Understanding 4GW, the first step to winning the Long War.

Summary: in the 65 years after Mao brought 4th generation war to maturity, 25 years after the article coining the term, we continue to send our troops out to fight 4GW wars in foreign lands. We continue to lose, as almost all foreign armies do. At the FM website we mark these anniversaries by articles discussing 4GW, how it works, and why we refuse to learn how to win. Today we have the first chapter of a series by GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired). It’s important; America’s survival during the 21st century might require mastery of 4GW.

Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid.

Backward “and” Forward: 4GW Orientation On War – part 1


The Changing Face of War” appeared 25 years ago in both U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Army professional journals providing a prescient emerging look into the intersection of war, violence, conflict, terrorism, and crime. There were follow-up articles in the Marine Corps Gazette: “The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation” in September 1994 by Thomas X. Hammes (Lt Colonel, USMC, retired), “Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look” in December 1994 by the original authors. There were also online features such as “On Gangs, Crime, and Terrorism” and Fourth-Generation Warfare It’s Here, And We Need New Intelligence-Gathering Techniques For Dealing With It.

Regrettably military and law enforcement professionals ignored these articles as well as others. Yet, the fourth generation warfare (4GW) forecasts were and are very prescient. For more about this see “The Evolution of Warfare; Back to the Future” by Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired), Marine Corps Gazette, September 2013.

The 4GW threat

Today the fourth generation warfare (4GW) orientation remains in the shadows summarily dismissed in many quarters to include DOD, DHS, and DOJ. The events of the last 25 years lend weight to the 4GW orientation. The 4GW orientation offers a different perspective on emerging war, violence, and conflict as an alternative to our conventional acquisition based nation-state thinking.

In short the idea of considering how one thinks about war and conflict impacts what one does in the present and future. An obligatory old dead general quote gives credence to having the right orientation and perspective on war. Carl von Clausewitz said in On War,

“The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish … the kind of war on which they are embarking.”


Knowing the kind of war one finds on their door step is useful in determining how to fight that war. It was true in 1989 and it is still true today. Like today, in 1989 we saw a need to have a relevant orientation and perspective on current emerging threats where asymmetric/irregular warfare was becoming more dominant. We witnessed emerging tactics, techniques, procedures (TTPs) that combined the old with the new.

The real Revolution in Military Affairs
The real Revolution in Military Affairs.

The wisdom of the aphorism if you want a new idea, read an old book was not lost upon us back then or is it today. 4GW is only new to state armed forces that were designed to fight other state armed forces. The fact that no state military has recently succeeded in defeating a non-state enemy reminds us that Clio has a sense of humor: history also teaches us that not all problems have solutions (Lind, 2003). Col Robert Chase in his Naval War College treatise, “Battling the “Hydra”: Changing Operational Factors in 4th Generation War” succinctly describes 4GW:

Strategically, it exploits the media and the informational technologies to sell its message and perpetuate its cause. Unlike ‘freedom fighters’ of the past, it does not brag; rather, silence is used to paralyze its enemy’s retaliatory decisions.

It binds together the technologies of today with the tactics and theories of the past, moving freely among the new and the old — it is controlled chaos. It is amorphous; many headed, but coordinated. It is complex; intersecting the realms of crime, terrorism, and war. Worldwide and determined, its warriors are young and dedicated, bound together by a common thread of ideology, culture, religion, or quest for worldly or eternal riches. It is low-tech, seeking “cheap kills” that consider all aspects of national power — including its citizenry — as viable targets. It refuses to stand and fight, choosing the time, place, and means of attack, unshackled by conscience and principles that traditionally govern war — morally wrong, but brutally effective. It seeks decision but not decisive battle — it refuses to play by our ‘civilized’ rules.

I continue to esteem our 4GW orientation relevancy along with a hybrid warfare [see references below) perspective regarding emerging conflict. According to Frank Hoffman “hybrid wars blend the lethality of state conflict with the fanatical and protracted fervor of irregular warfare” (“Hybrid Warfare and Challenges“, Frank Hoffman, Joint Forces Quarterly, Q1 2009).

Both 4GW and hybrid warfare (HW) orientations in fact ported the worst is yet to come. Particularly in the wake of our incompetent-lumbering bureaucracy that struggles with non-state and failed-state actors. The emergence of the Islamic State, (also known as ISIS or ISIL) is merely an indicator and warning (IW) of the blended operational TTPs and lethality we face. ISIS/ISIL is a foreboding harbinger of “something wicked this way comes.” Despite the drive-by criticism, 4GW persists in its relevance and irreverence.

See the other chapters in GI Wilson’s article next week.

Using 4GW, little fish can defeat big fish

Posts in this series about 4GW, reflecting on 25 years of 4GW defeats

  1. Chuck Spinney asks why we choose to lose at 4GW.
  2. William Lind: thoughts about 4GW, why we lose, and how we can win in the future.
  3. What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?
  4. Understanding 4GW, the first step to winning the Long War — #1 of GI’s series.
  5. DoD defends itself against dangerous new ideas about 4GW. — #2 of GI’s series.
  6. 4GW allows ISIS to fight and win against more powerful armies. Like ours. — #3 of GI’s series.
  7. Using 4GW might give the Islamic State a big future. — #4 of GI’s series.
  8. 4th Generation Warfare, Hybrid Warfare & Unconventional Warfare: Similar but not Interchangeable. By Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMS, retired).

For More Information

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see other posts about 4GW.

(a)  Other readings:

The opposite of a smart strategy, what we do: “If Only We’d Just Spent More Blood and Treasure in Yemen“, Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 23 January 2015 — “5 lessons from misadventures in the Middle East that Washington just can’t seem to learn.” Also see…

(c)  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.

28 thoughts on “Understanding 4GW, the first step to winning the Long War.”

  1. Excellent GI. And most glad Fabius Maximus site is re-engaging. To me the greatest value of 4GW is as a lens through which to see the context and operational threads… as ISIS besieges a city, while terrorists of uncertain allegiance place a large city under threat of attack.

    Two points further: 1) I have always thought it a serious mistake to equate insurgency with 4GW. This to me creates a difficulty in analysis for actionable understanding. Insurgency to me is one element and probably should be considered an operational thread of 4GW but 4GW goes beyond insurgency; and 2) Where technology makes a real difference is in a}communication/output of message to many with speed, ease, and ability to hide, and b}ability for worldwide travel via commercial air.
    Here, no matter how much we consider that the principalities of war are still the same, I think we move outside the scope of war considered by Von Clausewitz.

  2. Agreed. 4GW and insurgency should indeed not be equated – a point Lind himself made repeatedly in the ” On War” columns.

    Mao’s insurgency was rather conventional – fought for control of the state, national, hierarchical, disciplined, centrally controlled. It eventually won by massive conventional operations. There was no leveraging of globalization, or of mass media as we now know it, nor encouragement of self reinforcing anarchy and criminality (indeed, suppressing banditry was a key element, at least according to Mao himself), and not even particularly transnational (which is notable considering its internationalist communist roots and the adjacent USSR).

    In contrast Da’esh/ISIS and its ilk fights to destroy existing states, is transnational in personnel and finance, much more networked than hierarchical, thrives on criminality (license to rape as a recruiting tool), exploits globalization (why bother feeding peasants if the international community will compete to do it for you?) and ultra modern tools (smart phones and youtube action in color accompanied by cheery choral chants).

    Very different beasts.

    Regarding CvC – I would observe the conventional “remarkable trinity”* are very much applicable to Mao, but completely out of alignment with ISIS.

    * see http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/Bassford/Trinity/TRININTR.htm

    quoting “primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.

    The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government.”

    1. rear guard,

      I agree, 4GW and insurgency are different things. 4GW is an intergrated basket of tactics — it’s an operational art like the other “generations of war”. It can be applied to achieve a variety of ends, from gaining wealth (crime) to politics.

      Insurgency refers to both a means and a goal. As the DoD dictionary says: its the “organized use of subversion and violence to seize, nullify, or challenge political control of a region.” 4GW is one possible means of running an insurgency.

      “ISIS and its ilk fights to destroy existing states, is transnational in personnel and finance, much more networked than hierarchical, thrives on criminality (license to rape as a recruiting tool), exploits globalization (why bother feeding peasants if the international community will compete to do it for you?) and ultra modern tools.”

      That describes Mao’s insurgency quite well. Communism was transnational, they were called bandits, it was highly networked in the early stages, was global after victory (Maoism was global, common from Albania to US campuses), and used modern tools (in a China context). Also, both ISIS and AQ are quite hierarchical, as were Leninist movements (led by the revolutionary vanguard).

    2. Fair enough. I described the contrasts as black and white, which is of course an oversimplification, but was trying to highlight the difference. Not to deny Mao and ISIS are *related*, but still they should not be *equated*.

      If one considers characteristics (i.e. networked vs hierarchical) as endpoints on a continuum, I contend that Mao and ISIS will be seen as separated – and therefore could be fought against differently.

      Transnational –
      That was the point. Communism was inherently transnational and internationalist, *yet* how many non-Chinese fought for Mao? (very few!) Did Mao ignore borders with his army? (no, but I grant we did see this from the Vietnamese communists )
      How many ISIS fighters are not from Iraq/Syria, or not even Arab ? (many and some respectively, particularly in the vangard)

      Hierarchy vs network –
      Good point about both having vangards! A point worthy of exploration (similarities/differences).
      Can al Qaida be defeated by decapitation? (we keep trying) Can ISIS? (may or may not be worth a shot – you pointed out that we may well be selecting for the “best and brightest” by trying)
      How about Maoists? (we will never know about Mao himself, but we do have examples like the collapse of Shining Path. Offhand, I cannot think of examples of Maoist movements that survived decapitation … any offers?)

      Re globalization –
      Mao went global afterwards, North Korea never did. But for the 4GW forces we see today globalization is a key tool /asset instead of an endpoint. Creating a famine attracts aid, state of the art communication assets like cellular towers are maintained even in deepest afghanistan and made available to all, terrorists fly coach class to and from Yemen and receive unemployment benefits while they plot.

      We could go on, but imho the point is this : the differences reveal more than the similarities. Hence putting Mao and ISIS both into a single category is dubious. It also plays into the hands of some old school soldiers, who insist that there is no 4GW, merely evolved insurgency.

    3. What type of war is Israel waging inside the universities ?

      Morteza Gharib, Caltech vice provost, said he was “best friends” with Dr. Weihs, the Israeli with whom restricted information had been shared.
      Troian says she informed Adam Cochran, Caltech’s Associate General Counsel, that Gat had posted information to a public site that revealed the key operating principle of the JPL micropropulsion device. This violated federal regulations
      Ares Rosakis, division chair, was one of the first people informed about Gat’s behavior. Troian says that after the FBI questioned her about the situation, Rosakis warned Troian that her behavior was becoming “dangerous” for the Division and for Caltech.
      Edward M. Stolper, Caltech provost who told Troian she would be “miserable” if she didn’t cooperate in covering up the Israeli espionage software that the israeli student had introduced to CalTech Jet Propulsion Lab networks

  3. The claim that “America’s survival during the 21st century might require mastery of 4GW” is patently absurd. 4GW wars in foreign countries do not present an existential threat to America. It is absolutely clear that Americans will not bow down en masse and prostrate themselves before Allah an cry out with one voice, “We submit ourselves to the rule of the Islamic caliphate and abandon secular democracy and the separation of church and state!” merely because some 4GW fighters in, say, Aghanistan, win their war against us or the British or any other foriegn power.

    This is the domino Theory and it’s ludicrous.

    1. Thomas,

      History is filled with accounts of people who look at small phenomenon and confidently proclaim that it cannot grow. Could a small number of Jews overthrow the great religions that dominate the Roman Empire? Could some scruffy Arab tribesman overthrow the ancient and great Byzantine and Neo-Persian Empires? Could some scruffy revolutionaries overthrow the great French monarchy or the vast powerful Russian Empire?

      History is filled with accounts of people who look at new methodologies and proclaim it can’t make a difference. Could the strange ideas of 1920s militry heretics triumph against the established ideas of military experts (tanks and airplanes, no big deal)? How could the toy-like PCs overthrow IBM’s stranglehold on computing.

      It’s just closing your eyes, a mode of analysis not worth responding to. The corrupt, inefficient, tyrannical regimes that dominate the extended Middle East and orth Africa are ripe for overthrow. These things cannot be reliably predicted, but history has many examples of new regimes sweeping away such regimes in an eyeblink of history.

      The two previous posts discussed exactly this scenario: Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: goods news for them, bad for us and Jihadists will prosper using the methods of America’s entrepreneurs.

      By the way, you don’t understand 4GW. It’s greatest threat is to us at home, in Mexico and the US. There are signs that its being used in Mexico; it spreads fast.

    2. The point with 4GW is not that a new form of warfare has been invented.

      The point is that the world has changed, and in this new world order a rabble can successfully fight a state.

      Various non state violent actors (tribes, religious movements, militias, criminal organizations, private companies etc etc) have always been with us, its just that they have consistently been crushed by state forces since about Westphalia.

  4. FM clearly has no idea what 4GW war is or how it works. 4GW is defined, as Martin van Creveld points out in The Transformation of War, by differences in who fights ad what they fight or. Previous generations of warfare consisted of people who fought for their kin group: their clan, polis or nation-state. 4GW fighters fight for transnational goals, like religions or transnational ideological belief systems (ecoterrorists, et al.).

    The belief systems of ISIS have no connection whatsoever with the belief systems which putative 4GW fighters in America espouse. In America, people who talk about waging 4GW advocate belief systems based on libertarianism, Western ideals of individual self-determination, freedom from alleged governmental tyranny, and so on. Completely utterly 100% totally different from the belief systems espouse by groups like ISIS, which seek to establish an all-encompassing religious state which controls every aspect of its citizens lives.

    The 4GW fighters in the mideast and third world are primarily ordinary citizens. Typically members of the elite security forces oppose these 4GW fighters, usually with material and financial aid from the U.S. By contrast, the putative 4GW fighters in America turn out to be members of the elite security forces in our own country — members of the armed forces or police, or former members. Examples include the Oath-Keepers and individuals like ex-police officer Christopher Dorner.

    There is zero likelihood of any crossover twixt the 4GW ighters in foreign countries (ISIS, al qaea) an the people who talk about and have attempted to wage 4GW in America against Americans — people like Christopher Dorner or Timothy McVeigh. Thus, losing an unlimited number of 4GW wars against foreign 4GW groups does not transer to inciting 4GW inside America. FM’s ignorance of this basic point unercuts his entire argument anf raises serious doubts about his credibility as a geopolitical analyst.

    Does this mean American is invulnerable to internal 4GW? Obviously not — but internal 4GW by Americans against Americans is quite a dierent kettle o ish than 4GW against America by a group like ISIS. Internal 4GW represents an existential threat, but or entirely dierent reasons.

    Internal 4GW in America would represent a widespread breakdown of social cohesion and a large-scale loss of legitimacy by basic institutions. This involves a completely different set of challenges than a religious jihad rom an external group. The dangers of 4GW within America range rom groups like the Oath-Keepers who judge the legitimacy of American courts or the U.S. army or the U.S. government to have roppe to zero, to situations like ferguson Missouri, where entire populations judge their institutions to have become illegitimate and oppressive.

    So ar, most of the U.S. population has not reached the point where they judge our basic institutions illegitimate. Confience in American institutions as measured in polls is far far far from denying the basic legitimacy of U.S. institutions. This may happen — but if it does, it will not involve religious ideology or a jihad by foreigners. It will occur because America’s institutions have broken down at a basic level, and it’s not at all clear what kind of armed response that could provoke in America, or rom which segments of the U.S. population. Who in America has spoken out or bombing government buildings because their roads have potholes an their streetlights are out? How many active political groups in America espouse blowing up bridges because congress is in permanent gridlock?

    Comparisons with Mexico are beyond ignorant, not even worth discussing. Mexico finds its government in the grip of ultraviolent narcotics traffickers who were former elite security forces. When America’s government gets corrupted and taken over by a superviolent illegal drug cartel made up of former SEALS, let me know. Hint: don’t hold your breath.

    FM is simply blowing smoke with his claims about existential dangers to America from losing foreign 4GW. He has no idea what he’s talking about. 4GW warfare represents a serious danger, but not to America — at least, not yet. If our institutions continue to deteriorate and our security forces continue to become lawless and run amok, then all bets are off. But that’s a totally different and much larger issue than 4GW per se — it’s an issue of the U.S. government and America’s bedrock social institutions degenerating and collapsing to the point of internal anarchy.

    1. “FM clearly has no idea what 4GW war is or how it works. 4GW is defined, as Martin van Creveld points out in The Transformation of War,”

      I stopped reading here.

      The first is absurd, as I’ve written about this since 2003, actively discuss this with some of the central people in the field, and Chet Richrds cited me in If We Can Keep It as the first (certainly one of the earliest) to describe one of 4GW’s key dynamics — the home court advantage (foreign armies almost always lose fighting local insurgents).

      Second, MvC does not agree with the generations of war concept (in personal communications with me), and to my knowledge never has used the term in his books. His ideas are central to the 4GW concept, but not vice versa.

      1. More about the relationship of Martin van Creveld’s thinking and 4GW, from Army War College professor Dr Aantulio Echevarria’s scathing critique: “Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths” (Strategic Studies Institute, 2005). I don’t agree with his view of MvC’s analysis, but he accurately states the facts.

        By the mid-1990s, the theory of 4GW had taken up Martin van Creveld’s egregious misrepresentation of the Clausewitzian trinity and his overemphasis of the significance of the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, both of which appeared in the much lauded Transformation of War. Remarkably, the theory’s proponents claimed that van Creveld actually had expanded upon “their ideas,” especially with regard to the concept of “nontrinitarian” war. By taking ownership of van Creveld’s concepts, they actually reinvented their theory, and began proclaiming that the “first idea” that shaped 4GW was the thesis that “future war will increasingly be nontrinitarian and waged outside the nation-state framework.”

    2. I think what Mr More is trying to say, although perhaps a bit too belligerently, is that there is practically no chance for the Middle-Eastern militants or for Mexican drug cartels to overthrow the U.S. government or otherwise to dramatically change our way of life. In that regard, I would have to agree with him.
      On the other hand, I think the point of Mr Maximus, is that the *way* of war, the method, being developed by those groups, may in the future be used by new different actors, and in fact may dramatically change American life later in the 21st Century. I would have to agree with that also.

      1. Todd,

        “is that there is practically no chance for the Middle-Eastern militants or for Mexican drug cartels to overthrow the U.S. government or otherwise to dramatically change our way of life.”

        I’m sure everybody would have agreed with that on 10 September 2001. The events on the following day put American public policy — both domestic and foreign — on a radically new path. One which continues to diverge from the America-that-Once-War. Given that history, I find your belief quite incredible. But quite typical of Americans today. Eyes tightly closed we go into the future, led by the 1% and their servants in the Deep State.

    3. Editor
      Point taken; 9/11/2001 was politically transformative. In fact, I believe you’ve said on your site that it was the single most effective military operation in history.
      Still, I’m not sure I could say even that event caused a *dramatic* change in the American life-style, at least not in a broad historical context that includes things like revolutions and conquests where huge portions of the population were uprooted, culture and economic trends diverged or reversed.

      In my mind, which I grant might be “tightly closed”, I could imagine pressure from the aforementioned groups causing big changes to public policy, or I could imagine high-profile assassination and destruction affecting how people feel about their lives and country. But it’s very hard for me to imagine this having a transformative effect on where and how people work or entertain themselves, what they buy at the store, or how they raise their family. Maybe that’s just me?

  5. Robert E. Drabant


    The last comment by Thomas More is a bit hard to understand with all of the typos (43+ years of reviewing operational test plans and final reports) and some words which not even I can figure out what they are, but more importantly the logic flow.

    I think he brings up some valid points, but these are lost with the muddled way he presents them. In operational test, it was easy. Here is what you gave us to test, here is how we are going to test it (test plan) and this is what we found out (final report) based upon substantive empirical evidence (the test results) or what I call “just the facts” and let the facts do the talking.

    I used to think this was enough and that the higher-ups would be able to figure it out, but I came to learn that I had to tell the higher-ups what the facts said.

    Enough said other than I do like the back and forth debate as long as it is logical and objective and DOES NOT BECOME EMOTIONAL AND RESORT TO WHAT I CONSIDER NAME CALLING. To me, that is completely unacceptable and all credibility is then lost!!!

    1. Robert,

      You raise some interesting points, especially about the importance of testing. 4GW is not a theory — although for convenience we often describe it as such. It’s an integrated collection of tactics, an a perspective by which to see the unimaginable and protean reality of war. It’s a theory in the sense of abstraction for easier use — so we must remember that “the map is not the territory, the name is not the thing…”.

      There are problematic aspects to the way its described in the western literature, as Chet Richards has written. Essentially it’s not not war, although can be used in war. I disagree with him on much of this, but experience has taught me that when we disagree — he’s usually correct.

      1. About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century
      2. Is 4GW magnifique?, 22 June 2012
      3. Is 4th generation warfare dead?, 21 December 2012
  6. I would agree with Thomas More. There is absolutely no existential threat to the United States from external forces. Worst comes to worst, we just bomb them back into the stone age, put up a fence between them and us, then set up robotic snipers to take out anyone trying to cross the fence. The Mediterranean sea is a pretty good fence between Europe and the chaos of Africa, BTW. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans are fantastic fences between the United States and the whole rest of the world. 4GW makes its participants stupid and reduces the society to a low level of technology. Sure, they can import technology, but they can’t make their own. That ISIS rabble is not going to be building intercontinental nukes anytime soon.

    The ultimate danger is government corruption. And indeed, the example of Mexico is a good one. Each security agency (and there are tons of security agencies in the US, if you count local police forces as such) becomes a fiefdom competing with the other agencies with everyone else exposed to cross-fire and no one really in control of things. It isn’t clear what would bring about a situation like this in the US, though we are clearly headed in the wrong direction with the militarization of the police forces.

    As long as the security forces of the United States remain under centralized control (and perhaps even without centralized control), any attempt at 4GW by insiders within the US borders will be swiftly squelched. The people of the US have a strong appetite for more security: secret trials, torture, vast system of informants, controls on internal movement of persons. And even if they didn’t have such an appetite, the elite have such an appetite and that’s who really runs things. Indeed, in the event of a serious attempt at 4GW within the US, we would surely surpass Gestapo/Stasi intrusiveness due to the technological possibility of requiring everyone to carry a smartphone-like locator device at all times, which didn’t exist in the past. Combine that with control of the media and the 4GW is crushed to powder. The idea that twitter/youtube facilitate revolution is absurd. With something like Stasi in control, anyone sending out a twitter call for action would be swiftly arrested, tried in secret, tortured for information about collaborators, sent off to a prison somewhere or otherwise disposed of, and the tweet itself would be quickly deleted. (Any objection by the twitter corporation to delete tweets would bring about the same dire consequences to its executives as to the original tweeter.)

    The real danger of 4GW is not that it can take down the state, but that it can justify the expansion of the state. The reaction of France to their recent bombing is a fine example of this, as was the reaction of the USA to the 9/11 bombings.

    1. revelo,

      “There is absolutely no existential threat to the United States from external forces. Worst comes to worst, we just bomb them back into the stone age, put up a fence between them and us, then set up robotic snipers to take out anyone trying to cross the fence.”

      If only such simple solutions worked! But I doubt any likely level of trouble from Mexico would result in your insane solution. Immigration, higher fertility, slow migration of social and political values, slow migration of their 4GW non-state actors into America — all these can and probably will re-shape the southwestern USA. Long-term effects are difficult to predict, but probably not good for our already weakening political regime.

      The “United States” is a political regime. Political regimes have fallen to internal and external forces throughout history, usually surprising people who watch with their eyes closed.

    2. “Worst comes to worst, we just bomb them back into the stone age…”
      I’ve heard this argument a lot, but I don’t know why people think this tactic would actually work in the real world.
      There were more bombs dropped in Viet Nam than in all of WWII. They survived, and we lost.
      The U.S. has been dropping bombs on Iraq and surrounds areas with pretty regular frequency for the last two decades. All it has done is make them more angry at us.

      Really, even though it may be very straightforward to do this sort of thing in movies and video games, in the real world it is pretty much impossible to covert an entire region and its people into a parking lot.
      Even if for some reason we thought it was ok to send hundreds of nuclear missiles all over an entire subcontinent, there would still be lots of survivors, and those people would be that much more hardened and resolved to strike back.

  7. Help my feeble mind please,what’s the goal or end state of 4GW? To change or bring down governernents? Does 4GW victory offer something better or is the end state merely anarchy? Or something else?

    1. Elle,

      That’s a great question, and one commonly answered. 4GW is a methods — a set of integrated tactics. It has no inherent or fixed goal, any more than does murder. It’s unlike insurgency, which uses violence to gain political power — and which can use 4GW as a means to that goal.

      Anarchists could use 4GW, as they used other methods to score their late 19th century triumphs. I don’t believe there are many of them today.

  8. The entire thrust of FM’s post also seems badly mistaken here (which is unusual, because FM’s posts are generally insightful an spot-on accurate).

    FM titles this post “…the first step to winning the Long War.”

    As Sun Tzu and Clausewitz and John Boyd all concur, no nation benefits from prolonged war. To the contrary — a nation which engages in greatly prolonged warfare generally destroys itself.

    The exact Sun Tzu quote is: “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” The exact Clausewitz quote is: “”Time . . . is less likely to bring favor to the victor than to the vanquished. . . An offensive war requires above all a quick, irresistible decision.”

    John Boyb’s Patterns of Conflict recommends strengthening ties with allies, an isolating enemies, rather than engaging in prolonged direct warfare.

    All of Boyd’s acolytes (Chuck Spinney, Chet Richards et al.) have suggested disengaging with radical Islam and isolating them via economic sanctions etc. in order to allow them to fight amongst themselves, wahabi against Shiite, secular dictators against religious fundamentalists. This seems a wise grand strategy.

    Trying to win a Long War against fundamentalist Islam seems like a recipe for disaster. That is precisely what they want us to do.

    “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy. Allah willing, and nothing is too great for Allah. (…) All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations.” — Osama Bin Laden, 2004.

  9. Elie asks: “Help my feeble mind please,what’s the goal or end state of 4GW?”

    Surprisingly, the goal of 4GW is exactly the same as the grand strategic goal of all previous forms of warfare: “an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will” (Clausewitz); to impose the desired social and economic and military policy upon the field of action in which the enemy contests you. 4GW seeks to accomplish this grand strategic goal in a very different way from previous forms of warfare, however.

    Previous forms of warfare sought the physical destruction of the enemy’s forces, typically using military power. 4GW seeks to disintegrate the enemy internally, typically using moral an/or political power. Ultimate victory in 1GW, 2GW or 4GW involves mass physical destruction o the enemy’s army and civilian industrial capacity to continue making war. This reached its apex with Hiroshima & Nagasaki. Beyond nuclear weaponry, where a single 10-megaton nuclear warhead can vaporize an entire city along with its population, the previous generations of warfare cannot go.

    The ultimate examples of successful 4GW involved not physical destruction of the enemy, but rather political and/or social destruction of the enemy. Example: in the 1950s the french government waged genocidal war against Algerian independence until the french government disintegrated. The end result was not anarchy in Algeria, but its transformation into an independent state. Example 2: America waged genocidal war against North Viet Nam until the Nixon administration collapsed. People forget that Watergate resulted directly from Nixon’s paranoia about Vietnam war leaks, viz., the Pentagon Papers. Once again the end result in North Vietnam was not chaos or mere anarchy, but the creation of a unified Vietnamese state with a well-organize government.

    John Boyd (following Napoleon) organize military force into three levels: at the top, moral; next, mental; at the lowest level, physical. 4GW seeks to leverage moral force against a physically superior enemy. The french government in the 1950s and the Nixon administration in the 1970s collapsed and abandoned fighting their wars because their moral position grew so odious that their own populations refused to support continued fighting.

    In other words, he who fights against the weak — and the rag-tag Iraqi militias are very weak indeed — and loses, loses. He who fights against the weak and wins also loses. To kill an opponent who is much weaker than yourself is unnecessary and therefore cruel; to let that opponent kill you is unnecessary and therefore foolish. As Vietnam and countless other cases prove, no armed force however rich, however powerful, however, advanced, and however well motivated is immune to this dilemma. The end result is always disintegration and defeat; if U.S. troops in Iraq have not yet started fragging their officers, the suicide rate among them is already exceptionally high. That is why the present adventure will almost certainly end as the previous one did. Namely, with the last US troops fleeing the country while hanging on to their helicopters’ skids. — Martin van Creveld, “Why Iraq will end as Vietnam did,” 2004.

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