4GW (fourth generation wafare) is the term used by military thinkers to describe conflict at the end of the 20th century. In general, 4GW is an extremely effective method of warfare that the US and its allies will find very difficult to defeat (a slow burn, rather than complete eradication, may be the best possible outcome). I have outlined the basics of 4GW warfare below to enhance your understanding of the term.
4GW can be defined as a method of warfare that uses the following to achieve a moral victory:
- Undermines enemy strengths (this may seem obvious, but most of modern warfare has involved direct attacks on enemy strengths -- find the enemy army and destroy it).
- Exploits enemy weaknesses.
- Uses asymmetric operations (weapons and techniques that differ substantially from opponents).
The rise of 4GW is both a product and a driver of the following:
- The loss of the nation-state's monopoly on violence.
- The rise of cultural, ethnic, and religious conflict.
- Globalization (via technological integration).
4GW is fought on the tactical level via:
- Rear area operations -- 4GW warriors do not confront a nation-state's military but rather it society.
- Psychological operations -- terror.
- Ad-hoc innovation -- use of the enemy's strengths against itself.
Generations of Warfare
The generational development of warfare can be outlined as:
- First generation -- wars of Napoleon, conscription and firearms (the decline of mercenaries).
- Second generation -- the US civil war and WW1, firepower and nation-state alignment of resources to warfare.
- Third generation -- WW2, maneuver and armored warfare.
- Fourth generation -- ad hoc warriors and moral conflict.
Many of the methods used in 4GW aren't new and have robust historical precedent. However, there are important differences in how it is applied today. These include:
- Global -- modern technologies and economic integration enable global operations.
- Pervasive -- the decline of nation-state warfare has forced all open conflict into the 4GW mold.
- Granularity -- extremely small viable groups and variety of reasons for conflict.
- Vulerability -- open societies and economies.
- Technology -- new technologies have dramatically increased the productivity of small groups of 4GW warriors.
- Media -- global media saturation makes possible an incredible level of manipulation.
- Networked -- new organizational types made possible by improvements in technology are much better at learning, surviving, and acting.
Winning a 4GW conflict
Victory in 4GW warfare is won in the moral sphere. The aim of 4GW is to destroy the moral bonds that allows the organic whole to exist -- cohesion. This is done by reinforcing the following (according to Boyd):
- Menace. Attacks that undermine or threaten basic human survival instincts.
- Mistrust. Increases divisions between groups (ie. conservatives and liberals in the US).
- Uncertainty. Undermine economic activity by decreasing confidence in the future.