4th Generation Warfare

4th generation warfare has been thrown around among military thinkers for 30 years. There are as many definitions as there are people who try to define it. Language used somehow is very interesting, since it describes something organized stalking victims struggle to describe, but from the academic point of view. I know he is talking about other states, but wikipedia definition is also revealing: The simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent non-state actor. Fourth generation warfare is defined as conflicts which involve the following elements:

  • Are complex and long term
  • Terrorism (tactic)
  • A non-national or transnational base—highly decentralized
  • A direct attack on the enemy’s culture
  • Highly sophisticated psychological warfare, especially through media manipulation and lawfare
  • All available pressures are used – political, economic, social and military
  • Occurs in low intensity conflict, involving actors from all networks
  • Non-combatants are tactical dilemmas
  • Lack of hierarchy
  • Small in size, spread out network of communication and financial support
  • Use of Insurgency and guerrilla tactics

This is from Indian Military Academy Journal (local copy) (2010):
The fourth generation warfare will be highly dispersed in nature. The battlefield would expand to include the enemy’s whole society. The battlefield itself would be difficult to define or delineate. Expansion of battlefield from land to sea to air, will now go into the realms of ideologies, culture and values of the target society. Psychological manipulation will assume primacy. The lines dividing the combatants and civilians will get further blurred. In fact the combatants would not be the traditional soldiers. They may well be civilians with specific areas of expertise which will extend beyond conventional military matters. These would be applied for comprehensive disruption, degradation and destruction of enemy society. Nations are defined not only by their geographic boundaries, but because of their culture, traditions and ideological cohesiveness. The quest to target the vulnerabilities of the adversary will prompt the warriors of the next generation of warfare to destroy the very fundamentals of enemy’s nationality. The target would be its society, unity, national spirit and identity. The ultimate goal would be to create such conditions that the adversary’s society will cease to exist as a coherent entity. All the rules and norms of traditional war fighting will disappear, to the extent that it may be difficult to call it war. Consequently the intelligentsia will be forced to coin new terms to define such acts. Since the basic characteristic of this generation of warfare is its lack of form or boundaries, such definitions and terms will appear confusing, imprecise and inaccurate.
Terrorism, militancy, insurgency, asymmetric warfare and a large number of other terms, with overlapping scopes, will come into being. Delegation of executive powers will lead to operations being undertaken by small teams or individuals operating alone, making identification and targeting difficult. Fourth generation warfare will be fought in multiple strata, in different forms and methods, seemingly without a robust command and control architecture. It will also use tactics and techniques from earlier generations of warfare. The indefinable nature of battlefield, highly dispersed, specialized teams/ individuals and defiance of all norms will lead to ostensible chaos. As the stress of earlier warfare has shifted from manpower to fire power to maneuver, it will now further shift to this “apparent chaos”. This will be the strength of the fourth generation warrior, since it will make it difficult to identify its centre of gravity and target it. The “quest for profit” will drive the proponents of fourth generation warfare also. The goals would be money, territory, power or could go beyond to amalgamation of entire societies into own cultural / religious folds or its destruction to eliminate a perceived threat to own existence. International aversion to war, economic concerns and huge losses of lives will make the prospects of waging war more and more impractical to states. Intelligent methods of war fighting like war by proxy and by stateless actors will replace wars waged by nation states. The fourth generation warfare will use technology as a tool to wage an efficient and effective war with a wide reach, while exploiting the technological dependence of the target society to create mayhem. Having analysed the drivers and likely contours of the fourth generation warfare, certain basic questions need to be answered to further clarify fourth generation warfare.

It’s hard to understand what it is and if he is describing threats, adversary or process. As far as I can understand military role in globalized world should become less and less significant. It becomes harder and harder for military to justify it’s self-existence. So it’s really interesting how the new threat will be defined and how popular support will be achieved. What will be new boogeyman?


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