Academic journal article Military Review

Asymmetric Warfare: Strategic Asymmetry

Academic journal article Military Review

Asymmetric Warfare: Strategic Asymmetry

Article excerpt

Authors in this section discuss aspects of asymmetric warfare that escape many who assume they know what such threats are and how to cope with them. Metz points out that our joint doctrine inadequately addresses these strategic vulnerabilities-and related US advantages. Readiness against these threats may seem to emanate from doctrine, but it must begin even deeper, according to Thomas. He says that the real asymmetries we have to address are disparities in intangibles like values and will. Given all these considerations, Army leaders must adapt to rapidly changing realities of global threats and asymmetric combat, a process that Worley outlines.

STRATEGIC ASYMMETRY uses some sort of difference to gain an advantage over an adversary. Many of history's greatest generals had an instinct for it. Like the US military in the Gulf War, Mongols under Genghis Khan and his successors often used superior mobility, operational speed, intelligence, synchronization, training and morale to crush enemies in lightning campaigns. When necessary, the Mongols used superior Chinese engineering for successful sieges. Other conquerors, such as the Romans, Europeans, Aztecs and Zulus, brought superior technology, discipline, training and leadership to the battlefield. Rebels in anticolonial wars also relied on asymmetry by weaving guerrilla operations, protracted warfare, political warfare and a willingness to sacrifice into Maoist People's War, the Intifada and the troubles of Northern Ireland.

Throughout the Cold War, asymmetry was important to US strategic thinking but was not labeled as such. Matching Soviet quantitative advantages in Europe with US and NATO qualitative superiority was integral to US strategy. Other concepts such as Massive Retaliation in the 1950s or the maritime strategy in the 1980s elevated asymmetry to an even higher plane.1 Beginning in the 1990s, the Department of Defense (DOD) began to recognize the potential for asymmetric threats to the United States. This was part of DOD's increased understanding of the post-Cold War security environment. Since the global power distribution was asymmetric, it followed that asymmetric strategies would naturally evolve.

Explicit mention of asymmetry first appeared in the 1995 Joint Publication 1, Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States, but the concept was used in a very simplistic, limited sense? The doctrine defined asymmetric engagements as those between dissimilar forces, specifically air verse land, air versus sea and so forth.3 This narrow concept of asymmetry had limited utility. The 1995 National Military Strategy approached the issue somewhat more broadly, listing terrorism, using or threatening to use weapons of mass destruction and information warfare as asymmetric challenges. In 1997 asymmetric threats began to receive greater attention. The Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review stated, "US dominance in the conventional military arena may encourage adversaries to ... use asymmetric means to attack our forces and interests overseas and Americans at home."

The National Defense Panel (NDP), a senior-level group Congress commissioned to assess long-term US defense issues, was even more explicit. The panel reported: "We can assume that our enemies and future adversaries have learned from the Gulf War. They are unlikely to confront us conventionally with mass armor formations, air superiority forces, and deep-water naval fleets of their own, all areas of overwhelming US strength today. Instead, they may find new ways to attack our interests, our forces and our citizens. They will look for ways to match their strengths against our weaknesses." 5 The NDP specifically mentioned danger of massive US casualties caused by enemy weapons of mass destruction to delay or complicate US access to a region and inflict casualties, attacks on US electronic and computer-based information systems, use of mines and lissiles along straits and littorals, and terrorism. …

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