Forward Observer: This Is a Fourth Generation War

Intelligence analyst Sam Culper of Forward Observer writes This Is a Fourth Generation War.

Earlier this year, I did a re-read of Bill Lind’s 4th Generation Warfare Handbook (4GW) to better understand the framework of our ongoing Low Intensity Conflict.

For those who are new to the term, Low Intensity Conflict is war below the threshold of conventional war (tanks and bombers) but above routine, peaceful competition. America is not at conventional war, but it’s certainty not at peace with itself. This is the gray area of Low Intensity Conflict.

As history shows, technology and human understanding of warfare evolves, so war itself evolves. Not everyone agrees with the “generational” description of warfare, but let’s look quickly at the framework.

According to the theory, Generations 1-3 of warfare focused on the development of conventional warfighting, generally understood as:

1GW: masses of troops meeting on the battlefield in somewhat orderly warfare, such as lines and columns; to

2GW: the inclusion of centralized indirect fire and war by attrition; to

3GW: the inclusion of combined arms (land, air, and sea) and maneuver doctrine.

But something interesting happened in the Fourth Generation: the nation-state lost its monopoly on violence.

War is less and less being fought among conventional militaries and nation-states, and it’s increasingly fought by tribal entities, where both armed and unarmed combatants wage war against an enemy. (Many make the case that this is the original form of warfare, or 0GW, and they’re not wrong.)

Yet, as Lind describes, “All over the world, citizens of states are transferring their primary allegiance away from the state to other entities: to tribes, ethnic groups, religions, gangs, ideologies, and ’causes.’” In 4GW, fighting for one’s “nation” increasingly means fighting for your social tribe, instead of fighting for one’s country.

We’re seeing this right now as the American identity is being redefined and the country becomes more tribal. Small groups, most often based on ideology or race, are trying to reform or replace state power, authority, and legitimacy to benefit their own self-interests. This is the battle between New America and Old America, where “American” is becoming, for many, a secondary or tertiary identity, often behind race and/or ideology.

In 4GW, the military and nation-state has clearly lost the monopoly on warfighting, as 4GW is fought primarily on the Mental (informational) and Moral planes of conflict. The Culture War being fought right now in classrooms, corporations, and media outlets is a great indicator of 4GW, as information operations and high-horse moral pleas have become warfighting techniques to win on the Mental and Moral levels of conflict. (Notice, for instance, the rhetoric re-defining “fundamental American values”.)

Lind makes the case that killing is rarely the preferred way to win a Fourth Generation War, and that winning the Mental and Moral conflict almost always dictates the outcome of the war. In a way, to win in 4GW, you don’t necessarily need to kill your opponent; you need to reshape the information environment and shift the perception of morality so that your opponent (and/or his ideology) becomes unpopular and immoral. Once unpopular and immoral by societal standards, political and social power dries up. At least in theory, that’s how you win at 4GW.

I’ve previously described how 4GW is being fought through community organizing, institution destruction, counter-institution building, economic dislocation, corporate activism, propaganda, terraforming the electorate, and several other ways.

If you’re like me, then you’re pretty far removed from the political and media power centers in D.C. and New York, where much of 4GW originates. But that’s doesn’t mean that 4GW is not being fought in your own area.

My challenge to you is to look locally for ways in which 4GW is being fought.

Are there community organizing efforts in your area to build competing social movements?

Are there subversive political groups trying to destroy local political, cultural, or religious institutions?

Are there subversive political groups trying to build institutions to counter your own political, cultural, or religious institutions?

Is there economic dislocation (targeting income or financial health) against political or cultural opponents?

Are companies or corporations engaging in the cultural and/or political fight?

Are there attempts to expand voting rights to non-citizens, or to shame those who oppose non-citizen voting?

There are a great many more ways that 4GW is being waged, and if we’re completely focused on the national level, then we’re likely to miss 4GW action in our own communities.

Until next time, be well and stay out front.