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FOURTH GENERATION WARFARE EVELOVES, FIFTH EMERGES
Colonel T. X. Hammes, USMC, Retired
Seventeen years ago, a small group of authors introduced the concept of “Four generations of War.” Frankly, the concept did not get much traction for the first dozen years. Then came 9/11. Some of the fourth-generation warfare (4GW) proponents claimed that the Al-Qaeda attacks were a fulfillment of what they had predicted. However, most military thinkers, for a variety of reasons, continued to dismiss the 4GW concept. In fact, about the only place 4GW was carefully discussed was on an Al-Qaeda website. In January 2002, one ‘Ubed al-Qurashi quoted extensively from two Marine
Corps Gazette articles about 4GW.1 He then stated, “The fourth generation of wars [has] already taken place and revealed the superiority of the theoretically weak side. In many instances, these wars have resulted in the defeat of ethnic states [duwal qawmiyah] at the hands of ethnic groups with no states.” Essentially, one of Al-Qaeda’s leading strategists stated categorically that the group was using 4GW against the United States—and expected to win. Even this did not stimulate extensive discussion in the West, where the 9-11 attacks were seen as an anomaly, and the apparent rapid victories in
Afghanistan and Iraq appeared to vindicate the Pentagon’s vision of high-technology warfare. It was not until the Afghan and Iraqi insurgencies began growing and the continuing campaign against Al-Qaeda faltered that serious discussion of 4GW commenced in the United States. Yet today, even within the small community of writers exploring 4GW, there remains a range of opinions on how to define the concept and what its implications are. This is a healthy process and essential to the development of a sound concept because 4GW, like all previous forms of war, continues to evolve even as discussions continue. That brings me to the purpose of this article: to widen the discussion on what forms 4gW may take and to
offer a possible model for the next generation of war: 5GW.