Thursday, February 24, 2005

Generations vs. Generation

The concept of 4th Generation Warfare has been getting a lot of press and discussion of late. Originally presented in an article in the Marine Corps Gazette in October 1989 by William S. Lind, Colonel Keith Nightengale (USA), Captain John F. Schmitt (USMC), Colonel Joseph W. Sutton (USA), and Lieutenant Colonel Gary I. Wilson (USMCR), the authors postulated that asymmetric strategies constituted a 4th Generation of of modern warfare. (To paraphrase: The First Generation was mass armies, the Second Generation was attition warfare, and the Third Generation was so-called manuever warfare.) Colonel Thomas X. Hammes has recently updated the concept with the publication of his book The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century. (You can also read his thoughts on the matter here.)
While I don't have a lot to argue with the concepts that make up portions of 4GW, I am skeptical of the 1GW, 2GW, 3GW, 4GW typology. Guerrilla warfare and other asymmetric strategies have been with us for a long, long time. See Asprey. In any event, I think that Dr. (and also retired Army Lieutenant Colonel) Antulio Echevarria has an excellent opinion piece up at the Army's Strategic Studies Institute site where he outlines his objections with the 4GW concept. Read it.
Quasi-NS Also, I highly recommend Colin S. Gray's latest article “How Has War Changed Since the End of the Cold War?” in Parameters.


Blogger J. said...

Good post with great links. I think the Echevarria article is a bit harsh on the 4GW concept; he seems to be focusing on absolutes rather than on recognizable trends. For him to say that the 4GW advocates say there is no firepower in 3GW is overstating the case, rather it is that maneuver became equally or more important (whereas in 2GW, firepower dominated and manuever was lesser). Gray's article in Parameters was more constructive I think in making the case that insurgency conflict is not new.

I think, while the 4GW advocates may preach loudly, they aren't saying that traditional fire and manuever warfare is dead, just that there seems to be a greater increase in insurgency/non-state combat operations for which traditional combat units are not well designed. I mean, for the US Army to operate HMMWVs on the front lines and to have no "safe havens" to relax over in Iraq seems to stress that this is not your dad's battlefield.

While there will always be a Syria or China or Russia that may emerge to challenge US/UK interests, should we not recognize that there needs to be a new style of resolving combat for transnational/ insurgent combat? I'm just saying there is room for both, and the challenge is that (usually) military units adapt to only one general form of combat. If we stick to 3GW mode only, it will cost more in terms of manpower, equipment, time, and money to resolve nonstate conflicts than if we identify a more flexible and better fitting concept.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Anthony said...

$%£&!!! Gray is working on the strategic utility of SOF now. I'd kinda got some variation on "Special Operations Forces: A Strategic History" in mind for a future project, possibly including my dissertation. Clearly that's now not going to be a major option. Not that I'm any stranger to producing second rate rehashes of other people's theories...

11:59 AM  
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10:39 PM  
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