Update about one of the seldom-discussed trends shaping our world: 4GW

Summary: One of the great stories of 21st century looks to be the conflict between nations using conventional military methods (2GW and 3GW), and forces using 4GW. So far the latter are winning almost every time. America’s inability to adapt to this new world, part of our larger #FailureToLearn, is another strike against the Second Republic (that built on the Constitution). Here’s a brief status report on the war, concluding with a new article by William Lind, our Thucydides.

Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid website

Image source:  Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid


One of the interesting aspects of recent history is the coincidence of

  1. the collapse of discussion about 4GW in US military and geopolitical circles,
  2. victories by insurgents using 4GW methods over foreign armies in Iraq and Afghanistan, &
  3. most important, the perhaps history-making victory by Bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

The second point is important to us, but the usual outcome since WW2 (after which 4GW became the dominate form of military conflict; see section C below).  The third point is the big one. Based on the available information, one of Bin Laden’s goals was to destabilize the US political regime. Massive increase in military spending (using borrowed funds). The bill of rights being shredded (note yesterday’s House vote to tear another strip from the 4th amendment). Our Courts holding show trials of terrorists — recruited, financed, supported by our security services. Torture and concentration camps.

Image from Encyclopedia Mythica

Bin Laden’s other goal, more clearly stated, was to incite a war between the USA and Islam — perhaps as Bismarck used wars to unify small States to create Germany. We took the bait: invading Iraq and Afghanistan, attacking Pakistan, Yemen. And now spreading our war into Africa. We see the domestic fruits of this in the hysterical reaction of the US people to the Boston Bombing.

9-11 might join the roster of history’s great battles, perhaps as the most effective single military operation in history.  It cost bin Laden his life and destroyed his organization. He probably considered the result well worth the cost. And like the head of the hydra, new offshoots of al Qaeda have appeared to replace the old.


We — the Second American Republic — have engaged in a war with nationalistic, Islamic forces using 4GW.  So far we are losing.  For various reasons we are unable to even perceive the nature of the threat. In DoD the hot dot is again procurement of high-tech weapons — new ships, the F-35, the hypersonic cruise missile, etc.  All useless in the wars we’ve fought for the past 50 years, and probably in those of the next 50 years.

Photo from the game “Call of Duty: Black Ops”

A status report on 4GW

See this important new article: “4GW is Alive and Well“, William S. Lind, Slightly East of New, 25 May 2013. Lind is a co-author of the seminal Marine Corps Gazette article creating the theory of 4gw.

Martin van Creveld is a top western theoretician describing this age of war; he’s our Clausewitz. William Lind is its western chronicler, our Thucydides.

For More Information about 4GW

(a)  Basics of 4GW:

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — solutions to 4GW
  3. Arrows in the Eagle’s claw — 4GW analysts
  4. Visionaries point the way to success in the age of 4GW
  5. 4GW: A solution of the first kind – Robots!
  6. 4GW: A solution of the second kind
  7. 4GW: A solution of the third kind – Vandergriff is one of the few implementing real solutions.

(b)  About the study and practice of 4GW:

  1. How to get the study of 4GW in gear
  2. Why We Lose at 4GW – About the two kinds of insurgencies
  3. Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics
  4. About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century
  5. About the 4GW between India and Pakistan, 6 January 2009
  6. 4GW in India – more people who want to watch the world burn, 19 January 2009
  7. The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be, 22 January 2009
  8. Is 4GW magnifique?, 22 June 2012 — By Chet Richards
  9. Is 4th generation warfare dead?, 21 December 2012

(c)  The history of 4GW since WW2:

  1. How often do insurgents win?  How much time does successful COIN require?, 29 May 2008
  2. Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story., 21 June 2010 — Boot discusses 7 alleged victories by foreign armies fighting insurgencies.
  3. A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it, 28 June 2010 — Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) points us to the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard.  She examines the present and past analysis of  counter-insurgency.  This could change the course of American foreign policy, if we would pay attention.
  4. A look at the history of victories over insurgents, 30 June 2010
  5. COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure., 7 August 2012




17 thoughts on “Update about one of the seldom-discussed trends shaping our world: 4GW

  • One of the problems about 4GW is that the discussion involves Political Incorrectness, so nobody can actually talk about them.


  • Sorry for the slow response, long weekend a lot going on.

    Point #1

    “It is war between special interest groups,races,and religions.” by Col. Michael D. Wyly from his paper “Fourth Generation Warfare: What Does it Mean for Every Marine” published in the Marine Corps Gazette, March 1995.

    It has been my personal experience that 4GW cannot be discussed on a broad scale with many different people because it is politically Incorrect to bring up these almost personal categories of the broader 4GW theory, which I believe is generally correct.


    Over at the SWC (small wars council) some years ago I brought up the opinion the Bill Laden (my name for him because we should have Killed Bill a long time ago) had conducted what is probably the greatest EEffectsetcs Based Operation) in history but you cannot discuss this because that gives to much credit to a hated enemy of the USA, it politicallyclly incorrect to give him any kind of credit. Now you can’t discuss this anymore because EBO has been banned or at least deemed politically incorrect by the larger military, some aspects still exist inside the Air Force or at least they used to.

    Hope this makes things a little clearer.


    • slapout9,

      Thanks for the additional explanation!

      Thank you for bringing up Col Wyly’s paper. I added to your comment a link to an ungated version at Defense and the National Interest (and fixed the title). I can remember my original reaction upon reading it; it’s an important and disturbing article.

      Your second point is also an important one, vital for us to understand, and one I’ve frequently written about during the past five years. I can only imagine the hostile reception posting these would receive at the SWC (when our wars were young and exciting I said that we were losing, and would lose. They banned me).

      Here are the key posts about AQ’s success on 9-11:

      1. Was 9/11 the most effective single military operation in the history of the world?, 11 June 2008
      2. Bin Laden wins by using the “Tactics of Mistake” against America, 6 February 2011
      3. Bin Laden won, with our assistance. Our applause shows the scale of his victory., 15 December 2012


    • Colonel Wyly is one of the most important and least read of the 4GW authors IMO. To expand on some of the problems with the concept of 4GW is the constant bickering over the tactical methods used. As an example if a Guerrilla fighter acquires a guided missile and uses a cell phone some say it is no longer 4GW but Hybrid warfare. If he uses a sling shot or an IED it is 4GW. This misses the point entirely IMO.

      I think it was Bill Lind who pointed out the difference is WHO!!! does the fighting and WHY!!!! they are fighting that is so different!!!! That is what makes it 4GW. They are not going to be Nation-States but other organized groups of some type, with a single or multiple reasons to fight, not just political ones. The methods of combat will likely combine old techniques with new techniques and newer weapons if they can be acquired, but as has been pointed out that misses the point entirely.

      The new anti Clausewitz trinity (WHO ans WHY) is likely to be Race, Religion and Language. And again these are and will be difficult things to talk about because they not politically correct despite the fact that we need to talk about them in an open and frank manner if we ever to resolve anything. Again just my opinion of what is going on.


  • “the collapse of discussion about 4GW in US military and geopolitical circles”

    Besides the fact that those institutional actors never liked the notion of 4GW in the first place, I suspect that the recent “collapse of discussion” has to do with three recent events:

    1) Libya: “See? Those anti-Gaddafi militias were unsuccessful. It is only when the Frenchies and the Brits sent their air force and special-ops that victory could be achieved”.
    2) Syria: “See? Al-Assad is striking back and even recovering territory. Those Syrian insurgents are stuck and clamoring for us to send real fighting muscle — bombers, anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank artillery”.

    3) Mali: “See how those fearsome jihadists, armed to the teeth with Gaddafi weaponry, were driven away as soon as the French Mirages and the French foreign legion were sent into the fray”.

    In other words, the impression is that, after all, only traditional armed forces carry the day.

    Of course, this is ignoring that 4GW are protracted affairs (decades of fighting is a quite common occurrence), and that the aftermaths of Libya (absence of State, permanent troubles) and and Mali (disarray of institutions and spillover in Algeria and Niger) show that the issues have found no closure according to established war patterns.


  • I agree, FM, that OBL should have been proud of the effectiveness of his operation, but what I’ve learned about the man suggests that he would much rather have had his original gang of AQ leaders alive and intact and the freedom to move around the world at will.

    OBL wasn’t really a brilliant strategist, he was an angry man with one effective idea in a position to use it on an overly-complacent opponent. The rest was our fault.


    • Pluto,

      (1). You are of course probably correct. Just because one is willing to pay the price does not mean we prefer to pay the full price. True when buying a car or fighting a war.

      (2). Chet and I discussed this in the comments to Chet Richards’ post asking if 4GW is dead. Chet agrees with you, proof that your observation has much merit.

      On the other hand, victory in conflict — whether getting a good price for a used car, playing chess, or fighting a war — often results from an accurate view of the opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. In general the “you didn’t win, you just exploited my weaknesses” is a whine by losers. Bystanders describe this kind of victory as “brilliantly exploiting the opponent’s …”.

      Similarly, unfavorably mocking of the other sides leaders gets into the history books as examples of people’s foolishness. The South’s descriptions of Lincoln’s character and appearance. The allies in WW2 descriptions of the Japanese people’s physical appearance and character. Ditto for Hitler and so forth.

      Does it matter if BL was an angry old guy? Or is this chant just America whining to conceal from theirselves the fact that BL won and they lost?


    • I probably didn’t express my opinions correctly, FM. What I was trying to say was that OBL wasn’t the Napoleon of 4GW. He was the guy who kicked the door of the US and watched in amazement as the whole structure started to collapse.

      I sincerely doubt that when OBL planned the 9/11 attack that he predicted to himself that the US government would respond by tearing up the Constitution to the cheers of the voters. OBL was the excuse we gave ourselves for doing things that a certain group of people had wanted to do for some time.

      It is my hope, but not my prediction, that the Obama White House has finally begun to understand what they have helped build and are now beginning to think about how to disarm it.


    • You might be correct that BL was lucky, not smart. I’ll leave that for historians to determine. IMO it is of little operational significance to us; rather the key for us to understand is that he won big.

      As for Obama, your hope says good things about you as a person. But I strongly believe that you are mistaken, Glenn Greenwald explains why: “Obama’s terrorism speech: seeing what you want to see“, The Guardian, 27 May 2013 — “Some eager-to-believe progressives heralded the speech as a momentous change, but Obama’s actions are often quite different than his rhetoric”

      We have gone through many cycles of this on the FM website. Obama as savior! Tea Party Movement as Savior! Blah blah blah. When we get off our butts and work America’s political machinery, then we need no longer hope for a Savior.

      I suggest we do so soon. The control room will soon be filled by other people working the controls, and we will no longer be welcome there.


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