27 April 2023

What is an asymmetric warfare? – Definition and characteristics of the concept of asymmetric warfare

By Donald

Superiority in a war is very important to gain an advantage over rivals, so in pre-combat preparations, leaders seek have better resources, technology or more men than the enemy. This article explains what an asymmetric warfare is and what its characteristics are. In the same way, some tactics applied in these cases such as terrorism or the guerrilla are mentioned. Likewise, some examples are presented where the United States, Venezuela, Russia and others participate.

What does asymmetric warfare mean?

In wars, there is always something relevant that decides the victory of one of the sides, that is, an element that provides a certain advantage over the opponent. This can be a weapon such as a nuclear bomb, the intelligence and cunning of the military or the defenses of the territory. Thus, when there is a very noticeable superiority, it is said that it is an asymmetric war, since someone has a disadvantage.

Asymmetric warfare is defined as a combat in which the difference in resources between the opponents can be noticed. This advantage can be translated quantitative in number of men or in economy and qualitative in other components. Therefore, the inferior rival must resort to the use of other means to be able to equalize the contest or not be defeated quickly.

In an asymmetric war there is no specific combat front, since the inferior rival seeks to avoid direct combat. So, non-military tactics are used to try to even the situation. For example, political techniques are used, civilians are integrated into the conflict, or an act of terrorism against a public place.

Although there have been many asymmetric wars in world war history, the term is not very old. In that sense, he coined it William Lind in 1986 in a collaboration with the United States Marine Corps Group.

What characterizes an asymmetric war?

The main characteristic of an asymmetric war is the difference in capabilities and resources that exist between the sides. An example of this was in the conquest of americawhen the Spanish arrived with swords and firearms, while the natives had bows and arrows.

However, a characteristic of asymmetric warfare is that the best resources and superiority do not guarantee victory. Therefore, it is possible to affirm that in this type of battle there is no clear winner until the contest ends. There are many examples where the inferior combatant beats the one with the advantage, since his implications are based on defense.

Geographical conditions can also represent an advantage and is counted within the characteristics of asymmetric warfare. Well, there are places that are impregnable and represent a great defense. Here you must count the hills, cities on mountains or those that had great walls in ancient times.

It is also necessary to highlight as characteristics the tactics that are usually used in an asymmetric warfare. In this sense, the dirty war technique is usually executed. One of these acts is kidnap people from the other side to stop the attacks and carry out a negotiation.

In the same way, guerrilla warfare is applied, where the inferior army divides its troops into small groups. The guerrilla consists of launching quick attacks to specific places. The ideal is destabilize the enemy and not face the entire army of the rival. A resistance is also another tactic that is used in an asymmetric war that consists of presenting protests before certain acts.

Terrorism is one of the main defenses of the side that does not have the advantage in the war. Here, the aim is to generate terror in the enemy’s civilian population through criminal acts such as genocide. Likewise, the disobedience Civil also counts as one of the alternatives used when there is inequality. In it, the people are encouraged not to comply with the mandatory mandates of a State and to rise up in arms against it.

What is the difference between asymmetric and symmetric warfare?

A symmetrical war is not one in which both sides have the same resources, since this is very difficult to achieve. In any war there is always a team that has more men, while the other has better weapons. It also happens that one side has a better economy than its rival or has better developed technology. So perfect symmetry is not achieved unless there is prior mutual agreement.

In this sense, the conflict in which there is no clear advantage for neither side. In other words, both have the same chances of winning. Thus, it is possible that one of those involved has more troops, weapons, better economy or technology, however, his rival is ahead of him in other ways or can match the strength of the enemy.

For example, the cold war can be considered symmetrical, since both sides had similar implications. The two factions were in the arms race, with some advantage of the United States, the space competition, led by the Russians. On the contrary, the Vietnam War was asymmetric, since the advantage of the Americans was visible. Although that did not help them to win it.

Examples of asymmetric warfare

At present we find an asymmetrical war in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, since the latter did not have the resources, cash or technology to withstand the attack. Similarly, it could happen if the United States started an armed conflict against Venezuela, given the existing political tensions.

The Americans themselves carried out several of the most unequal battles in history, among the examples the aforementioned Vietnam War and the Iraq war. The latter had a favorable result, since they managed to invade said territory.

An asymmetric war occurred in Venezuela at the time of independence, which received the name of Battle of the Queseras del Medio. There, José Antonio Páez led 153 lancers against 1,200 Spanish horsemen, in which they stopped the royal advance without losing a single man. Likewise, the invasions of Nazi Germany to its neighbors also count as asymmetric, because despite the implications of its rivals in the war, most countries did not have the necessary resources.