Fourth Generation Warfare: Another Look

William S. Lind, Maj John F. Schmitt, and Col Gary I. Wilson

Marine Corps Gazette
December  1994, Pages 34-37

Events of the past 5 years have not greatly altered the views of the 'fourth generationists.' They continue to believe that nontrinitarian, cultural conflict, outside the nation-state framework, will be the dominant form of war.

In 1989, we offered some thoughts about where the art of war might be going. We suggested that modern war might be on the verge of a "fourth generation," a successor to "third generation" maneuver warfare.

Interestingly, it was only this year—5 years after the original article—that the first serious commentaries were published in the September issue of the Marine Corps Gazette. LtCol Thomas X. Hammes' article was particularly thoughtful. It offered a deepened historical perspective on the evolution of the fourth generation. We agree with his statement, "The fourth generation has arrived," and with his general characterization of its tactical and strategic aspect (though, as we will discuss below, we would go much further with regard to the latter).

Robert J. Bunker's commentary provides an interesting look at a broader swath of history, although we find his focus on the "energy foundations of civilization" too much a single-factor explanation of historical change. A large problem is that he ends up with two "fourth generations," "Terrorist/LIC warfare" and "Advanced Technology warfare," which never seem to meet. In fact, they do meet often, as in Somalia, and the former usually wins. One or the other will eventually emerge dominant. To relegate the contest between them to a matter of "tactics and doctrines of Advanced Technology warfare" is to miss entirely the sweeping nature of the challenge. If recent events show us anything, it is that advanced technology warfare is largely ineffective against terrorist/LIC opponents. Advanced technology warfare only seems to work when the enemy is willing to play the same game. It appears it can often be negated simply by refusing to play. The reverse does not seem to be true, i.e., that advanced technology warfare can simply ignore terrorism/LIC.

Not surprisingly, in 5 years our own thinking about fourth generation warfare has also developed. We believe most of what we argued in 1989 has held up well in the light of events. To see more clearly where fourth generation warfare seems to be headed, we need to expand upon one of the alternatives we offered then: an idea-based, rather than a technology-based, fourth generation of modern war.

Three central ideas shape what we see as the emerging fourth generation: the nation-state's loss of its monopoly on war, the return to a world of cultures in conflict, and "multiculturalism" in the United States, which is to say the abandonment of Judeo-Christian, Western culture and values here at home.

In our 1989 article, we noted that a fourth generation opponent might have: a non-national or transnational base, such an ideology or religion. Our national security capabilities are designed to operate within a nation-state framework. Outside that framework, they have great difficulties

That possibility was expanded upon brilliantly by Martin van Creveld in his 1991 book, The Transformation of War. Creveld argues that the modern paradigm for warfare, in which nation-states wage war for reasons of state, using formal militaries that fight other organizations similar to themselves, with the people supporting both—but also distinguishable from both—the "Clausewitzian Trinity" of government, army, and people is historically unusual. Through most of man's time on earth, war was nontrinitarian. Families waged war, as did clans, tribes, cities, monastic orders, religions, even commercial enterprises (the British East India Company). They fought for many reasons, not just " rational" reasons of state: for good cropland, for loot, for women (Helen of Troy), for slaves, for sacrificial victims to their gods (the "flowery wars" of the Aztecs), for the purity of their race. Often, there was no formal army with ranks and uniforms, set apart from the people; all males strong enough to carry a weapon were warriors. Indeed, an entire people could be a military instrument; war by migration is no less effective today than it was against the Roman Empire, as both Haiti and Cuba recently reminded us.

In our view, postmodern is premodern. Future war will increasingly be nontrinitarian, and as we have seen most recently in Gaza, formal trinitarian military forces will be ineffective against it. In the Postscript to The Transformation of War," The Shape of Things to Come," Creveld writes:

We are standing today, not at the end of history but at a historic turning point. just as Alexander's exploits only reached the Middle Ages as a dim, fantastic tale, so in the future people will probably look back upon the twentieth century as a period of mighty empires, vast armies, and incredible fighting machines that have crumbled into dust... As war between states exits through one side of history's revolving door, low-intensity conflict among different organizations will enter through the other ... Extensive conflict of this nature will cause existing distinctions between government, armed forces, and people to break down. National sovereignties are already being undermined by organizations that refuse to recognize the state's monopoly over armed violence. Armies will be replaced by police-like security forces on the one hand and bands of ruffians on the other, not that the difference is always clear even today. National frontiers, that at present constitute perhaps the greatest single obstacle to combating low-intensity conflict, may be obliterated or else become meaningless as rival organizations chase each other across them. As frontiers go, so will territorial states ... As new forms of armed conflict multiply and spread, they will cause the lines between public and private, government and people, military and civilian, to become blurred as they were before 1648.

The question might be asked, What about the war with Iraq? It certainly followed the traditional, "trinitarian" model. While many people see the Gulf War as a prototype of a new kind of warfare, we see it as an anachronism, a throwback to World War II in Europe with updated weapons. Creveld referred to the Gulf War as a "jousting contest," a splendid show that in the end changed little. The wars that actually change things, as Yugoslavia or Somalia or Palestine have been changed, are now almost all nontrinitarian. We would add that generational changes in war are seldom abrupt. Much of the previous generation (or even the one before) lives on long after its military usefulness has diminished or disappeared.

More broadly, the nation-state is losing its monopoly on war, and its hold on its citizens loyalty, in a growing portion of the world. The two are closely related. One of the most important roles of the state is to protect its people. When it loses the ability (or perceived ability) to do that, it will lose the loyalty of the people. People's loyalties will transfer to whatever organizations can protect them.

In much of the world, the nation-state's hold was never strong. A creation of the West, the nation-state never became the primary loyalty in much of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East; in fact, many countries in those regions, while states, were never nation states. Most of their citizens continued to see themselves as members of a clan or tribe or religious grouping, not a nation. As Western power recedes, the old loyalties are reasserting themselves. West Africa, as and the Cold War. We do not usually think of these as civil wars, but in cultural terms that is what they were. Japan played a small role in the first and a larger role in the second. But even in World War II, the Allies' "Germany first" strategy showed where the center of conflict lay.

The damage was incalculable. Tens of millions of Western lives were lost (remember that even under communism, Russia was still part of Western culture), countless marks and pounds and rubles of capital went up in flames and smoke. Most damaging, the West's faith in itself was shattered. After 1918, the modernity that had brought the Somme, poison gas, and "total war" could no longer command men's allegiance.

As is commonly the case with civil wars, the entity fighting them—in this case not a country but a culture—emerged greatly weakened vis-à-vis its neighbors. And those neighbors—Chinese culture, Hindu culture, Islamic culture—have benefited directly from the wars, especially the Cold War, as both Western parties pumped weapons, capital, and the other technical fruits of modernity into them. Most important, these non- Western cultures had not lost their nerve, their faith in themselves. On the contrary, the receding, demoralized West left them invigorated and renewed positioned to combine the technological creations of the West with the fundaments of their traditional ways.

Now we, the West, find ourselves increasingly under siege, no longer the world's master, merely one contender among many—one sinking down as others rise. Chinese culture, the West's most successful competitor over time, may face us only with a peaceful challenge. China has never desired to rule over non-Han peoples, beyond a few border buffer states.

The most immediate challenger is Islam, and here the challenge is not likely to be peaceful. Islam is today expanding outward in every direction from its traditional heartland: south into black Africa, east into Southeast Asia and the Philippines, north into Europe. And also West: the fastest-growing religion in the United States is Islam.

Islam's thrust northward into Europe, the heartland of Western culture, is worth a closer look. Islamic immigration into France has been so massive as to reverse the verdict of the battle of Tours; southern France now has more mosques than churches. North African immigrants are now pouring similarly into Spain. In the Balkans, Moslem aid, including weapons and fighters, is flowing into Bosnia. Islamic states realize, as we do not, that the Bosnian Moslems are strategically on the offensive, beginning a new Islamic thrust toward the Danube. Most disastrous for the West is the situation in the former Soviet Union. There, our entire flank from the Black Sea to Vladivostok is collapsing under Moslem (and further east, Chinese) pressure.

What is America's response? We condemn European measures to control immigration, threaten the Serbs with war on behalf of the Bosnian Islamics, and caution Russia against any attempt to reassert control to her south. At the very least, this represents a failure to comprehend a changing strategic Situation. Some call it a cultural death wish.

The third idea that shapes our understanding of fourth generation warfare ties in our situation here at home. In the United States of America, our traditional, Western, Judeo-Christian culture is collapsing. It is not collapsing because it failed. On the contrary, it has given us the freest and most prosperous society in human history. Rather, it is collapsing because we are abandoning it.

Starting in the mid-1960s, we have thrown away the values, morals, and standards that define traditional Western culture. In part, this has been driven by cultural radicals, people who hate our Judeo-Christian culture. Dominant in the elite, especially in the universities, the media, and the entertainment industry (now the most powerful force in our culture and a source of endless degradation), the cultural radicals have successfully pushed an agenda of moral relativism, militant secularism, and sexual and social "liberation." This agenda has slowly codified into a new ideology. usually known as "multiculturalism" or "political correctness," that is in essence Marxism translated from economic into social and cultural terms.

This new, cultural Marxism has had remarkable success in discrediting America's common culture and substituting for it cultural fragmentation based on ethnic groups, gender, sexual identity, and class. If this trend continues, Americans will increasingly find they have less in common with each other as Americans. National identity will weaken. Other, mutually hostile identities will strengthen, until the nation comes apart: region vs. region, minority vs. minority, and gang vs. gang. When one nation comes apart at its cultural seams, eventually it turns on itself and fights.

Where does this fragmentation leave the national military, including the United States Marine Corps? As we have seen in Lebanon, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere, when the nation fragments so do its military forces. We could end up with two, three, many Marine Corps: white Marine Corps, black Marine Corps, Christian Marine Corps, possibly even a gay Marine Corps. These fragments would compete with other organizations to provide the security that counts: security for the individual person, family, home, and neighborhood. In effect, the future Marine could be a rent-a-cop.

Thus we find ourselves coming full circle, back to the first idea that, in our view, shapes the fourth generation: the nation-states' loss of its monopoly on armed violence. The point is not merely that America's Armed Forces will find themselves facing non-nation-state conflicts and forces overseas. The point is that the same conflicts are coming here.

The fourth generation heralds the end of modern war and possibly of the modern era as well. The next real war we fight is likely to be on American soil.