Fourth-generation warfare (4GW) is conflict characterized by a
blurring of the lines between war and politics, combatants and
The term was first used in 1989 by a team of
United States analysts,
including paleoconservative William S. Lind, to describe warfare's
return to a decentralized form. In terms of generational modern
warfare, the fourth generation signifies the nation states' loss of
their near-monopoly on combat forces, returning to modes of conflict
common in pre-modern times.
The simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major
participants is not a state but rather a violent non-state actor.
Classical examples of this type of conflict, such as the slave
uprising under Spartacus, predate the modern concept of warfare.
6 See also
8 External links
Guerillas in Maguindanao, 1999
Fourth-generation warfare is defined as conflicts which involve the
Are complex and long term
A non-national or transnational base – highly decentralized
A direct attack on the enemy's culture, including genocidal acts
Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through media
manipulation and lawfare
All available pressures are used – political, economic, social and
Occurs in low intensity conflict, involving actors from all networks
Non-combatants are tactical dilemmas
Lack of hierarchy
Small in size, spread out network of communication and financial
Use of insurgency tactics as subversion, terrorism and guerrilla
The concept was first described by the authors William S. Lind,
Colonel Keith Nightengale (US Army), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC),
Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (US Army), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I.
Wilson (USMCR) in a 1989
Marine Corps Gazette article titled "The
Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation". In 2006, the
concept was expanded upon by USMC Colonel
Thomas X. Hammes (Ret.) in
his book, The Sling and The Stone.
The generations of warfare described by these authors are:
1st Generation: tactics of line and column; which developed in the age
of the smoothbore musket. Lind describes First Generation of warfare
as beginning after the
Peace of Westphalia
Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ending the Thirty
War and establishing the state's need to organize and conduct
war. 1GW consisted of tightly ordered soldiers with top-down
discipline. These troops would fight in close order and advance
slowly. This began to change as the battlefield changed. Old line and
column tactics are now considered suicidal as the bow and arrow/sword
morphed into the rifle and machine gun.
2nd Generation: tactics of linear fire and movement, with reliance on
indirect fire. This type of warfare can be seen in the early stages of
War I where there was still strict adherence to drill and
discipline of formation and uniform. However, there remained a
dependence on artillery and firepower to break the stalemate and move
towards a pitched battle.
3rd Generation: tactics of infiltration to bypass and collapse the
enemy's combat forces rather than seeking to close with and destroy
them; and defence in depth. The 3GW military seeks to bypass the
enemy, and attack his rear forward, such as the tactics used by German
Storm Troopers in World
War I against the British and French in order
to break the trench warfare stalemate (Lind 2004). These aspects of
3GW bleed into 4GW as it is also warfare of speed and initiative.
However, it targets both military forces and home populations.
The use of fourth-generation warfare can be traced to the Cold War
period, as superpowers and major powers attempted to retain their grip
on colonies and captured territories. Unable to withstand direct
combat against bombers, tanks, and machine guns, non-state entities
used tactics of education/propaganda, movement-building, secrecy,
terror, and/or confusion to overcome the technological gap.
Fourth-generation warfare has often involved an insurgent group or
other violent non-state actor trying to implement their own government
or reestablish an old government over the current ruling power.
However, a non-state entity tends to be more successful when it does
not attempt, at least in the short term, to impose its own rule, but
tries simply to disorganize and delegitimize the state in which the
warfare takes place. The aim is to force the state adversary to expend
manpower and money in an attempt to establish order, ideally in such a
highhanded way that it merely increases disorder, until the state
surrenders or withdraws.
Fourth-generation warfare is often seen in conflicts involving failed
states and civil wars, particularly in conflicts involving non-state
actors, intractable ethnic or religious issues, or gross conventional
military disparities. Many of these conflicts occur in the geographic
area described by author
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Thomas P.M. Barnett as the Non-Integrating
Gap, fought by countries from the globalised Functioning Core.
Fourth-generation warfare has much in common with traditional
low-intensity conflict in its classical forms of insurgency and
guerrilla war. As in those small wars, the conflict is initiated by
the "weaker" party through actions which can be termed "offensive".
The difference lies in the manner in which 4GW opponents adapt those
traditional concepts to present day conditions. These conditions are
shaped by technology, globalization, religious fundamentalism, and a
shift in moral and ethical norms which brings legitimacy to certain
issues previously considered restrictions on the conduct of war. This
amalgamation and metamorphosis produces novel ways of war for both the
entity on the offensive and that on the defensive.
Fourth-generation warfare is normally characterized by a violent
non-state actor (VNSA) fighting a state. This fighting can be
physically done, such as by modern examples
Hezbollah or the
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In this realm, the VNSA uses
all three levels of fourth generation warfare. These are the physical
(actual combat; it is considered the least important), mental (the
will to fight, belief in victory, etc.,) and moral (the most
important, this includes cultural norms, etc.) levels.
A 4GW enemy has the following characteristics: lack of hierarchical
authority, lack of formal structure, patience and flexibility, ability
to keep a low profile when needed, and small size. A 4GW adversary
might use the tactics of an insurgent, terrorist, or guerrilla in
order to wage war against a nation's infrastructure. Fourth generation
warfare takes place on all fronts: economical, political, the media,
military, and civilian.
Resistance can also be below the physical level of violence. This is
via non-violent means, such as Gandhi's opposition to the British
Empire or Martin Luther King's marches. Both desired their factions to
deescalate the conflict while the state escalates against them, the
objective being to target the opponent on the moral and mental levels
rather than the physical level. The state is then seen as a bully and
Another characteristic of fourth-generation warfare is that unlike in
third generation warfare, the VNSA’s forces are decentralized. With
fourth generation warfare, there may even be no single organisation
and that smaller groups organize into impromptu alliances to target a
bigger threat (that being the state armed forces or another faction).
As a result, these alliances are weak and if the state’s military
leadership is smart enough they can split their enemy and cause them
to fight amongst themselves.
Fourth-generation warfare goals:
To convince the enemy's political decision makers that their goals are
either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit.
Yet, another factor is that political centers of gravity have changed.
These centers of gravity may revolve around nationalism, religion, or
family or clan honor.
Disaggregated forces, such as guerrillas, terrorists, and rioters,
which lack a center of gravity, deny to their enemies a focal point at
which to deliver a conflict ending blow. As a result, strategy
becomes more problematic while combating a VNSA.
It has been theorized that a state vs. state conflict in
fourth-generation warfare would involve the use of computer hackers
and international law to obtain the weaker side’s objectives, the
logic being that the civilians of the stronger state would lose the
will to fight as a result of seeing their state engage in alleged
atrocities and having their own bank accounts harmed.
Three principal attributes of the new-age terrorism were held to be
their hybrid structure (as opposed to the traditional microscopic
command and control pattern), importance given to systemic
disruption vis-a-vis target destruction, and sophisticated use of
technological advancements (including social media and mobile
communications technology). A terrorist network could be designed
to be either acephalous (headless like Al-Qaeda after Bin Laden) or
polycephalous (hydra-headed like Kashmiri separatists). Social media
networks supporting the terrorists are characterized by positive
feedback loops, tight coupling and non-linear response propagation
(viz. a small perturbation causing a large disproportionate response).
Fourth-generation warfare theory has been criticized on the grounds
that it is "nothing more than repackaging of the traditional clash
between the non-state insurgent and the soldiers of a
Strategic Studies Institute
Strategic Studies Institute writer and
United States Army
professor Antulio J. Echevarria II in an article Fourth-Generation War
and Other Myths argues what is being called fourth generation warfare
are simply insurgencies. He also claims that 4GW was "reinvented" by
Lind to create the appearance of having predicted the future.
Echevarria writes: "The generational model is an ineffective way to
depict changes in warfare. Simple displacement rarely takes place,
significant developments typically occur in parallel." The
critique was rebutted by John Sayen, a military historian and retired
Lt. Col. in the Marine Corps Reserve.
Lieutenant General Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., USMC, characterizes
fourth-generation warfare theory as "elegant irrelevance" and states
that "its methods are unclear, its facts contentious and open to
widely varying interpretations, and its relevance questionable."
Rod Thornton argues that
Thomas Hammes and
William S. Lind are
"providing an analytical lens through which to view the type of
opposition that exists now 'out there' and to highlight the
shortcomings of the current US military in dealing with that
opposition." Instead of fourth generation warfare being an explanation
for a new way of warfare, it allows the blending of different
generations of warfare with the exception that fourth generation also
encompasses new technology. Fourth generation warfare theorists such
as Lind and Hammes wish to make the point that it "is not just that
the military's structure and equipment are ill-suited to the 4GW
problem, but so is its psyche".
Peninsular War, particularly the use of autonomous guerrilla groups.
Note: first use of the word 'guerrilla', meaning 'Little War'.
Libyan Civil War
Syrian civil war, namely used by non-state actors against government
Rwandan war, used by Rwandan forces and community based Mai-Mai
Egyptian Crisis (2011–14)
Special Activities Division
DIA's Defense Clandestine Service
Civilian casualty ratio
Divide and rule
H. John Poole – writer on 4GW topics
Military operations other than war
Military operations other than war – concept that encompass the use
of military capabilities across the range of military operations short
Military strategy – collective name for planning the conduct of
Proxy war – opposing powers using third parties as substitutes for
fighting each other directly
War amongst the people
War cycles – the theory that wars happen in cycles
War on drugs
William S. Lind
^ "The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation", Marine Corps
Gazette, October 1989, pp. 22-26. Archive
^ Colonel Mike Capstick, Canadian Military Journal "Book Review" July
^ Lind, William S. "Understanding Fourth Generation Warfare."
ANTIWAR.COM 15 JAN 2004 29 Mar 2009
^ Ghanshyam. S. Katoch, Fourth Generation War: Paradigm For Change,
(June, 2005). Masters Thesis submitted at The Naval Postgraduate
School, Monterey, California. Available from Defence Technical
Information centre at www.dtic.mil/
^ a b Thornton, Rod (2007). Asymmetric Warfare. Malden, MA: Polity
^ a b Beyond Fourth Generation Warfare, Dr. George Friedman, Stratfor
Forecasting, p. 1, July 17, 2007
^ Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, 'Four Generations of Warfare' in The Sling
and The Stone: On
War in the 21st Century, St. Paul, MN. 2006, p 293.
^ Schmitt, John F. " Command and (Out of) Control The Military
Implications of Complexity Theory", 2004.
^ Arquilla, J., Ronfeldt, D, and Zanini, M. "Networks, netwar and
information-age terrorism", RAND Corporation, 1999.
^ On Fourth Generation Warfare, The Mackenzie Institute
^ Echevarria, J. A. Fourth Generation
War and Other Myths, Strategic
Studies Insititute, November 2005.
^ 4GW – Myth, or the Future of Warfare? A Reply to Antulio
Echevarria by John Sayen. Archive
^ Global Insurgency and the Future of Armed Conflict: Debating
Fourth-generation Warfare, edited by Terry Terriff, Aaron Karp and
Regina Karp. New York: Routledge, 2008, p. 68.
4GW – Fourth generation warfare
The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation at the Wayback
Machine (archived April 18, 2008)
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