A major buzzword in American
military circles these days is Fourth-Generation War. This is another effort to
create a new threat that will scare more money out of Congress. The term itself
is based on a peculiar view of history. In this view, the first generation of
modern war was defined by the development mass armies in post-renaissance (16th
century) Europe. All this culminated in the highly destructive (over a million
dead) Napoleonic Wars of the early 19th century. The second generation was
dominated by the growing amount of firepower (machine-guns and modern
artillery) made possible by the Industrial Revolution, and culminated in World
War I. This was followed by the third generation, dominated by maneuver (tanks,
and lots of trucks) and culminated in World War II. Since World War II, the
third generation has evolved into a fourth generation, which is dominated by
rapidly developing technologies.
definitely been a change in warfare, largely as a result of technology. But the
first generation is actually ancient, if you look outside of Europe. Mass
armies are mainly a matter of money and organization. China was doing that
thousands of years ago, as were empires in India and the Middle East around the
same time. The Roman Empire managed to maintain several thousand hundred professional
troops on duty for centuries.
generation was more about money than just more destructive weapons. The
industrial revolution created sufficient cash for governments for form huge
armies. This proved counterproductive as these forces simply dug trenches from
the English Channel to neutral Switzerland and dare each other to attack. On
the Russian front, there was more maneuver, since there were not enough troops
to hold a line from the Baltic to the Black Seas. It wasn't firepower that
decided World War I, but bankruptcy by the weaker nations.
in World War II. The tanks and trucks were just more new technology. But if you
checked your history, you'd discover that the Mongols invented a mobile army
800 years earlier, that was faster, and more successful, than any mechanized
blitzkrieg during World War II. Mongol accountants also swept up sufficient
cash to keep the operation going for over a century.
generation is more about how does one incorporate new technology into military
operations. This has always been a problem, because you need a real war to
discover what works, and what just looked good on paper (or over cigars and brandy).
This is being demonstrated right now, in Iraq and Afghanistan. The "war on
terror" has also had its share of technological surprises. But many of those
have remained secret, given the nature of terrorism and the techniques used to
counter it. But a century ago, there was a similar war against International
Anarchism. That movement was more successful in its violence, taking out many
heads of state and senior government officials. The anarchists failed, as have
Islamic radicals many times in the past. Technology is not as important in
dealing with terrorists, as is outsmarting the murderous maniacs.
this "fourth generation" thing is all about predicting the impact of new
technologies. This has always been a problem, but has been particularly acute
during the last century, as a growing number of new technologies have appeared.
It's bad enough with the non-military ones, which can be put to work, with
often disruptive (and unpredictable) effect. But the military technologies can
be downright scary. But they're not fourth generation anything.