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A Grand Strategy For Winning World War IV

The article appeared originally in The Intelligencer, Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies, Volume 22, Number 2, Fall 2016. It was also published by the American Center for Democracy

Western Civilization Versus Radical Islam

In 1910 British author Norman Angell proclaimed the end of war in his enormously popular book THE GREAT ILLUSION.  Angell’s thesis was that increasing globalization and economic interdependence of the great powers had rendered all but local and colonial wars obsolete.  His evidence was that there had been no major regional or inter-regional war since the Napoleonic wars ended in 1815.

Four years later World War I broke out and two years after that the war had become global.

Twenty-one years after the end of World War I World War II began.  Two years after the end of World War II World War III, otherwise known as the Cold War, began and lasted for forty-two years.

In 1991 the American academic Francis Fukuyama published his thesis concerning “The End of History”.  That thesis, remarkably similar to that of Norman Angell at the beginning of the century was that the triumph of democracy and the market economy meant that history, seen as essentially a chronicle of wars and battles, was over.  Peace and prosperity would be the future of mankind.

Ten years later three passenger planes crashed into the twin towers in Manhattan and the Pentagon, which signaled the beginning of World War IV, the war with radical Islam which continues to rage today, fifteen years later, during the centenary of World War I.

World Wars I and II were won by the democratic powers primarily through military action.  Although all the instruments of state power, of course, were used, including diplomacy, propaganda, economics and subversion,  they were all subordinated to the military arm.  The other instruments of statecraft were often neglected, unsuccessful and sometimes counterproductive.  An outstanding example of the use of subversion, however, was the German introduction of Lenin into Russia from his exile in Switzerland, which resulted in the overthrow of the Czar and the eventual triumph of the Bolshevik regime.

The Cold War, however, after decades of alternation by the Western powers of a strategy of containment with one of accommodation (referred to as “détente”) of the Soviet Union and its allies, was eventually won only through an integrated grand strategy on the part of The United States involving all of the instruments of state power in a coordinated fashion by the administration of President Ronald W. Reagan.

The process of the formulation and adoption of this multi-variant exercise of statecraft is detailed in the book THE GRAND STRATEGY THAT WON THE COLD WAR:  ARCHITECTURE OF TRIUMPH, published in January of this year, of which I was co-editor and co-author.  Most of the book was written by those who were actually involved in the formulation of the grand strategy from the standpoints of its different aspects, along with chapters by historians of the Cold War.  In the extensive appendices the national security decision directives of the National Security Council and other documents detailing the development of the grand strategy are presented.

Within seven years of the adoption of the grand strategy the Cold war was won by the West, and without war. World War IV, the war with radical Islam, cannot be won through military action alone, but must be addressed by an integrated grand strategy like that which won the Cold War.

World War IV is similar to the second and third world wars in that it is a fundamental ideological component that was lacking in World War I.  It is different from all the preceding wars in that many of the measures taken to implement all the elements of statecraft must be directed towards non-state actors (NSAs), primarily terrorist Islamist organizations, a factor absent from the preceding wars and the success or failure of which will vitally affect the final outcome of the war.  Objectives must involve destruction of the central operational core of the enemy entities, while combating or containing their peripheral manifestations.

Finally, and fundamentally important, the enemy was be correctly identified and targeted.  World War IV is not a war against “terrorism”.  It is a war against the violent, extremist manifestations of a religion, that of Islam.  Like Soviet communism in The Cold War, but unlike Nazism in World War II, radical Islam’s ultimate objective is to take over the world.  Therefore as was demonstrated by the futility of containment and détente in The Cold War, it cannot be contained.  It must be destroyed.


The role and technology of intelligence in World War IV is fundamentally different than in the previous global conflicts since 1914.  The central role of NSAs means that they must be specifically targeted in new and imaginative ways, especially when it comes to human intelligence.  It is no longer a question of “turning” one or another significant person in the political or military hierarchy of a hostile state in order to glean information concerning policy or strategic decisions, debates and disagreements, or planting people in lower-level positions where they may have access to important classified documents.

To be of any use, an agent must actually join the organization and actively participate in operations, not only gaining operational knowledge but rising in the ranks to a position from which he/she can glean important information about individuals and groups within the higher echelons.  And that, in turn, means participating in horrendous actions of hyper-violence against civilian populations. To ask potential agents to do this may be unacceptable to them and unacceptable to the relevant agency itself.

On the other hand, dependence on technological intelligence, whether intercepts or satellite imaging or other is of much less use than in traditional conflicts.  Normal military reconnaissance is sufficient for the identification of troop movements and concentrations, especially since NSAs lack air capability; but even here, since terrorist organizations tend to meld into the civilian infrastructure as much as possible, reconnaissance is not as useful as it is in more “normal” warfare.

Even more so than with previous conflicts, open source intelligence is fundamental.  Terrorist NSAs trumpet their activities, since an important element of the inculcation of terror is that the target populations is in creating an atmosphere within which terrorist activities and events are anticipated by the targets, so that terror becomes a frame of mind which can then be played upon for the purpose of the achievement of the goals of the organizations involved.

Traditional intelligence operations should be centered upon the state sponsors of terrorist NSAs, if there are such.  This is true of Hezbollah, for example, sponsored by Iran.  It is less true of organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, since their state sponsors tend to change over time depending on the particular circumstances in which they operate.  Hamas, in effect, is the state in Gaza.  Islamic State (IS), or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh, has no state sponsor and never did.  Al-Qaida (AQ) is an independent network of regional and local subsidiaries, although at various times it has enjoyed state support.

In other words, Western intelligence agencies must be much more flexible and imaginative in both doctrine and operations than ever before.  Unfortunately, intelligence agencies are as bureaucratic as any other government department, and that does not encourage either imagination or flexibility.  The same is true of counter-intelligence, which must undergo a similar transformation to be effective.  Psychological analysis and yes, profiling, should be utilized to a much greater extent than they are at present.

The Western intelligence service which has by far the greatest experience dealing with terrorist NSAs and an excellent record of intelligence successes, is undoubtedly Israel’s Mossad. Its expertise should be widely solicited by other intelligence agencies.


The role of the diplomat in World War IV will be a combination of traditional diplomacy, primarily in the formation and management of alliances to confront the common enemy, and a completely new but essential function, dealing with NSAs, especially terrorist groups.

The formation and management of alliances has been a primary function of diplomatic statecraft for centuries.  In the current global configuration of state actors and their policies, strategies and tactics, an essential element, always present but never before as central, is that there must be a clear and mutually-understood division between collaboration in facing radical Islam and all other matters of mutual concern.  In World War II the Western democracies were pleased to take advantage of Germany’s monumental strategic mistake in attacking its Soviet ally in June of 1941, despite the fact that the U.S.S.R was as much a totalitarian state as Nazi Germany and potentially as much of a potential threat to Western civilization, as it indeed proved to be during the Cold War.

The fact that the mistakes of Munich 1938 were repeated at Yalta simply underlines the fact that diplomacy is driven by policy and cannot create any reality beyond the bounds established by the political authorities, especially when carried out not by professionals but by the political leaders themselves, as was the case in both Munich and Yalta.

In World War IV traditional diplomacy must deal additionally with the state sponsors of terrorism whenever the opportunity presents itself, as was the case with the negotiations between Iran and the six powers (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia and Germany), an opportunity that was provided by the successful application of economic measures by the West against the Iranian regime.

The actual combatants of radical Islam are NSAs.  Traditional diplomacy has no doctrine for and traditional diplomats have no experience with or training for dealing with NSAs.  Nevertheless, they must be dealt with, whether or not they have state sponsors.  In the case of terrorist organizations with state sponsors, such as Hezbollah (which is also firmly embedded in a state-Lebanon), diplomacy must deal with both entities which compounds the difficulties.  At the same time, at least some of the skills of traditional diplomacy can be applied.  The same is not true of terrorist organizations that do not have state sponsors, such as Islamic State, or have non-state sponsors, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or have shifting patterns of state and non-state sponsorship, such as Hamas.

Just as police forces had to learn how to negotiate with, not just defend against or violently attack, criminal gangs, today’s political agents in the West must learn how to deal with terrorist organizations.  It can be done, just as Colombia has recently negotiated at length with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a terrorist organization which has challenged the Colombian state for decades.  In past years the government of the U.K. negotiated a cease fire and eventually a peace arrangement with Northern Irish Provisional IRA.  The FARC during different periods of time had state sponsors in Cuba and Venezuela; the Provisional IRA never had a state sponsor.  It is likely that such negotiations will bypass the traditional diplomatic agencies of government and be lodged in other departments, as in the cases mentioned above.  But however organized, it must be done, and training for this quasi-diplomatic activity should be immediately undertaken.


Propaganda is generally considered a peripheral or supplementary element of grand strategy.  In the case of the current war against radical Islam, however, it is central and vital.  World Wars II and III, of course, were also fought against ideologies:  Nazism and Communism.  However, unlike Islam Nazism and Communism could offer their adherents only accretions of power and wealth in this life.  Additionally, Nazism was limited in geographic and historical scope and Communism, which had global ambitions, was limited in historical scope.  In contrast, Islam can offer its adherents eternal bliss and has one thousand four hundred years of historical context.  It also, unlike the preceding secular ideologies, could point to many armed confrontations with the Western world over the centuries, with many successes in those confrontations.

The radical Islamic terrorist organizations make very good use of propaganda in all its aspects, including in the most modern-social media.  In contrast, Western propaganda efforts have been feeble to non-existent.  This is partially due to the hesitation to attack a religion, as opposed to a secular ideology.  There can be no effective Western propaganda in World War IV unless radical Islam is named and specifically targeted as a manifestation of the Islamic religion from its very beginning.  The Islamic tide crested in the late 17th century before the gates of Vienna.  Since that time it has been on the defensive externally and degenerating internally, but all that changed in the run-up and follow-up to September 11, 2001.

The propaganda advantage the adversary has in this conflict is almost entirely due to the unwillingness of the West to frontally attack the underlying ideological matrix of Islam.  If that is deemed unacceptable then this vital element of the grand strategy will simply be conceded.  It is not a question of technology.  All the technologies of propaganda are well known and extensively practiced in the West, although more attention could and should be paid to the use of the social media.  But all the technology in the world cannot be utilized successfully if the basic, underlying principles involved in the conflict are not recognized and deployed.  World War IV is the struggle between Judeo-Christian morality and Greco-Roman civilization on the one side and fanatical, retrograde, totalitarian religious barbarism on the other.  On that foundation a successful propaganda campaign can be formulated.

Economic Strategies

As with diplomacy and propaganda, economic strategies in World War IV must be adapted to the idiosyncrasies of the present conflict.  In dealing with the state sponsors of radical Islamic terrorism, of course, all the weapons of economic warfare can be utilized, including trade and financial sanctions, sabotage and blockade.  Against the terrorist NSAs, however, not all of these tactics will be similarly effective.  Sanctions as such cannot be deployed because they are not states and therefore not subject to such sanctions.  However, all means must be employed, very much including military action, to cut off trade and financial relations with the outside world.  These should be coordinated with formal sanctions applied to their state sponsors, if any.  Production facilities should be sabotaged or militarily attacked; supply routes should be interdicted; ports used by such entities should be blockaded.  Terrorist organizations, like any other human artifact, require resources to survive.  The economic strategies of the West in this conflict must be overwhelming and kept in place until the final triumph.  The principal criticism of the nuclear “deal” with Iran is that it gave up a successful sanctions matrix for promises concerning Iran’s nuclear program, but with a negative effect on Iran’s sponsorship of radical Islam due to the release of billions of dollars of Iranian assets formerly frozen.


Subversion can be effectively utilized by the West in its war with radical Islam.  Introducing agents of influence into terrorist organizations to foment and exacerbate internal conflicts among the leadership and/or between the leadership and the membership.  Setting one terrorist organization against another should be encouraged where possible.  But particularly useful will be the internal subversion of state sponsors of terrorism.  Regime change in such countries should be a centerpiece of the policy mix in World War IV.  The failure to support the opposition in Iran during the popular uprising following the electoral fraud when Ahmadinejad was reelected president will be seen by historians of the conflict as a major lost opportunity and a symbol of inadequate leadership in the West.

Military Display and War

The West must maintain overwhelming air, naval, ground and space capabilities on the periphery of sensitive regions and countries in the current conflict and those capabilities should be made clear to the terrorist organizations, their followers and members, and their state sponsors.  In this respect the premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011 was particularly damaging.

But military display, although it may have deterrence value, must eventually be utilized to be credible and there must always be the willingness to utilize military action under the appropriate circumstances.  When used, it should be overwhelming.  World War IV, the war against radical Islam, is, after all, a war.

Concluding Observations

The West is conducting the war against radical Islam with one hand tied behind its back.  The first three world wars since 1914 were all preceded by a period of failed leadership on the part of the West, but when the wars started the necessary leadership was eventually found, even though in the case of the Cold War that took more than thirty years.  World War IV can be won; indeed, it must be won or Western civilization and its values will give way to the Chinas and Russias of this world.  In order to do so, however, will require the sort of leadership supplied by a Churchill or a Reagan along with imagination and flexibility in the use of all the instruments of statecraft.

World War IV is not World Wars I, II or III.  It must be fought on its own terms, and those terms must be understood and openly acknowledged.  If that happens, victory is assured, because overwhelming resources can be brought to bear in implementing the overall objective of total victory with the appropriate choice of methods and means.