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.
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.
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
- Chuck Spinney asks why we choose to lose at 4GW.
- William Lind: thoughts about 4GW, why we lose, and how we can win in the future.
- What is a fourth generation war, the wars of the 21st century? Who fights them, and why?
- Understanding 4GW, the first step to winning the Long War — #1 of GI’s series.
- DoD defends itself against dangerous new ideas about 4GW. — #2 of GI’s series.
- 4GW allows ISIS to fight and win against more powerful armies. Like ours. — #3 of GI’s series.
- Using 4GW might give the Islamic State a big future. — #4 of GI’s series.
- 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:
- Why We Lose at 4GW — About the two kinds of insurgencies, a lesson we don’t want to learn.
- 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.
- The War Nerd shows how simple 4GW theory can be, 22 January 2009.
- How I learned to stop worrying and love Fourth Generation War. We can win at this game., 18 September 2013