral aspects of war, empowered through information technology. That nature has had a severe impact on the ability of all organizations and individuals to effectively react to events; the ability to frame, to understand what is happening and effectively respond is compromised by a 24/7 massively individuated information – not just news, but opinion disguised as such – cycle that not only reports, but judges. If one wishes to reconstitute 4GW theory along these lines – Hammes and Hoffman come closest here – then we make progress towards understanding the novel aspects of warfare in which we find ourselves.
Claiming something exists is far different than demonstrating/proving it exists.
Dr. Jonathan E. Czarnecki is a Professor at the Naval War College in Monterey. We thank him for joining us in this discussion! It’s a privilege to have someone of his background with us here.
Some of his publications:
Chet can explain himself, but I would like to address two small aspects of your comment.
(1) “It was useful when militaries, especially our military, was so focused on highly conventional warfare as a means for addressing highly unconventional warfare (the alleged 4GW.)”
I agree, and believe the authors of the key works about 4gw would agree. Such as the authors of the 1989 “Into the Fourth Generation“, and Martin van Creveld (eg, his 1991 Transformation of War), although he speaks of “non-trinitarian warfare” instead of 4GW).
It’s important to avoid reification (aka concretism, the fallacy of misplaced concreteness) in these discussions. 4GW is an abstraction, not an actual thing. It is useful only to the extent it helps us better see, understand, and respond to events in our time. Your comment reminds us not to take these concepts too seriously.
Our actions in Iraq and Af-Pak show the continuing utility of 4GW as a perspective, since our military has not evolved much beyond the Vietnam-era methods adapted from conventional war. 4GW can provide a framework or context to understand why this so often fails when used by foreign armies fighting local insurgents. For details see:
(2) “4GW is not new … and not unique. It is a form of war that has been around for millenia (e.g. the Jews in Egypt can be understood to have conducted a form of 4GW.) Stating that pre-4GW warfare focused on territory and attrition while 4GW focuses on social-political-economic dislocation fails to recognize the lessons of military history.”
For example, about claims of “new” and “unique”. In the social sciences these adjectives are often claimed for human phenomena in an exaggerated sense. Few, perhaps no, human behaviors (ie, of humans, groups, or societies) are “new” or “unique”. That is, those claims are true in a limited sense — applying to a span of geography or time. Your comment is a useful correction.
Once we set aside false claims of uniqueness, we can learn from history. We can appreciate the uniqueness of our time in the sense of a specific mixture of behaviors and conditions from the unlimited possible kaleidoscope of combinations. This is something about which I’ve often written. My favorite is to look at one of the first recorded suicide “bombers” in one of the first recorded failed counterinsurgencies (as usual, of a foreign army fighting local rebels), from the First Book of the Maccabees, 1.6.43
[caption id="attachment_45849" align="aligncenter" width="240"] Eleazar vs an armored vehicle[/caption]
“It was useful when militaries, especially our military, was so focused on highly conventional warfare as a means for addressing highly unconventional warfare (the alleged 4GW.) ”
But the US military still *is* obsessively focused on highly conventional “colonial invasion” warfare — of the sort which cannot possibly succeed. So 4GW is still a useful concept for explaining why the US wars are *doomed to failure*.
I know how to win in Afghanistan. Give me a million men and women and two years to teach them Pashto and several other languages along with local culture. Then give me the right to legalize opium. I could take over Afghanistan within a couple of years after that. Nobody in the US would ever consider either of these actions, yet they are both essential.
This is why we need a concept which explains to blinkered military and political leaders why *they cannot win* unless they change what they are doing in *truly radical* ways.
Your observation that claiming something exists is far different from proving and/or demonstrating it does in fact was apropos here in this forum, and reminded me of a particular case.
Many years ago, during a thread related to the notion of Somali Pirates, I suggested that they could be considered an example of a practical 4GW force, in as much as they turned to piracy in part due to their own governments inability to police or protect it’s own Territorial fisheries from being exploited by hoards of foreign competitors (mostly Chinese), which depleted the stocks to an extent that many Somali fishermen could no longer survive on their catch. As there are no shortage of those in their government happy to take a cut of their pirate income (which is no doubt greater than taxes from fishermen), and to stymie attempts by international Naval forces in putting a halt to the practice, well… sans a different manner of approaching the problem, the US Navy can patrol and respond to specific instances of piracy until our government is too broke to underwrite that mission, but the piracy will, and probably should (from a Somali National view) continue.
I’m playing devils advocate with the example, but in that same thread I alluded to a number of international banking…. er, irregularities, that have been more than sufficiently proven apt analogies given how events have unfolded since that discussion. My point is that the problem is not the changes that have occurred in the technological and cognitive aspects and nature of WAR, but rather that, as Fabius Maximus notes, the United States government establishments, both of hard and soft power, have been unable, for whatever reasons, to identify and utilize those Americans who CAN navigate the chaotic seeming tempest of our modern world.
Consider this if you will, it’s my experience that individual Americans who actually demonstrate, in practical, demonstrable and verifiable terms, skill in conceiving and applying so-called 4GW tactics to advance officially declared National policy, yet do so independent of any government institution and without public funds, are more likely to be designated as ‘potential threats’ to the system than thanked for their troubles. It’s even been debated on this site whether American citizens who’re identified as able to operate on their own in a 4GW environment/context should be locked up, or be treated as second tier citizens! lol.
At any rate, i’m off to read some of your work. God bless
A. Scott Crawford
The missing element from the piece on Chavez is that the “bourgeoise” (the American business class, their associates in the US government, and their Latin American collaborators) have been “compelling” a very specific political and economic pattern in Latin American countries, using a wide range of tactics, throughout the 20th century.
If Chavez has found a way to institute meaningful political and economic reforms that take into account the interests and aspirations of the local people before those of corrupt foreign rent-seekers, and he furthermore has found a way to do this without torture-chambers and disappearances, then I think a lot of people would call this progress, not “warfare”.
Good point. While the focus of the post was on Chavez’s response, understanding the prior history is necessary to see the full picture.
4GW might or might not be “new” and “unique,” The rise of 4GW to dominance in the 21st century after the abandonment of large-scale land war certainly is new and unique. This hasn’t happened before in recorded history.
This is largely due to the advent of nuclear weaponry, which is absolutely new and entirely unique. Weaponry so destructive it literally cannot be used is something new in human history. Efforts to deny this will simply destroy your credibility.
Moreover, if we define 4GW properly, it is most assuredly new and unique. The crucial component of modern 4GW is publicity of both the 4GW warfare itself and of the over-reactions by the 4GW target. Prior to the advent of the printing press, and particularly prior to the development of radio and television, 4GW could not exist in its modern form, because 4GW attacks could not be widely publicized enough to rally the populace, and the wild over-response to 4GW could not be widely publicized enough to affect the perceived legitimacy of the nation-state which was the target of 4GW.
The reason genuine 4GW couldn’t exist prior to the printing press is that no media existed which could quickly tell the population what was happening. Information dissemination proves far more important than the 4GW attack itself.
A third factor also plays a crucial role. With the disappearance of institutionalized slavery after the mid-19th century and the abandonment of torture in the judicial system after the 16th century, norms of behavior disallowed the kind of genocide and atrocities routinely used against insurgents in earlier era. The Romans, for example, dealt with insurgency in a simple and brutal way: they slaughtered the entire male population, took the entire female population into slavery, salted the fields and poisoned the wells of the rebel provinces. Any nation that tried this today would face such a universal global howl of horror that it would be forced to back off. Thus, 4GW also works because the response typical in previous eras (viz., typical in the Ottoman empire, the Roman empire, etc.) are not practical in today’s civilization. Because of the change in societal norms, any modern nation-state that tried to respond to a 4GW attack as the Roman or Ottoman empires did would lose its legitimacy in the world community and would face the kind of isolation and destructive economic embargos and political shunning that quickly brought down the apartheid government of South Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.
Once again, this is new and unique. Not too long ago, torture was not merely accepted, but regarded as a popular amusement among the general public. Genocide was routine. In Paris in the 16th century, cat-burning was a popular amusement: cats were hoisted on a long pole and lowered slowly into a bonfire for the edification and delight of crowds. This kind of thing is no long done because the population will no longer tolerate it. This is new and unique, and different from previous eras.
“the abandonment of torture in the judicial system after the 16th century,”
You probably mean after the 18th century (i.e. from late 18th century onwards).
“norms of behavior disallowed the kind of genocide and atrocities routinely used against insurgents in earlier era.”
This would be approximately correct, but only provided we exclude:
a) Whatever took place in colonies (e.g. Nama and Herero revolt, Maji-Maji rebellion, conquest of Algeria).
b) Whatever was committed against refractory native populations (e.g. Tasmanian genocide, Selknam genocide).
c) Whatever was committed during WWII by the Nazis throughout Europe.
d) Whatever happened during some of the decolonization wars (e.g. Cameroon — look for “Bamileke war”).
e) Whatever several regimes did since (e.g. Saddam Hussein against Kurds in the 1980s — and no, he was not “put into the kind of isolation and destructive economic embargos and political shunning” you talk about, on the contrary — he was staunchly supported by the USA and European countries at that time).
Given those historical facts, and how genocide is officially defined (UN convention), your assertion is at best doubtful.
Nicely said. The history of fighting insurgents is largely one of serial atrocities.
I really struggle with some (bit not all of course) of the 4GW/COIN/etc crowd.
Some of them seem unable to understand the context and situation is everything. Therefore the success/failure of 4GW/anti-4GW strategies and tactics are environmentally dependent.
There is a world of difference between:
(a) A fairly broadly based insurrection against a recent foreign invader that makes it clear that it intends to be there forever and run the society to their benefit (eg Iraq and Afghanistan).
(b) A revolt within a fairly functioning society by a call/ethnic/religious/ geographical minority (eg Northern Ireland).
(c) The ‘standard’ revolt against colonial power that uses ‘economic rent seeking’ from its colony (eg India, US, Cuba, etc).
(d) A revolt within a non-functioning society, ran by kleptocrats, greedy out of touch elites,etc (eg Egypt, etc, US someday?).
(e) A grab for greater power by a criminal element (eg Mexico, US?).
(f) And some others of course.
In each of the cases then the strategies and tactics used and those used to defeat it, plus the probabilities of actual success on either side, are quite different.
To be simple (for the simple) you can’t win (a), (c) or (d). Though (d) can go on for a very, very long time.
You might win (b)and (e). But it will require a political settlement in the case of (b).
Plus we in the West also tend to classify 4GW as any tactics that spoil our way of war. In other words if they don’t stand up and make themselves nice targets for all our planes, drones, missiles, artillery, etc then they are not playing fair. Boo hoo.
And another thing, that our equipment focused military simply cannot get through their heads, the military power difference is far lower now than when (say) the British cut a swathe across the world with rifles and the maxim gun.
The military difference between a bunch of hunter gatherers or peasant farmers with sticks and a well trained military with .303s is almost infinite. But the difference between someone with a AK-47 and an RPG with the knowledge to make a basic mine (I refuse to use that useless term IED) against planes/drones/tanks/APCs/et al is far smaller. Especially if good tactics are used, in which case the gap narrows even more.
The perfect example of this was the British against the Boers. There was no difference in military power, in which case the British turned to terrorism .. basically translated as “we will kill all your women and children if you don’t give up”.
And that anti-Boer tactic is basically the western ‘default’ tactic. Anywhere it meets some reasonable resistance. Pour on more firepower, hit everyone, spread terror. The ‘terror’ tactic is an old, old one. If you terrorise them enough then they wont fight against you/support the fighters/ etc/etc.And, as usual you might say, we use more and more expensive technology to do it.
Oh sure it gets dressed up in all sorts of fancy language. But it was McCrystal that summed it up “we sure are killing a lot of people but what are we achieving”.
Even greater hatred towards you basically. And if they have an Ak-47, and a RPG and know how to make a mine then they can bleed you death, even at 3:1, 10:1 even 100:1 exchange rates.
Because people can now hit back easily, the terror turns to anger and hence action which psychologically reduces the terror.
Terror of that kind only works when the terrorised cannot fight back in any meaningful way. But if they can then they (we always use the example of the plucky British ‘taking it’ from the Luftwaffe, no one mentions the Germans taking far more from the British) will fight on. Eve stories of fighting on will sustain yo0u.
Take their view of reality as a ‘thought experiment’: You might be a village in Afghanistan, which has had its visit by ‘special forces’ (ie murdering thugs), a drone attack (or two or three). Your hatred is palpable your relatives and friends have been killed) You might give up, but you hear the stories of the western swine who have been killed, the brave people who destroyed all those planes by attacking their base, the attacks on Kabul .. and it gives you hope .. and it gives you an insight. When the troops turn up at you village, being ‘tough’, brandishing their weapons, being rude and aggressive, pushing people around .. you then see their eyes .. and they are scared, totally scared.
And that gives you hope and fuels your own courage. And so it goes on.
Never mind we in the West spend $2B on a submarine, $160M a pop on a non-plane, $2B on a non ship and so on .. and keep going on.
Right to the very bitter, bitter end.
“I refuse to use that useless term IED”
I agree entirely. I personally stick to that old-fashioned term “booby-trap”.
“And that anti-Boer tactic is basically the western ‘default’ tactic.”
Indeed, but not just Western — it is universal.
“the military power difference is far lower now”
There is a complementary aspect: since great powers resort to total war to achieve their aims (i.e. targeting civilian infrastructure and population systematically), insurgents are also motivated to strike back in the same manner. Contrarily to the 19th century, however, it is considerably easier to strike behind the lines — Zulus would not board a ship to attack British coastal towns in the UK, or Namas launch a Zeppelin to drop bombs on Berlin, but nowadays sneaking somewhere via the globalized transport network to attack thinly defended Western interests widely spread around the world is very feasible.
“This may not be a traditional national security problem for the United States and other targeted countries,”
It may not be a “national security problem” at all. Life is better in Venezuela than it is in the US by many measures.
It may merely be a problem for the establishment government. The Cuban revolution wasn’t a “national security problem” for Cuba — it was merely a problem for Battista and his elite. The French Revolution (built on agitprop coming from the United States!) wasn’t a “national security problem” for France — it was merely a problem for King Louis and his court.
Wise leaders recognize that the way you stay on top is to get ahead of this situation: reform the US so that it is more attractive than Venezuela, more democratic, better health care, less poverty, etc., and then the agitprop against you simply won’t work. The US and the USSR both spewed agitprop at each other, but the facts won out.
The facts are that the leaders of the US are not making the US an attractive place. We know this because immigration has reversed, and the net movement is from the US to Mexico. And this is all there is to this “national security problem”.
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