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August 09, 2006

Fourth Generation Warfare

There's an excellent article in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle regarding a subject I tried to write about here. The subject is "fourth generation warfare."

The question I asked, and which the Chronicle article addresses, is this: How does a state fight against a non-state in a new era of warfare in which non-states seem to have the advantage?

Look at Hezbollah. It used to be that the side with the most casualties was the loser. It used to be that the side who was forced to give up ground to an opponent was the loser. But as we've seen in the Israeli-Hezbollah war, the world has entered a new era of warfare in which every casualty suffered on the side of the non-state combatant becomes a weapon to be used against the state combatant.

In this new type of warfare, it behooves Hezbollah (and those particular Iraqi insurgents whose goal it is to end the U.S. "occupation") to maximize casualties on their own side of the fence. What we have is a war of attrition in which one side sacrifices its own citizens in order to obtain a strategic goal by non-military means, i.e. by propaganda.

Chronicle staff writer Matthew Stannard provides a more detailed description of "fourth generation warfare:"

A use of all available networks -- political, economic, social and military -- to convince enemy political leaders that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly to achieve.

A lack of clearly defined conditions, including beginning and end, victory or defeat, peace or war, civilian and combatant. Modern wars of this type tend to last for years as conflict surges and ebbs and moves between political, military and other battlegrounds.

Antagonists are organized more as sprawling, "leaderless" networks than as tight-knit hierarchies.

At least one side is something other than a military force organized and operating under the control of a national government -- a force that appears widely dispersed and largely undefined, lacking bases, centers of power and other traditional points of assault. These groups tend to seek to use their opponents' size, power and legitimacy against them.

An emphasis on high technology that allows small organizations to asymmetrically attack larger ones -- for example, availability of weapons of mass destruction, tools of electronic warfare or easy access to global media for purposes of propaganda.

Fascinating stuff. I'm reminded of the revolution in warfare brought about by the invention of the "minie" ball around the time of the American Civil War. Military tacticians did not catch up with that sea change until the end of the First World War. And by then there was a whole third dimension to battle that needed to be understood: air power.

What we've seen with "fourth dimensional warfare" is a completely new way for weak opponents to attack and beat strong opponents. I would say this is one of the lessons of Vietnam, and like the "minie" ball revolution, military planners are slow to recognize that the rug has been pulled out from under them. It is especially important that we get a handle on this problem now, because the Cold War is over and we are going to be fighting Hezbollahs and al Qaedas for the forseeable future.

What concerns me is that, in the battle of civilizations called the "War On Terror," the thing that makes us civilized is the thing that makes us weak -- our compassion. When your enemy is uncivilized, and has no concept of compassion, it's hard to win if you're swayed by world opinion.

My thesis is that we cannot win under these new rules. Only a return to the more brutal methods of World War II can beat these non-state actors and their principals (Iran, Syria). But we can't resort to those older methods unless we abandon our aversion to civilian casualties. And I don't see that happening absent a horrific über-9-11 as a catalyst.

Which is why I ended my last post on the subject with that cryptic and ominous final sentence.

h/t Belmont Club

Posted by annika, Aug. 9, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: annikapunditry


I was all ready to beotchslap u, until you reached your conclusion. Well done grasshopper. It's gonna be ugly when we take the gloves off, and that day be a'commin.

Posted by: Casca on Aug. 9, 2006

You are right, Annika. Unfortunately, 50% of America and more than 50% of Europe live in Fantasy Land, where if you just "talk," or "negotiate," or "understand" the enemy, all will be good. This idiocy is going to get a lot of civilized people killed while the barbarians continue to storm the gates.

Today is the 61st Anniversary of the bombing Nagasaki. Lives were saved and a way of life ensured because we had the courage necessary to make the price too high for our enemies. I hope we don't have to lose another 3,000 citizens before we understand the reality of today and our enemy.

Posted by: Blu on Aug. 9, 2006

The Chronicle and you forget one important element, Annika. That warfare cannot work without the cooperation, collusion and encouragement of Western media,

No one stages a propaganda event unless the media is willing to cover it the way the propagandist desires. If the media ignores the event or critically reports on the event, the events soon disappear.

The way to end this type of warfare is to convince the media to develop some ethics and put an end to their bloodlust.

Posted by: Jake on Aug. 9, 2006

Excellent point. Thanks for bringing it up. Michelle Malkin has done an amazing job of late cataloging examples of MSM distortion (e.g. Reuters photo manipulation). It is tough to win a war when your own media is clearly cheerleading for the jihadists.

Posted by: Blu on Aug. 9, 2006

Jake, that's not going to happen. We have to assume that the mainstream media is lost for the forseeable future.

Posted by: annika on Aug. 9, 2006


I guess I agree with you. Media ethics is an oxymoron.

Posted by: Jake on Aug. 9, 2006

You are right, we have to get savage to win this type of war.
In fact I believe the following; War should be "nasty, Brutish, and short." Immigrants should be "safe, legal, and rare" and Liberals should be "Stopped, dropped, and rolled".

Posted by: kyle8 on Aug. 9, 2006

lol, Kyle

Posted by: annika on Aug. 9, 2006

Ain't it a shame that while we drop th e bomb on Iran (OK, Israel will do it for us) and level Iran and Syria to parking lots, we can't assemble the entire maintream media to cover it, and send them a love package as well?

Casca, the gloves are coming off, and soon. The next attack by the IslamoFascists will turn the tide, and the Bushies will use it to clean house.

Hell, they've got my vote now. Why wait?

Posted by: shelly on Aug. 10, 2006

We're just waiting for the baptism of Carlo & Connie's baby.

Posted by: Casca on Aug. 10, 2006

Do you guys really think another terror-attack like 9/11 will wake up the Liberals, the MSM, the rest of the free-world?

I think they're committed to their warped view of the world where the U.S. and President Bush are to blame for everything, and the solution to all of the world's ills are negotiations, cease-fires, and humanitarian aid.

You underestimate just how stupid liberals are, like they underestimate just how dangerous Islamofacism is.

Posted by: Rob on Aug. 10, 2006

Maybe the word "stupid" was too harsh.

Let me change that to "misguided."


Posted by: Rob on Aug. 10, 2006

Annie - Don't buy into this 4GW theory. First, there is a substantial difference between a theory of wafare (like 4GW) and tactics in conducting warfare.

The generational model is an ineffective way to depict changes in warfare. Simple displacement rarely takes place and significant developments typically occur in parallel. 4GW type tactics as a way of waging war dates back to ancient history, and thus predates the so-called 2d and 3rd generations as described by 4GW theorists. Insurgents, guerrillas, and resistance fighters (pick your term du jour) figured large in many of the wars fought during the age of classical warfare. (The author briefly acknowledges this point and then lets all the other people in the article speak as if somehow today is different)

Increased dispersion and availability of technology, information, and finance brought about by globalization has given terrorist groups greater range of capabilities and access worldwide. Globalization seems to aid the
nonstate actor more than the state, but states still play a central role in the support or defeat of terrorist groups or insurgencies. Could AQ have grown without protection and support from the Taliban government? How effective is Hezbollah without a weak Lebanese government and Syrian/Iranian support? Hamas without a variety of Arab states?

Hamas, Hezbollah, and (to a lesser extent) Al Qaeda actually have integrated themselves into the social and political fabric of mainly Muslim societies worldwide. Hamas and Hezbollah have addressed the every day problems of the people because the existing State has not. Each has also become a powerful political party within their
respective governments. Hamas and Hezbollah
have turned their constituencies into effective weapons by creating strong social, political, and religious ties with them; in short, they
have become communal activists for their constituencies, which have, in turn, facilitated the construction and maintenance of substantial
financial and logistical networks and safe houses. This support then aids in the regeneration of the terrorist groups and allows states to network with them.

The one point Hammes has right is these conflicts are proxy wars due to larger state issues. Credible threats to take out the Syrian and Iranian regimes and credible assurances to bolster the Lebanese government would do far more to reduce Hezbollah than unfortunately what Israel can do at the moment.

Posted by: Col Steve on Aug. 10, 2006

Seen in that light, Col. Steve, then one of the most criticized statements of President Bush "You are either with us or you are with the terrorists" becomes one of the wisest things he's ever said.

Posted by: annika on Aug. 10, 2006

"Credible threats to take out the Syrian and Iranian regimes and credible assurances to bolster the Lebanese government would do far more to reduce Hezbollah than unfortunately what Israel can do at the moment."

Yeah, what Col Steve said!

Posted by: Blu on Aug. 16, 2006