View Full Version : "The Folly of 'Asymmetric War' " is the title

Ken White
09-18-2008, 09:56 PM
of this Article (LINK) (http://twq.com/08summer/docs/08summer_mazarr.pdf) in the Washington Quarterly.

It strikes me as more political and ideological polemic than an exposition of 'strategic thought' and it seems to succumb to the myth that by ignoring minor annoyances and concentrating on MCO, all will be well. Admittedly, the author provides plenty of caveats to give himself some wiggle room but if this is an example of strategic thought at the NWC, I think I'm worried...

Mark O'Neill
09-18-2008, 11:40 PM

I am in 100% agreement with you. Here is how I treated Mazarr's piece at the Lowy Institute's blog, The Interpreter, a few weeks ago:


The rigour of thought displayed, understanding of the subject matter and the quality of the 'logic' was sadly lacking.

What is of equal concern to me is the fact that the article would have been peer reviewed. Material like this leaves those of use in the Military/ Strat / Academic community with little ground to stand on when we want be to be critcial of of dodgy reporting and analysis by journalists. If the 'professionals' are so inane, what hope others?



Ken White
09-19-2008, 12:14 AM
Strange fish in the sea... :wry:

Bill Moore
09-19-2008, 07:14 AM
Mark, great review, but as you state the article still has merit. I strongly encourage members to read the article Ken posted and your review. Bill

09-19-2008, 01:51 PM
is sadly a growing industry. It always chafes my cheeks when someone who knows better uses asymetry in this manner.

Mark - perhaps the title of your review should have been "The Folly of False Dilemmas.

Live well and row

09-19-2008, 03:08 PM
Dr. Gordon McCormick argues that in the beginning, a small war is symmetric in nature. The state has an overwhelming advanatage in force structure (i.e military/police capability). Conversely, the counter-state(partisan or insurgent force) has the overwhelming information advantage (i.e. the counter-state can see the government, but the government cannot see him).
Initially, these comparative advantages are equal.

The conflict does not become assymetric until one side gains a significant advantage over the other- either the state gains significant intelligence over the insurgent or the insurgent degrades the military/police capability of the state.

Just another way to look at it.



Ken White
09-19-2008, 04:05 PM
though I'm not at all sure what relevance it has to anything other than an academic discussion.

As Mark said in his review of the Mazarr article; "The history of all warfare is of the protagonistís quest to gain an asymmetric advantage over the enemy." Fighting 'symmetrically' is not smart if it can in any way be avoided...

Bill Moore
09-20-2008, 04:04 AM
Sounds like Dr. McCormick is referring more to comparative advantage versus asymmetry. I have not yet seen a definitive definition of asymmetrical warfare or 4GW etc., but both are loose concepts at best. However, normally asymmetry is not defined as one side having a decisive asymmetric advantage over another, but rather the use of tactics that are not vulnerable to your foe's strengths. Symmetrical on the other hand, both sides fight each other with the same weapons, same type of forces, etc., you bring your sword and I'll bring mine, see you in the parking lot and we'll fight using the same rule book.

I don't like the term asymmetrical, but admit it can be useful at times. I think asymmetrical could refer to a number of situations:

One side must follow the land of law warfare and the other doesn't.

Related to this one side must wear a uniform and attempt to minimize damage to non-combats, while the other rejoices in collateral damage.

One side must maintain national and international will to stay in the fight, while the other only needs to motivate a select ethnic group (as one example).

Guerrilla tactics (hit and run, IEDs, sniper attacks, propaganda, terrorize civilians, etc.) versus maneuver and static security forces.

One side can target state level infrastructure (9/11 attacks, Madrid train bombing, London bombings) and have telling effect on the economy and political system, while the other side punches at air and successes are harder to exploit.

This is something we all understand this, do we need to restructure the military to fight this threat? I think that is the argument Dr Mazzar made in his article, and while I disagree with many of his points, I think some are spot on. We can't afford to lose our asymmetrical advantage in conventional combat, and at the same time we have other security challenges we must face.

Not so sure I agree with phrase, "The Folly of False Dilemmas", they are dilemmas for decision makers, especially when it comes to the allocation of resources.

09-20-2008, 01:55 PM
I think that that is the best definition of Asymmetrical Warfare that I have yet seen.