4th Generation Warfare Handbook

Regular readers of this blog may wonder why I’m reviewing this book. After all, didn’t I say I wasn’t going to review non-fiction books anymore unless they were on certain topics? So, why am I writing a review of a what is a handbook intended for professional military officers?

All will become clear with the post after this one.

Review: 4th Generation Warfare Handbook, William S. Lind and Lt. Col. Gregory A. Thiele, USMC, 2015.

In one sense, Fourth Generation Warfare is not something new. It’s a return to how warfare used to be fought before the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. It is not war between nation states but between “clans, tribes, ethnic groups, cultures, religions and gangs”. But it is fought in a modern context with electronic distribution of propaganda being important.

First Generation Warfare existed from the Peace of Westphalia through the American Civil War. The armies that fight it salute, have uniforms, drill, and have clear distinctions of rank. It’s organized war between nations.

Second Generation Wafare came out of World War One. Battles are planned methodically and coordinated from a central command. It believes there is a solution to every military problem. Artillery is emphasized, and it is a war of attrition and firepower. It was developed by the French. The authors don’t specifically say this, but I suspect they were thinking of the French counteroffensive at Verdun or the war’s Last Hundred Days.

Third Generation Warfare came out of the same war and was developed by Germany in its stormtrooper tactics, particularly as used in the Kaiserschlacht of 1918. It is maneuver warfare with soldiers being aware of strategic objectives and being able to practice on the spot initiative to achieve them. This means they can cycle through the famed OODA (observe-orient-decide-act) decision loop faster than opponents who have to relay observations to a central command and wait for orders before reacting. The German Blitzkrieg of the Second World War was simply the same principle mechanized. (In both wars, I’d argue, from my state of relative ignorance vis a vis the authors, logistical concerns doomed German offensives as well as political interference in the case of Germany’s invasion of the USSR.)

The American military, the authors intended audience, has never really moved beyond Second Generation warfare.

The authors also emphasize the three levels of Fourth Generation Warfare as formulated by Colonel John Boyd (who also came up with the OODA loop): moral, mental, and physical. And that is the order of their importance. By moral, the authors don’t seem to mean some objective morality, just what seems unjust or immoral to an opponent, what determines their will to fight. For instance, a suicide bomber is motivated at the moral level and has, obviously, no regard for their mental or physical state.

These three levels of war overlay the three classical levels of war: strategic, operational, and tactical. Each mission, therefore, needs to be considered in how it affects the conflict in nine different factors.

The authors, throughout the book, briefly use world examples of failed US interventions as well as scenarios involving such fake countries as Inshallahland. It’s fairly obvious that the authors aren’t real keen on America’s recent military adventures, but, again, this is a book for serving officers, so they don’t quite come out and say that.

So how is Fourth Generation war fought?

There are two models.

One is the model of what Syria did to end a rebellion in Hama. The authors don’t spend a lot of time on this. They regard it as unlikely that American forces intervening in another country would be allowed to use that option of swift brutality however effective.

So, theirs is a model of de-escalation. They emphasize that it is fatal to seek some course between Hama and de-escalation.

The authors list several principles of de-escalation. “Less Is More” emphasizes that occupying foreign countries is a loser on war’s moral level. “Preserve the Enemy State” recognizes that a foreign government and bureaucracy need to survive defeat. Otherwise rebuilding and stability falls on the occupying forces. “Integrate with the Local Population” means occupying soldiers should embed themselves in a neighborhood for intelligence reasons and to be thought, eventually, to be the neighborhood’s “bobby”. Preferably, these forces should be unarmed when possible. Occupying forces should have interpreters, preferably locals, for the area’s languages and bilingual flash cards to communicate with the citizens of the occupied area. Occupying forces should operate on the local code of honor. This helps maintain moral superiority.

Since politics is war and war politics, cash should be used to buy off locals. The Mafia’s principle of “everybody gets a cut” is also a way of neutralizing local opposition.

Fourth Generation warfare also means out-guerillaing local guerillas, and the key to that, the authors emphasize, is light infantry.

In fact, most of the book is taken up with what these light infantry units should and shouldn’t do. (There’s even an appendix with a detailed twenty-week training schedule for a light infantry unit.) When the authors say light, they literally mean light. Soldier’s packs should be no more than 40 pounds. The key physical trait of a light infantryman is endurance, not strength. Electronic navigation aids are not to be used. Soldiers become reliant on them, and batteries add weight. Light infantry companies should be skilled in fieldcraft and hunting to live off the land on extended missions which allow ambush and observation of local guerillas. Other requirements for a light infantryman are discussed too. 

The authors also include sections on intelligence and press relations in Fourth Generation warfare.

One of the book’s appendixes is a reading list for the “4GW Canon”. If you want to get an idea of the book without buying it, you can find a version of it at William Lind’s web page.

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