The move toward fourth generation warfare is occurring in parallel with the move into the information age—i.e., with the political, economic, and social changes affecting society as a whole-and the essential characteristics of this new form of warfare have been clearly illustrated in recent conflicts.

If we look at the development of warfare in the modern era, we see three distinct generationsThird generation warfare was conceptually developed by the German offensive in the spring of 1918Is it not about time for the fourth generation to appear? -Marine Corps Gazette, October 1989

In 1989, the authors of this article challenged their readers to consider whether the passage of 70 years meant it was time for a generational shift in war. During the 5 years since the article was published, the world has undergone incredible changes in its political, economic, and social structure. There is a growing consensus that the world is on the cusp of a fundamental shift from an industrial society to an information-based society. History shows that societal shifts of this magnitude cannot occur without a fundamental change in the way we conduct war. It is clearly time for a fourth generation of modern war.

In this article, I intend to show that the fourth generation of war has, in fact, evolved in conjunction with the political, economic, and societal changes that are modifying our world. Further, like its predecessors, the fourth generation of war did not arrive on the scene as a fully developed instrument but evolved (and is continuing to evolve) at widely scattered locations. Finally, like its predecessors, fourth generation tactics will not be used in isolation but mixed with those of earlier generations.

The First Three Generations of War

Prior to challenging us to consider the implications of the fourth generation of modern war, Mr. Lind and his co-authors presented a brief sketch of the three previous generations of war. They theorized that the first three generations of modern war focused, in turn, on massed manpower, then massed firepower, and finally on maneuver. What these generations had in common is the fact each sought to defeat the enemy militarily.

Why Generational Change?

While Lind and his fellow authors outlined the tactical changes between the generations of modern war, it is essential we understand what actually caused these generational shifts in warfare.

The most commonly cited reason is the evolution of technology. While technological changes clearly have a major impact, attributing the generational changes in warfare primarily to technology oversimplifies the problem.

The true drivers of generational change are political, social, and economic factors. Each of these factors was pivotal in the evolution of the first three generations of war. While brevity prevents a detailed discussion, the single example of World War I will illustrate the point.

While the evolution of rifled artillery, machineguns, and barbed wire brought about trench warfare on the Western Front, these technological developments alone were not sufficient to bring about the firepower-intensive second generational war that evolved from 1914-1917.

The second generation required not just improved weaponry, but the evolution of an entire political, economic, and social structure to support it. Second generation war grew from the society of the times. It required the international political structure that focused on the balance of power, formed the alliances, and stuck to them through four incredibly expensive, exhausting years of war. Further, it required the output of an industrial society to design, produce, and transport the equipment and huge quantities of ammunition it consumed. Finally, it required the development of a social system that brought catastrophic losses. Technology, while important, was clearly subordinate to political, economic, and social structures in setting the conditions for World War I.

Having completed this very brief introduction of the previous generations of modern war and why they evolved, it is time to take up the challenge of the authors quoted at the beginning of the article. We must try to determine the form and impact of the fourth generation of war. Based on the observed correlation between each generation of war and the society it grew from, it is logical to assume the fourth generation of war will also take its shape from society.

High Tech War as The Fourth Generation?

In keeping with this observation, many authors writing on the future of war have predicted it will be based on the impact of the information revolution on tactics and weapons. Numerous articles have traced the development of information-based warfare from the incredible success of the Israeli Air Force in the Bekka Valley in 1982 to the culmination of information war—Operation DESERT STORM.

Each of these articles focuses on the exceptional lethality gained by linking real-time information to precision guided weapons and controlling them with digital command and control. In fact, some authors have speculated that societies capable of producing such weapons will dominate warfare to a degree not seen since Western Europeans conquered and colonized most of the known world.

While it is clear that the information revolution will affect the future of war, the focus on the weapons and tactical aspects of the information revolution is as erroneous for the fourth generation as it was for its predecessors.

Factors Shaping the Future of War

To understand the potential shape of the fourth generation of war, we must look at the political, economic, and social changes in society as well as the changes in technology since the advent of the third generation of war.

Politically the world has undergone vast changes. The third generation of war developed when international relations were defined in terms of the European nation states that dominated them. In contrast, the fourth generation of war is coming of age during a period of exponential increase in the number and type of players on the international scene.

While the outward trappings of the international system are still in place, there have been massive changes in how it really operates. Besides the huge increase in the number of nation states, there has been a fundamental change in the type of player involved in international affairs. Nation states still remain the primary actors, but increasingly international actors in the form of the United Nations, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the European Community, Organization of African Unity, and a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations are making themselves felt in the international arena. In addition, transnational actors in the form of the media, religious movements, terrorist groups, drug cartels, and others influence international relations. Finally, subnational groups (e.g., the Zulus, the Serbs, the Kurds, and the Palestinians) are attempting to elevate their issues from matters of internal politics to a level of international concern.

Economically, the world is becoming both much more heavily intertwined and simultaneously more divided—intertwined in terms of trade, divided in terms of wealth distribution. For both rich and poor countries, this economic integration has resulted in a steady and significant reduction in their sovereignty. In 1918 states exercised virtually absolute control over what nations they traded with, the interest rates within their own nations, the tariffs they charged, and the information they released. The rapid integration of world economies has resulted in major restrictions on in the ability of nation states to exercise these and other traditional instruments of nation sovereignty—to include the unilateral use of military power.

Socially, we are developing international networks in virtually every field of endeavor. There has been an exponential increase in the number of transnational business associations, research groups, academic societies, and even hobbyists who maintain contact through a wide variety of media. These networks tie people together in distinctly nontraditional ways. As a result, we no longer conduct international affairs primarily through official diplomatic and military channels. Further, these associations provide a rapidly increasing flow of nonofficial information between societies and a weakening of the links tying the citizen to his nation state. Simultaneously, as national bonds become less important, allegiance to subnational groups based on ethnic, religious, or cultural ties are increasing. Finally, we are raising a generation completely at ease with the tools of the evolving information age. Education combined with the relatively low cost technology; has led to its rapid dissemination to all corners of the globe.

In essence, the world is organizing itself in a series of interconnected networks that while in contact with other networks are not controlled by them. Simultaneously, nation states find themselves torn in two directions-upward toward the international security, trade, and social organizations and downward by subnational movements that want to splinter the state.

The exceptionally broad changes across the spectrum of human activity will clearly shape the fourth generation of war. Yet, the question remains "What form will this generation take?"

Netwar as a Model for the Fourth Generation

A number of authors have addressed exactly that question. The boldest, John Arquilla and David Ponfeldt, provide a thesis for the future of war and then go on to provide a model for both mid-to high-intensity war and one for low-intensity conflict in their article "Cyberwar is Coming," which appeared in Comparative Strategy, Vol. 12, pp. 141-165, Nov 93. They theorize that:

the information revolution will cause shifts, both in how societies may come into conflict and how their armed forces may wage war. We offer a distinction between what we call netwarsocietal-level ideational conflicts waged in part through internetted modes of communicationand cyberwar at the military level.

While the thesis is clearly futuristic, their concept of cyberwar is essentially third generation warfare made vastly more lethal through the use of information technology.

In contrast, their vision of low-intensity conflict as "netwar" may be a highly accurate model for the next generation of war.

Netwar refers to information-related conflict at a grand level between nations or societies. It means trying to disrupt, damage, or modify what a target population knows or thinks it knows about itself and the world around it. A netwar may focus on public or elite opinion, or both. It may involve public diplomacy measures, propaganda and psychological campaigns, political and cultural subversion, deception or interference with local media, infiltration of computer networks and databases, and efforts to promote dissident or opposition movements across computer networks. Thus designing a strategy for netwar may mean grouping together from a new perspective a number of measures that have been used before but we're viewed separately … In other words, netwar represents a new entry on the spectrum of conflict that spans economic, political and social, as well as military forms of "war."

In summary, they see netwar as information-based conflict that:

Martin van Creveld, in The Transformation of War, agrees with this netwar vision of future war. He contends future war will not be relatively simple, high-tech conventional war, but rather extremely complex low-intensity conflict.

Van Creveld states that war will turn to the complex environment of low-intensity conflict simply because computers have come to dominate the relatively simpler environments of mid-to high-intensity conflict.

Thus both the article and the book see fourth generation war as complex engagements fought across the spectrum of human activity.  Antagonists will fight in the political, economic, social, and military arenas and communicate their messages through a combination of networks and mass media.

While these authors agree on a coherent theory for the fourth generation, theories, even by highly respected authors such as van Creveld, are insufficient justification for policy changes. National security decision makers must demand a higher standard of proof before committing a nation's resources to face a threat that may or may not be valid.

Therefore, the key question is whether we can validate these theories through observation of past and current conflicts. I contend we can.

Evolution of the Fourth Generation of War

Each element of fourth generation war proposed by van Creveld and Atquilla and Ponfeldt can be seen in the evolution of insurgency. While a wide-ranging study of insurgency will provide numerous examples of this new type of war emerging, the length of this article requires that I focus my study on the experiences of Vietnam, China, Nicaragua, and the Palestinians.


As the first practitioner to write extensively about insurgency, Mao, like Clausewitz, understood war is fundamentally a "political" undertaking. However, he went much further than Clausewitz in his definition stating:

Our job is not merely to recite our political program to the people … (we must) transform the political mobilization for the war into a regular movement. This is a matter of the first magnitude on which the victory primarily depends.

Mao further exhorted that:

… political mobilization is the most fundamental condition for winning the war.

Mao believed that political strength is the primary requirement in war and is decidedly more important than military prowess. This is a fundamental shift from the third generation concept that victory is won primarily through military superiority to the fourth generation concept of defeating the enemy primarily through political action. Only after establishing the overriding political nature of insurgency did he outline his famous three phases for the successful conduct of insurgency:

Though apparently very simple, these three phases show a sophisticated understanding of the powerful political, social, and economic elements that constitute the base of military power.

Mao knew insurgents could not match the government’s conventional military forces initially. Therefore, he conceived the careful buildup of political, social, and economic organizations during Phase I and II. His goal was nothing less than to change the "correlation of forces" between the government and the insurgent. Only after that shift would the insurgent be ready to move to Phase III, the final destruction of the government by conventional communist forces.

Mao insisted on a united font of all parties and groups, people in all walks of life, and all armed forces, a united front of all patriots the workers, peasants, soldiers, intellectuals and businessmen. He used Phase I and II to carefully build that united front of "mass organizations." He planned to involve every member of the community in one or more organizations-young communists, agricultural workers, women's groups, students' groups, etc. In effect, he built a broad base of interconnected networks that made every member of society part of his war effort.

Mao further foreshadowed the future when he wrote that in order to maximize their political power, insurgents must project it beyond their borders.

It is not enough for China to rely on her strength alone, and she cannot win without utilizing the aid of international forces and the change within the enemy country, her international propaganda and diplomacy will become more important …

Mao wrote that through propaganda, insurgents must attack their enemy by undermining the political will of that enemy's allies and sponsors.  Further, they must mobilize neutral political opinion to pressure the enemy's major allies into withdrawing support for the war.

The final task of the insurgent propagandist was to generate material and economic support for the movement from friendly and neutral countries.  Essentially, Mao sought to "damage, disrupt, or change" how Chinese society saw itself and how other societies saw China.'

Although firmly convinced of the primacy of the political aspects of the struggle, Mao also conceived a military strategy that reinforced his political efforts.  Mao wrote that while the final campaign would be a conventional attack, earlier phases must include a mix of guerrilla and conventional military operations. The dual nature of insurgency would place the enemy on the horns of a dilemma. If the counterinsurgent concentrated his forces to deal with the conventional threat, the guerrillas would thrive. If he dispersed to deal with the guerrillas, his outposts were vulnerable to the insurgent's conventional operations and guerrilla operations in the same area. The objective of these Phase I and II military actions was s much to make the government appear ineffective in the eyes of the people as to destroy the government's forces. The increased complexity of the fourth generation of war is definitely present in this strategic approach.

In summary, Mao envisioned many of the elements Arquilla and Ponfeldt identify as fourth generation. He built networks, shaped opinions in target groups, and conducted intense propaganda and psychological operations campaigns. He used those networks to maximize his political, economic, and social power while minimizing the military aspects until the final offensive.

Mao's ideas obviously belong more to the fourth than the third generation of war. Mao still believed final victory could only be won by a third generation military campaign. It was to Ho Chi Minh, Mao’s principal successful imitator, to take the evolution of war a step further.

Viet Nam

On the verge of winning the Second Indochina War in 1965, Ho suffered a major setback when U.S. ground forces were introduced into the conflict. With the entrance of these units, the communists were forced back to Phase II operations until such time as the correlation of forces once again changed in their favor. Aware of his military and economic inferiority, Ho sought to use international political maneuvering in conjunction with guerrilla war to bring about this change. He knew a key factor in the outcome of the war was the international political situation.

The length of each stage depends on … the changes between the enemy forces and ours, and also on the changes in the international situation whether the general offensive will come early or late.

To accomplish those changes in the international situation, Ho went beyond Mao's concept of national networks and introduced yet another aspect of fourth generation war. He built or tapped into a variety of international networks. Ho actively encouraged and supported international peace movements (Vietnam Veterans Against the War), international charities (Quakers), and even individuals Jane Fonda and Harrison Salisbury). While he could not control these networks, he could influence them and use their assistance in getting American society to change its view of the war.

In 1968, Ho and his principal strategist, Giap, provided another major step forward in the evolution of war. They used the media and international networks to turn the tactical disaster of the 1968 Tet Offensive into a major strategic success that eventually led to the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam.

While the communists apparently did not anticipate the tremendous casualties and tactical failure of Tet, they did carefully select targets for maximum political impact. They were certainly aware of the fact it was an election year in the United States. They were aware the first significant cracks in U.S. support for the war were showing. Their massive commitment of irreplaceable resources to the Tet offensive shows they hoped for a major impact on the outcome of the war. But despite all their planning, they could not foresee the extent of the political impact in the United States.

Yet unlike the U.S. leadership, the communists were quick to recognize the impact Tet had on U.S. public opinion and to capitalize on it. Worldwide they hammered at Ho's theme:

The truth is that President Johnson wants neither peace nor peace negotiations. As a matter of fact, at the very moment when he talks a lot about peace discussion, the U.S. imperialists are further expanding the war of aggression in South Vietnam, massively sending there tens of thousands of U.S. troops and extending "escalation" in North Vietnam.,' The peoples of the world have clearly seen this. That is precisely the reason why the progressive American people are actively opposing. the U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam.

Given insurgency's political nature, Ho understood the U.S. center of gravity was our political will. He used both the mass media and his carefully cultivated international networks to magnify the impact of Tet. Based on the media coverage of Tet and his own information campaign, he portrayed the Viet Cong as a militarily insoluble problem for the United States. He set out to directly attack the U.S. center of gravity and succeeded. Within months of Tet, President Johnson had withdrawn from the 1968 presidential race and U.S. public opinion turned against the war.

This is Ho's unique contribution to the evolution of war. He shifted the emphasis from the defeat of the enemy's military forces to the defeat of his political will. Further, the enemy's will was not to be broken through direct attacks on the battlefield but rather through indirect attacks on his will to continue.

Ho, using the tools of fourth generation tactics, had defeated the much more powerful United States because the United States never understood the kind of war it was fighting. After the withdrawal of U.S. support, it was only a matter of time before the communists, using basic third generation tactics, conquered the south.


Another step toward the fourth generation of war was taken by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). The FSLN went a step beyond Ho by developing a strategy based on the assumption that they could not win a military victory.

According to Alfonso Robelo, one of the early opponents of the Somoza Regime, the FSLN "never expected a total victory. This was something that they made clear. They never expected it …" Instead of military victory against Somoza, the FSLN planned to win the war through internal and external political pressure against the Somoza regime. It worked.

According to Col John Waghelstein, an insurgency analyst with the Strategic Studies Institute, the FSLN achieved their victory by employing the following strategic approach:

Based on this foundation, the Sandinistas established a two-tiered approach that attacked the Somoza government across the spectrum of political, economic, and social issues while maintaining a low-level guerrilla campaign. On the first tier, the international political front, the Sandinistas carefully cultivated contacts with mainline U.S. churches, academics, and peace groups. By sponsoring visits to Nicaragua and sending speakers to the United States, the Sandinistas were able to portray themselves as a democratic movement in sharp contrast to the despotic and oppressive Somoza regime. These networks in turn made sure that message was passed clearly to the U.S. Congress.

On the second tier, the internal political scene, the Sandinistas supported and, to a degree, covertly controlled a coalition of groups that touched the life of almost every Nicaraguan. For instance, Moises Hassan, one of the founders and key leaders of the United People's Movement (an organization of residents of poor neighborhoods), did not reveal the fact that he was a member of the FSLN until after the government was overthrown. The FSLN understood the internal and international political value inherent in the support of an apparently untainted member of this key movement. The FSLN applied this lesson to all sectors of Nicaraguan life. They made great efforts to align the Chamorro family (the owners/publishers of La Prensa, the key newspaper in Nicaragua) with their movement. This not only gave them a powerful and untainted voice but also one that the government could not suppress except at great political cost. Any effort by Somoza to suppress La Prensa brought strong protests from the U.S. press and thus further legitimized the anti-Somoza coalition. The FSLN rounded out its political effort by associating itself with and attempting to control a wide variety of other organizations such as the Patriotic Front (an umbrella group for leftist political and labor movements).

In the social field, the Sandinista leadership recognized the Catholic Church's exceptional influence in the lives of Nicaraguans. By attaching themselves to the philosophy of Liberation Theology—the idea that the Catholic Church should assist the poor in overthrowing repressive regimes—the Sandinistas gained the respect and support of many of the junior members of the Catholic Church. While Liberation Theology never gained the approval of the Church's hierarchy, it served the purpose of aligning many parish priests with the FSLN, a communist movement. This was of particular importance because the clergy attracted to Liberation Theology were the same ones genuinely dedicated to improving the lives of the poor of Nicaragua. Thus the Sandinistas were able to exploit Liberation Theology by associating their movement with the local priests and sisters most respected by the people.

The net effect of all these internal and international networks was to build a coalition that isolated Somoza. This isolation so paralyzed Somoza that although he still had the capability to win on the battlefield, he fled the country. The Sandinistas had achieved a genuine fourth generation victory.

Subsequent to their victory, the Sandinistas surprised and angered many of their supporters when they excluded all other members of the coalition from positions of real power. Yet despite this open shift from a coalition to a "dictatorship of the parry," the FSLN was still able to mobilize its international networks to defeat the Reagan Administration's efforts to fund the Contras.

Despite some glaring mistakes in dealing with the U.S. Congress, the Sandinistas definitely advanced the art of war. They twice won a victory using a fourth generation information approach of focusing on political and social activity rather than military action. The Sandinistas proved fourth generation war focused on the political level could defeat a weak, inefficient, and unpopular government. The question remained: Can it do the same to a strong, efficient, popularly elected, highly legitimate government?

The Palestinians

The answer is "yes," as proven by the intifada uprising in the Occupied Territories. This step in the evolution of war exploded onto the television screens of the world when the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip took to the streets against the Israeli security forces. Initially, the incident looked like another spasm of spontaneous anger on the part of the Palestinians in the camps. What made it different was the fact that it grew, spread, and sustained itself.

There is still a good deal of debate about exactly how the uprising ignited, but for the purposes of this paper, why the intifada came into being is not as important as what happened—and how it illustrates the fourth generation of war.

Most writers on this subject agree on the following sequence of events.

All three leadership groups existed before the intifada broke out. Yet, by bringing together the street protesters and the three leadership groups, the intifada created a unique organization ideally suited to exploit the advantages of fourth generation war. The local neighborhood networks dealt with grassroots issues—food, water, and medical care. They maintained the morale and effectiveness of the uprising during various attempts by Israeli forces to stamp it out. The UNCU, consisting of representatives of the four main Palestinian nationalist factions, but excluding the fundamentalists, provided overall direction and coordination to the neighborhood committees.  The academics, journalists, and political leaders used their ties to U.S. and Israeli political and media leaders to explain the Palestinian side of the issue. By appearing reasonable, educated, and concerned about peace and justice in the Middle East, they drastically increased the impact of the action the local committees were orchestrating in the streets. Their very status as media stars neutralized attempts by Israeli security forces to detain and silence them.

Working together, the three levels of leadership developed a well thought out strategic approach to the struggle using all the tools of fourth generation war: political, economic, social, and mass media. (Figure 6.) They opted for a strategy of limited violence (no use of firearms or explosives), maximum media exposure for their side of the issue, division of the "battlefield" into a contested zone (the occupied territories) and, a safe zone (Israel proper). In short, they sought political victory rather than a military one.

Internationally, the Palestinians sought to portray themselves as the underdogs. By rejecting the use of firearms and explosives (even though it was not always honored by the local elements), they projected the intifada as a struggle of teenagers armed with rocks and stick against the best armed, best equipped, and best trained military force in the Middle East. Internally, the Palestinians wanted to develop the image of an insoluble problem. By creating a contested zone and a safe zone, they wanted to show the Israelis that while Israelis would never be safe in the Occupied Territories, there was no threat to Israelis inside Israel. It was a conscious information campaign designed to push the Israeli electorate toward the desired political solution.

This new message was not easy to transmit. It had to overcome years of terrorist attacks inside Israel. The intifada leadership understood that these attacks had strengthened the Israeli hard-line Likud Party by making the Occupied Territories seem like a buffer zone against terrorist attacks. By limiting the attacks to the Occupied Territories, the Palestinians showed that the Territories were not a security buffer but the source of trouble. Although the intifada leadership could not control all attacks inside Israel, the message did get through.

On a local level, the Palestinians built on a broad network of pre-existing local organizations to solve practical problems of governing and to bind their people together in a concerted political effort. As Ian S. Lipstick has noted:

Studies of volunteer work cooperatives, student associations, youth groups in refugee camps, and other grass-roots organizations repeatedly show that these mobilizing frameworks for collective action evolved gradually, from discrete, small-scale cooperatives responsive to the practical needs of Palestinians … into networks linked through representative of the various PLO factions to the overall nationalist movement.

These practical, humanitarian networks provided a significant tactical advantage. Given the international and domestic media coverage of these organizations, it was simply unacceptable for Israeli security forces to take action against them. Israel could not move against groups dedicated to improving the health care of the local population. This remained true no matter how much evidence the security forces could produce that proved the health-care providers were linked to the PLO. Several observers have noted that the intifada could have been crushed quickly if Israeli security forces had used the same brutality Syria used in Hama. These same observers noted that the Israeli people simply would not allow it.

Economically, the intifada leadership turned the Israeli-ordered lockout of West Bank labor to Palestinian advantage. They stressed three results of the lockout. First, Israeli businesses suffered heavy losses due to lack of labor. Second, Israeli exports fell over $650 million—much of the loss coming from the closing of markets inside the Occupied Territories. Finally, due to the 50-percent reduction in Palestinian income, tax revenues from the Territories fell sharply at the same time Israeli expenditures on policing the Territories shot up in response to the unrest.

Socially, the local Palestinian leaders used the labor lockout as a reason to emphasize self-reliance. The adversity brought Palestinian communities together against a common threat. As the intifada continued, it became apparent the Israelis were on the defensive across the spectrum. The intifada leaders stressed that they were succeeding where the combined armies of all Arab states had been defeated repeatedly for 40 years. The intifada became a matter of pride not just for Palestinians but for all Arabs.

The Palestinians used the international, Israeli, and Arabic media as a specific tool. The international media, by repeatedly broadcasting scenes of the Israeli Army firing on rock-throwing Palestinian teenagers, changed the image of Israel from a besieged nation in the midst of power enemies to that of oppressive occupier. The constant repetition of this image even neutralized the powerful Jewish lobby in the United States. The Palestinians used the Arabic media to show their own people and their Arab brothers how they were challenging Israel on a daily basis. These broadcasts built the pride and solidarity of the movement. Most important, the Palestinians used the Israeli media to hammer home to Israelis the idea that the cost of maintaining Israeli presence in the occupied territories far exceeded its dubious security benefits. According to former Prime Minister Shamir "the most important question of the (1992) election was retention of Greater Israel."

Palestinian action in the Occupied Territories and restraint in Israel proper shattered the Likud coalition and allowed the Labor Party to build a solid coalition for the first time since 1977. Once in power, the Labor government was willing to conduct the serious negotiations that led to the 1993 agreement on Palestinian autonomy. While the final Palestinian goal of an independent state is still to be achieved, their use of fourth generation broad-spectrum tactics against what was essentially a third generation Israeli response has achieved more than anyone dared predict as recently as last year.

Generational Conflicts

These four case studies—China, Vietnam, Nicaragua, and the West Bank—each confirm the characteristics of the fourth generation of war as described by van Creveld and Arquilla and Ronfeldt. All four examples were fought across the political, economic, social, and military spectrums. Just as important, these studies show that fourth generation tactics are rarely employed exclusively. Rather they exist side by side with the tactics of earlier generations.

The conflicts in Lebanon (1976-84), Somalia, and Bosnia provide contemporary reinforcement of this fact. Taken as a group, these events illustrate that insurgent leaders understand and apply the techniques of fourth generation war to manipulate Western democracies. When dealing with Western democracies, these insurgent leaders focused on winning a political victory by changing the minds of the enemy's policymakers. They found that when national interests are not at stake, a direct message delivered via international media is an exceptionally effective strategic approach.

By using fourth generation techniques, local antagonists can change the national policy of Western democracies. Then once the Western forces have gone, they can continue to pursue their local objectives using earlier generation techniques.


Recent conflicts confirm that war is in fact evolving in conjunction with the political, economic, and social changes affecting society as a whole.

Beginning with Mao's initial concept that political power was more decisive than military power and progressing to the intifada's total reliance on the mass media and international networks to neutralize Israeli military power, warfare has undergone a fundamental change. The fourth generation has arrived.

Strategically, it attempts to directly change the minds of enemy policymakers. This change is not to be achieved through the traditional method of superiority on the battlefield. Rather it is to be accomplished through the superior use of all the networks available in the information age. These networks are employed to carry specific messages to enemy policymakers. A sophisticated opponent can even tailor the message to a specific audience and a specific strategic situation.

Tactically, fourth generation war will:

The strategic approach and tactical techniques of fourth generation warfare will require major changes in the way we educate, employ, structure, and train forces. Professional education, from initial-entry training to war-college level, will have to be broadened to deal with the wide spectrum of issues commanders will confront in a fourth generation conflict. As Arquilla and Ponfeldt stated, leaders must be prepared to "group together from a new perspective a number of measures that have been used before but were viewed separately." Training (as distinct from education) must expand to deal with tactical situations unique to fourth generation warfare, such as staged confrontations between security forces and unarmed women and children. Further, this broadened education must not be limited to military officers but must include decision makers from all agencies of the government involved with international security issues.

We must go beyond joint operations to interagency operations. If the enemy is going to strike across the spectrum of human activity, our national response must be coordinated across the multiple national agencies that deal with international issues. Just as joint undertaking had to evolve gradually into full-fledged joint operations, so will interagency operations have to mature from simple meetings to discuss cooperation into fully integrated national operations. Force structure must be reconsidered in light of fourth generation issues.

Fourth generation war will require much more intelligence gathering and analytical and dissemination capability to serve a highly flexible, interagency command system. At the same time, the fact that fourth generation war will include elements of earlier generations of war means our forces must be prepared to deal with these aspects too.

Finally, just as many current conflicts do not employ third generation tactics, not all future conflicts will be fought primarily using fourth generation tactics. Therefore, it will be essential for national leaders to make an accurate analysis of the war they are about to enter. The complex mix of generations of war with their overlapping political, economic, social, military, and mass media arenas makes determining the type of war we are entering more critical than ever. While much of Clausewitz' On War has been rendered obsolete by the enormous changes in the world, his admonition to national leaders remains more important than ever. Clausewitz wrote:

The first, the supreme, the most far reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature.

Colonel T. X. Hammes is now (2004) a senior military fellow at the National Defense University in Washington, DC.


The Evolution of War: The Fourth Generation

LtCol Thomas X. Hammes

Marine Corps Gazette
September 1994