4GW and Legitimacy at SWJ

Fourth Generation Warfare and William Lind was the topic of a critical essay by Major Lincoln Farish at Small Wars Journal. The article was interesting, despite my disagreement with the author on most points, because he was wrestling with important questions related to insurgency and COIN at a time when FM 3-24 is undergoing revision and the role of COIN itself in US Army operational culture is being questioned. Tight defense budgets= Musical chairs at the Pentagon. 🙂

Unfortunately, the article contained, in my view, significant problems in terms of understanding 4GW or strategy in general.Here is the article. It isn’t overly long. I am going to be commenting on passages that caught my attention and I invite readers to do the same and check out those made by Ken White and Slapout in the comments section at SWJ:

The Quest for Legitimacy 

According to The U.S. Army Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual an insurgency is “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government.” FM 3-24 continues with, “political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies: each side aims to get the people to accept its governance or authority as legitimate.” Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW) advocates propose fighting insurgents with small cadres of highly-trained infantry, avoiding the large footprint of earlier generations of war created by command and control echelons above the company. Even if the 4GW proponents are correct on the tactical level, their proposed methods will not be successful in defeating an insurgency strategically as 4GW does not offer a legitimate alternative to the insurgents at the strategic or national level.

Premises here are incorrect.

First, while I do not speak for Mr. Lind, any fair reading of his many columns, articles and posts of the past decade (!) would demonstrate that he was, as Ken White and Slapout indicated, strongly opposed to expeditionary COIN adventures unless they were absolutely unavoidable.  His 4GW grand strategy was for the US to scrupulously avoid “centers of disorder” and view all states, even ideologically hateful misfits, as potential allies against 4GW forces. Where required, the US would instead rely on “punitive raiding” against such 4GW entities but not hunker down in the mud with them on a permanent basis.

William S. Lind, the architect of the 4GW concept, argues for units to become “true light infantry.”  He writes, “virtually all Fourth Generation forces are free of the First Generation culture of order; they focus outward, they prize initiative and, because they are highly decentralized, they rely on self-discipline.” Discipline is a key issue here; a company commander only has the authority to punish soldiers up to the (U. S. Army) rank of Sergeant (E-5). This is to protect not only the soldiers, but to give the commander the ability to maintain order and discipline commensurate with his position and abilities. A company is usually composed of only three to four officers, and they have little ability to conduct an investigation without disrupting combat operations….

…. Clear, codified, equitable discipline is one of the features that separate a military from a street gang or an insurgent movement…..

….It [4GW forces] should be trained and equipped to use cash to draw on the local infrastructure for most of its needs.”  Lind expects a company to handle most of its logistical needs with a minimum of support from a higher echelon, in other words, Lind is advocating an autonomous company.

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