[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]
SWJ: How different is Mao’s people’s war compared with what you call 4GW (Fourth Generation Warfare)? Is 4GW an updated, evolved form of people’s wars? In the end, isn’t 4GW focused on people and minds, on influencing people and minds?
TX: Mao is a little bit different because (in China) it was a domestic insurgency and focused on wearing down the nationalists and changing the minds of the warlords who supported them. In the case of 4GW, the focus is overseas. People you can’t reach with force, you must reach with the message. 4GW is an evolved form of insurgency. It is also important to note that Maoism is a type of insurgency that essentially fits a hierarchical society, not a tribal one. It always ends with a conventional campaign to destroy the government’s army as the final step in overthrowing the government. You can’t run a Maoist insurgency in the mountains of Afghanistan, the society won’t tolerate that kind of structure. Nor can you do it in Iraq. 4GW covers both because its objective is not the military defeat. 4GW does not focus on the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but on changing the minds of the enemy’s political decision makers. 4GW directly attacks the will of enemy decision makers. Once the outside power has been ejected, the conflict can continue until resolution.
SWJ: Tell us about the center of gravity in a 4GW.
TX: The center of gravity in a 4GW is the will of the policymakers of the other side. 4GW war uses all available networks – political, economic, social and military – to convince the enemy’s political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. 4GW is not necessarily targeted at the people. If the war is small enough, it can run on for years like El Salvador. In that case, the US commitment was small enough there was no major political cost to US decision makers to continue supporting the El Salvadorian government.
When you look at the counterinsurgent side, I am more and more convinced that as a foreign power you can only do indirect counterinsurgency. You can advise and assist. But keep it small – the host nation has to make it work. We, the United States, have done this successfully a number of times. Admittedly, we have not created the perfect nations that the nation-builders want, but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to achieve US strategic goals. And we achieved our strategic goals in the Philippines, El Salvador, Columbia and Thailand. In a 4GW, the insurgent is not trying to win over the people as a whole. But the counterinsurgent must do so. In a tribal society, you can do what Kilcullen refers to as wholesale COIN – if you persuade the tribal chief everybody flips. In a more democratic society, you have to convince the people. It is more of a retail operation. It is critical to understand the society you are in and tailor your counterinsurgency and insurgency accordingly.
I would add, in the 4GW theme of reasoning with the “moral level of war”, that a foreign power supporting a host nation government with FID that faces an insurgency, can probably get away with “punitive raiding” of the non-state actors from time to time, particularly in rapid response to some heinous action committed by rebels. A heavy in-country footprint though will change the political calculus for the population – it is too easy to look lie occupiers and stringpullers. Foreign troops are rarely welcome guests for long.
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