Unbeknownst to most of the world's politicians and large numbers of the world's military leaders, a revolution in military affairs has taken place over the past forty years. As the world's leading militaries have vastly improved their ability to fight 3rd-generation armored maneuver warfare -- the brand of warfare introduced by Hitler's armies in 1939 -- a new brand of warfare has quietly rendered those heavy armored columns obsolete. This new brand of warfare is a variant of an old idea -- asymmetrical guerilla warfare pitting guerrillas against a conventional military -- but takes advantages of the revolution in global communications and trade that has happened over the past forty years to operate completely independently of any state in which they happen to be hosted. This 4th generation of warfare pits non-state actors against the militaries of invading states, and thus far has proven immune to anything that a 3rd-generation military can dish out short of genocide.
Some politicians, such as U.S. secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld, and some military leaders, such as the IDF's Lt. General Dan Halutz, have belatedly recognized that their nation's beloved 3rd generation military is no longer effective against the new 4th generation threats. However, their response to this fact has been typical of 3rd generation thinking. Rather than come up with a new way of fighting non-state actors, instead they focus upon revamping their third-generation military to fight a fourth-generation war by doing two things: 1. making the ground forces "lighter weight" to replicate the lighter weight of the non-state actors' forces, and 2. massive application of air power in order to "destroy the ability of the non-state actor to fight."
Needless to say, both of these are outdated responses to the problem, and accomplish nothing other than an increase in the body count and an increase in the support base of the non-state actor. For example, in Iraq, the United States has razed several cities and towns using air power to basically make the rubble bounce. The result? err, completely counterproductive. For each civilian killed in the rubble, the insurgency gained two new recruits, to the point where Baghdad itself is now threatened by the insurgency, requiring U.S. troops to be withdrawn from the countryside in order to re-take Baghdad. Similarly, all that "going light" -- going to lightly armored HMMWV's rather than more heavily armored Bradleys, for example -- has accomplished is to increase the body count on the part of U.S. forces.
Similarly, in Lebanon, Israel has been using 3rd generation thinking to fight a 4th generation enemy. Hizballah's armed wing was a few thousand criminals in the south of Lebanon that had the support of less than 20% of Lebanon's people. Lebanon's government had condemned attacks by Hizballah against Israel, but lacked the military power to itself disarm Hizballah -- let's fact it, if Hizballah can fight the 2nd-most-powerful military in the world (Israel's) to a standstill, the chances of Lebanon's much smaller and weaker military being able to disarm Hizballah are nil. But when Israel attacked Hizballah, they used the same tactics as they would have used against a 3rd generation enemy. 3rd generation enemies were armed states such as Germany in WWII, and the use of air power in such a conflict was to destroy their transportation infrastructure, food storage infrastructure, housing infrastructure, and otherwise reduce them to squalid refugees living in the rubble of their former cities incapable of supporting a 3rd generation military. The problem is that Hizballah does not have a 3rd generation military. They do not rely on a modern infrastructure for their combat capability. Like the NVA and VC in South Vietnam, they carry their ammunition on their back from their base of supply (Damascus, in the case of Hizballah). Thus attacking Lebanon's cities (outside of the southern zone where Hizballah's military is active) does not accomplish any useful military goal.
That, in the end, is why actions such as razing Fallujah and destroying Beirut's port are war crimes: those actions achieved no military objectives. All they accomplished was the killing of civilians (unless you wish to say that the blue-jean-clad dead men wearing work boots were Hizballah guerrillas -- but somehow, I doubt that Hizballah guerrillas go around dressed like longshoremen!). Since the non-state actor does not require a 3rd generation infrastructure in order to operate, such destruction affects him not at all. He simply fades into the background and bides his time until the enemy is forced to reduce force levels in some area due to the exorbitant expense of maintaining a 3rd generation military in the field, and then comes back out from hiding and resumes bleeding the 3rd generation military. Short of genocide, there is literally nothing that a 3rd generation military can do to defeat him, because he is capable of blending into the sea of civilians and the only way to militarily extricate him from the sea of civilians is to kill all the civilians. Which, I suppose, is one way of handling the situation, but it would be suitably ironic if a state (Israel) founded upon the saying "Never again" about one state's race-based genocide, would itself engage in race-based genocide...
These ideas about the limitations of 3rd generation warfare are not new. For example, General MacArthur during the Korean War applied traditional notions of destroying the enemy's infrastructure in order to eliminate the enemy's ability to fight, and U.S. B-29 bombers destroyed every bridge, railroad, roadway, and grain depot in North Korea. Mao's Chinese army, which had won against the Nationalists by pitting a 4th generation force against a 3rd generation enemy, used more conventional tactics in Korea but used what might be seen as a predecessor to 4th generation supply mechanisms to avoid being defeated by the 3rd generation American forces in Korea. Chinese soldiers, armed with single-shot rifles, were resupplied by coolies on foot, hauling ammunition and food in baskets. The eventual result was a cease fire and drawing of a treaty line -- the 4th generation military had fought the 3rd generation military to a standstill. Similarly, in Vietnam, the NVA fought a protracted guerilla war in the south. Again, the U.S. attempted to bomb the enemy into submission, using their massive B-52 bombers to drop more bombs upon Indochina than had been dropped by all the combatants in WWII combined. All it did was increase support for the Pathet Lao in Laos, Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and the NVA in Vietnam.
The nascent 4th generation military again had defeated the 3rd generation military. Yet nobody seemed to notice. Then came Afghanistan, where the non-state militias fought the Soviet war machine to a standstill, then bled it to death until it was forced to retreat in ignomious defeat. Around the same time, Israel sent their troops into Lebanon, and similarly experienced the same thing -- they were literally being bled to death by the new non-state actors that arose to oppose them. And then George H.W. Bush sent his troops into Somalia on a humanitarian mission. Within six months, the Somalian militias had inflicted humiliating defeats upon the U.S. military, and the U.S. was forced to withdraw.
Yet still nobody seemed to notice that traditional notions of warfare had been rendered obsolete by the huge number of guerilla-ready weapons on the world market, the increasing affluence of the world at large which made those weapons affordable by even the poorest guerrillas, and the improving communications infrastructure of the world, especially satellite communications which allowed someone in Afghanistan to order an attack upon New York City despite the fact that Afghanistan's communications infrastructure had been bombed to rubble repeatedly over the prior 20 year period. And so now we end up with the current situation in Iraq and Lebanon, which pit 4th generation non-state actors against 3rd generation militaries, with predictable results -- the 3rd generation militaries and the nations supporting them are being bled dry by the enormous expenses of maintaining a large 3rd generation army in the field, said 3rd generation military is killing lots of civilians unnecessarily because they do not recognize that what would be a valid military target if fighting another 3rd generation military is militarily useless when fighting a 4th generation non-state actor, and said 3rd generation military is getting their butt handed to them strategically despite any tactical victories that they achieve, managing to do nothing other than destroy their country's economy while increasing support for the insurgents that they hoped to fight.
Yet still... yet still I hear 3rd generation warfare arguments from the supporters of Israel and the United States to justify the thousands of civilians they have slaughtered in their pursuit of non-state 4th generation adversaries. They fail to understand that what would be valid military targets if pursuing a 3rd generation state actor are militarily insignificant if persuing a 4th generation non-state actor, and thus are war crimes. The notion that the world has changed, that it is no longer 1941 and the enemies we face today in Iraq are not conventional 3rd generation militaries and thus cannot be defeated by the same methods we used to defeat Nazi Germany and Japan, literally blows their mind, in much the same way that, in early 1941, the notion that aircraft carriers would be more important than battleships in the upcoming war would have blown most fleet admirals' minds on both sides of the Pacific. Yet the world has changed, whether these heads-stuck-in-mud types want to admit it or not. And unfortunately, their stupidity results in disaster for all involved -- the states that end up being bled silly to fight an unwinnable war, and the civilian population of the states where the non-state actors have set up shop, who find themselves dodging bombs despite themselves having absolutely nothing to do with supporting or provisioning said non-state actors.
What will it take, I wonder, for the 3rd generation thinkers to admit that the world has changed? I'm not sure. All I know is that people are needlessly dying because the 3rd generation thinkers of the world refuse to see that their 3rd generation tactics are counterproductive against non-state actors. Stupidity kills. Literally, in this case. Unfortunately, if stupidity were gasoline, we'd be paying 2 cents per gallon at the pumps. Stupidity is something that there's a surplus of, in this world that we live in.
-- Badtux the Military Penguin