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Fourth Generation Warfare: Is it coming live to a theatre near you?

By Paul M. Weyrich
web posted December 13, 2002

No one likes to be the grinch, but even as the Christmas season approaches we cannot forget that we are fighting the War on Terrorism. The threat is still very much present no matter our success (or failure) in Afghanistan in taking on the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Al-Qaida is said to be experiencing success in recruiting young Islamics in Europe. The Dutch secret service, for instance, in a recent report to their parliament said the terrorist organization is signing up legal and illegal immigrants in the mosques and cafes of their country to wage a jihad against the West. "The recruitment of these youths shows a violent radical Islamic current is stealthily taking root in Dutch society," the report stated.

European police have been rounding up terrorists, expressing surprise at the breadth of the Islamic terrorist network, which includes, but is not limited to al-Qaida, and has links not just in Europe but also North America, North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

One al-Qaida-linked website http://www.jehad.net released an audio statement in which al-Qaida's Sulaiman Abu Ghaith promised "The Christian-Jewish alliance will not, God willing, be safe from attacks by the mujahadeen [Muslim warriors]...The alliance's installations and facilities everywhere will be subject to attacks...The next phase will witness bigger and more lethal operations."

Abu Gaith makes it clear that the United States is very much a target to be victimized by "focused and lightning operations" and that we "should not feel safe, whether on land, sea or air."

At a time when there is cause to believe that the threat from al-Qaida is increasing, it is good to see that more attention is being focused on the work of my colleague at the Free Congress Foundation, William S. Lind, who served two U.S. Senators, the late Robert Taft, Jr. (R-OH) and Gary Hart (D-CO), as a defense advisor. Insight on the News recently published an article by reporter Scott Wheeler examining "Fourth Generation Warfare."

It was Bill Lind who with several military officers, ventured in 1989 to predict how the nature of warfare would change with the end of the Cold War in a Marine Corps Gazette article that has received recognition for its prescience from The Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times Magazine.

Lind and his co-authors advanced the thesis that there would be a shift from warfare being fought by nation-states to ones in which our primary antagonists were likely to be religions, interest groups, or tribes fighting cause-oriented warfare. They wrote in the article that the threat to our country was likely to come from "non-Western cultural traditions, such as Islamic or Asiatic traditions...The fact that some non-Western areas, such as the Islamic world, are not strong in technology may lead them to develop a fourth generation [of modern war] through ideas rather than technology."

The idea that has emerged appears to be using our own technological achievements against us, witness the attacks on September 11th. Now, there is speculation that al-Qaida may be targeting oil tankers.

The idea behind Fourth Generation warfare is to promote the collapse of the targeted society from within, and we have every reason to worry that our own nation's multiculturalism will blind us to the real challenge that confronts us. That is, we, and by that I mean not just America but Western Civilization, are not just facing a gang of terrorists, but a more substantial force in Islam, whose radical adherents have been able to extend their reach thanks to globalization and immigration.

Al-Qaida came to a similar realization because al-Qaida read Lind's article while it sat gathering dust in the Pentagon's libraries. The Insight on the News article recalls that back in February, the Middle East Media Research Institute had published writings discovered on a website that had been used by al-Qaida. One of the terrorist organization's chief strategists discussed the 1989 article in detail, asserting that the "new type of war presents significant difficulties for the Western war machine."

Lind's writings are compelling, particularly in light of the attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. It is unfortunate that too many in our defense establishment are still locked into the traditional modes of thinking about warfare. We are not yet out of danger as many Americans would like to think. They prefer to see September 11th as a bad day whose memory will fade as time goes by. Lind says the September 11th attacks "were just the appetizer in what will be a twelve-course meal."

The Pentagon and our defense establishment have a second chance to discover the wisdom and prescience of Lind's writings. Let's hope they seize the opportunity.

Paul M. Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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