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07/23/06
On Winning an Asymmetrical War
Filed under: Politics and Economics
Posted by: site admin @ 9:59 am

This article presents some of the problems and some potential solutions to dealing with asymmetrical warfare. Given the current trouble in the MidEast and because this problem will continue to get worse as long as States have no effective way of dealing with it, it seemed to me important to address the issue.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there are 2 types of asymmetrical warfare (AW): defensive and offensive. These are critically different even though in places like the Gaza/Israel/Lebanon they intermingle. This difference is important because each requires different approaches.

Offensive AW continues because there are many lightweight mobile weapons, or things that can be used as weapons. Defeating offensive AW requires creating physical or psychological impotence. The advantage here is that there are no civilian casualties on either side. But by rendering the offensive warrior impotent, he1 loses the power that comes from being able to inflict damage.

It is possible to effect impotence psychologically. Stetson Kennedy used it effectively when he infiltrated the KKK after WWII and funneled Klan secrets to the “Superman” radio show, where they were used as background for a series of incompetent villians. The resulting ridicule helped discredit and dismember it2. Given the current nature of AW, with guerillas siting their weapons, headquarters, etc. in civilian areas, a campaign ridiculing them for “hiding behind women and children” could be very effective. This might be particularly effective if done in a comparative way - for example: “Usama bin Laden is willing to suffer in the uncomfortable reaches of Afghanistan for what he believes in, but Hezbollah wants to live in the comforts of Lebanon and hide behind women and children.”

Another approach that might work is to focus on what these organizations don’t actually accomplish for those they claim to represent. Hamas and Hezbollah are both political as well as military organizations3. They provide numerous social services. However, many of the people that could benefit from their services still live in refugee camps - 60 years after leaving what is now Israel. Repeatedly reminding the potential beneficiaries of these organizations what they could have already had but don’t could take the luster off of their military agendas. (Play the guns vs. butter argument against them).

Physical impotence means that military strikes become ineffective. Either passive or active means of stopping attacks, incursions, etc. could be used. For example, if Israel had a 5 mile high missile proof wall, the current missile attacks would be futile - obviously futile. Hezbollah wouldn’t seem very impressive militariliy to the Lebanese in this case. The specific ways this could be done vary according to the environment and available techonology - I won’t attempt to list them here.

Defensive AW is all about hearts and minds. Control cannot be established in a location if the population doesn’t want you there. You simply can’t build a tight enough police state to make this work unless you’re willing to spend years and be VERY brutal. The only way to really succeed in this case is to sell the population on how they will get a better deal with the new regime that they could possibly get siding with the guerillas. Again, there are both psychological and physical components to this.

Physically, you must give people something to lose. Further, they must have it long enough to become attached to it and grow to fear losing it. Exactly what they fear losing may not matter, but something that makes life a lot more comfortable/ convenient is probably a good place to start. Attempts to do this in Iraq, by building schools, fixing the electrical grid, etc. have been hampered both by a complete lack of planning on the part of the US military and, later, by guerilla activity.

Psychologically, you must have a consistent campaign that explains to the population that the guerillas are the ones keeping them from something even better. You may not need to convince them to sell out the guerillas - just stop cooperating with them. All defensive AW campaigns require domestic support for supply, etc. Lack of support in this area will gradually strangle guerilla organizations because they have to spend larger and larger parts of their time just financing their own existence - and less time on actually doing anything.

It is possible to win an asymmetric war - but it requires thinking differently.

NOTES:
1. Most are male. It could apply to either gender.
2. See KKK and Stetson Kennedy for a brief overview.
3. Hezbollah overview and Hamas overview

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