Fourth Generation Warfare & the
Relation of Military Strategy to Grand Strategy

August 26, 1998

Comment: #170


[1] Pamela Constable, "U.S. Strike Is Blow to Pakistan's Rulers: Islamic Ire Upsets Shaky Balance," Washington Post, August 26, 1998, Pg. A15 (Attached)

The American late strategist Col. John Boyd (USAF Ret.) viewed military strategy in the larger context of a grand strategy that pursues a constructive national goal in a way that -

1. pumps up our resolve and increases our solidarity,
2. drains away our adversary's resolve and weakens his internal cohesion,
3. reinforces our allies' commitments to our cause and makes them empathetic to our success, and
4. attracts the uncommitted to our cause or makes them empathetic to our success.

An engineer would think of the grand strategic criteria as performance specification. Sometimes the destructive effects of a military strategy, like the recent strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan, are needed to pursue constructive ends of a grand strategy -- but the four criteria for grand strategic success should be always kept in mind when one is shaping a military strategy. Keeping the destructive effects of military strategy in harmony with the constructive essence of grand strategy is possible, but often difficult in practice. Nevertheless, planners who ignore this requirement for harmony risk the whirlwind because, when the destructive effects of a nation's military strategy conflict with and take precedence over the requirements of a grand strategy, defeat is often the inevitable end product, despite the apparent 'excellence' of the strategy.

Perhaps the best example of a 'viable' military strategy being completely undone by its counterproductive grand strategic effects is the German invasion of France in 1914. The Germans meticulously planned this invasion for decades, and their final plan, called the Schlieffen Plan, is still studied in military schools as an example of intellectual excellence. It failed for a variety of tactical and grand tactical reasons, some of which the Germans might have recovered from, but its grand strategic effects laid the seeds for an irrecoverable disaster.

The Schlieffen Plan required Germany to invade neutral countries (initially Belgium and Holland, but modified in execution to invade Belgium only) in its attack into France. French fortifications along the Franco-German border made a right hook around them a sensible military strategy. The Germans also garnished their strategy with a calculated use of terror to protect their supply lines through Belgium. They reason that terror would suppress resistance by the local population. The German military had a 'humane' strategic rationale for this argument -- planners thought it would reduce opposition and save Belgium and German lives and free up more German soldiers for invasion force, and thereby end the war quickly, saving more German and French lives!

But invading a neutral country and terrorizing its population enraged Germany's adversaries and, more importantly, alienated Germany from the uncommitted nations in of the world, particularly the United States, which controlled the balance of power, although no one knew it at the time. The allies, particularly the British, capitalized on Germany's grand strategic blunder. Over the next four years, the British were able to attract the uncommitted nations to its cause by successfully portraying Germany as an inhuman evil force bent on the destruction of western civilization and freedom everywhere. One could even speculate that Britain's grand strategy was so successful at morally isolating Germany that it backfired over the long term by contributing to the harshness of Versailles and even to the post war isolation that helped the rise of Hitler and the evolution of a truly evil force.

The German disaster in 1914 shows how harmonizing a military strategy with four requirements of a grand strategy is difficult enough when conflict is a relatively orderly interaction among well-defined nation states. But today, we are entering the era of Fourth Generation Warfare, which involves a much more irregular forms of conflict among well-defined and ill-defined adversaries, such as nation states, multinational and transnational ethnic minorities, religious cabals, transnational religious movements, and transnational networks of terrorists, criminal cartels, street gangs, etc.

The attached article in the Washington Post is a good example of the grand strategic complexities of Fourth Generation warfare. Let us hope planners in the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House do not dismiss such complexities as the 'law of unintended consequences.'

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]


U.S. Strike Is Blow to Pakistan's Rulers: Islamic Ire Upsets Shaky Balance

By Pamela Constable Washington Post Foreign Service Wednesday, August 26, 1998; Page A15


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Aug. 25The government of Pakistan, struggling to please its Muslim constituents and neighbors without alienating its Western allies and donors, has been knocked off this precarious perch by the U.S. missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan last week, and it appears to have little idea of how to regain its footing.


In addition, several of the purported terrorist training camps in Afghanistan that the U.S. missiles hit were filled with young Pakistanis, some of whom were wounded and sent to hospitals inside Pakistan, reportedly accompanied by Pakistani intelligence agents. Thus was exposed an open secret that Pakistani officials have long denied: their covert support of Muslim paramilitary groups fighting Indian troops in the disputed territory of Kashmir and assisting the radical Islamic Taliban that controls most of Afghanistan.


Even if Pakistan's democracy is not at risk, however, just about everything else seems to be, from its economic survival to its religious future, from its relations with its Muslim neighbors to those with its Western allies. Many Pakistanis say their leaders -- particularly Sharif -- are doing an especially bad job of picking their way through a minefield of conflicting domestic and international pressures.


Although less high-profile than its relations with India, Pakistan's dealings with Afghanistan are crucial to its domestic and foreign relations, and the U.S. strikes have forced it to make an impossible choice. Many Pakistanis support the Taliban, and a vocal and small but growing segment of society is now hailing Osama bin Laden -- the terrorist financier whose organization was the target of the U.S. missile attacks -- as a Muslim hero for defying the United States.


Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company