Fourth-Generation Warfare is a form of warfare where the lines between civilians and combatants, political and military goals, and even the weapons are blurred.

It’s often smudged to the point where even naming warring parties is hard.

The West Is Powerless In The Fourth-Generation War With ISIS-But Keep Calm
Source: Wikimedia Commons

To understand the 4GW, look no further than last month’s attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, Germany.

  • Instead of using a bomb, gun, or even a knife, the attacker used a commercial truck.
  • The attacker was from Tunisia, a country with no clear grievance against the Germans.
  • He was an adherent of Islam (natch). Given the attack was directed against innocent bystanders at a Christmas market, we assume—but don’t know—that it was motivated by a religious goal. But to what end? We can have no idea.
  • And why Germany, the country that had provided succor to the man and his family as refugees? Was the attack part of a broader strategy to complete the Islamization of Germany? All of Europe?
  • Or was it to force the Europeans to withdraw from the Middle East—even though the European footprint in the Middle East is barely visible compared to the US and Russia?
  • Perhaps it was just a target of convenience—in which case, what’s the point(s) the attacker was trying to make?
  • And who, exactly, is the enemy the “West” is fighting against? Is it ISIS, which took credit for the attack? We think that’s right, but really can’t know. Maybe the ISIS spokesperson just took the credit for an act of an individual who had become overly emotional as a result of indoctrination by a radical mullah?
  • Who does Germany hit back against? They could lob missiles into ISIS strongholds, but as those strongholds are not citadels, but rather cities populated by innocents—captives even—how effective can that be?
  • Also, whom does Germany negotiate with to bring an end to the war?

I could go on, but I think the point is clear: 4WG warfare is so distributed—between weapons, tactics, cultures, places, ideologies, and leadership—that dealing with it requires an entirely different approach.

A war correspondent with a first-hand experience of ISIS

Trying to get a handle on how one counters such an amorphous enemy, I reached out to Scott Taylor—publisher and editor of Esprit de Corps magazine. Scott has extensive experience in the Middle East as a soldier, author, and war correspondent.

He is also one of the few people to have been kidnapped by Islamists and lived to tell about it.

  • Are there any historical precedents for the current conflict being fought between the Islamists and the Western world?

First of all, we need to stop misidentifying the current conflict as Islam versus the West. The vast majority of the blood being spilled in all of these theatres (Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Turkey) is Muslim vs. Muslim.

The simplistic division of sides is Sunni versus Shiite, but that further divides into secular versus fundamentalist, and then again into ethnic factions (example: Kurd versus Turk, Arab versus Kurd). Much like the Crusades of old, it is the West’s interference in their territorial squabbles that makes us a target for retaliation.

  • Is there any sort of prevailing theory about how a government can fight back given the lack of any clear enemy or even stated objective for the attacks?

The current tactic of Western security forces appears to be the mounting of large shows of force after a terrorist attack has taken place. Hordes of heavily armed police with armored vehicles appear at all major transit hubs and public spaces to present the appearance of an armed camp.

However, given the randomness of the targets, the variety of weapons employed (simply driving a truck into a crowd, for instance), and the apparent willingness for the attackers to die for their cause, makes these attacks all but impossible to defend against.

  • The Israelis, which arguably have the most experience in fighting a 4GW conflict, have used retribution against family members of the terrorists— including the controversial policy of destroying family homes—as a countermeasure. Any thoughts?

If the Israelis and Palestinians were presently cohabitating in a state of mutual bliss, I would say that they were on the right track. However, as Israel remains in a state of perpetual threat of attack, I would say that employing retaliatory attacks against a culture steeped in revenge (an eye for an eye) is not a smart move.

If Trump starts attacking terrorist families, the violence cycle will only accelerate… and become far more personal.

  • Any sense of how this all ends? Or is this conflict likely to be with us for the foreseeable future?

Humankind is the most self-destructive species on the planet. Historically, we continue to invest in ever more creative ways to kill our fellow humans… and to protect ourselves from evolving threats.

The map of the Middle East will need to be redrawn to recognize the existing ethnic divisions (as opposed to the arbitrary colonial boundaries drawn up by Britain and France in 1917). The abject poverty and illiteracy of Afghanistan will condemn it to decades more bloodshed, and countries such as Libya will need to be reunified by force and subdued for a generation before they can once again enjoy stability and prosperity.

  • Do you believe the US should stop meddling in the Middle East? Having read a fair bit on the history of the Crusades, it is revealing that so many cities regularly under attack back then are again under attack now. And, per your comments, invariably by other Muslims. Given that history, one can only ask, “Why would any outside nation want to deal with that mess?”

If the US could divest itself of the need to import oil, they could afford to ignore events in the Middle East. It may sound crazy, but a huge opportunity was missed in the aftermath of 9/11 when Americans might have accepted (or been forced to accept) wartime rationing of fuel.

This would have hurt the automobile industry but at the same time, created a massive boom for alternative modes of transportation such as production of e-bikes and mass transit systems.

America, like Canada, is protected by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Our “defense” departments should be correctly called “war departments.”

So, what’s the new administration to do?

Keep calm and carry on

Per Scott’s comments, I think it behooves us to accept the reality that there may be little—and maybe nothing—the nation-states with all their intelligence services and blunt military power can do to stop the 4GW enemies.

If there is good news, it is that the damage these terrorists do is typically limited. Traffic accidents and murders take much more lives than jihadists’ attacks. So ISIS poses no existential threat to the German nation or the rest of the world—as yet.

To put things in perspective, there have been a total of 67 people killed in the US by terrorists over the past 16 years. Which means that over the period, death by terrorism in the US doesn’t add up to even a single day of automobile fatalities.

However, the mainstream media sensationalizes every attack, even if

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