4GW is Alive and Well
William S. Lind
Special to Slightly East of New
25 May 2013
So “the world simply didn’t develop along the lines it (4GW) proposed”? How do you say that in Syriac?
The basic error in Chet Richards’ piece of April 19, “Is 4GW dead?” is confusing the external and internal worlds. Internally, in the U.S. military and the larger defense and foreign policy establishment, 4GW is dead, as is maneuver warfare and increasingly any connection to the external world. The foreign policy types can only perceive a world of states, in which their job is to promote the Wilsonian nee Jacobin, follies of “democracy” and “universal human rights.” They are in fact, 4GW’s allies, in that their demand for “democracy” undermines states, opening the door for more 4GW.
In most of the world, democracy is not an option. The only real options are tyranny or anarchy, and when you work against tyranny, you are working for anarchy. The ghost of bin Laden sends his heartfelt thanks.
Third Generation doctrine has been abandoned, de facto, if not de jure, by the one service that embraced it, the U.S. Marine Corps. The others never gave it a glance. The U.S. military remains and will remain second generation until it disappears from sheer irrelevance coupled with high cost. That is coming much sooner than any of them think.
In the external world, meanwhile, fourth generation war is triumphing on almost all fronts. Somalia appears at the moment to be a setback. But elsewhere, the forces of stateless disorder (and there are many, not just AQ) have much to celebrate. The bottom line that defines victory or defeat for both states and non-states forces is one question: Is there a real state? A quick tour d’horizon shows spreading state failure. Libya is now effectively stateless, thanks to the “democracy” crowd in Europe and Washington. Fourth generation war is spreading from Libya into west Africa, where states are already largely fictions, Syria is now stateless. The Iraq created by the American invasion was always a Potemkin state, and 4GW there is growing fast, in part fueled from Syria. Fourth generation war is again kicking NATO’s and the U.S.’s butt in Afghanistan, and entirely predictable outcome of invading the Graveyard of Empires. Far more dangerously, 4GW elements grow ever stronger in Pakistan, where the state is failing. Even in Egypt, which has been at least a proto-state for 5,000 years, the state is shaky.
In many of these cases, including Egypt and Pakistan, the only element strong enough to hold the state together is the army. But the “democracy” crowd in Washington immediately threatens aid cut-offs, sanctions, etc., if the army acts. Again, the children now running America’s foreign policy are 4GW’s best allies.
Fourth generation war includes far more than just Islamic “terrorism,” and we see it gaining strength in areas far from the Middle East. Gangs have grown so powerful in Mexico, right on our border, that I predict the state will soon have to make deals with them, as the PRI has done in the past. Invasion by immigrants who do not acculturate is a powerful form of 4GW, more powerful than any terrorism, and that is occurring on a north-south basis (except Australia) literally around the world. Remember, most of the barbarians did not invade the Roman Empire to destroy it. They just wanted to move in. In fact, most were invited in. Sound familiar?
What should concern us most is precisely the disconnect between the internal and external worlds. Externally, 4GW is flourishing, while internally, in the US government and military, it does not exist. This is the kind of chasm into which empires can disappear.
Two quick additional notes:
1) Hammes’s mis-definition of 4GW as merely insurgency as done a lot of damage because it lets the military and the government off the hook. They say, “Oh, OK, we know about that—nothing new here.” That contributes to their refusal to face the reality that the state itself is in crisis.
2) As usual, Fabius Maximus has it right. I would disagree on only one point, where he says “4GW is a tool to produce political change.” In part, for some 4GW elements, that is true. But 4GW is much broader than that. Many 4GW fighters are fighting for goals that have nothing to do with politics, ranging for impressing the local girls to loot to eternal salvation. Fourth generation warfare marks the end of Clausewitz’s definition of war as politics carried out by other means. In many cases, it is simply “supply-side war,” war driven by the large supply of young men with nothing to do but fight.
If the children now running our foreign policy and the mindless ‘droids who head our armed services are ever replaced by serious adults, you will see two changes. First, our foreign policy will reflect the necessity of creating an alliance of all states against non-state, 4GW elements. Second, our armed services will focus on moving from a culture of second generation to that of the third, i.e., from an inward-focused, centralized culture that prizes obedience over initiative to a culture that focuses outward, decentralizes to the greatest degree possible, and above all, rewards initiative. Absent those two very large changes, the ship of state is going over the falls. My advice: Swim to shore while you still can.
William S. Lind is author of the Maneuver Warfare Handbook and director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation, where he also writes from time to time on national security issues. Many of his earlier articles (before December 2009) are archived at DNIPOGO. The views expressed here are his own.