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War Of Unequals: Understanding Asymmetric Warfare

Wars have a long history and have been a recurring phenomenon from ancient to contemporary human history. From ancient warfare to much modern, technology-endorsed interactions, wars have evolved over the years.

And much to the anxiety they arouse, it has been a significant subject of introspection. More literature was produced on the topic than at any other time in the 20th century, following the conclusion of two World Wars. Correspondingly amid fears of nuclear, biological, and chemical annihilation, it became crucial to examine the nature of war, its causes and ways of prevention.

While a large sizable literature studies the war, the question is: Are all wars fought between equals? What about the disproportionality and disparity that exists among two warring groups?

Asymmetrical warfare is one such example of this discrepancy. Asymmetry can be defined as something uneven, unequal, or imbalanced. When there is an imbalance in the size or power of the two major forces, asymmetric warfare arises.

Asymmetric engagement, also known as asymmetric warfare, is a type of unconventional warfare in which the powers of the belligerents differ significantly. In addition to military power, it is also characterised by contrasting strategies and tactics employed in the war.

The term is often used to describe conflicts between large nation-state forces and much smaller rebel forces with relatively low fighting strength.

In this asymmetrical situation, unconventional groups cannot outnumber or outwit large armies, so rather than trying to eliminate the enemy, they use guerrilla tactics to frustrate the enemy or inflict serious damage.

This term was first used by Andrew J.R. In his 1975 book, Why Great Powers Lose Small Wars, "asymmetric" referred simply to a significant disparity in power between opposing actors in a conflict.

In Asymmetric warfare, conflicts in which belligerents have unequal resources, each side seeks to exploit the relative weaknesses of the other.

These types of battles often involve unconventional combat, with the weaker side attempting to use strategy to compensate for deficiencies in the quantity or quality of troops and equipment. Such a strategy does not necessarily have to be militarised.

One characteristic of asymmetric warfare is the losing side's use of unconventional tactics. Guerrilla warfare, for instance, uses small, mobile squads to conduct hit-and-run attacks while disguising themselves as participants in the civilian population to avoid direct conflict with the superior force.

Such approaches often seek a major psychological impact, such as shock or confusion that affects the opponent's initiative, freedom of action, or will. Furthermore, these approaches often employ advanced and non-traditional tactics, weapons or technologies and can be applied at all levels of warfare – strategic, operational and tactical – across the full span of military action.

This is in contrast to symmetric warfare, where the two powers have equal military power and resources and rely on similar tactics. Due to the unequal strength of the two opposing forces in asymmetrical warfare, one of the sides typically resorts to guerilla warfare.

Another defining characteristic of asymmetric warfare is that it is a form of irregular warfare - a conflict in which enemy combatants are not the regular military forces of states. The term is often used to describe what is also known as guerrilla warfare, insurgency, counterinsurgency, insurgency, terrorism, and counterterrorism.

There are numerous examples of asymmetric warfare that scholars study as a textbook example of such type of interaction. These conflicts fought in varying settings and for different objectives, exhibit certain parallels in their characteristics. The primary underlying motivations are typically stimulated by rebellion and independence.

Examples of Asymmetric Wars

First Indochina War

The First Indochina War is another name for the FFrench-Indochina War. Poor, rural farmers without formal military training made up the majority of the insurgents in this state. They did not have a single director who could command attacks; instead, they organised themselves into loose, neighbourhood-based coalitions.

In the end, North Vietnam and the State of Vietnam were established in 1954 when the rebels—a combination of Viet Minh and non-communist nationalists—won.

Vietnam War

Vietnamese insurgents resisted France's reoccupation of the Indochina region of Vietnam following World War II. Small groups of liberation fighters confronted a powerful colonial force in the ensuing asymmetrical conflict.

In view of France mobilising an additional force in reaction to the insurgents' victory, the United States entered the Vietnam War. The rebels prevailed despite France and America's combined efforts.

The fact that the Vietnamese guerrillas didn't possess infrastructure and permanent bases made it difficult for the conventional troops to fight them successfully, which contributed significantly to the asymmetrical dynamics of the conflict. The United States came under scrutiny for striking communities populated by defenceless civilians while making an effort to engage with the insurgents conventionally.

The US ultimately withdrew because the expenses and frustration of continuing this war outweighed any possible gains.

US-Iraq War

Many see the US-Iraq war as asymmetrical, with the focus on the invasion and occupation that began in 2003.

The US had a powerful military advantage over Iraq in the US-Iraq conflict concerning technology, ammunition, and conventional forces. However, the Iraqi troops adopted unconventional tactics including guerilla warfare and insurgency, especially after the initial conventional phase.

This was a departure from conventional military engagements and resulted in a complex and prolonged war. Due to the asymmetrical character of the conflict in Iraq, non-state players like militias and insurgent organisations used strategies including ambushes, suicide bombers, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to offset the conventional strength of the American military.

Asymmetric wars present new challenges due to the constantly evolving nature of war. Apart from highlighting the underlying disparity that exists between the competitors, they mandate innovative strategies to deal with issues of incongruence and make room for diplomatic dialogue.

Edited by: Victoria Muzio

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