New Geopolitics of the Coming Global Asymmetric War
By: Andrew McKillop
Jan 25, 2014
New and Old
Even the definition of “asymmetric war” is controversial, because it can concern at least three drivers and methods of conflict, usually between large organized fighting forces and the opposite. Firstly there is the political-economic or other motivation, second the tactics, and thirdly the weapons utilised in asymmetric war – which itself is usually defined by the negative. Some writers say the term was first used by Andrew J. Mack in a 1975 book titled “Why Big Nations Lose Small Wars”. Some military historians conversely say asymmetric war dates from Antiquity, and included the surprise outcome of larger fighting forces losing an asymmetric war with smaller insurgent, militia, terrorist or tight knit politically motivated forces and entities in specific theaters of conflict.
Other than wars of Antiquity like the Ancient Greek Pelopennesian war series which lasted about 30 years in the 5th century BC, and certainly included asymmetric war and “surprise defeats” for larger forces, the 200-year Crusader war series (about 1095-1299) had recurring battles and campaigns where asymmetric war featured, and sometimes dominated. Our problem is that certainly for a near-century from the late 19th century to about 1980-2000, the Clausewitz doctrine of “God is with the big battalions” held firm. This in turn can be traced to the nature as well as the goals of war following the Industrial Revolution. Drivers of change included European nationbuilding, colonialism, mass migration and by 1948 the later “bipolar world” of the so-called Soviet Empire opposing the Western liberal-capitalist democracies. The collapse of the USSR was naively believed to mean “the end of history and of warfare itself”.
Although not defined as an asymmetric war campaign leading to total victory, by historians like Andrew Mack, the Long March of Mao Zedong culminating in total victory in 1949 was for most of its time called “terror war” by external major powers, including the US, Japan, the UK and other European nations. This only underlines the fact that asymmetric war – for losers – is often called terrorism, but also underlines the wider tactics and strategy, and weapons used by smaller insurgent forces during an asymmetric war campaign or series. It also underlines that like the asymmetric wars of the distant past, these are generally long series of wars, not setpiece short-term frontline battlefield warfare.
Strategy and Tactics