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War in a Fourth Generation World

Neither Shall the Sword

by WILLIAM S. LIND

Chet Richards is the spider of the d-n-i.net web site, which is the best source for material on Fourth Generation war. He is also the only person authorized to give Col. John Boyd’s famous "Patterns of Conflict" briefing. Given that background, it is not surprising that he has produced a useful and important discussion of Fourth Generation strategy, in the form of a short book titled Neither Shall the Sword. If Washington were interested in strategy, which it is not (its only genuine interest is in court politics), it would give this small volume large attention.

The book begins by asking whether Third Generation maneuver warfare is passé. As the Urvater of maneuver warfare theory in this country, I must agree with Richards that it is. As glorious as the Blitzkrieg was, it now belongs to history; wars between state armed forces, while they may now and then still occur, will be jousting contests more than real wars. The institutional culture of Third Generation armed services, with its outward focus, decentralization, initiative and self-discipline, remains vital to any fighting organization. But unless they are relieving an inside-out Islamic siege of Brussels, Panzer divisions will no longer be streaming through the Ardennes.

Rightly, Richards recognizes that the challenge of the present and the foreseeable future is Fourth Generation war. America’s most pressing need is for a grand strategy suitable to a Fourth Generation world. In Neither Shall the Sword, Richards examines and compares the suggestions of five strategists: myself, in my cover story "Strategic Defense Initiative" in the November 22, 2004 issue of The American Conservative; Martin van Creveld and his book The Transformation of War; Tom Hammes, The Sling and the Stone; Michael Scheuer, Imperial Hubris; and Thomas Barnett in The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action.

Richards groups these five positions in two major camps, containment and rollback, terms which go back to the early days of the Cold War. Van Creveld and I represent containment, which I can accept; Barnett represents rollback (on steroids); and Hammes and Scheuer are somewhere in the middle. Richards’s comparison and analysis of all these positions is thorough and insightful. For those who suspect I may be tooting my own horn here, let me note that he does not end up where I do.

Beyond this comparison, Richards makes additional valuable points. One is that the Bush administration has fundamentally miscast the nature of the conflict we now face. He argues that war is terrorism, so a "war on terrorism" is a war on war. We are not in a war on "terrorism" or engaged in a "struggle against violent extremism."

Instead, we are faced with an evolutionary development in armed conflict, a "fourth generation" of warfare that is different from and much more serious than "terrorism"to see the difference between 4GW and "terrorism," run this simple thought experiment: suppose bin Laden and al-Qaida were able to enforce their program on the Middle East, but they succeeded without the deliberate killing of one more American civilian. The entire Middle East turns hostile, Israel is destroyed, and gas goes up to $15 per gallon when it is available. Bin Laden’s 4GW campaign succeeds, but without terrorism. Do you feel better?

This applies to situations like Iraq and Afghanistan:

It’s not a war followed by a blown peace. That is conventional war thinking, even if the war is waged and quickly won by 3GW. Instead, it will be an occupation against some degree of resistance, followed by the real, fourth generation war.

Much of Neither Shall the Sword is devoted to considering what kinds of armed forces the U.S. would require for 4GW, which varies depending on the grand strategy we adopt. He recognizes that the current Department of Defense, and the bulk of our forces, are untransformable.

Practitioners of real transformation agree that in such circumstances it is better not to transform but to start overThe sooner these fossils are put to rest, the sooner new enterprises can rise to create innovative business models for satisfying customer desires.

Here is where Richards and I part company. DOD is, as he recognizes, Gosplan. But his alternative, at least for a rollback force, includes privatizing the fighting function. The problem with this is that as the state privatizes security functions, for foreign wars or here at home, it strikes at its own reason for being and thus accelerates its crisis of legitimacy, which lies at the heart of 4GW. Once security is privatized, why have a state at all?

Conveniently, private armies have a long history of overthrowing states. There is good reason why the rising state of the 17th century abolished private armies and forcefully asserted a monopoly on violence.

Even here, Neither Shall the Sword promotes creative thinking on the most important military question of our time: how can states come to grips with Fourth Generation war?

Copies are available from the Center for Defense Information in Washington, D.C. (www.cdi.org). You might want to send one to your Senator or Congressman. If you enclose a check for at least $1000, they might even pay some attention to it.

WILLIAM S. LIND, expressing his own personal opinion, is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation.