Understanding the Effectiveness of Asymmetrical Warfare

It has been common knowledge, for some time, that asymmetric warfare is extremely effective against much larger and better equipped armed forces. Events during the last 60 years have demonstrated on multiple occasions that even a very large, disciplined and well equipped armed force is no match for an opposing force a fraction of its size and technological capability, if the latter chooses to fight an asymmetric war.

There are many conventional explanation for this phenomena ranging from exponentially increasing costs for the bigger protagonist, mission creep which overshadow the original purpose of the military action to changing public perceptions about the military action in the home country of the bigger protagonist. While all of the above are correct, they miss the biggest and most obvious factor that contributes to the success of asymmetric warfare.

Ego

The universal human failing, also known as ‘ego’, has been behind more mistakes, missteps and misjudgements than any other human failing- even greed. So how does ego make asymmetric warfare far more effective that it would otherwise be.

It comes down to maintaining the illusion of control in your own mind.

Humans have a bizarre obsession with the need to believe they have control. I believe that this obsession stems from attempts by humans to suppress constant reminders of their own mortality, impermanence and the meaningless of life in general. But doing so comes at a very high price for the person as well as those around him or her. It also creates a major vulnerability that is unique to humans.

Animals, regardless of their levels of intelligence or self-awareness, will disengage from situations where the reward is outweighed by the cost or potential for harm. Humans will often continue doing stuff that is clearly not working, even when better options are readily available, just to be ‘right’. But ‘right’ to whom? and for what? Some of you might argue that group pressure and considerations might keep people from admitting that they were wrong. I believe that the opinions of others are a fairly minor component of the reasons for the human tendency to dig deeper.

Admitting that you were wrong to any significant extent destroys any shred of belief in your supposed omnipotence. This is especially the case for clever morons (physicians, scientists, military commanders, politicians, banksters) who will often defend their old positions to their last breath.

So how does that affect the conduct of warfare? If we examine warfare through the eyes of those who manage its conduct, it boils down to asserting dominance over somebody else that culminates in total victory- aka playing god for a short time. However that requires an unambiguous victory, like that achieved in WW2 against the Third Reich and Empire of Japan. However many modern-day conflicts do not produce such clean and obvious victories.

In the absence of such clean victories, military planners and schemers on the dominant side are left with a situation that simply cannot be spun as a victory. Asymmetric warfare is therefore best understood as the equivalent of a constant and unmistakable reminder that they are mere mortals. It is like a really bad song stuck in your head for all eternity or a PTSD flashback that just won’t go away.

The response of most clever people to this reminder of their impotency is also remarkably consistent. They just keep on escalating the conflict till they run out of resources, money, popular support and ultimately their own life. Some may try alternative approaches to the problem, but even those alternatives are constrained by what a ego-driven mind can conjure.

For them, it is about winning- not solving the problem.

And that is why the events of 9/11 mushroomed into an un-winnable and freakishly expensive (multi-trillion dollar) war on terror. Of course, it certainly helps that it has made a few people very rich at the expense of everybody else.

What do you think? Comments?

This entry was posted in Critical Thinking, Current Affairs, Musings, Philosophy sans Sophistry, Reason, Secular Religions, Skepticism, Technology, Thoughts on Economics. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Understanding the Effectiveness of Asymmetrical Warfare

  1. Wald says:

    Follow the money…

  2. P Ray says:

    It’s always funny how commanders refuse to cut their losses and come back to stupid ideas of “honour” and “payback” … when their own lives are not at stake.
    In other words, they’re brave, decisive and take charge … only when other people are willing to follow them.
    Basically, the ideology of the slave-driver.

  3. Matt Strictland says:

    Asymmetrical warfare could be redefined as when the defending side can and will soak more casualties than the offensive one.

    If we (and gladly we don’t) lived in a world with a single ruthless nuclear power with genocidal intent we could break almost any asymmetry with the neutron bomb. However the needs of a market state (you can’t sell to a necropolis) limits on fertility (it would take a century to repopulate a new area) and the proliferation of such weapons make it moot.

    You are thinking in terms of conventional casualties. I prefer to think in terms of grinding out the willingness and ability of one side to wage hostile warfare.

    Nuclear weapons have a unique problem. If a country (say the USA) uses them in a offensive manner, every other country will get them and likely use them in any confrontation with the USA.

    https://dissention.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/stuff-that-conservatives-cannot-comprehend-1/

    Infact this has already occurred to some extent since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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  5. Matt Strictland says:

    Matt Strictland :
    Asymmetrical warfare could be redefined as when the defending side can and will soak more casualties than the offensive one.
    If we (and gladly we don’t) lived in a world with a single ruthless nuclear power with genocidal intent we could break almost any asymmetry with the neutron bomb. However the needs of a market state (you can’t sell to a necropolis) limits on fertility (it would take a century to repopulate a new area) and the proliferation of such weapons make it moot.

    You are thinking in terms of conventional casualties. I prefer to think in terms of grinding out the willingness and ability of one side to wage hostile warfare.
    Nuclear weapons have a unique problem. If a country (say the USA) uses them in a offensive manner, every other country will get them and likely use them in any confrontation with the USA.
    https://dissention.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/stuff-that-conservatives-cannot-comprehend-1/
    Infact this has already occurred to some extent since Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    Of course. Thats why I specified a single power. When everybody has the bomb either we live without large scale war or civilization dies.

    As for proliferation, that was more a fact of Communist and humanitarian treason against the US. Largely our own internal contradictions created a situation in which the rational humane thing among some of the educated seemed to be to proliferate the bomb.

    This was a process caused by two things IMO,

    #1 a society founded by slave owning tax cranks which worships the rich will have a large class of people dissatisfied with it even among the educated (or maybe especially among them)

    #2 The brains of the left evolved differently than those of the right. There is evidence that modes of thinking re: social stability and fairness are quite different. Of course in the 40’s and 50’s we didn’t have any idea of this and its highly probable that an ideology driven by the idea of fairness (to each their own and to their own abilities etc) would not only seem better but it would only be right to help them . Also the US then and now isn’t that different than many other powers and even i can see why this would tempt people.

    This leaves us in a bad rut. Nuclear proliferation means pretty much all wars in the near future will either be civil or small scale at least until some group of nukes gets destabilized or someone gets very stupid.

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  7. Bradley says:

    I’d like to take a quote from this to use for my essay. Who do I cite? Thanks!

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