A thought that occurred to me during a conversation earlier today.
A popular buzzword lately has been “asymmetric warfare,” describing engagements between combatants with radically different strengths and weaknesses. One classic example is 9/11, but another example that we shouldn’t ignore is the present war in Iraq. In this case, though, it’s asymmetric in the other direction – we chose the manner of engagement to our maximum advantage. The fact that the war has gone as well as it has so far (knock on wood) is really due to the fact that in large part we set it up to play to our strengths.
This brought to mind a point which I don’t think has been discussed enough in relation to wars in general. Asymmetric warfare situations – which appear to now be the norm for war in general, not just terror activities – place an enormous premium on highly aggressive tactics. The basic reason is that the attacker gets to choose the nature of the engagement, and since asymmetric warfare by its nature is about focusing one’s strengths on the enemy’s weaknesses, this gives a much greater premium than it does in more symmetric conflicts.
If this is correct, then tactics and strategy need to be radically changed from the strategies of symmetric conflicts. Defenses need to be more uniform, not presenting any obvious weak points for an enemy to target. The absence of clear lines of engagement makes this even more severe, since the distinction between military and civilian targets has been eroded into invisibility in the past few years. But more importantly, it suggests that the only way to win an asymmetric conflict is by maximally aggressive tactics, continuously searching out enemy capabilities and striking them at their weakest points.
I’m not entirely happy with this thought, because it seems to argue in favor of several policies that I’m rather leery of – “preventive war,” for example. But I’m not certain if there’s any way around this in the context of highly asymmetric threats.