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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