Institute for the Study of Asymmetric Conflict


Executive Security Course

Shifting Battle Lines Course Syllabus and Readings

As warfare between states is gradually superseded by warfare between governments and non-state actors, the nature of warfare itself is changing. More and more, modern warfare is a struggle for hearts and minds rather than a battle for physical dominance. This new form of conflict, commonly referred to as "Fourth-Generation Warfare" or 4GW, is defined by its emphasis on perception and psychology, pitting non-state actors against traditional nation-states, with news media and other information channels as the primary battleground.

Fourth-Generation Warfare encompasses three levels of conflict: physical, mental, and moral. It is persuasive rather than coercive; non-state actors do not generally pose an existential threat to state actors, and usually don't want to govern territory—at least for now. Instead, they fight in order to get their messages across. In essence, 4GW is the continuation of public relations by other means.

Topics Covered

The changing role of states in modern conflicts. States are losing soveriegnty both upwards (to multi-national and international bodies) and downwards (to NGOs, non-state actors, and interest groups). What does this portend for the conduct of armed conflicts? What role does the civilian population have in modern warfare?

Can a democracy win a Fourth Generation Conflict?  The common wisdom is that democracies are inevitably at a disadvantage when facing non-state actors. But is this necessarily true?. A class exercise pitting states against non-state actors will explore the limits of state-level decision-making (and possibly lead to some surprising results!)

The battle in cyberspace. As conflicts shift from the battlefield to the homefront, cyberspace becomes both venue and weapon. A class exercise will allow participants to explore the potential, and the limits, of cyberwarfare. 

Facing the changing future of conflict. What are the implications of all this? How will nations of the future project power? Is there a future for the nation-state in an increasingly hyperlinked international sphere? The course will conclude with a round-table discussion of trends and consequences. 

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