How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game.

Summary: Looking through the archives of any website discussing modern war quickly reveals how little we have learned since 9-11, despite our futile but large expenditures of money and blood. The resistance to war with Syria (outcome still unknown) suggests that the time might have come to dust off these lessons. Perhaps America has grown weary of failure, and become willing to explore different paths.

This series expands on a post from July 2005. The other chapters:

  1. We are the attackers in the Clash of Civilizations. We’re winning.
  2. Handicapping the clash of civilizations: bet on America to win

4gw vs USAF bomber


  1. Introduction
  2. History of defense vs offence
  3. A new era of defensive strategy
  4. Making the change
  5. About fourth generation warfare
  6. About the win rate of foreign armies fighting insurgents


(1) Introduction

In 2009 I wrote that our military’s response to 9-11 was to adopt the WW1-era cult of the offense (natural, since our military doctrine was largely WWi-era 2GW). Two failed occupations later, we continue to seek foreign monsters to destroy. The American public’s opposition to intervention in Syria indicates that the bankruptcy of this doctrine has become obvious. But what can replace it?

In both his “On War” articles, in the Fourth Generation Warfare Field Manual, and particularly in his article “Strategic Defense Initiative”, William Lind points to a possible solution to America’s strategic problems:

{O}ne matter of prime importance seemed to be agreed by all parties: in the so-called War on Terror, America must remain on the offensive. … There is little doubt that “being on the offensive” sounded good to most voters. But if the objective is to design a strategy that brings victory in the War on Terror, a different approach may have much to recommend it.

Lind quotes from Carl von Clausewitz’s On War :

“{D}efense is simply the stronger form of war, the one that makes the enemy’s defeat more certain. We maintain unequivocally that the form of warfare that we call defense not only offers greater probability of victory than attack, but that its victories can attain the same proportions and results.”

Lind’s essay develops the strategic implications of a defensive strategy. Quite sensibly, since history shows us that a defensive posture is stronger than offense. Look at Europe: since the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 few invaders have achieved profitable victories against roughly equal opponents; all of the large aggressors have lost. This post looks at other aspects of this solution.

(2) History of defense vs offence

Bill Bonner, an American expatriate living in France, once observed that after 300+ years of French military adventures — with their dead scattered over Europe – the French have considered what they gained from this sacrifice, and find it insufficient. Perhaps the French and their neighbors in Europe have learned the impotence of 2nd and 3rd generation militaries in a 4th generation world. Their conventional wars against each other produced no victors; their 4GWs waged as colonial powers after WW2 produced only defeats.

Piercing blue eyes by captainbaker at DeviantArt
Only when we see can we learn.
By captainbaker at DeviantArt


The futility of conventional warfare is now obvious to almost everyone. The futility of invasions and occupations in 4GW has only slowly become so, as repeated failures show that the home court advantage is decisive in 4GW. In Chapter 6.2 of Changing Face of War (2006) Martin van Creveld describes the success rate of foreign armies fighting local insurgencies:

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 Ertrea, 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.

How can we defend ourselves, if not by attacking every foe, even potential foes?

(3) A new era of defensive strategy

The world’s richest, most powerful nation remains locked in fear about tiny numbers of insurgents fighting in the poorest regions of the world. We spend on our military many times the sum of all likely enemy nations combined. We spend on counter-terrorism a fantastic multiple (probably thousands) more than spent by every terrorist group on the planet. Something is wrong with this picture.

This madness suggests the time has come for change. The wheel of history has rolled to a new era in which the US can and should return to its non-interventionist roots, a defensive strategy.

  • We can help allies with money, aid, advice, and other forms of support. Strong governments almost always defeat insurgents (see section 6 below).
  • We can promise State attackers that they will receive devastating retaliatory strikes. Game theory suggests that “tit for tat” is one of the most effective tactics. Assured Destruction, extended over the full range of war, nuclear to conventional, probably will prove to be the winning tactic in the 21st century (as it was in the 20th after WW2).
  • Terrorists without clear State sponsorship — such as the fearsome anarchists, the less effective but still deadly leftists groups of the 1960s and 1970s, and today’s jihadists — provide few targets for retaliation, but can be dealt with by police and security agencies. As all of these groups learned to their sorrow (including the real al Qaeda, not the nationalist insurgencies using that brand name).

There is no perfect safety outside Heaven. But we can achieve reasonable security for far less than we spend today, freeing funds desperately needed elsewhere.

(4) Making the change

Shifting from power projection — with frequent foreign interventions — to defensive strategy poses serious structural challenges. The military-industrial complex would need incentives to change its vision. Our Defense Department would require deep retraining in order to warrant its name.

The rewards will be large costs savings, fewer Americans sacrificed in futile foreign wars, and equivalent or perhaps greater security. Making the change takes only the involvement of the American people: will and effort. We can do it.

(5) For more information about 4GW

The original paper about 4GW: “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation” by William S. Lind, Keith Nightengale (Colonel, US Army), John F. Schmitt (Captain, USMC), Joseph W. Sutton (Colonel, US Army), and Gary I. Wilson (Lieutenant Colonel, USMCR), Marine Corps Gazette., October 1989

Field Manuals from the Fourth Generation Warfare Seminar at the Marine Corps Base, Quantico:

  1. FMFM 1A, Fourth Generation Warfare, August 2009 (720 KB PDF)
  2. FMFM 1-3A, A Tactical Handbook for Counterinsurgency and Police Operations, 12 August 2008 (158 KB PDF)
  3. FMFM 1A-3A, A Book of 4GW Tactical Decision Games, 3 October 2008 (95 pp, 2.5 MB PDF)
  4. Light Infantry, 24 September 2008 (495 KB PDF)
  5. FMFM 3-23 Air Cooperation, August 2009 (1.2 MB PDF)
  6. FMFM 3-25 How to Fight in a 4th Generation Insurgency, August 2009 (725 KB PDF)

Posts about 4GW:

  1. A solution to 4GW — the introduction
  2. Why We Lose at 4GW – About the two kinds of insurgencies
  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 — New ideas about tactics & strategy
  8. 4GW: A solution of the third kind -– New ways to shape our institution
  9. About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century

(6) About the win rate of foreign armies fighting local insurgents

  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 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



14 thoughts on “How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game.”

  1. Pingback: How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game. - Global Dissident

  2. Crianças na linha de mira: Foto de crianças palestinas mortas pela IDF ganha prêmio World Press como melhor foto.
    Esta foto tirada pelo fotógrafo sueco Paul Hansen e divulgada pela World Press Photo mostra os corpos de Suhaib Hijazi de dois anos de idade e seu irmão de três anos de idade, Muhammad, que foram mortos quando sua casa foi destruída por um míssil israelense em 20 de novembro de 2012, na Cidade de Gaza (AFP Photo / Paul Hansen)

    A imagem de duas crianças palestinas mortas em um ataque aéreo israelense ganhou o prêmio 2012 World Press Photo. E como que para demonstrar ainda mais o perigo que correm as crianças na região, um atirador Israelense da IDF postou uma foto em Instagram de uma criança Palestina na lente da mira do seu rifle.

    Uma procissão de homens lamentando que carregavam as duas crianças palestinas para seu funeral, capturados com o clique de uma câmera, ganhou o World Press Photo 2012.

    A foto foi tirada pelo fotógrafo sueco Paul Hansen, que trabalha para o jornal Dagens Nyheter.

    Tirada em Gaza em 20 de novembro de 2012, a foto mostra um grupo de homens marchando com os corpos de um irmão e uma irmã, envoltos em tecido branco, através da cidade. A peça retrata o que se tornou uma cena comum na região durante os ataques militares de Israel de oito dias, na Operação Pilar de Defesa, contra o Hamas na Faixa de Gaza.

    Uma das competições mais prestigiadas do fotojornalismo, o premio World Press Photo foi concedido este ano em nove categorias a 54 fotógrafos de 32 nacionalidades.

    “Este prêmio é a maior honra que você pode receber na profissão”, disse Hansen, “Eu estou muito feliz, mas também muito triste. A família perdeu dois filhos e a mãe está inconsciente em um hospital.”

    Ao todo, 103.481 imagens foram submetidas ao concurso por 5.666 fotógrafos de 124 países.

    A Hansen foi dado um prémio de 10.000 € e uma exposição em abril, em Amsterdã.

    “Alvo constante” – revela o Instagram.

  3. FM writes:

    Looking through the archives of any website discussing modern war quickly reveals how little we have learned since 9-11, despite our futile but large expenditures of money and blood.

    Large expenditures of money, but tiny expenditures of blood. To date only 5,281 Americans have been killed by the enemy in Afghanistan ibn the 12 years since 2001. For comparison, 24,500 French and British soldiers in the Battle of Messines during the 12 days from 1-12 June 1917 in WW I, and 16,592 Americans died in a single year (1968) at the height of the Vietnam war.

    If we roll back our timeline to Clinton’s Balkans campaign, this action became known in the Pentagon as “immaculate destruction” because not a single American soldier was lost.

    The technologization of modern American warfare appears to have substituted money for casualties. This may explain why America’s endless pointless unwinnable wars have created so little political opposition post-9/11.

    1. Perhaps we have different perspectives.

      I work with the Blue Star Mothers, visiting soldiers with missing limb, brain injuries, and harsh PTSD. I have listened to Gold Star Mothers talk about their dead children. I have worked with veteran’s children, their lives darkened by the crippling or death of a parent.

      Perhaps not a large expenditure to some, but a large expenditure to me and to them.

      For nothing gained.

      And that does not include the far larger number of civilians killed in the our wars, waged for no rational reason. Their blood counts too, to me.

  4. Sadly, FM, I fear that your argument rests upon a somewhat flawed premise…the idea that the Powers That Be actually *want* to win wars.

    The plain and simple truth is that our current method of conducting warfare involves vast sums of money, and there are a lot of people profiting immensely from it — the top executives at the major defense companies, the owners of smaller subcontracting firms, defense industry lobbyists, Congresscritters who receive tasty perks from the lobbyists and the defense industry, etc..

    As we have recently discussed on this site, the way in which the US currently wages war also has a positively uncanny (one might even call it convenient) ability to generate blowback that must be dealt with via further military action. As I’ve said many times in private conversation, it increasingly seems as if the US is no longer making bullets because we’re at war — we’re at war because we make bullets and we need an excuse to use them so that we can keep on making more.

    Not only that, as General Smedley Butler pointed out more than half a century ago, going into a country potentially provides US corporations with opportunities to establish a foothold in that country and profit from its resources. Although it’s a mistake to attribute to malice (or intent) what can just as easily be explained by stupidity (or irrationality), there are moments when it’s hard to dismiss the suspicion that all this is the result of deliberate and calculated planning — especially since we live in an age in which profit trumps principle far more often than not. I believe there’s a famous quote somewhere to the effect that, “it is extremely difficult to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    I recently read an article (I forget where) which compared the current US model of warfare to a Mafia protection racket — they wreck someone’s small business (or threaten to do so) and then charge the owner sizeable sums of money to prevent any attacks on their busines in future. I found the analogy disturbingly apropos.

    1. Bluestocking,

      That is all logical, and might be correct. We can only guess at the motives of our ruling class.

      My guess is that they would to win these little wars. But they do not pay the cost of fighting, and losing does little damage. Hence the long long series of interventions since Ww2.

      But the fear of our 4gw foes lives in all levels of US society, and accounts for these wars high (but cyclical) level of support. The point of these two posts is that we need not fear these foes.


    Why ‘This Town’ Loves Going to War
    The politics of war and peace are a gold mine for Washington’s power players.
    WHO Refuses to Publish Report on Cancers in Iraq Caused by Depleted Uranium
    Gulf War veterans still sick and not getting better
    Uranium symptoms match US report as cancer fears spread
    U.S. Teams in Iraq Investigate Mystery Illness
    Mystery Illness Kills Missouri Soldier
    Josh Neusche died Saturday; his family waits for answers.
    Department of Veterans Affairs Reports 73 Thousand U.S. Gulf War Deaths
    Veterans Administration again accused of covering up the causes of ‘Gulf War Syndrome’

    The New American Militarism – How American’s are Seduced by War

    Unintended consequences. But maybe CIA was okay with ‘Islamic Billy Graham’ idea since West has long had dealings with Ibn Saud (who the British brought to power during power struggle with several rivals) who used Ibn Wahab to solidify and maintain power in Saudi Arabia. Now the Jihadis financed by Saudis, can be used interventions as well. Notice how they are active in Syria and not Myanmar, where there is a genocide taking place against Muslims.

    “”By inadvertence more than design, the CIA was in the process of spawning, or covering the emergence of a loose-knit but powerful Islamist movement, dedicated to violence, that would soon operate in 43 countries. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood’s transformation was a key stage in the process which very surely and certainly is still playing out, today, firstly in Syria.””
    The CIA Said ‘Find An Islamic Billy Graham’
    Miles Copeland, Jr.
    The origins of US involvement in Syria. Exclusive 1969 video

    A review:

    One of the best (and most underrated) books on covert politics & crypto-diplomacy ever written… By W. Douh on December 20, 2011Format: Paperback This is easily one of the most honest books i have ever read about how hidden and covert politics REALLY work and how an intelligence operative’s life is. This book has not received the fame it deserved (unlike its predecessor, “The Game of Nations”); instead, only hardcore lovers of espionage and politics are the ones who really appreciated this book. Want to know from where Reagan REALLY (and,dare i say,bizarrely) brought his principles of political policies? Want to REALLY know why the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCASG) countries have one of the highest GDP per capitas (and standards of living also-without producing anything) in the world? (and no,it is primarily NOT the existence of oil and gas in their lands) Want to REALLY know why and how Iran’s shah’s was overthrown? Want to know why Jamal Abdul-Nasser was chosen to rule Egypt after King Farouk? These are questions that I have not been able to answer to this day until i read this book (oh,and by the way,if you CAREFULLY read this book you will soon learn that your media was NEVER honest to you in anything). Here is a spoiler, in the last page, if you were not able to figure out the answer to Copeland’s final quiz question then here it is (thank God i figured this one out, it was tough), its answer is: Amorality.

    See also:

    “traced the group’s sources of funding to some Al-Qaeda-linked organisations in the Middle East.
    Recently arrested key figures of the group reportedly told security agents that while the organisation initially relied on donations from members, its links with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, AQIM, opened it up to more funding from groups in Saudi Arabia and the UK.”
    Nigeria: Boko Haram’s Funding Sources Uncovered
    Rohingya Refugees In India: Tales Of Endless Persecution,
    Torture And Exploitation
    Why Burma could become another Rwanda
    Burma is ethnically cleansing the Rohingya people. When David Cameron meets the Burmese president tomorrow he must call for it to stop
    Report documents ‘Rohingya persecution’

  7. Pingback: The Decline and Fall of National Security | NEWYORKUSTAN: American Muslim Series

  8. Pingback: The Decline and Fall of National Security | Freedom Writers

  9. Pingback: Well-funded organizations inciting us to hate & fear, again. How gullible are we? | NEWYORKUSTAN: American Muslim Series

  10. USA was doing things the wrong way
    Sri lankan government was able to crush the LTTE. Something india as unable to do
    Sri lankan navy started making Arrow speed boats,FACs and fast gunboats making LTTE suicide boats useless and intercepting supply ships
    Trained commandos,Special forces and STF in guerrilla warfare and sending LRRP units to train pro-government guerillas in LTTE held areas and assasinate LTTE leaders
    Showing no regard to

    1. Manth,

      You are missing the fundamental point of 4gW, about which I — and others — have written so much for so long.


      It is astonishing that after 13 years of war, following 50 years of 4GW around the world, that Americans don’t see this simple fact.

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