DoD defends itself against dangerous new ideas about 4GW.

Summary:  Modern wars are fought on paper as competing military theories before people put them to use. Some do this faster than others. Mao wrote the core texts bringing 4GW to maturity in 1937-38; since then others have greatly advanced the art — while western militaries fiddle with the failed methods of COIN. In the late 1980s military reformers made intellectual breakthroughs to catch-up with our foes. DoD’s leaders understood that these threaten their way of life, and have successful fought them. The price has been defeat in our wars since 9/11.

This is the 2nd chapter of a series by GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired). This is the 2nd of 2 posts today.

For fighting wars of the past
For fighting wars of the past

Backward “and” Forward: 4GW Orientation On War – part 2

Critics of 4GW theory

Much of the criticism of 4GW is laced with things that the original 4GW authors did not say or hold out as incontrovertible. Army War College professor, Dr Antulio Echevarria wrote a scathing critique regarding what he termed 4GW “mythology: “Fourth-Generation War and Other Myths” (Strategic Studies Institute, 2005). This critique in a large measure focused on Col T.X Hammes’ book, The Sling and the Stone (2004).

Hammes’ book is a seminal work but does not singularly represent the original 4GW authors’ thoughts. Echevarria in his dogmatic critique fails to point out that T.X. Hammes is not one of the original 4GW authors. Nor does Hammes constitutes the whole cloth of 4GW.  Echevarria takes great umbrage with Hammes’ notion of 4GW (i.e. “evolved insurgency”) while carelessly lumping the primary 4GW authors into his derailed criticism.

“4GW – Myth, or the Future of Warfare? A Reply to Antulio Echevarria” is an excellent bruising rebuttal to Eschevarria’s critique published by John Sayen (it’s here on page 5). Sayen notes that Professor Echevarria’s reaction to the 4GW thesis is to deny all of it. Sayen underscores how Echevarria avoids talking about the essentials of 4GW by insisting on using Hammes’ definition of 4GW as his target of criticism.

In contrast to Echevarria, Franz Osinga provides a more balanced thoughtful analysis of 4GW applications in “On Boyd, Bin Laden, and Fourth Generation Warfare as String Theory” by Col. Dr. Frans Osinga, from On New Wars edited by John Olson (2007):

4GW is inspiring discussion, debate, frustration, refinement of insights, assertions, conjectures and refutations, in short, like many other works that try to make sense of our uncertain and ever-changing environment, it helps us refine and adjust our orientation pattern and learn. Whatever one may think of 4GW, considering the wide audience, one cannot ignore the importance of it as an idea in strategic theory, and as an appealing, – resonating – description of problems confronting western military and political elites today.

4GW does not cover all aspects of the evolving strategic landscape, and perhaps 4GW is not the entirely academically correct analysis, but as an exercise in strategic thinking, creating a coherent synthesis out of a myriad of disparate trends and developments, it certainly has merits by making people aware of potential contours and dynamics of the future strategic landscape. Boyd would agree with the effort indeed.

The giant Vasa
Admirals often see only the past.  Big doesn’t always make it better.

Practitioners of 4GW vs our 2GW military

In contrast to Eschevarria’s caustic criticism of 4GW, radicalized jihadists on the other hand enthusiastically embrace the 4GW perspective — according to “Bin Laden Lieutenant Admits to September 11 and Explains Al-Qa’ida’s Combat Doctrine“, The Middle East Media Research Institute, 10 February 2002. Also see Andrew Black, “Al-Suri’s Adaptation of Fourth Generation Warfare Doctrine”, Terrorism Monitor, 21 September 2006.

While our foes adapt their ways of war, operating outside the nation-state paradigm, we largely operate as a second generation military trying to fight fourth generation adversaries. We have yet to transition the American military from second generation warfare to third generation warfare even though the Army and the Marine Corps toyed with the ideas of maneuver warfare in the 1980s eventually backsliding into acquisition driven and attrition-style warfare.

The Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine of the early 1980s came near to an expression of maneuver warfare. The Marines were more serious about maneuver warfare and studied it in their schoolhouses in the 1980s. The effectiveness of the I Marine Expeditionary force, executing a maneuver warfare stroke through numerically superior Iraq forces into Kuwait during the Gulf War demonstrated the validity of maneuver warfare doctrine. See the 1992 “Annual Report to the President and the Congress”, p. 121.

The immediate challenge we face is reviving our third generation maneuver warfare efforts to accommodate the challenges in combating 4GW. For more about this see “Military Response to Fourth Generation Warfare in Afghanistan” by Greg Wilcox and GI. Wilson, SRI International, 5 May 2002.

Today, with the rise of ISIS and other nonstate bad actors we continue to see that nothing has changed in the walkways of White House (WH), Congress, and DOD with respect to 4GW threats. Sadly, this recalcitrant reluctance to consider the 4GW orientation is to our great peril. Gary Anderson (Colonel, USMC, retired) writes about 4GW relevance in “The Evolution of Warfare; Back to the Future“, Marine Corps Gazette, September 2013.

The first observation I had was a blinding flash of the obvious. The authors had been very astute in predicting how our emerging adversaries would fight in the coming years. If they did not predict 11 September 2001 (9/11) exactly, they at least described how nonstate actors such as terrorists would use very different means to fight established nation-state actors. Most of their predictions, including the use of internal disruption of nation-states that circumvent conventional military protection, came to pass.

The America way of war remains acquisition-driven where all conflict and solutions are framed in high-tech-high-cost hardware. WH, Congress, and DOD are all joined at the hip in the money slathering. The quest is always one of high-tech-high-cost hardware solutions to everything at the exclusion of everything else. The Holy Gail for DOD and Congress is technological hardware. There are no operational solutions based on people and ideas. For more about this mindset see “America’s Defense Meltdown” (Center for Defense Information, 2008).

See the next chapter tomorrow in this series by GI Wilson.

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

A few posts about 4GW:

  1. Why We Lose at 4GW — About the two kinds of insurgencies, a lesson we don’t want to learn.
  2. Theories about 4GW are not yet like the Laws of Thermodynamics.
  3. About Fourth Generation Infections – Chet Richards explains the nature of outlaw organizations in the 21st century.
  4. The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be, 22 January 2009.
  5. How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game., 18 September 2013

4 thoughts on “DoD defends itself against dangerous new ideas about 4GW.”

  1. If you can’t get to 3GW (like the Novarussians) your chances of 4GW are zero.

    But I’d argue (backed by Montgomery’s experience) the military is the wrong type of organisaiton for 4GW. It can be a part of it doing a limited (but useful) role but under command from somewhere else.

    I quoted before Monty’s experience in Palestine, where he documented clearly what was needed there, after some insurgent gangs had been rooted out. “Good policemen from Britain that can keep the peace, enforce justice and be respected by all sides”. Good, as they used to be, British ‘Bobby’s’, unarmed of course.

    Thus he argued that the military had only a small role to play in COIN, other people and organisatons were the key to success. His argument was quite simple, that so many seem to struggle to understannd, military organisatons, by their very defintion are appliers of lethal force for a particular aim as ordered by Govts. If you change them then they are no longer military oranisations..

    And to try and change them then you will meet serious oppositon, not the least from the from the military itself but also politicians, who see the military as the last bastion to maintain ‘public order’, or their power (and backers) basically. And to do that the military are expected to use lethal violence against any target they pick and kill everyone if necessary.

    It has always been like that. To pretend otherwise is silly.

    Now the trouble with a successful 4GW strategy is that the ‘forces” (whoever they are) have to side with the locals who they are protecting. They live wth them, they know them, they trust them and are trusted. They are the people.

    “Community Policing’ writ large.

    The only people that can do that are really local militias, not any outside force. Because in the end, no matter how close they get, how trusted they are, how successful they are at ‘keeping the peace’ they will have to betray them.

    At one point they will be ordered , by a Govt and hence a superior, to do something horrible. Say the totaly peaceful area (COIN has won this area) and locals are lobbying (peacefully) the central Govt for more money or a health centre or whatever. And the Govt doesn’t want it and orders the local COIN forces to surpress them, grab a bunch and lock them up or torture them or shoot a few to keep their heads down or whatever. And this will happen eventually.

    Will the local COIN forces do that or mutiny and become traitors? Not they wont, they will follow orders.

    Just as US/NATO forces do to enable Afghani opium growers, dealers and the rest. How many times have some of those forces been used to take out a competitor (called an insugent as an excuse)? I’d guess heaps….

    So glib fantasies about standard (especally 2GW ones like the US) military forces becoming good at COIN are absurd.

    And don’t look to the Brtish for help either, they are rubbish too. The British standard method is divide and conquer, get all the different sides fighting each other. Like the SAS (favourites for this) in Iraq with the SAS guys caught with all those explosives looking like ‘arabs’. SOP, they were going to blow up a Mosque of one side or another. Next day they would do the other side’s one.

    They did the same in Northern Ireland..UDA..Britsh created and backed. Even their targets were picked by the British.

    Real history FM, not the airbrushed thing that is told. Friend of my father’s, ex-Sargent in the SAS, Crying on my Fathers shoulder about his guilt in Aden and all the rest (as the British Empire imploded) and all the people he killed. Dressed up, ratty car…drive past and throw in the grenade at a cafe for one side. Next nght do the same against the other side. get them fighting against each other. SOP.

    So forget it. try and at least get the US military to 3GW levels, to be fair it will never happen though it is against the very DNA of them to do that. Oh Ike you were such a moron, added 6 months to the war, a serial screw up but such a good liar to wiggle his way out of any blame, no wonder he became such a good politician, build up the MIS in a huge way, then ‘warn’ people afterwards…oh my did he con conservatives, but what do you expect from someone who gave Berlin to the Soviets on a plate….And nearly Denmark…..

    Ike (incompetent) and Mac (incompetent and totally corrupt) the ‘godfathers’ of the modern US Army,

    I hope it never happens (because it means we all die when the nukes fly), but my inner ‘war nerd’ wishes to see the US go up against Russia. Because they have mastered 3GW totally and the Govt (under Putin) has mastered 4GW (note the Russian armed forces had nothing to do with it, at best they bought some little time, at worst they made everything far, far worse),

  2. Lisa’s comment seems extremely thoughtful and absolutely correct. As she points out, the traditional function of soldiers is to blow things up and kill people. But the more people an occupying force kills and the more infrastructure it destroys, the more it loses the hearts and minds of the population.

    Clearly the essential problem with opposing 4GW forces involves the fact that an army made up of soldiers is entirely the wrong organization to do COIN. Something more like a super-Peace Corps seems more appropriate. But that, of course, is so contrary to the organizational unction an institutional memory of America’s armed forces that it’s not practical to ask our current army to transform itself into such an organization.

  3. Pingback: What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why? - Sci-Fi-islam

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: