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.
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?