Understanding Contemporary Asymmetric Threats

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In the 21st century, warfare has evolved into a challenge that many countries are ill prepared to face. In contrast to the warfare of yesterday, victory is not defined by defeating an opposing military force, but rather defeating their ability to pursue political objectives by violent, often unconventional, means. Increasingly, these unconventional means are based on asymmetries between the two opposing forces.

A plethora of definitions for the term ‘asymmetric conflict’ exist, but they can largely be summarized by a general idea that one side in a conflict, due to its own failings or its opponents’ strength, is unable to achieve its political aims through conventional (i.e. symmetric) military means. Because of this, the weaker side uses new ideas, weapons and tactics in a manner that is not expected, exploiting surprise to undermine the relative strength(s) of their opponent (Lele, 2014). The character of contemporary asymmetric threats can be analyzed through a framework of several key characteristics, which will be described in this paper. Understanding this framework, particularly in light of the horizontal transfer of technology, tactics, organization structure and procedures between emerging asymmetric threats may contribute to better understanding of such threats.

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