Sunday, December 11, 2005

4th Generation Warfare and Netwar: The Basics

Currently I am reading on 4th generation warfare (4GW) and netwar. As a US service-member serving in the 21st Century much of my career has been spent fighting 4th Generation adversaries: drug cartels in Latin America, terrorists and insurgents in the Middle East. Naturally, I am interested in finding out more about these opponents. Thankfully, there's quite a bit of literature on the subject. The most clear and concise explanation on the subject of 4th generation warfare can be found in Global Guerrillas. John Robb provides details on the subject in a no-nonsense format similar to a military briefing. This is Mr. Robb's definition of 4GW:

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).

Another excellent effort to clarify the concept of 4GW comes from retired Marine Colonel Thomas X. Hammes in his book The Sling and the Stone. According to Col Hammes 4GW "uses all available networks - political, economic, social, and military" to achieve its goals. According to Hammes (and anybody in the military knows this is true) we are far better equipped, trained, and - more importantly - psychologically prepared to fight a "short, intense war", like Desert Storm or the "major combat" portion of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Another concept used to describe this multifaceted type of conflict is netwar, described in detail by John Arquilla and David F. Ronfeldt in the RAND publication The Advent of Netwar. This is their definition of netwar:

The term refers to societal conflict and crime, short of war, in which the antagonists are organized more as sprawling "leaderless" networks than as tight-knit hierarchies.

According to Arquilla and Ronfeldt, netwar blurs the line between peace and war, offense and defense. However you want to call it, 4GW or netwar, this kind of war extends beyond the military realm and goes deep into the political, economic and social realms. To use Thomas P.M. Barnett's phrase is a war that occurs within the context of everything else.

Both Global Guerrillas and The Sling and The Stone pointed me in the direction of an excellent article on the subject of 4GW/netwar titled The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation. The article, co-written by William Lind (and published in the Oct 1989 Marine Corps Gazette), is a no-nonsense mini-handbook for understanding modern war. Mr. Lind and his co-authors outline the challenges of preparing for the next war in a 4GW environment.

A great resource full of articles on 4GW is the Defense and the National Interest web site. The article titled "Fourth Generation Warfare" maintains that in our current circumstance we seem to be going back to war being waged by both state and non-state actors with state vs. state war being the exception rather than the norm.

Whether 4GW is truly new or an old form of warfare with a new garment, the fact of the matter is that we are currently still struggling to define the concepts and strategies that will help us fight this type of war. Our leaders are still struggling over how to call the combatants who wage 4GW:

"Over the weekend, I thought to myself, 'You know, (in reference to the Iraqi insurgency) that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit,'" Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, said of his ban on the I-word.

"It was an epiphany," he added, throwing his hands in the air. Encouraging reporters to consult their dictionaries, the defense secretary said: "These people aren't trying to promote something other than disorder, and to take over that country and turn it into a caliphate and then spread it around the world. This is a group of people who don't merit the word 'insurgency,' I think."

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, standing at Rumsfeld's side, evidently didn't get the memo about the wording change. Describing combat in Iraq, he paused and said, "I have to use the word 'insurgent' because I can't think of a better word right now."

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