Reviewed in the United States on November 20, 2015
All American troops posted to overseas theaters would benefit from reading this manual. But it is the generals and higher-ups who most need the lessons contained in it. 4th generation warfare represents “a crisis of the legitimacy of the state,” and the first step towards fighting them successfully is a mindset shift: to recognize that military force is incapable, by itself, of restoring legitimacy to a state. The standard American practice of “firepower on targets” is simply not effective in 4GW. “Great states must learn how to preserve enemy states at the same time that they defeat them.” This is obviously a central lesson from the Iraq conflict, where this axiom was violated in spades. This manual sets about to correct those mistakes and provide a roadmap for success in the new type of conflict we face.
The manual introduces a new paradigm for dealing with conflicts involving non-state actors. Along with the traditional view of war as involving three levels: the tactical, the operational and the strategic, the authors introduce a new tripartite lens for understanding 4G war: the physical, the mental and the moral. In each case, a higher level trumps a lower level. Indeed, the authors describe the central dilemma of 4GW as the fact that “what works for you on the physical (and sometimes mental) level often works against you at the moral level.” A corollary of this is that “it is more important not to kill the wrong people than it is to kill armed opponents.” Enemy bodycounts may merely present media and PR victories for your opponents, while demoralizing our own troops, and turning public opinion against you.
Among the central concepts and topics discussed in this book are:
-- De-escalation: More often than not, our military goals are furthered by de-escalating, whereas most troops have “escalation” as a default reaction to most situations. This concept goes hand in hand with the idea of preserving the state, and keeping the local populace on our side, or at least not against us.
-- “51% solutions”, rather than total victory are desirable in 4GW.
-- Integrating with, and not alienating, the local populace as key to success.
-- Openness with the press, and admitting to mistakes.
-- Intelligence as a bottom-up rather than a top-down affair. They give the memorable example of the Swedish word for military intelligence, which translates as “corrections from below”.
-- Retraining line infantry as “light infantry”. Troops must become flexible, independent, self-reliant, self-disciplined, less “orderly” and hierarchical, and focus on achieving goals rather than merely carrying out orders.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for the American military (outside of special ops and SEALS that already have this mindset) is to move away from the 2G, centralized, command-based, top-down approach, towards a 3G model that emphasizes nimbleness, lightness of footprint, quick reaction times, and that learns to use the techniques of the enemy against him, rather than relying on firepower alone. The authors make a strong case that Western militaries (and the American military in particular) are stuck in a 2nd generation mindset: “Firepower on targets” is what war is about to them, and it is a hopelessly dated concept. Indeed, it was dated in WWII when the 3G German military defeated a technically superior 2G French army.
Implicitly if not explicitly, the manual focuses on our experience in the Middle East. It is a useful thought experiment to contemplate conflicts in other regions: e.g. the Mexican drug war, the Tamil rebellion in Sri Lanka, the Muslim separatist movement in the Philippines, etc., and to imagine the concepts intorduced here applied in those situations. In any event, given that our military most needs a manual for dealing with the Middle East, this manual is the right tool for our era.
This is a manual for soldiers. Given the events of 11/13/15 in Paris as well as the pervasive low-level civil wars that are taking place across the West, perhaps the publishers can consider producing another manual: 4th Generation Warfare Handbook for the Civilian. Many more of us will be faced with the question of how to defend ourselves against 4GW invaders and hostiles in the places we live than will be posted overseas as soldiers. The proper responses for civilians dealing with conflict within Europe will be very different than the solutions for soldiers fighting in the Middle East. This manual was not written to address that question, but there will certainly be demand for solutions to that challenge in the decades to come. The author’s pronouncement that “Fourth Generation war at home is significantly easier to win than Fourth Generation war abroad” will be cold comfort to the families of the victims of 11/13/15 in Paris, to rape victims in Sweden and Rotherham or victims of racist gang crime in Baltimore or LA. Again, this is not a criticism of this book, which achieves what it set out to do, but a call for a complementary volume.