Academic journal article Military Review

Fourth Generation Warfare Evolves, Fifth Emerges

Academic journal article Military Review

Fourth Generation Warfare Evolves, Fifth Emerges

Article excerpt

SEVENTEEN YEARS AGO, a small group of authors introduced the concept of "Four Generations of War." Frankly, the concept did not get much traction for the first dozen years. Then came 9/11. Some of the fourthgeneration warfare (4GW) proponents claimed that the Al-Qaeda attacks were a fulfillment of what they had predicted. However, most military thinkers, for a variety of reasons, continued to dismiss the 4GW concept. In fact, about the only place 4GW was carefully discussed was on an Al-Qaeda website. In January 2002, one 'Ubed al-Qurashi quoted extensively from two Marine Corps Gazette articles about 4GW. (1) He then stated, "The fourth generation of wars [has] already taken place and revealed the superiority of the theoretically weak side. In many instances, these wars have resulted in the defeat of ethnic states [duwal qawmiyah] at the hands of ethnic groups with no states."

Essentially, one of Al-Qaeda's leading strategists stated categorically that the group was using 4GW against the United States--and expected to win. Even this did not stimulate extensive discussion in the West, where the 9-11 attacks were seen as an anomaly, and the apparent rapid victories in Afghanistan and Iraq appeared to vindicate the Pentagon's vision of high-technology warfare. It was not until the Afghan and Iraqi insurgencies began growing and the continuing campaign against Al-Qaeda faltered that serious discussion of 4GW commenced in the United States.

Yet today, even within the small community of writers exploring 4GW, there remains a range of opinions on how to define the concept and what its implications are. This is a healthy process and essential to the development of a sound concept because 4GW, like all previous forms of war, continues to evolve even as discussions continue. That brings me to the purpose of this article: to widen the discussion on what forms 4GW may take and to offer a possible model for the next generation of war: 5GW.

Developments in 4GW

Current events suggest that there are a number of ongoing major developments in 4GW: a strategic shift, an organizational shift, and a shift in type of participants.

Strategic shift. Strategically, insurgent campaigns have shifted from military campaigns supported by information operations to strategic communications campaigns supported by guerrilla and terrorist operations. While there is no generally agreed upon definition of 4GW, according to the definition I wrote in 2003, "Fourth generation warfare uses all available networks--political, economic, social, and military--to convince the enemy's political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. It is an evolved form of insurgency." The key concept in this definition is that 4GW opponents will attempt to directly attack the minds of enemy decision makers. The only medium that can change a person's mind is information. Therefore, information is the key element of any 4GW strategy. Effective insurgents build their plans around a strategic communications campaign designed to shift their enemy's view of the world. (2)

It is clear that many insurgent groups understand this fact. Hezbollah's strategy during the 2006 summer war with Israel is an excellent example. During the fighting, they focused not on damaging Israel, but on insuring they were perceived as defying the most powerful army in the Middle East. Thus, the fact that Hezbollah fired as many rockets on the last day of the war as the first was critically important. They know 122mm rockets are notoriously inaccurate and cause little damage, but the rockets are highly visible. Their appearance "proved" the powerful Israeli Air Force and Army had not hurt Hezbollah badly.

Once the fighting stopped, Hezbollah showed an even greater grasp of strategic communications. While the West was convening conferences to make promises about aid at some future time, Hezbollah representatives hit the streets with cash money and physical assistance. …

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