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June 2008 - T.X. Hammes on 4th Dimension Warfare

U.S. Marine Colonel TX Hammes Addresses JINSA at Europe Project Forum

In a state of perpetual evolution, irregular warfare has undergone significant change since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) in Iraq. And the only thing Colonel T.X. Hammes, USMC (ret) "guarantees" is that the change will continue at an ever-increasing pace. Hammes, author of The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (Zenith Press, 2006) and an expert on insurgent warfare spoke to a group of JINSA members and supporters in Washington, DC on June 16, 2008.

Hammes, who served in Iraq in 2004, first explained that what America is facing in most of our current conflicts and what we are likely to face in future ones differs profoundly from war as we used to know it. In a conventional conflict (first, second and third generation warfare) military forces opposed enemy military forces, and battlefield victories ultimately brought the war to a definite endpoint. Although the weaponry and the way battles were waged through history differ, the formula remained the same.

In contrast, irregular conflicts (fourth and fifth generation warfare and beyond) rely more on destroying an opponents’ political will rather than defeating the opponent's forces on the field of battle. Fourth generation warriors achieve success through skillful use of the media, co-opting opposition leaders, wreaking economic havoc and inflicting casualties on their opponents that are not significant enough to win the conflict in the conventional sense, but are frightening and dispiriting enough to convince the opposing public to demand an end to the conflict. These wars are political, protracted (measured in decades), networked and focus on attacking the minds of the enemy. Emphasizing technology over human resources, America's traditional hierarchical military structures tend to perform abysmally against fourth generation actors.

Fourth generation warfare (4GW) traces its origins to Michael Collins and the Irish Republican Army but was codified by Mao Tse Tung in his groundbreaking pamphlet Guerilla Warfare. Mao employed 4GW tactics to defeat Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist armies for control of China, and Ho Chi Minh used Guerilla Warfare as a blueprint for the war against South Vietnam.

But 4GW is hardly the stuff of history books, and many of its core strategies are employed by today's counterinsurgents, including al Qaeda and Hezbollah. During his presentation, Hammes noted that an al Qaeda website was the first to provide extensive quotes from Hammes' own work on insurgent warfare, and Ayman al Zawahiri (a significant al Qaeda leader) observed that more than half of the battle takes place in the media. In 4GW fashion, al Zawahiri recognized the relative importance of political victories over military ones in asymmetric conflicts and the media’s role in securing those political victories.

Presiding over a superb multi-media campaign, al Qaeda releases ads within 30 minutes of its attacks. The ads target a variety of audiences: supporters, those with the potential to become supporters and the citizenry of the opposition. Hezbollah also showed a shrewd understanding of how to manipulate the media during their summer 2006 conflict with Israel and put the requisite financial resources toward it -- $15-20 million a year toward the Hezbollah television station, Al-Manar TV, which was greater than Israel's entire public diplomacy budget. Skillful use of public opinion enabled Hezbollah to turn the conflict from one of Israeli self-defense to "Israel’s destruction of Lebanon."

And with technological advances and tactical reassessments, 4GW and its practitioners continue to evolve. While Mao and Ho Chi Minh believed that conventional conflict was the third and final phase to winning a fourth generation conflict, current fourth generation warriors see military victory as superfluous – a political victory is sufficient to win the war. Today's insurgents see a strategic communication campaign (engaging key audiences) buttressed by a military and terror campaign as the most effective strategy.

Operation Iraqi Freedom provided an illustration of the evolution of this strategy. At the beginning of the Iraq conflict, videos released by insurgents were unprofessional – clearly suggesting that their later use by the media was an afterthought. Current ambush videos are now filmed with a camera on a tripod and location selection is often based on how it will appear in the video. The finished product -- branded with the insurgent's logo, with background music and relevant Quranic quotes – is typically posted to the insurgent group’s website within 30 minutes of the incident, Hammes said.

These films are designed to break their opponent's will and to serve as a means to create a virtual community of insurgents and insurgent sympathizers. Insurgent attack videos are frequently reduced to cell phone video clips giving the group’s local audience the chance to vote on their top ten "favorite" attacks. Hammes noted that having the top ten attacks on one's cell phone is seen as a mark of prestige.

United States forces have made a number of mistakes in countering the fourth generation warriors faced today, Hamees declared. We have failed to make it clear that our battle is not with Islam but with those who support and engage in terror. We promoted democracy in a part of the world that craves justice, not freedom. We ignored the fact that true liberal democracy requires a foundation of liberal institutions to support it and that democracy takes a long time to grow. Our own democracy traces its roots to the Magna Carta and before, Hammes said.

Both the Afghanistan and Iraq missions have many 4GW hallmarks, and America's armed forces are only now discovering the secret to defeating counterinsurgencies – bringing security and hope for the future to the populations caught up in the conflict. This involves increasing our human intelligence, so that we can thwart insurgent attacks and prevent them from coercing the local populations. Unlike the insurgents, Hammes explained, U.S. forces cannot monitor a location all day, every day, so developing intelligence networks are crucial to maintaining peace and stability which, in turn, will cultivate the population's trust.

But just as the United States is beginning to master 4GW, 5GW is already beginning to surface, and the anthrax attack on the U.S. Capitol in Fall 2001 might be the foreshadowing of things to come. The warriors in the 5GW conflict or as Hammes dubbed them, "the potential coalitions of the willing," are the losers in the planet’s move toward greater globalization. These would include Westerners who see their jobs moving to the rapidly expanding economies of the East, fundamentalist movements and most ominous of all, according to Hammes, environmental radicals. As opposed to large movements operating in concert, fifth generation warriors will be united by a common cause with a corresponding cyber community, but generally act alone or with only a few others.

Hammes believes that although cyber terrorism and advances in nanotechnology are areas of concern, biological threats are evolving the most rapidly. Due to the explosion in technological innovation, these coalitions have the potential to be much more dangerous than their predecessors in much less time. Hammes reminded his audience that a team from the J. Craig Venter Institute created a partially synthetic species of bacterium. The rapid pace of technology proliferation makes it clear that soon every college student would be able to do the same. Just a few years ago, purchasing enough smallpox virii necessary to create harm was prohibitively expensive for all but the most well-funded of organizations or nation states. Soon $5,000 will be enough money to procure sufficient quantities of the virus to cause many deaths, Hammes speculated. Furthermore, earlier in the decade and with just a little tweaking, Australian scientists created a mousepox virus that was lethal even in previously immunized mice. Mousepox is a close relative to smallpox.

While nuclear proliferation poses a threat, Hammes predicted that the "coalitions of the angry" are much more likely to use ammonium nitrate as a weapon of choice. It is inexpensive, easy to procure and use and deadly. The explosion of a few large ships at well-placed ports would not only cost many human lives but would create economic chaos, he predicted.

Noting exponential development of technology including artificial intelligence, Hammes posited that the 21st century will not bring 100 years of "progress" to the fifth generation warriors that threaten America but many times more than that. Hammes left the JINSA audience with a question: Can our institutions cope with and effectively manage this rate of change?

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