As regular readers of this series know, I periodically report on the results from the Fourth Generation seminar, a small, informal group of military officers–modeled on Scharnhorst’s Militaerische Gesellschaft–that meets at my house to work on the problem of Fourth Generation warfare and how American forces might fight it. The seminar is moving toward writing its own field manual on Fourth Generation war, along the lines of the excellent manuals on maneuver warfare produced by the Marine Corps when General Al Gray was Commandant. Our most recent meeting was devoted to discussing what such a manual might say.
>From the beginning, the seminar has stressed the practical aspects of fighting 4GW over the theoretical. Theory is of course important, but soldiers and Marines in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan need ideas they can put to use.
However, this meeting of the seminar did focus on theory, for a good reason: theory needs to shape the basic outline of the prospective field manual, the outline into which practices will be fit. In such a project as this, getting the outline right is both the hardest and the most important task. Once that is done well, the book almost writes itself.
The seminar’s thinking immediately took a radical turn: unlike other field manuals, this one needs to start with a grand strategy. The reason is that if, as is not unlikely in this new form of warfare, the civilian policy makers get the grand strategy wrong at the outset, any efforts the military may make are doomed to failure. The seminar did not contest the fact that civilians will set the grand strategy. But as the minutes from the meeting state, the manual should discuss grand strategy in Fourth Generation war:
in such a way as to give its real audience (military officers) a tool they could take to policy makers and influence their decisions. It would also equip the military to survive in a military-political arena with the politicians. They should be able to tell their political bosses that we can’t do A or B for you if C and D are not in line.
Integral to the manual’s discussion of grand strategy must be John Boyd’s concept that war is fought at three levels, the physical, the moral level and the most powerful. In Fourth Generation war, as historically in guerilla warfare, grand strategy must include the moral dimension–indeed, must make it primary. A major challenge to Fourth Generation theory, one that the manual must address, is the conundrum that what works for you at the tactical and physical levels often woks against you at the moral and grand strategic levels. This is one of the lessons from Israel’s war against Fourth Generation Islamic forces in Gaza and the West bank.
To quote again from the minutes of the discussion, especially at the moral and grand strategic levels:
Because of the nature of Fourth Generation war everyone must be in accord and “on the same sheet of music.” This brings us to the central principle of Third Generation war, which is that we must combine decentralized decision-making with a centralized vision that all participants understand…At the moral level, not only must our own forces understand this vision, but it must also be apparent to the enemy. Further, it must be a moral vision from the standpoint of our opponents just as it is for us.
As the seminar noted, the latter is a tough challenge for America when our number one export is garbage culture.
Finally, the seminar revisited its ongoing discussion of two models, the “escalation model” and the “de-escalation model.” It was generally agreed that success in Fourth Generation war comes not from escalation, but from de-escalation. However, the discussion this time led us away from seeing these as opposites to visualizing them as a continuum. In a Fourth Generation war in a place like Afghanistan or Iraq, American forces might simultaneously be de-escalating against some local elements while escalating against others.
The seminar did not by any means finish laying out the theoretical framework for a useful Fourth Generation FMFM, but I think it made some progress. We have delayed the next meeting until late April, in hopes of having some feedback from Marine units recently sent into the Sunni triangle in Iraq. In the meantime, each member of the seminar will work to develop his own outline for the prospective field manual. Contrasting efforts usually yield a better final product than do premature attempts to reach a consensus (that’s another of John Boyd’s rules).
As the seminar continues its work, I will keep you updated on the results in future columns. We like to think the spirit of Scharnhorst is hovering nearby.
WILLIAM S. LIND is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism for the Free Congress Foundation