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The Fourth Generation Warfare Research Paper


Nations and groups of people may experience conflicts due to political, ideological, cultural, and religious differences. When such conflicts go unchecked or unresolved, they may translate into wars. In the context of this paper, the term war means any conflict that involves the use of arms against an adversary, which may be a nation, group of people, or parties that reside within a nation. Warfare means the act of engaging in war through air, soil, and ocean.

During the times of war, nations or groups of people are in a state of hostility that often involves military operations. The art of war keeps on changing as technology changes. Consequently, warfare techniques and approaches may be subdivided in terms of generations. Hammes considers historical experiences in warfare as fitting into four groups (24).

The categories include the first, second, third, and fourth generation combat. The paper focuses on the fourth generation warfare. It discusses the proofs for its existence, tactics, impacts, and ways of raising awareness for fighting the phenomenon.

Defining the Fourth Generation Warfare

The fourth generation warfare implies conflicts, which involve civilians, political affairs, and opponents. This generation of war suggests a total loss of different nations’ monopoly of combat forces. The loss prompts the re-emergence of pre-modern time modes of aggravating conflicts. In the most fundamental sense, the fourth generation warfare means any warfare where one of its key participants does not comprise a state. Rather, the player is a non-state actor, which is characterized by intense violence.

Various aspects distinguish the fourth generation warfare from the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation combats. For instance, the 1st generation deploys the column and line strategies.

Hammes reveals that the first generation warfare began soon after the of Peace of Westphalia treaty of 1648 (262). In any war, solders are highly ordered in such a way that they ensure top-down high levels of discipline. The multitude wrestles while moving forward gradually, but maintaining a close order. However, the innovation of machine guns and rifles has significantly altered battlefields.

The column and line tactics became suicidal to the level of ushering in the second-generation warfare. This generation depends on indirect firing while advancing towards the enemy (Tzu 31).This type of warfare was evident in WWI in its initial stages. The 3rd generation warfare focuses on infiltration with the objective of bypassing the adversary. Here, the warring parties focus on collapsing the combat forces of the opponent, as opposed to moving closely to destroy.

The tactics were deployed by Germans in WWI, especially against French and the British enemies (Hammes 277). The strategies of the 3rd generation warfare find application in the 4th generation warfare since the latter entails the use of speedy attacking initiatives. However, the 4th generation warfare targets both domestic populations and the military as witnessed in the case of war in Afghanistan, and now in Syria.

Proofs that the Fourth Generation Warfare Exists

The fourth generation warfare is commonplace in failed states together with nations that have civil wars. Since this generation of war occurs in nations where non-state actors take part in the war, the Iraqi war, the conflicts in Afghanistan, and other nation that have rebels and insurgency groups such as the Al-Qaida and Taliban among others are a clear proof of the existence of the fourth generation warfare. In the case of Afghanistan, the war began in 2001 and has persisted to the present. It began following the attacks of September 2001 in the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

The war involved the US, NATO forces, and the allied armies that aimed at liberating Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban government. The Taliban government was allied to the Al-Qaida. This group was held responsible for the September 2001 attacks.

The then American leader, George Bush, had made a command for the Taliban to surrender Bin Laden to the United States forces while also driving out the Al-Qaida networks, which helped the Taliban government in the war that involved Afghanistan Northern Alliance. However, instead of extraditing Bin Laden, Taliban recommended Laden to depart from Afghanistan due to lack of evidence that he was the main architect behind the September 11 attacks.

The move by Taliban prompted America to initiate operations in Afghanistan without necessarily having to engage in negotiations. The United Kingdom together with Germany joined in the war later with the aim of toppling the Taliban government and raising heavy attacks on the Northern Alliance (Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh 32). The US and the allied troops drove the Taliban government out of power and established military camps within major cities of Afghanistan. However, this move did not end the operations of Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The groups retreated to the rural mountainous regions and in Pakistan. While operating from these bases, Mullar Omar reorganized the Taliban in 2003. The group initiated insurgency attacks against the ISAF and the Afghanistan government.

In this context, Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh assert, “Haqqani network and Hez-e-Islami Gulbuddin have waged asymmetric warfare with revolutionary raids and ambushes in the countryside, suicide attacks against urban targets, and turncoat killings against coalition forces” (45). The government felt the impacts of Taliban in the war. The groups subjugated the flaws of the administration such as bribery to gain control of some regions in Afghanistan.

Although deaths and casualties that were encountered in the Afghanistan war from 2001 to date are due to the operations of both Taliban, the US, and NATO forces, the international reactions point the largest finger of blame to the Taliban and Al-Qaida uprising. For instance, the United Nations attributes 76% of all civilian casualties in the Afghanistan war from 2001 to 2009 to the Taliban (Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh 124).

The Afghanistan sovereign human rights agency referred the acts of terrorism by Taliban against their fellow citizens as war crimes. Amnesty International builds on this line of argument by claiming that the Taliban actions involve assaulting civilians, murdering of trainers, employee seizure, and setting of learning institutions ablaze.

The Syrian conflict constitutes another proof of the existence of the fourth generation warfare. In February this year, John Kerry was reported saying that Syrian rebels were the legitimate voices of the Syrian citizens (CBS News par.1). For this reason, Kerry said that the US was willing and ready to supply the rebels with non-lethal support. To Kerry, non-lethal backup included medical supplies, food, and monetary services that were required by the rebels to enhance peace in the areas that had been liberated from President Assad’s forces in Syria.

Through John Kerry’s speech in February while in Rome, Italy, President Obama, promised to give additional funding amounting to $60 million to the rebels in Syria. Many nations, including Britain, also supported the move to give aid to the rebels in Syria in the effort to topple President Assad’s forces in the quest to usher in a democratic regime.

The question that emerges is whether the rebels would soon after gaining power become enemies of the US and its affiliated nations as it was witnessed in the case of Taliban in Afghanistan. Whether this case happens or not, the war tactics of rebels in Syria together with the fact that they are non-state actors are a clear proof of the existence of the fourth generation warfare.

The Tactics of the 4th Generation Warfare

The conflicts in the fourth generation warfare are incepted by weaker parties that accuse the stronger parties of engaging in actions that are considered offensive. For instance, the Syrian rebels’ actions were offensive. The rebels considered the state offensive to the Syrian people. However, traditional forms of conflicts differ from the fourth generation warfare in terms of warfare tactics.

The 4th generation warfare is shaped by religious fundamentalism, media, technology, and various shifts in the moral norms that help to legitimize the war. Hammes supports this assertion by claiming that the amalgamations and metamorphosis of the fourth generation warfare developed novel mechanisms for facilitating the war by the defensive and offensive sides (293).

Non-state actors in the fourth generation warfare use tactics such as insurgency, terrorism, and guerilla tactics to wage war against a state actor’s infrastructure among other installations. They deploy technology and media. Cyber attacks that are launched by non-state actors against a state are an example of the use of media and technology as tactics of the fourth generation warfare.

The basic operation of cyber war technology is dependent on the potentiality of people to have backdoor access or illegal access to computer systems that hold sensitive data or computer systems that are deployed to control sensitive operations (Rid 337).

An advanced cyber warrior can interrupt a country’s electrical grid system, mess up with information that martial movements require, and even conduct an attack on government departments’ computer systems.

This goal is accomplished through surveillance and disruption. The motivation for surveillance is taking financial, martial, and political advantage via the internet where illegal exploitation of computers, software, and networks takes place. Through sabotage, military operations that depend on satellites and computers to transmitting information are placed at the risk of disruption.

The Impact of the 4th Generation Warfare

The fourth generation warfare has the implications of contributing to the death of civilian population. For example, the war emerged between the US and the allied troops in Afghanistan. After the Taliban government was toppled, the conflicts extended to the Afghanistan government. During this time, tens of thousands of ordinary civilians lost their lives.

The warfare leads to the destruction of military operations. The 4th generation warfare also reduces economic growth. Poor economic development increases poverty in a country. The warfare leads to the disruption of key infrastructural installations within a nation.

In Afghanistan, the impacts of the fourth generation warfare have been felt by both civilians and military personnel. Keppel, Jean-Pierre, and Ghazaleh assert, “over 4,000 ISAF soldiers and civilian, as well as over 10,000 Afghan National Security Forces also died” (63).

Many of the people who have perished in the war are Taliban insurgents and the ordinary civilians. The statistical findings on the number of deaths of security forces from both the Afghanistan government and ISAF indicate that the Afghanistan war had negative impacts on both civilians and the security forces.

How to Raise Awareness to Fight the Fourth Generation Warfare

The fourth generation warfare emerges from the perceptions of offensive actions by a state. The combat leads to the emergence of armed groups of people who seek to play a defensive role against the offensive acts. People may support these groups due the inadequacy of information on the appropriate channels to challenge the state on the alleged actions.

Raising awareness to fight the fourth generation warfare calls for public education on mechanisms for exercising democratic rights of self-rule through suffrage rights, as opposed to fighting a state. However, based on the case of Iraq, this approach may not apply due to the authoritarian system of governance. Saddam Hussein’s government was undemocratic. Therefore, people could not freely exercise their suffrage rights by voting him out.

Therefore, the fourth generation warfare could not have been avoided in Iraq. Therefore, to raise awareness to fight the fourth war generation, it is important to look for ways of reconstructing nations that have just graduated from war. An example of this approach is the case of Afghanistan. The UNDP, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank opened a conference with the theme of reconstructing Afghanistan in Islamabad (The UN News Center 5).

During the conference, the role of women in reconstructing the society, the significance of education for all Afghans, and the development of comprehensive and all-inclusive health care systems were discussed. All nations should adopt such strategy to raise awareness to fight the fourth-generation warfare phenomenon.

Works Cited

CBS News. , 2013. Web.

Hammes, Colonel. Four Generations of Warfare in the Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, St. Paul, MN: St. Paul Publishers, 2006. Print.

Keppel, Gilles, Milelli Jean-Pierre, and Pascale Ghazaleh. Al Qaeda in its own words, Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2008. Print.

Rid, Thomas. “Will cyber war take place?” Journal of Strategic Studies 3.1(2011): 332-355. Print.

The UN News Center. Afghanistan and United Nations, Geneva: UN News Service, 2013. Print.

Tzu, Sun. The Art of War, New York, NY: Pax Librorum, 2009. Print.

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"The Fourth Generation Warfare." IvyPanda, 11 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-fourth-generation-warfare/.

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IvyPanda. "The Fourth Generation Warfare." May 11, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-fourth-generation-warfare/.


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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Fourth Generation Warfare'. 11 May.

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