Center for Strategic Communication

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Regretfully, I was unable to attend the Boyd & Beyond 2014 Conference this year. Had I been there, I would have seen Bill Lind speaking on the topic that he and a number of military officers raised a quarter-century ago when the Cold War was winding down and the Soviet empire was crumbling before our eyes, Fourth Generation Warfare.

Lind and company – Colonel Keith Nightengale, Captain John Schmitt, Colonel Joseph Suttonand Lieutenant Colonel Gary Wilson – had written a landmark paper, later followed by a series of “4GW manuals” , that challenged conventional wisdom about the future of warfare and sparked a furious debate. Lind later found intellectual allies in the works of eminent Israeli-Dutch military historian Martin van Creveld, Chet Richards, Colonel Thomas X, Hammes, John Robb, Don Vandergriff  and a legion of Marines who attended Lind’s discussion groups at Quantico over the years. 4GW also faced numerous detractors, like Antulio Echevarria who launched a barrage of criticism at 4GW theory. After a while, the debate moved on in defense circles, mostly to the merits and deficiencies of pop-centric COIN and last year, even Chet Richards was heard to wonder if “4GW was dead?”

What a difference a year makes! 4GW theory may be due for a revival because, as David Ronfeldt  commented here, “….the underlying trends and dynamics, mostly concerning the rise of new network forms of organization, technology, and doctrine – are indeed still alive and growing.”

Lind has just guest-posted on this subject at the 4GW oriented blog,  Fabius Maximus:

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

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.

….The primary reason the American military remains stuck in the Second Generation, and intentionally ignores the Fourth, is money. At senior levels all that matters is the budget. So long as the budget stays high (and preferably grows) war does not matter. Losing wars, repeatedly, does not matter. As Army Lt. Col. Paul Yingling wrote, “{A} private who loses a rifle suffers far greater consequences than a general who loses a war.” That is a statement of literal fact, as the repeated promotions of senior field commanders who failed to higher positions, including service chief, demonstrates. All that matters is protecting the money flow.  

Read the rest here.

I was struck by the fact that William Lind, uncharacteristically, understates  his case. He could have easily pointed to the frightening rise of Mexico’s narco “criminal insurgency” ( a major threat to US national security ) and the spectacular gains of ISIS, neither of which follow the old “Maoist model” of insurgency and both of which attend to the details of the moral level of war. The narco cartels have hollowed out the Mexican state like human termites, but do not seek the burdens of formally running the country while ISIS aspires to revive a pre-Westphalian model of Islamist political order through terror, atrocity and religious zeal.

Where states are in decay, 4GW will be near.