Thesis Title

Fourth Generation Warfare: America's Challenge in the Twenty-First Century

Date of Graduation

Summer 2005


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

C. Walton


Throughout the history of civilization, warfare has undergone a number of evolutions. Given societal, technological and political shifts, these evolutions have been undertaken in the hope of offsetting particular strategic advantages held by particular adversaries. As the world finds itself in the wake of the Cold war, many believe that conditions throughout the international system are fostering an environment ripe for the next evolution in warfare. This generation of warfare, the Fourth Generation, will seek to offset the superior economic, technological and societal statures of Western society through asymmetric warfare and superior political will. Taking the form of an evolved insurgency, and using past political insurgencies as a template, Fourth Generation warfare will seek to employ unconventional tactics, such as terrorism and guerilla warfare, in a prolonged fashion with the hope of frustrating and demoralizing a stronger opponent. While this type of war fighting is not new conceptually, weaker entities are relying on such warfare more frequency for it has proven to be effective against Western democracies. The experiences of the French in Algeria, the United States in Vietnam and Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon all illustrate the weakness of democratic societies to deal effectively with Fourth Generation warfare. As a result, those who find themselves locked in a life or death struggle against Western society will apply the lessons of those conflicts in fighting stronger and better equipped forces. The goal of the Fourth Generation warrior is to undermine their adversary’s domestic support, thereby causing the stronger opponent to abandon its strategic objectives and withdraw from the conflict prematurely.


Fourth Generation warfare, guerilla warfare, terrorism, asymmetric warfare, conventional warfare

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Leonard A. Backes