Tag Archives: william lind

William Lind: thoughts about 4GW, why we lose, and how we can win in the future

Summary: Twenty-five years ago, in October 1989, the Marine Corps Gazette published  “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”, by four active duty military officers and a civilian military historian. It explained that a new era of warfare had begun, sparked by the invention of nukes (rendering suicidal conventional war among major powers), brought to maturity by Mao (and improved by generations of success and failed insurgencies since then). We failed to learn how to fight these, as proven by our two failed wars after 9/11, the new bipartisan ones being launched now, and the future ones being prepared in Africa.

This series of posts will help you better understand our defeats and prepare you for what is to come. And, perhaps, help motivate you to join the effort to retake the reins of America. This is the second chapter, by guest author William Lind (the civilian co-author of Into the Fourth G). This is the first of two posts today.


Source: Syed Zaid Zaman Hamid


Thoughts on the 25th anniversary
of the publication of the original article on
the Four Generations of Modern War

By William Lind


Since the publication of the original article in the Marine Corps Gazette, three things have happened.

First, events have justified the article’s description of the Fourth Generation as war that escapes the state framework. The high-tech alternative, which became known subsequently by a number of buzzwords — the Revolution in Military Affairs, Transformation, Net-Centric Warfare, etc. — is not where war has gone. Most of the high-tech systems we continue to buy have proven irrelevant to fighting non-state forces. So far, at least, the F-22 has not shot down a single Taliban flying carpet.

Second, the theory of 4GW has been expanded and refined, a process that will continue. The most important addition to the theory has been Martin van Creveld’s book, The Transformation of War. Tom Hammes’s book, The Sling and the Stone, while sound on the first three generations, has brought confusion to much of the discussion of 4GW because it gets the Fourth Generation wrong. Insurgency is not a dialectically qualitative change in war. It is merely one way in which war has been fought for a long time. As van Creveld puts it, 4GW is not a change in how war is fought (though it brings such changes) but in who fights and what they fight for. That is a dialectically qualitative change, the biggest since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648.

The third thing that has happened is actually a negative, i.e., something that did not happen. Despite overwhelming evidence that 4GW is the wave of the future (including four defeats of the U.S. armed forces by 4GW opponents: Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan), the U.S. military has not moved to prepare for it. It remains, and apparently will remain until covered by the lid of history’s trashcan, a Second Generation military. That is to say, it reduces war to putting firepower on targets.

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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.

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What could go wrong if we attack Syria?

Summary: Lost amidst the details and blather about our proposed attack on Syria is the possibility that we might get hurt. More accurately, that our grand strategy makes a severe defeat highly likely. If not in this crises, then in one of the future crises our policies seek out — and even create as needed.

Keep Calm: Set World on Fire

“Early and provident fear is the mother of safety.”
— Edmund Burke to the House of Commons, 11 May 1792

“Fear cannot be without hope nor hope without fear.”
— Baruch Spinoza, Ethics (1677)


  1. What could go wrong?
  2. A note from the past?
  3. About our military
  4. For More Information

(1) What could go wrong?

“Fear is sharp-sighted, and can see things underground, and much more in the skies.”
— Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote de la Mancha (1605-1615)

US foreign policy has been one of bellicose response to all challengers, trusting on the support of our allies, the weakness of our foes — and their inability to work together. We consider it a winning formula in the sense that the only serious blowback was 9-11. So far.

On the other hand, our contempt for diplomacy has quickly escalated many confrontations into military conflicts — most of which we lose (see section 3). We lose in the sense of achieving no national goals, paid for by dead and crippled soldiers and wasted resources. These loses are tolerable for a nation of our size and vigor, and domestic political dynamics keep this system running despite its 50+ years of failure.

This policy is the equivalent of Russian Roulette with a revolver of many chambers. The odds of disaster are small for any individual intervention. If continued long enough we will find a chamber with a loaded cartridge, starting a chain of events with large, unpredictable, and probably unpleasant results. We need not speculate at how events in a small nation can shake the world. The last century provides a clear example with the assassination on 28 June 1914 of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo by six Bosnian Serb assassins.

(2) A note from the past reminding us of what can happen

“Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
— John F. Kennedy, inaugural address on 20 January 1961

In hindsight WWI was the inevitable result of growing tensions in Europe — tensions that the great nations not only failed to resolve, but repeatedly played upon. William Lind explains

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