Characteristics of Fourth Generation Warfare
Fourth generation warfare is normally characterized by a violent non-state actor (VNSA) fighting a state. This fighting can be physically done, such as by modern examples Hezbollah or the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In this realm the VNSA uses all three levels of fourth generation warfare. These are the physical (actual combat; it is considered the least important), mental (the will to fight, belief in victory, etc.) and moral (the most important, this includes cultural norms, etc.) levels.
A 4GW enemy has the following characteristics: lacks hierarchal authority, lack of formal structure, patience and flexibility, ability to keep a low profile when needed, and small size. A 4GW adversary might use the tactics of an insurgent, terrorist, or guerrilla in order to wage war against a nation's infastructure. Fourth generation warfare takes place on all fronts: economical, political, the media, military, and civilian.
Resistance can also be below the physical level of violence. This is via non-violent means, such as Gandhi’s opposition to the British Empireor Martin Luther King’s marches. Both desired their factions to deescalate the conflict while the state escalates against them, the objective being to target the opponent on the moral and mental levels rather than the physical level. The state is then seen as a bully and loses support.
Another characteristic of fourth generation warfare is that as with third generation warfare, the VNSA’s forces are decentralized. With fourth generation warfare there may even be no single organisation and that smaller groups organize into impromptu alliances to target a bigger threat (that being the state armed forces or another faction). As a result these alliances are weak and if the state’s military leadership is smart enough they can split their enemy and cause them to fight amongst themselves.
Fourth generation warfare goals:
- To convince the enemy’s political decision makers that their goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit
Yet another factor is that political centers of gravity have changed. These centers of gravity may revolve around nationalism, religion, or family or clan honor.
Disaggregated forces, such as guerrillas, terrorists and rioters, lacking a center of gravity, deny to their enemies a focal point at which to deliver a conflict ending blow. As a result strategy becomes more problematic while combating a VNSA.
It has been theorized that a state vs. state conflict in fourth generation warfare would involve the use of computer hackers and international law to obtain the weaker side’s objectives, the logic being that the civilians of the stronger state would lose the will to fight as a result of seeing their state engage in alleged atrocities and having their own bank accounts harmed.
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