On War #242: Academics Awake!

 By William S. Lind

Tom Lehrer sang of ivy-covered professors in their ivy-covered halls, and seldom indeed does anything worth reading come from academia. Between the stultifying effects of cultural Marxism, aka Political Correctness, and the narrowness demanded by über-specialization, academia offers only hard and stoney ground to the fragile seeds that are new insights.

Nonetheless, it seems that even academics are waking up to the concept of Fourth Generation war. A few have escaped the White Tower long enough to produce a new book on the subject, Global Insurgency and the Future of Armed Conflict: Debating fourth-generation warfare, edited by Terry Terriff, Aaron Karp and Regina Karp (Routledge, UK). Like most collections of essays, it has its ups and downs, but there are enough of the former to make the volume worth a look.

Global Insurgency begins by outlining the framework of the Four Generations of Modern War, first in a re-print of the original 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article and then in a chapter by Tom Hammes. I disagree with a number of Hammes’s characterizations of 4GW, including defining it as insurgency (that is true only if it is waged outside the state framework, which means Mao’s War of National Liberation was not 4GW), but together these two pieces set the stage well enough

The next section, a critique of 4GW and the larger Four Generations framework, is disappointing. Most of the chapters fall into one of two categories, Clausewitz worship or complaint that the framework uses history selectively, which all theory must. The Clausewitzian temple dogs at times work themselves into such a fit they become funny, i.e. denying that World War II was fought within the state system because it was war between alliances (of states, of course).

The better chapters come toward the end of the book, and several are very good indeed. One of the most informative is Paul Jackson’s “Fourth Generation Warfare in Africa: back to the future?” The state system has always been a fiction in most of post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa, which means it’s easy to find 4GW in its purest, pre-First Generation form. Jackson writes,

One of the central difficulties facing analysts and militaries in African conflicts is accurately identifying various groups involved in violence. This is exacerbated by a continuing flux of alliances and temporary agreements, as well as a cycle of group creation and disintegration…

The combatants themselves are difficult to define. Any cursory glance at the literature dealing with rebel movements leads to a number of different definitions: rebels, brigands, subversive elements, gangs, criminals, warlords, militia, etc…

This is encouraged by a an emphasis on a pseudo-feudal system of primitive accumulation, whereby territory is only valued for the resources it holds and those resources are granted as a means of paying subordinates.

Welcome to a world without the state.

Frank Hoffman also offers a fine chapter, “Combating Fourth Generation Warfare,” which he prefers to call Complex Irregular Warfare. Like the FMFM I-A, Hoffman recognizes that classical approaches to war which emphasize physical destruction may be counter-productive:

The traditional way to approach strategic options to impose our will upon an opponent is Delbruck’s two major options. One is the strategy of annihilation, which calls for the substantial if not the total destruction of the enemy force. The alternative approach, more common to the weaker side, is to employ a strategy of exhaustion…

“Incapacitation” may be more appropriate in many cases (in 4GW). We rarely intend or need to annihilate a rebel fource, and may find it counterproductive to do so with respect to long-term political objectives.

One of the better ways to learn how to fight 4GW is to look at foreign practice, and Rajesh Rajagopalan’s chapter, “Fighting Fourth Generation wars: the Indian experience” offers several suggestions. Under The Indian army’s 4GW doctrine,” he states,

Five elements make up the Indian army’s 4GW doctrine. The first is the limitation on the quantum of force used in operations…Indian forces engaged in 4GW operations get no artillery or close air support. And this principle has almost never been violated…

The third element in the Army’s approach is dominating the affected area…Thus the stress is on blanketing the area with troops more than conducting offensive operations…This approach is somewhat unique to the Indian experience, and it is premised on two important elements: a huge infantry pool…and an acceptance of the inevitable higher casualties.

The volume’s editors add thoughtful perspectives of their own to the collected essays, in the introduction and the conclusion. In sum, Global Insurgency offers enough of real-world, practical value to those stuck with fighting 4GW or helping prepare others to do so to make it worth reading. By the usual standards of academic works, that makes it a masterpiece.

William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.

To interview Mr. Lind, please contact:

Mr. William S. Lind

Free Congress Foundation
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Direct line: 202-543-8796

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