The concept was first described by the authors William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (US Army), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (US Army), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR) in a 1989 Marine Corps Gazette article entitled “The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation”. In 2006, the concept was expanded upon by USMC Colonel Thomas X. Hammes (Ret.) in his well-received book, The Sling and The Stone.
The generations of warfare described by these authors are:
- 1st Generation: tactics of line and column; which developed in the age of the smoothbore musket. Lind describes First Generation of warfare as beginning after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 ending the Thirty Years' War and establishing the state’s need to organize and conduct war. 1GW consisted of tightly ordered soldiers with top-down discipline. These troops would fight in close order and advance slowly. This began to change as the battlefield changed. Old line and column tactics were now suicidal as the bow and arrow/sword morphed into the rifle and machine gun.
- 2nd Generation: tactics of linear fire and movement, with reliance on indirect fire. This type of warfare can be seen in the early stages of WWI where there was still strict adherence to drill and discipline of formation and uniform. However, there remained a dependence on artillery and firepower to break the stalemate and move towards a pitched battle.
- 3rd Generation: tactics of infiltration to bypass and collapse the enemy's combat forces rather than seeking to close with and destroy them; and defence in depth. The 3GW military seeks to bypass the enemy, and attack his rear forward, such as the tactics used by German Storm Troopers in WWI against the British and French in order to break the trench warfare stalemate (Lind 2004). These aspects of 3GW bleed into 4GW as it is also warfare of speed and initiative. However, it targets both military forces and home populations.
The use of fourth generation warfare can be traced to the Cold War period, as superpowers and major powers attempted to retain their grip on colonies and captured territories. Unable to withstand direct combat against bombers, tanks, and machine guns, non-state entities used tactics of education/propaganda, movement-building, secrecy, terror, and/or confusion to overcome the technological gap.
Fourth generation warfare has often involved an insurgent group or other violent non-state actor trying to implement their own government or reestablish an old government over the current ruling power. However, a fourth generation war is most successful (from the underdog's viewpoint) when the non-state entity does not attempt, at least in the short term, to impose its own rule, but tries simply to disorganize and delegitimize the state in which the warfare takes place.
The aim is to force the state adversary to expend manpower and money in an attempt to establish order, ideally in such a highhanded way that it merely increases disorder, until the state surrenders or withdraws.
Fourth generation warfare is often seen in conflicts involving failed states and civil wars, particularly in conflicts involving non-state actors, intractable ethnic or religious issues, or gross conventional military disparities. Many of these conflicts occur in the geographic area described by author Thomas P.M. Barnett as the Non-Integrating Gap, fought by countries from the globalised Functioning Core.
4GW has much in common with traditional low-intensity conflict in its classical forms of insurgency and guerrilla war. As in those small wars, the conflict is initiated by the “weaker” party through actions which can be termed “offensive.” The difference lies in the manner in which 4GW opponents adapt those traditional concepts to present day conditions. These conditions are shaped by technology, globalization, religious fundamentalism and a shift in moral and ethical norms which brings legitimacy to certain issues previously considered restrictions on the conduct of war. This amalgamation and metamorphosis produces novel ways of war for both the entity on the offensive and that on the defensive.
Read more about this topic: Fourth Generation Warfare
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