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Fourth-Generation Warfare: The Power of the Underdog

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posted on Nov, 21 2007 @ 11:11 PM
I want to start a thread that will discuss, in both detail and in theory, of the widespread implications of what some describe as Fourth-Generation Warfare (4GW). Basically, this is the state of warfare today, where a powerful nation-state such as the U.S. with extensive national security capabilities and the ability to produce military force faces off against smaller, decentralized groups whose base is not a means of production, but one's ideology. Its David vs. Goliath, the physical vs. the transcendental. And what is most alarming? These groups are not only dictating our daily lives - they are winning.

Before I continue, I want to say that I do not to subscribe to the 4GW ideal in the sense that its "new." Anyone with a brain knows that insurgenices and terrorism are as old as human history itself. 4GW is eseentially a misnomer. That being said, what is different is that the technology availiable to these private groups and individuals is far more significant than ever in human history. They now have to power to influence and shape world politics and the destiny of an entire country, and they can do it so much more easily. We are now at the mercy of these groups, in a sense.

It would take forever to define and explain 4GW, so I'll let God (a.k.a. Wikipedia) do it instead. Knowing a bit on asymmetric, guerrilla, and unconventional war would help a lot as well.

Fourth-Generation Warfare

With that out of the way, I want to start off giving my theory as to why and how we've gotten to where we are right now. The classic PC game Call of Duty 4 implied that this entire trend was born on April 26, 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster occurred. This was the turning point in Soviet history, where the USSR could either choose to go to war in an attempt to preserve the state or continue on its present course. It stayed the course and in 1991, the USSR died off. This is where my theory begins. Despite the astronomical collapse and significant downsizing, the former USSR left behind an immense arsenal of armaments. One long-lasting legacy of the New World Order and the 1990s was the demobilization from command economies to privitization, free markets, and globalization. All this, combined with the huge quantity of armaments, put all sorts of military force on the market, whether it was the Ak-47 or the mercenary, and perhaps the nuclear warhead. Suddenly, everything was for sale, as long as you could pay the price.

This is where the empowerment of terrorists and sub-national groups started to reach a fever pitch. During the Cold War, terrorism was considered a nuisance rather than a significant threat. This was a time when hostage-taking was in style. Despite inflicting some signfiicant casualties, terrorism was largely ineffective because these groups did not have the armaments, technology, or climate that allowed them to operate effectively. For example, nuclear terrorism was the unlikliest of unlikely scenarios. Despite the mind-bogglingly high-number of nuclear warheads between the U.S. and the USSR, the security of these weapons and the nature of the world economy made it impossible for sub-national groups to acquire anything better than plastic explosives.

Flash-forward to 2001. 19 Islamic terrorists hijack four planes and kill 3,000 people in less than five hours, bringing down two of the world's largest buildings in the process. In comparison, it takes the powerful U.S. military an average of 250 rounds fired before a single insurgent is killed in Iraq. Basically, 19 terrorists killed more people in less than a day than our military does in a single month in Iraq. Just like that, the world changes. Thanks to free-flowing money and technology, these killers are able to infiltrate the world's only superpower and brought it to its knees (for at least a day). What's more, the world's biggest national security threat is not war with another state, it is nuclear terrorism. As alluded to earlier, a nuclear weapon was a pipedream for terrorists in 1987. In 2007, it is well within their reach.

Let me end this lengthy opening post by posing a question to you all: Is there a way for us to alleviate the newfound power of these small decentralized forces, or has our own progress resulted in their empowerment? Feel free to comment on all I've said thus far.

More to come.

posted on Nov, 22 2007 @ 02:42 AM
The US and its military has never really gotten a grip with counter insurgency warfare we saw this in Vietnam and up until the troop surge in Iraq. The underlying idea of the War on Terror is the right one but the war has stragetically been a disaster since the invasion of Iraq. Those countries who sharing the burden of sacrifice don't have manpower or the resources to win the war in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

NATO is in danger of becoming irrelevant and my own government has limited New Zealand role in Afghanistan to an reconstruction role.

posted on Nov, 22 2007 @ 09:06 AM

What makes Vietnam alarming is that the Viet Cong insurgency was actually part of a larger conventional military effort against the U.S. One of my future scenarios involves a conventional war with Iran, but what what complicates matters is the participation of smaller groups that are not necessarily associated with Iran, but carry so much military power they have the ability to have an effect on U.S. military strategy and national security policy. This is much the way the small guerrilla movement in Vietnam was able to bleed out the U.S. In contrast, if war broke out between NATO and the Warsaw Pact in 1987, the intensity of the war, the astronomical levels of military power on each side, as well as the extreme weakness of terrorists and smaller groups would've made a guerrilla or terrorist front both useless and meaningless. But in the post-modern world, it is almost impossible for a major conventional war to not include a significant insurgency and terrorist front.

Let me continue the original discussion by bringing in the other combatant of 4GW: the mercenary. The mercenary, contrary to popular opinion, is not the exception, but rather the rule. Prior to the formation of the modern state, what we consider the professional, highly-trained soldier was a mercenary and they have been around far longer than the uniformed serviceman who fights under the banner of his country. The most prominent of these mercenaries was the Swiss mercenaries, and the service of these men were purchased by various groups in order to wage war. In pre-modern times, military force was purchased, not produced. Go further back in history and you see guys like Xerxes I employed Greek mercenaries.

To the post-modern world. As I do with just about everything, I blame the current state of affairs on the collapse of the USSR and the end of the Cold War. The emergence and emphasis on free markets created the supply, armaments and military services availiable for purchase. Consequently, the major downsizing of western militaries, particularly that of the U.S., created the demand. The newfound power of private groups that no longer could or had to rely on the state (the reverse seems to now be the case) meant that they turned to private military companies (PMC) and security firms in order to meet their needs. The state, with its diminshing power, must also turn to PMCs in order to support national policy, just the way pre-modern European governments had to purchase military force in order to wage war. As a result, you have the mergence of a company like Blacwater USA, led by another prominent offspring of the technology-warfare marriage: Erik Prince. Blackwater USA, IMO, is the post-modern incarnation of the Swiss mercenaries. Highly-trained, from the best circles of the military, now making a killing, all the while using equipment far superior to that of the individual U.S. soldier. Like terrorists, these guys may be state-sponsored, but they have no other tie to the party to the conflict. Terrorists and paramilitaries fulfill a vendetta, mercenaries fulfill a paycheck. The fairly recent establishment of these mercenary groups (most are less than 30 years old) conincides with the shift away from the command economy to that of free markets and the end of the Cold War.

As I asserted regarding terrorists and insurgencies, mercenaries and PMCs were once useless, especially if a major conventional war broke out during the Cold War. Not so anymore. The state's loss of power, decentralization, the demand for such services, and the availiability of technology formerly unavailiable means that no future conflict will not feature emrcenaries and PMCs. If the activities of Blackwater and DynCorp are having the dire effect on the Coalition war effort in Iraq today, it will be very interesting to see what kind of effect they will have when we engage in conventional war with a country like Iran.

Sorry to be partisan to the U.S. military (actually, I'm not sorry about that), but its pretty obvious to me the U.S. military's emotional and mental collectivity will be taxed by the prevalence of these third and fourth-dimension threats.

Questions, comments, concerns (you should be concerned)?

posted on Nov, 23 2007 @ 08:02 PM
Well in terms of mercenary's a lot depends on your perception of history after all the Flying Tigers are today remembered very fondly. As for the use mercenary's which has become another aspect of the Iraq war that is being debated there wide spread use is due to the US military being over stretched. Poor decision making by civilian and military leaders as well as the change over to a all volunteer military has lead to the US military being in the situation .

When it comes to the defence sector in the US the corporate gravy train rules the day rather then the free market a lot of money is spent on pork projects or just disappears in order to continue the cycle. As for the Vietnam war I suggest that you track down some material on the experience of Diggers in that conflict . For a starting point here is a post of mine.

The US military is very inflexible across the board since massive amounts of fire power and high tech gadgets are of limited value in a counter insurgency war the US military often struggles in these kinds of conflicts. The US public themselves cant fathom a war in which silly streamers are more useful then the high tech gadgets that the tax payer as forked out for.

posted on Nov, 23 2007 @ 09:58 PM
First off, I appreciate your participation in this thread. Its good to know at least one person on ATS wants to discuss this issue.

Originally posted by xpert11
As for the use mercenary's which has become another aspect of the Iraq war that is being debated there wide spread use is due to the US military being over stretched.

IMO, the U.S. military, after its downsizing, was never capable of engaging in a war other than a small-scale contingency. The mere fact that we outsource many military jobs out to civilian contractors such as Kellogg-Brown & Root shows the military is not the self-sufficient one we saw in 1991.

When it comes to the defence sector in the US the corporate gravy train rules the day rather then the free market a lot of money is spent on pork projects or just disappears in order to continue the cycle.

Well the free market does tend to favor those who have already established a foothold in the industry. I will definitely check out the thread.

The US military is very inflexible across the board since massive amounts of fire power and high tech gadgets are of limited value in a counter insurgency war the US military often struggles in these kinds of conflicts.

I'd say the U.S. doesn't even have "massive" amounts of firepower any longer.

More to come.

[edit on 23-11-2007 by sweatmonicaIdo]

posted on Nov, 23 2007 @ 10:32 PM
worthwhile pondering issue.

for me, i hardly find a way to annihilate those terrorists. Since i know guerrilla warfare well, it is hatred that surports them to fight to the last minute and the last soldier especially with fervent religious beliefs. So, the absolutely physical power advantage never means victory. It is willpower that decide the end of war.

the best way to alleviate hatred is making friend with your adversary rather than persuing to conquer.

posted on Nov, 24 2007 @ 12:58 AM
The problem with fighting this type of enemy is that you never really know who you're fighting. We ran into this problem in Vietnam. You're shooting at someone, but are you shooting at the one who are against you or for you...
You don't really know.

posted on Nov, 24 2007 @ 01:10 AM
reply to post by sweatmonicaIdo

Well it was certainly a mistake to downsize the US military when people start to play the blame game they often over look the fact that Rumsfeld wanted to downsize the US military despite the needs of post 9-11 . Now that was even dumber then the decision to downsize the US military. There can be no excuse for what has happened post 9-11 the powers that be knew what forces they had available to them.

I am reminded of post WW1 while Germany rearmed and the Japanese army hijacked the government Britain was cutting back on on military spending and neglecting it defences in Asia. Many people don't know how close Britain came to defeat in 1940 .

I will leave the Free Market as a topic for another thread but I will say that the NZ military is about the only place I don't support the private sector operating to some degree. This is because my country's military is spouse to be a direct agent of government policy such things as profit margins should have no part in this goal.

Admittedly the amount of fire power in use is relative but my point is that on a tactical and strategic level the US military is far to reliant on fire power. Sheer fire power wont win a counter insurgency war in fact it will do just the opposite.

posted on Nov, 24 2007 @ 01:32 AM

Originally posted by SpeakerofTruth
The problem with fighting this type of enemy is that you never really know who you're fighting. We ran into this problem in Vietnam. You're shooting at someone, but are you shooting at the one who are against you or for you...
You don't really know.

While there is no one single fix to the problem you describe it is easier to take measures in rural areas. Providing you don't blow up an entire village to save it is possible to cordon off the locals and integrate them .

See this link it is the best I could come up when it comes to making my point. Note the Diggers aren't wearing helmets this was standard practice and the M-16 rifle suggests that the scene took place late during Australia involvement in Vietnam.

posted on Nov, 24 2007 @ 01:38 AM
Yeah, in Vietnam we did a bunch of "carpet bombing," which has never been shown to be successful... I think it hurt us over there.

[edit on 24-11-2007 by SpeakerofTruth]

posted on Nov, 24 2007 @ 02:04 AM
SpeakerofTruth that was well said . Debates about the US intervention aside future leaders should study the US involvement in Vietnam because it proves that politicians shouldn't micro manage wars . Sadly those who failed to learn from past mistakes have repeated them.

posted on Nov, 24 2007 @ 05:33 PM

Originally posted by xpert11
SpeakerofTruth that was well said . Debates about the US intervention aside future leaders should study the US involvement in Vietnam because it proves that politicians shouldn't micro manage wars . Sadly those who failed to learn from past mistakes have repeated them.

You are right and wrong.

You are right about how we have yet to learn the full range of lessons to be learned from Vietnam. You are wrong about political meddling. That to me was one of the most overrated reasons for our loss in the war. The U.S. military should've succeeded whether or not President Johnson took part in the selection of military targets. The military executed its mission very poorly, regardless of how misguided that mission was.

To me, the politicians and the media are just scapegoats for what are inexcusible failures on the part of our military. I know criticizing the military is politically incorrect, but as people like David Hackworth, Carlton Meyer (both military officers), and William S. Lind and Thomas E. Ricks have shown, the military is as culpable as the political front in our failures. Until Ricks' book "Fiasco," the military has generally been off-limits and the blame has instead been shifted to the "left-wing," "liberal" media and the "politicians" (basically the Democrats, Ron Paul, and Chuck Hagel). No more.

posted on Nov, 24 2007 @ 08:24 PM
Well I think that the media is blamed for the US failure in Vietnam because the wars supporters refused to come to grips with there country military failings in that country. Recently we have seen and are seeing the disaster caused by the likes Rumsfeld overriding good military sense because he thought he knew better and relied upon political ideology rather then good planning when it came to post Saddam Iraq. So it looks like that we will have to agree to disagree when it comes to the issue political meddling in the running of wars.

Hackworth was quoted as saying that the only people that knew how to fight the war in Vietnam were the enemy and the Australians. Of course when people like Hackworth spoke out they were probably labelled as being defeatists . Such ignorance loses wars.

Still no matter how you spin it ill advised wars get ill advised results.

posted on Nov, 25 2007 @ 09:51 AM
I don't discount the effect that political meddling had in the war. But it usually depends on the kind of political meddling. If the civilian leadership has no idea on how to run military operations (i.e. George W. Bush, Lyndon B. Johnson, Bill Clinton, Saddam Hussein), then political meddling is a disaster. On the other hand, USSR military operations incorporated a high level of political involvement, but these were geared in a way that they did not get in the way of military common sense.

The larger point being, the military cannot use the government and the media as scapegoats for what are clearly failures on their part.

posted on Nov, 26 2007 @ 03:53 AM
SweatmonicaIdo I must have misread what you posted my bad. As it turns out that I more or less agree with you . If your wondering why there isnt more interest in this topic it is because it doesn't exist to make the US look bad. The same goes for threads that show what brutal fanatics the enemy really are.

You might find this thread that I posted ages ago to be of interest.

posted on Nov, 27 2007 @ 12:59 PM
reply to post by xpert11

Originally posted by xpert11
If your wondering why there isnt more interest in this topic it is because it doesn't exist to make the US look bad. The same goes for threads that show what brutal fanatics the enemy really are.

I suppose even ATS lives off of polarization. Funny that some of the biggest talkers on ATS don't even show up when a thread gets serious.

Let me pose a question to everyone. I'll start off by quoting an awesome passage from Wikipedia (the Wiki community really knows its warfare!):

As countries' natural and capital resources grew, it became clear that some forms of conflict demanded more resources than others. For example, if the United States were to subdue a Native American tribe in an extended campaign lasting years, it still took much fewer resources than waging a month of war during the American Civil War.

In effect, the Native Americans are guerrilla warriors and terrorists. However, what my personal theory entails is that 4GW can and will take place within the framework of a state-state conflict. The decline of the state's power and influence does not change the fact two states can wage war. That said, how long would a state vs. state conflict of a conventional nature last in the 4th Generation?

In other words, using the scenario that I have laid out, a U.S.-Iran War that encompasses the entire Middle East and features Russian intervention at some point, would this be a short, but very painful war? Or will it become protracted, much like the way it was in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and now in Iraq? Does the insurgency, terrorists, and paramilitaries have the ability to protract the war? How long would the U.S. last? Is four years even a remote possibility? As you think about this, please consider the following:

- World War I and II lasted four years each, and the Iran-Iraq War lasted eight years. That is a long time and may sound like a protracted war, but remember that protracted war is a result of a mismatch or low-quality in forces arrayed against each other. The industrial capacity of countries of that timespan were what allowed them to sustain such a high-intensity, violent conventional war for so long. By the end of each war, all countries involved were pretty much at or past their breaking point.
- The globalized and service-oriented nature of today's world economy means that developed, Western countries significantly lack the industrial capability they once had during the world wars. In addition, many of these countries are far too dependent on other countries that a war may simply make a nation's industrial might insignificant. This significantly hampers these countries' abilities to wage total war or to sustain any significant war effort in a high-intensity conflict.
- The present-day political climate is highly resistant towards any kind of command of the economy or marshalling of resources, even in a time of war. The lack of a threat of instant annihilation changes everything.

Protracted war is something I will emphasize at a later point.

posted on Nov, 27 2007 @ 08:18 PM
When it comes to the American Indians and other native peoples when you factor in the effects that alcohol and diseases that they had no immunity to it is like white man had used slow reacting chemical weapons.

I don't really give much thought to Iran scenarios but I think that if Russia got involved in an US - Iran it would be proxy like Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in the Iraq war. Other then the global nature of the War on Terror that is where the comparisons to the other two world wars end. During WW2 the axis were unable replace there loses or control access to natural resources hence they lost the war. We cant defeat Islamic extremists by out producing them.

I was going to the leave the Free Market for another thread but since it fits into the topic ......

The free market can be applied to the US defence sector in the sense that there needs to be more completive market place which would lead to better and cheaper end products. But because the consumers ie US military personal are unable to influence the market by buying there own weapons e.t.c a large amount of discretion is required from military and civilian leaders. Of course this leads to the abuse we see today.

If we really wanted we could go back to a full blown war time economy's in fact I would like to see the War on Terror fought this way but it wont ever happen. Aside from the fact that most of the war time supplies would come with a made in China sticker as we have already seen at the first sign of a real war not a Hollywood film or Gulf War One style conflict the do gooders run for the hills and call for the end of the war.

posted on Nov, 27 2007 @ 10:33 PM
reply to post by xpert11

So how long do you believe would the U.S. last in a 4GW conventional conflict, guerrillas and terrorists included, before it is spent?

One thing the U.S. military has shown (at least in recent wars) is that it has been a logistics disaster. Even in the Gulf War, the U.S. forces would have suffered from a cataclysmic shortage of spare parts and ammunition had the war gone on any longer than it did. This would've been the case despite still having the massive Cold War-military we had. Its no surprise that in the proceeding wars, the logistics disaster set in earlier and earlier in each war.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that even a total war strategy and a full war economy in the post-modern age would not be enough. The lack of industrial capacity and the difficulty in marshalling manpower would mean we would not be able to keep up with the demand for long.

I see one of two things happening. Either we elect a liberal Democrat like Hillary Clinton, who will maintain status quo, or we will elect a right-wing populist like Mike Huckabee and possibly have a massive build-up of ammunition and war materiel, sort of like what Hitler did (this is what I think they would do). Of course, the latter would probably have to be preceeded by an economic crisis.

On a sidenote, what makes the War on Terror different from the Cold War is that the former seems like a pure grudge match. I'm not sure what psychological forces were at work during the Cold War, but it sure seems so much easier to hold a grudge against the Islamic extremists, even though they can't annihilate us like the Communists could. Interesting. Perhaps it is because terror is a concept and driving the concept is a culture and ideology. Its easier to hate ideas than something "real."

[edit on 27-11-2007 by sweatmonicaIdo]

posted on Nov, 28 2007 @ 12:50 AM
Well if the US fought a war with Iran like the one you describe under present circumstances we would see the US military break under the strain. As for the logistics problems that may or have a rised if the problem didn't during the Cold War then the answer must be to rebuild the US military to Cold War levels.

Lack of of industrial capacity would be a problem should we ever become involved in another total war and Chinese imports wont be an option if the US and/or its allies are fighting a war against China. Manpower wise there would be a shortage of workers on the home front that's if the factory's are rebuild. But I don't think that the US and its allies will ever will ever fight another total war again. China might do thou because the Chinese people will do as the state tells them to.

Any build up in war material should be done to meet the needs of the war effort like was done in WW2 rather then just to meet the US and other countries economic needs. Make no mistake if we let them Islamic extremists will annihilate our demcratic way of life if we let them.

[edit on 28-11-2007 by xpert11]

posted on Nov, 28 2007 @ 03:07 PM
reply to post by xpert11

Well, as I did demonstrate, there was nearly a logistical disaster in the Gulf War, despite still retaining most of the Cold War-era military. Today, our logistics situation is even worse.

I think we have established that today's trade situation is far more volatile than it was in the industrial age. The U.S. and perhaps most of the West will be unable to acquire necessary goods and services like we were able to in World War I and World War II.

Now, on protracted war. Every self-respecting human being knows that if the defending force can protract a particular (not necessarily a war of attrition), the chances of that side winning are maximized significantly. Our leaders say that the U.S. is in a war that will last generations and the current prognosis is showing that we do not have the willpower or the desire to be involved in such a war. My question to you, despite this poor showing early on, could we in fact last in the Long War? I know the answer sounds like no, but I would like all invovled (which is just you and me) to really give this some thought. Could we, not just the America, but the entire Western world, actually end up being able to endure the Long War?

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