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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I like it - 4stars.. but is 4GW merely just a fancy way of saying Irregular Warfare?, 12 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century (Paperback)
That's exactly my rating for this book - seeing as 4 stars means "I like it" - whereas a fabulous 5 would mean "I love it" - yet I don't think I would go that far.

However, I truly enjoyed reading this well articulated argument that war is not revolutionary - rather evolutionary, and according to the author - we have been in the 4th Generation of Warfare for the past 70 or so years. And if the past evolutionary stages have shown us that warfare is evolving faster than it used to - we are well on the way to a 5th Generation... when Western conventional armies are just about learning to adapt to the current.

There are several chapters that can be described as case-studies- including:

The initial development in the sense of modern warfare starts with Mao's People's War- to be further developed by Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.... with some refinements with the Sandinistas of Nicaragua... not to mention the Two Palestinian Intifadas (I liked Hammes's interesting interpretation that the first Intifada was in the Palestinians' favour with that strong media image of stone throwing youths against hi-tech tanks... only to be over-turned by the more violent approach of the Al-Aqsa Intifada - which Israel (With a clever provocative and political maneuver by Ariel Sharon in visiting the shrine with bodyguards).

Of relatively more recent cases - the Colonel brings into perspective the highly tribal political arena of Afghanistan and the low-tech insurgency of Iraq... as well as a chapter on the very transnational nature of Al-Qa'ida.

Essentially, this work adds to the current debate about the alleged obsolescence of major interstate warfare. The U.S military, it is argued- highly bureaucratic and still obsessed with hi-tech warfare as a solution to its military problems (there is no doubt that when it comes to state-state warfare - none can compare to the U.S war machine in obliterating an enemy's armed forces and infrastructure).

But what happens when you are faced with low-tech, insurgent and protracted warfare? - bearing in mind 4th Gen. Wars are measured not in months or years- what the U.S is used to (or weeks in the case of Iraq 03) but decades. And along with too many body bags returning home - patience is another American weakness - which 4th Gen. warriors seem to have in abundance. So what happens when faced with such an enemy? you get defeated that's what - as Vietnam, Lebanon (the 80's baracks attack), Somalia (think blackhawk down).. and for the Russians (their own 'Nam)Afghanistan followed by Chechnya in the 90s.

Unlike the U.S military - which seeks superiority- primarily but not exclusively in hi-tech warfare and military fighting capabilities... the 4th Gen. Warriors seek not to destroy the superior army (obviously) but to defeat their political will - back home where it counts - the voters and policy makers.

After all, warfare's character may change - but its nature will always be as Clausewitz stated - organised violence for political means. Now if war is not being waged for the benefit of the political goals of the leadership backhome - it isn't war. Therefore, all the 4GW have to do is simply stay in the fight.. the fact that they can tactically retreat and re-emerge (as in Afghanistan now) illustrates this. Moreover, they seek to send the message home that it simply isn't worth it to stay and fight - they merely need to carry on sending the body bags home till the American public have had enough - they seek the superior political will.

Technology, as the author argues facilitates the means to send the political messages more effectively than ever before, therefore the 4th Gen. Warriors are more suited and indeed are capitalising on the tools available in this Information Age, while the conventional armies are struggling to keep up who are better equipped from warfare of the Industrial Age.

Having said all this - as soon as I finished this book I made a start on another book - though I am currently still reading, I am certain it would be worthy of a 5 stars.. and that as you may have seen on the related books feature is Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare - this work is impressive and maintains the grim, realist approach that war will always be with us - and that it is still too early to be talking about the demise of inter-state warfare. I bring this book up not to diverge from the review of the Colonel's book - but rather to bring up a point which Gray makes about the 4th Generation Warfare theory - he even quotes from the Sling and the Stone- the "gospel" as he calls.

Gray dismisses it as being the latest in a line of trendy buzz-words, that as he sees it are just re-packaged, re-branded forms of warfare that have actually already been in existence - Gray, merely passes "4th Generation Warfare" as Irregular Warfare being opposed to Regular Warfare, as such he has two highly informative chapters on both concepts, respectively.

There are always arguments for and against with ideas and theories - and as I have said, I liked the Colonel's book - and I agree with many of his findings - yet it was because of this book, it more or less led me to look at the other perspective on the matter (Another Bloody Century) - as I recommend you all do too if you want a balance for this timely topic.

Both books attempt to discuss the nature of 21st century warfare - of the two, Gray acknowledges the difficulties and temptations that can cause one to make bold, definitive, historic statements - and as such says he could so well be wrong - yet maintains that history is still our best guide for the future prospects of warfare - and therefore with a rich history spanning 3 millenia of warfare - we have no reason to believe this century will be any different.. and there is no reason to assume both forms - "Regular" and "Irregular" will not be present. I feel Gray's epic work is the more convincing of warfare in our century. Though time will of course be the determining factor.

The Sling and the Stone is required reading for those students with academic interests in war and warfare and insurgency or terrorism. I myself being a student of International Security found this highly applicable.

Finally, a minor, unimportant question I have, and this is probably more to do with the publishers than the author - but why is there a 20th century image (from Intifada I) on the front cover for a book on 21st century warfare?! I am sure by now we have many archives available of violent, warlike imagery post 2000...
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Initial post: 18 Jun 2010 12:48:54 BDT
thank you for your detailed comment. You would find interesting to read the following:
"How the United States Lost the naval war of 2015" - http://www.fpri.org/orbis/5401/kraska.navalwar2015.pdf
and Cyber War by Richard A. ClarkeCyber War: The Next Threat to National Security and What to Do About It
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O. Ahmed
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Location: London, UK

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