||Bury Cold War Mindset
Fourth-Generation Warfare Rewrites Military Strategy
August 5, 2002
by Jack Shanahan, Chet Richards and Franklin Spinney
The pay phone may be the ultimate counter to our arsenal of fighters, tanks, nuclear aircraft carriers and stealth bombers.
For a total cost of 35 cents, any terrorist can bring traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge to a stop or empty an airport. The result is a pervasive climate of fear. In Alexandria, Va., for example, people are afraid to buy condominiums near the new federal courthouse.
And Americans are still so afraid of airports, or tired of all the security hassles, that they are using their cars for short trips or not going at all.
All this would be amusing, though a little inconvenient, if it were not a clear indication that our enemies are discovering our weaknesses and obsessions and using them as levers to unhinge us.
What America faces today is sophisticated guerrilla warfare, called fourth-generation warfare (4GW) by military experts. It represents the culmination of more than 300 years of development and experimentation in the art of war, since the Peace of Westphalia ended Europe's wars of religion in 1648 and granted the emerging nation-state system a monopoly on the use of organized violence.
At its best, fourth-generation warfare pits nations against non-national organizations or networks that include not only fundamentalist extremists, but also ethnic factions, mafias and narcotics traffickers.
Unlike the guerrilla warriors and terrorists of the past, today's sophisticated guerrilla warfare is rendered more ubiquitous, intrusive and lethal by computers, mass communications and high-speed transportation systems.
These tools allow highly motivated small groups like al-Qaida to bypass the capacity of a nation state to protect itself through the use of conventional military means. They focus their attacks directly on centers of culture and political power.
The aim of the 4GW guerrilla warrior is not specifically directed at defeating his adversary's army, but at penetrating his political system and ultimately inducing him to conclude that continuing his state's policies is not worth the cost.
How well will our military cope with this new form of warfare? Not well, if we consider the lessons of Vietnam, Mogadishu, Beirut and even Afghanistan, where we failed to capture either Mullah Omar or Osama bin Laden, or for that matter, most of the leaders of al-Qaida.
Unfortunately, the Pentagon is still dominated by Cold Warriors, obsessed with big, expensive weapon programs. Congress is still addicted to the jobs and political contributions that can only come from defense contractors with massive hardware programs.
Programs that truly increase our effectiveness, including tough and highly realistic training, cannot compete in either votes or political action committee money.
There are solutions, but unfortunately no easy ones. Adjustments at the margin are not going to do the job, and some solutions may even require constitutional changes.
One of the main forces locking us into an outmoded defense posture is the jobs, money and votes generated by military industrial welfare programs. To begin to address this problem, we need to reduce the amount of money needed for political campaigns.
At the Pentagon, specific personnel changes are required, in particular closing the revolving door that rewards senior military leaders with the promise of future civilian employment if they "play the game."
It is wrong to force honorable officers to choose between doing their duty to their country and then supporting their families on retirement pay, or playing the game and perhaps supplementing their pensions with a six-figure position at a defense contractor or serving as a consultant to one.
As for the organization of the Pentagon itself, only one mechanism for transforming large organizations has shown itself to be effective is the one used by Jack Welch, former chief executive of General Electric, that earned him the nickname, "Neutron Jack."
Welch shed entire divisions and reorganized the company from the ground up. Such a process, while unlikely to happen, would be the best way forward for the Pentagon.
It is not unreasonable to expect that 50 percent or more of our current forces need to be retired or radically changed. In fact, it would be a righteous miracle if the military establishment we created for rapid mobilization against massive Soviet armies on the plains of Europe turned out to be well-suited to run to ground a shadowy 4GW enemy in the jungles and teeming cities of the Third World.
We can either do the hard work of dismantling our Cold War weapons, organizations and mindsets, or we had better get used to long evenings cowering under our beds.