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Published: Saturday, 10/16/2004

The challenge of '4GW'

TWO superb new books put in context the global war on terror, and explain why the battle for Iraq is critical to ultimate victory.

Thomas Barnett is a professor at the Naval War College, and creator of what may be the most famous Pentagon briefing in history. Col. Thomas Hammes is a Marine with considerable experience in intelligence and special operations.

In The Pentagon's New Map, Mr. Barnett defines the security challenge of the 21st century in terms of "the Core" (prosperous democracies integrated into the world economy) and "the Gap" (failed states disconnected from globalization). The key to future peace is to reduce the number of states in the Gap.

In The Sling and the Stone, Colonel Hammes describes Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW), and outlines steps America must take to wage it effectively.

First generation war, practiced from the misty depths of pre-history to just before World War I, was when groups of soldiers in close proximity whaled away at each other with swords, spears, battle axes, and, later, muskets. The objective was to destroy the enemy's fighting forces.

Second generation war was like the first, with the addition of artillery and other indirect fires. The objective - to destroy the enemy's fighting formations - was the same.

Third generation war, inaugurated by the German blitzkrieg in World War II, shifted the primary objective from the enemy's fighting forces to its logistical base and command and control systems.

In 4GW, inaugurated by Mao Tse Tung and improved upon by the Vietnamese Communists, the main target is the enemy's will to fight. Battlefield successes are less important than the ability to exploit them for propaganda.

Two characteristics of 4GW that differ from earlier generations of war is that there are no ethical boundaries - noncombatants are often the preferred target because killing them can have a greater impact on enemy morale - and there are no quick victories. 4GW wars are measured in decades, not years.

A common theme for Mr. Barnett and Colonel Hammes is that the Pentagon cannot prepare for war as if it were separable from everything else. In modern war, "everything else" (the economy, public perceptions, nation building) are often more important than winning fights on the battlefield.

Mr. Barnett's is a hopeful book. He believes that globalization has all but outlawed war between states, because the costs of war to a country connected to the world economy vastly outweigh any potential benefits successful war could bring.

Colonel Hammes is less optimistic, but agrees with Mr. Barnett that the kind of war for which the Pentagon is preparing is most unlikely to occur.

Nation-building is a critical component for victory in 4GW conflicts. Only with nation-building can the Gap be shrunk, Mr. Barnett says. Only by providing a better idea and example can the United States defeat an ideological group like al-Qaeda, Colonel Hammes says.

Both think the Pentagon needs a major overhaul if we're to win the war on terror and future 4GW wars.

Mr. Barnett thinks our military needs to be divided into a (smaller) traditional military force and a (larger) "system administration" force that would do the dirty work of peacekeeping and nation building.

Colonel Hammes' goals are more modest and more practical. We need fewer of the kinds of units - heavy armor, air defense, tactical fighters, submarines - designed for fighting enemies who have largely vanished, and more of the kinds of units - military police, intelligence, civil affairs, leg infantry - more useful for peacekeeping and nation-building.

What's needed most in the Pentagon, Mr. Barnett and Colonel Hammes agree, is a change in attitude. Military leaders must recognize that they need to work closely with civilian agencies to win the war on terror, and military bureaucracies must be flattened to permit troops in the field to respond more quickly to rapidly developing situations.

Most important, our military and political leaders must recognize that 4GW conflicts are chiefly wars of ideas, and that the best weapon we have in such conflicts is our better ideas.

"The fundamental message of the United States is the most powerful message ever crafted by mankind: We treasure the individual and provide an environment where every person can strive for his or her own dreams," Colonel Hammes said. "It is up to us to harness that message and use it to win."



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