Asymmetric Warfare

By Paul Evancoe

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near – Sun Tsu, “The Art of War” circa 476–221 BCE.

Radical Islam presents an asymmetric threat to the West the likes of which has not been previously experienced. An asymmetric threat is lopsided, disproportionate, distorted and unbalanced and therefore, a threat for which there is no prepared formal response. Examples of asymmetric warfare are documented throughout human history. When David slew Goliath he innovatively used a low tech weapon against a foe possessing superior strength. The Greeks used a Trojan Horse to conceal a small commando force who, after dark, opened the fortified city’s gate from inside the walls, allowing the invading Greek Army the element of surprise to conquer Troy. The Chinese general and strategist, Sun Tsu, employed deception as an unorthodox form of warfare. Alexander employed swarming, mobility and combined arms to defeat the Roman Legions. In WW II the Japanese introduced the Kamikazi. The Mujahadin defeated the Russians in Afghanistan by largely relying on low tech weapons, guerilla tactics and taking advantage of any opportunity. On 9/11 hijacked airliners were used against the World Trade Center and Pentagon as man-guided weapons of mass destruction. All of these examples commonly reflect asymmetric warfare and demonstrate man’s nature to seek and employ advantages over a stronger opponent.

We live during a time of evolving asymmetric activities and rising “trans-national” insurgency. It is a time of unexpected alliances between otherwise unlikely parties based upon religious imperatives rather than the strategic necessity to combine operational strengths against a common enemy. It is a time of asymmetric activities, often integrated with global crime that gains momentum by weakening and disrupting legitimate states. While history has called it many different things depending upon the prevailing political litmus, it is nonetheless asymmetric warfare.

Fueled by rogue state support, we are witnessing an accelerating evolution in extremism that is leading towards the emergence of a new, virulent form of radical Islamic ideology based upon a globally utopian and apocalyptic vision. This ideology challenges rationality, while at the same time it retards cultural development and resilience. Moreover, ungoverned territory and failed states serve as both a breeding ground and sanctuary for advancing Islamic extremism.

These disparate Islamic groups are creating a systemic, global, multi-dimensional threat that benefits from ideological and technical cross pollination shared between them, apparently facilitated by the internet. We must recognize that the global security model has changed and as a result, our methods to remain ahead of it must change too and if nothing changes – nothing changes.

Terrorism has gone hi-tech. They’re using the internet for data mining to conduct open source warfare and sharing that information among themselves. As a result, virtually anything and anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe (the infidel) is a potential target. Many analysts believe that “techno-terrorists” among them may have a readily obtainable WMD capability in the very near future. At the very least, they have the capability to cause critical systems disruption or sabotage by means of sophisticated targeting using conventional and unconventional means. They have demonstrated that they spare no quarter between military and non-military / civilian targets. In fact, population centers and economic targets have become the front lines no matter their global location.

The only way this brand of Islamic terrorism can be stopped is through the application of relentless military and diplomatic pressure. We must be willing to know what we believe, why we believe it and not apologize for the path we take. The solution, therefore, must be systematic and global, in nature. It must be comprehensive, proactive and focused on impeding and/or eliminating state support. First and foremost, it must be about containing the extremist ideology and encouraging the moderates.

To be sure – shock and awe works, but not without superior intelligence and knowledge about the enemy. The exploitation of inter-dependencies and nodes to identify and strike the leadership of inter-connected individuals and networks is exactly why the NSA is “listening.” Attacking the network through the inducement of events that result in cascade failures and create unexpected effects has proven to be highly effective in impeding state support, slowing WMD development and causing political challenge to radical leadership.

The Obama Administration is effectively following many of the same playbook strategies used by previous administrations, but evolving technology has allowed increased emphasis on a number of very effective tactics. For example, greater reliance on electronic warfare resulting from exponentially more powerful computer capabilities has led to surgical drone strikes against key terrorist leadership. Increased reliance on Special Operations Forces and their ability to conduct overt and covert direct action missions in conventional and unconventional environments is another effective tool. The additional incorporation of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement communities into the overall war fighting team reflects the West’s version of asymmetric warfare to gain advantage over its opponents.

Paul Evancoe is a freelance writer and author of three action novels; Own the Night, Violent Peace and Poison Promise. All are available online from




One Response to “Asymmetric Warfare”

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military dot image Bruce    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

Nice, well written article and to the point.

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