Skip to comments.The Problem with Fourth Generation Warfare
Posted on 10/21/2006 4:35:45 PM PDT by Axhandle
For theorists of Fourth Generation War (4GW), theres both good news and bad news. The good news is that there is only one problem with the notion of 4GW. The bad news is that the theory itself is the problem. Like the fabled emperor who had no clothes, 4GW is bereft of any intellectual garments: the concept itself is fundamentally and hopelessly flawed. It is based on poor history and only obscures what other theorists and analysts have already clarified.
Although the idea of 4GW emerged in the late 1980s, it has gained considerable popularity of late, particularly as a result of recent twists in the war in Iraq. It is worth a moment, therefore, to consider the theorys basic premises.
In brief, the proponents of 4GW claim:
The first generation of modern war was dominated by massed manpower and culminated in the Napoleonic Wars. The second generation, which was quickly adopted by the worlds major powers, was dominated by firepower and ended in World War I. In relatively short order, during World War II the Germans introduced third-generation warfare, characterized by maneuver. That type of combat is still largely the focus of U.S. forces . . . [4GW is an] evolved form of insurgency [that] uses all available networkspolitical, economic, social, militaryto convince the enemys decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. (Armed Forces Journal, November 2004)
Unfortunately, this construct is misleading on several counts. First, the theorys sequencing of the so-called generations of war is both artificial and indefensible. Portraying changes in warfare in terms of generations implies that each one evolved directly from its predecessor, and, as per the natural progression of generations, eventually displaced it. However, the generational model is a poor way to depict changes in warfare. Simple displacement rarely takes place, significant developments often occur in parallel. Firepower, for example, played as much a role in World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts as did maneuver, perhaps more. In fact, insurgency as a way of waging war actually dates back to classical antiquity, and thus predates the so-called second and third generations (firepower and maneuver) as described by 4GW theorists. Insurgents, guerillas, and resistance fighters figured large in most of the wars fought during this period. Mao was certainly not the first, nor even the most important, theorist to articulate the virtues of insurgency, or Peoples war, as it was sometimes called. Clausewitz, for one, called it a reality (Erscheinung) of the nineteenth century, and provided some valuable insights into its nature. Insurgency did, after all, help the American colonies win independence from the British crown, and it nearly thwarted the ultimate Prusso-German victory over France in the War of 1870-71. It played an important role in the histories of many Latin America states, and in Western Europe and the Soviet Union during World War II, as well as enabling the emergence of Israel in the late 1940s.
Second, even if it were valid to portray major changes in the conduct of war as an evolutionary progression from 1GW to 3GW, the next logical step in that progression would not be the sort of super-insurgency that 4GW theorists try to depict. Instead, 4GW would be closer to the vision of Net-centric warfaresmall, high-tech forces networked together in a knowledge-based system of systems that enables them to act rapidly and decisivelycurrently propounded by some theorists. To their credit, the proponents of 4GW criticize Net-centric warfare for being too dependent on high-technology, and for being too inflexible to accommodate a thinking opponent. Yet, and quite ironically, this is the very direction in which the logic of their particular theory of military evolution would lead them, if they were true to it. The logic they use to explain key developments in the conduct of war, thus, actually undermines their case.
Third, by comparing what essentially amounts to military means or techniquessuch as massed manpower, firepower, and maneuveron the one hand, to what is arguably a form of warfaresuch as insurgencyon the other, the advocates 4GW only bait us with a proverbial apples-versus-oranges sleight-of-hand. In other words, they establish a false comparison by which they wish us to conclude that most of the wars of the modern age, which they claim were characterized by firepower or maneuver, were narrowly focused on military power and, unlike the super-insurgencies of the information age, rarely involved the integration of political, economic, and social power. Yet, even a cursory review of the Napoleonic, and the First and Second World Wars reveals that this is not true. Political, social, and economic capabilities were, in many cases, employed to the maximum extent possible. Some historians, in fact, go so far as to maintain that the First and Second World Wars were, in effect, examples of total war precisely because of the extent to which the major combatants mobilized the elements of their national power. Even the theoretical offshoots of Net-centric warfare, which 4GW rejects, recognize the need to integrate all the elements of national power in the pursuit of strategic aims.
Finally, there is no reason to reinvent the wheel with regard to insurgency as an effective form of war. A great deal of very good work has already been done, especially lately, on that topic, to include the effects that globalization and information technologies have had, are having, and are likely to have, on such movements. We do not need another label, as well as an incoherent supporting logic, to obscure what many have already made clear. The fact that 4GW theorists are not aware of this work, or at least do not acknowledge it, should give us pause indeed. In any case, the wheel they are attempting to create now does not turn.
That is a common beltway trap---I was amazed to see the cascade of a word up and down the administrative and operational chain. I used to chuckle when I would note a word/phrase I had used in after action reports or sitreps finding the way into the verbage of the brass shortly thereafter.
Geez--maybe a thesaurus was not in the government supply chain.
There are places in the government that actually read AARs?
Let me use the flawed model to project Fifth Generation Warfare. That is, the failure of technology before sheer number of combatants.
There are limits to how many soldiers conventional weapons can kill. That is, to tell an artillery batallion commander that his unit must wipe out 1,750,000 enemy soldiers.
But how can such a thing be? If those most populus nations on the planet, China and India, return to WWII-style recruitment of anyone who can carry a pointed stick, each of them might be able to field an army of 200,000,000 men.
By sheer numbers they can overwhelm a technologically superior army.
Not a far-fetched scenario, either. The Chinese were well on their way to overwhelming the US forces in the Korean War, and the day was saved only because the Chinese ranks were savaged by hemorrhagic smallpox.
Most Chinese soldiers of the time had little more weaponry than a pointed stick, but endless human wave assaults against machine gun nests eventually overpower them.
In such a situation, the US would have to resort to nuclear weapons, unless it refused to and abandoned the fight. The only power capable of standing against such raw numbers would be another nation that also have huge numbers of draftees.
Fifth Generation Warfare?
How would you transport millions of soldiers? If we were to invade China, for some unimaginable reason, then that might be applicable. Other than that...
The 4GW bandwagon was a solution in search of a problem. It dwelled on the obvious and made conventional wisdom of strategic planning and structuring the non-Fulda Gap/Central Europe Order of Battle sound like something revolutionary; it wasn't.
Interesting post,,,mmmmmmm,,,If I was really pissed off,,?
Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov, Scorched Earth...Game Over.
I think he would have made the biggest mess of the enemy.
This "Type" of warfare would seem to win over the others.
But It Works.
I hadn't heard the "hemorrhagic smallpox" angle. Sure that wasn't the ChiCom/NK spin? Both of those countries claimed that the US had used "germ warfare" on them, but what I've always read that what stopped them in the winter of '50-'51 was a combination of overextended supply lines and an old paratrooper named Ridgeway.
The logistical supply chain for moving and supporting 200,000,000 men would never survive a retaliatory onslaught.
I just thought it was worth reposting.
Followed immediately thereafter by the collapse of their economies as they each attempted to house, clothe, and feed 200,000,000 people that contribute nothing to the national economy, but rather merely extract from it.
Naw - just old fashioned 4th estate 5th column attacks.
Win the news war and it does not matter if you win or lose the battles.
Ref - WWII we won the news war because the Govt would jug anyone that said otherwise.
RVN - lost that one in the funny papers, not the field of battle.
Right now the 'news war' is not quite as bad as the RVN conflict, but then the KGB is not pumping money into the 'peace movement' yet - Iran on the other hand....
Ask the vets of the Korean war on how the Chinese got transported. By foot. Can't attack the mainland, but can over run a good portion of Asia before they would run out of men.
Does anyone even know what the heck 'net-centric' even means?
I've read that a good rule of thumb for military strength in a total war is roughly one tenth of the total population.
IE - America, in a total war, could field a 30 million man military without significant impact (300 million population)
So... that would mean that China, with 1.2 billion, could field a military of 120 million without significant strain.
Assymtric warfare is the easiest warfare to eliminate.
This is true only if you are willing to fight on the same playing field as your enemy. The terrorist exploits our 'civilized' standards to gain an advantage. Without those standards, the terrorist loses that advantage.
Terrorists uses mosques as ammo dumps and headquarters. Our 'civilized' standards ensure that we cannot attack mosques. Thus the terrorist is safe.
Remove our 'civilized' standards... and we destroy the mosque at the time that the mosque is most in use. Thus the terrorists lose their ammo dump, their ammo, their headquarters, and most of their personnel and replacements.
We know where the terrorists are, in general. But our standards prevent us from destroying those places. Which is exactly why the terrorists hide there.
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