Nature of 4GW

Perhaps the primary difference between insurgency and 4GW — although both may use techniques like “terrorism” and guerrilla warfare — lies in their objectives relative to state governments.

An insurgency by definition is a rebellion, either to replace an existing government or, as in the case of the late unpleasantness here in the South, to to establish a new government on part of the territory of the old. Fourth generation warfare involves non-state entities, as does insurgency, but the groups waging it are transnational. They are willing to let someone else occupy the UN seat and pick up trash in the streets while they pursue other objectives. The relationship between al-Qa’ida and the Taliban government of Afghanistan is a case in point as are the relationships between most narcotrafficking groups and street gangs and the governments of the countries they operate in. I address this distinction in excruciating detail in IWCKI.

Olivier Roy, the French scholar and author of Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah makes this point most eloquently in an oped in today’s (March 8) International Herald Tribune, “Iraq will not be a Qaedistan“:

It is pointless thinking of Al Qaeda as a political organization seeking to conquer and rule a territory. Al Qaeda recruits among disenfranchised youth, most of them without direct connections with the embattled countries of the Middle East. …

Al Qaeda goes where the Americans are while the U.S. Army goes where Washington thinks Qaeda might be … one day.

Exactly. This confusion between real insurgency and what retired Marine Col. TX Hammes calls “evolved insurgency” has allowed people to attempt to discredit the notion of 4GW. To be useful, the 4GW concept first has to be war — that is a form of armed conflict where the survival of the participating parties is at stake — and it has to be something other than insurgency or guerrilla warfare (which is a technique, like terrorism, that can be used in any war).

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3 Responses to “Nature of 4GW

  • 1
    March 8th, 2008 20:56

    It may turn out that Western megacorporations with private mercenaries have been in 4GW longer than AlQaeda.

    You may recall that a certain William Walker, a “filibuster” or “freebooter” took a band of mercenaries into Nicaragua and formed a hollowed-out state in 1856. W.Walker was not the 4GW — he was just an ordinary merc. The real 4GWs were the Western corporations that backed him. Walker was there to pick up the trash in the street, while the corporations pursued other objectives — i.e. profit!

    So the explosion of 4GW is not happening because non-Westerners suddenly got smart and figured out how to erode Western states — it’s happening because Westerners got greedy, decided not to play by the rules they claimed to follow. Finally, 140 years after William Walker’s hollow state, Van Creveld and others realized that this kind of 4GW could be used *against* the West.

  • 2
    March 9th, 2008 11:28

    judasnoose Wrote:

    “You may recall that a certain William Walker, a “filibuster” or…”

    I’m familiar with Walker and others of his type, but never thought of them in terms of Corporate 4GW. Certainly food for thought.

    But I must say, that the first thing that pops into my mind when I read “4GW,” is the change in military hardware which makes it possible for one man, armed with a $1,000 hand held missle device to take out a million dollar airplane or tank.

    Pity the poor police forces that have to, with almost no aid from Washington, deal with this.

    Once I was out on the beach, on the direct fly line to La Guardia Airport, and found myself surrounded by forty Cops, armed with sub-machine guns, accompanied by helocopters; all because some citizen in the parking lot, mistook my camera, monopode and 18 inch lens, as an Al Qaeda terrorist with a hand held missle launcher… :)


  • 3
    Fabius Maximus
    March 9th, 2008 22:39

    This is an important definitional question (i.e., very important if discussions about 4GW are to be more than animals grunting at each other at the water hole).

    This is a consistent and perhaps workable solution. Personally I like the scheme sketched in If We Can Keep It. To elaborate on this (a post coming soon with more)… The distinction between war and not-war, however blurred, is so valuable — and well-established in the general public — that it is worth saving. So an alternative scheme is:

    There are two kinds of non-Trinitiarian conflicts. The first group includes crime, religious conflicts, ideological conflicts (e.g., save the lab rats and trees), and private acts of super-emplowered individuals. It does not matter if these are trans-national (e.g., affecting BOTH Belgium and Holland) or not. None of these are war.

    Taking over States, even diminished “failed” States, is a big goal — even for groups like al Qaeda. In our era the process by which state and non-state entities use intense violence to fight for dominance is 4GW.

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