In 1989, as the Berlin wall was being torn down, Bill Lind (with Nightengale, Schmitt, Sutton, and Wilson) wrote "The Changing Face War: Into the Fourth Generation" for the Marine Corps Gazette. This seminal article made the case that while large scale interstate warfare was going the way of the dodo, low intensity guerrilla warfare and terrorism would thrive in its stead. They were right.To make their point, Lind and his collaborators divided warfare over the last two centuries into four generations, where each previous generation was defeated by a successive generation of warfare. While, the first three generations deal with interstate warfare (although I make the point in my upcoming book "Brave New War" that the real fourth generation, missing from the framework, is nuclear warfare -- extreme mobility via ICBMs and SLBMs with extreme firepower via nukes), Lind's Fourth generation was between states and non-states. On the surface, many of the elements described as core to the fourth generation are not new and reflect guerrilla wars we have seen in the past:
- The emphasis on extreme dispersion.
- Decentralized logistics. An ability to live off of the land.
- Psychological warfare aimed collapsing the moral cohesion of the enemy (internal collapse).
- Extreme emphasis on maneuver at the expense of firepower.
Lind: Whoever is first to recognize, understand, and implement a generational change can gain a decisive advantage. Conversely, a nation that is slow to adapt to generational change opens itself to catastrophic defeat.Things would be bad enough with just fourth generation opponents but as the research on global guerrillas has borne out, a new more dangerous generation is forming: potentially a 5th generation of warfare. Much of this new generation was derived and accelerated in cauldron of Iraq, just as the basis for 3rd generation of warfare was proved out in the Spanish Civil war. What we see is jarring:
- Open source warfare. An ability to decentralize beyond the limits of a single group (way beyond cell structures) using new development and coordination methodologies. This new structure doesn't only radically expand the number of potential participants, it shrinks the group size well below any normal measures of viability. This organizational structure creates a dynamic whereby new entrants can appear anywhere. In London, Madrid, Berlin, and New York.
- Systems disruption. A method of sabotage that goes beyond the simple destruction of physical infrastructure. This method of warfare, which can burst onto the scene as a black swan, uses network dynamics (a new form of leveraged maneuver) to undermine and reorder global systems. It is through this Schumpeterian "creative destruction" that new environments favorable to opposition forces are built (often due to a descent into primary loyalties and pressure from global markets).
- Virtual states (ala Philip Bobbitt). Unlike the guerrilla movements of the past, many of the 4GW forces we are fighting today have found a way to integrate their activities with global "crime." No longer are guerrilla movements or terrorists aimed at taking control of the reigns of the state or merely proxies for states. A new form of economic sustenance has been found. This black globalization is already vast (a GDP of trillions per year), and gains momentum through weakening and disruption of states. This military/economic integration creates a virtuous feedback loop that allows groups to gain greater degrees of independence and financial wealth through the warfare they conduct.
NOTE: Whether you call these developments 4GW on steroids or the start of a 5th generation, it just doesn't matter. Whichever way you cut it, things are developing quickly and in the wrong direction.