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Asymmetric warfare

The concept of asymmetric warfare fuses many previous and more specific ideas of guerrilla warfare, espionage, atrocity, violent resistance[?], sabotage, non-violent resistance, and terrorism. It is a broad and inclusive term coined to recognize that two sides in a conflict may have such drastically different strengths and weaknesses that they resort to drastically different (thus 'asymmetric') tactics to achieve relative advantage - including attacks on "civilians". The term, when used in place of the term "terrorism", is controversial. It lends itself to a justification of the targeting of non-combatants by implying the attackers are merely using the only form of force available to them. As a moral position, this is against the standards of most cultures.

The rise of all forms of asymmetric warfare in the 20th century (including bombing civilian populations) challenged all ideas of what a "civilian" was or how or why they were to be kept immune to conflicts.

Asymmetric methods by definition do not reliably conquer or hold territory or means of production. Thus there is "no endgame", in military parlance, merely a continued escalation of attacks. Note that this criticism applies even to the side that is using conventional military tactics[?], if the asymmetric methods are preventing it from retaining or using territory it captures. By this definition, both the United States in the Viet Nam War and Israel in the West Bank may reasonably have been considered to have engaged in "terrorism" - to the degree their violence was for symbolic purposes. At the same time, established states in the last half century have rarely targeted civilian populations. If the definition of terrorism includes violence against non-combatants, then nearly all recent terrorism has been perpetrated by non-state entities acting to further goals not subject to standard diplomacy.

Another argument is that a group very powerful and skilled in conventional tactics, such as a superpower, leaves no avenue of opposition other than asymmetric tactics. Either its opponents accept whatever peace process the powerful side offers, or they effectively surrender. This leads some in the peace movement to side with the conventionally less powerful side regardless of other tactics. If nothing else this discourages rewards for escalation by technology[?].

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The end of conventional war?

Throughout the 20th century, all armies relied more and more on tactics of the guerrilla, spy, saboteur, provocateur[?], double agent[?] and even terrorist. This underscored that the advantages of having no tactical unit organization were greater than the control such units provide:

"Therefore when you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless, then you are concentrated while the opponent is divided... Therefore the consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness. When you have no form, undercover espionage cannot find out anything intelligence cannot form a strategy." - Sun Tzu

Age of amateurs?

Global trade and mass movement of people, modern seduction and "brainwashing" techniques, religious fanaticism, the political futility of opposing undemocratic leaders or occupying powers by non-violent means, and other factors combine to suggest that the most likely future assassin is not a high-priced pro, but rather an ordinary citizen who has no prior record and whose political motive is obscure or incomprehensible. Historian Barbara Tuchman suggests that the late-19th-century anarchist assassins who killed five European (and one American) head of state from 1880 to 1901, were of this category, and although all paid with their lives, none seemed to care.

Eric Hoffer, in The True Believer[?], 1951, characterized the fanatic as a person incapable of self-concern, but not someone wholly destitute - there was a certain level of economic prosperity wherein the ordinary citizen had no material threat to basic survival, but also insufficient recreation or any chance to advance socially. And that this tended to fuel mass movements[?].

When the first few female suicide bombers attacked Israeli targets in 2002, it sparked new fears that the methodology of brainwashing had transcended longstanding cultural boundaries, and was heralding an age of amateurs who would be deadly weapons in asymmetric warfare: unknown, uncaring, unable to be distracted or dissuaded from their mission, once they were set out on it.

Suicide society?

Although such tactics seem wasteful, disorganized and immoral to conventional unit commanders who seek to preserve their own men and morale, there are many societies where sacrifice for the whole is respected, or even encouraged. In particular Chinese tactics[?] and Japanese tactics have emphasized this:

"Induce them to adopt specific formations, in order to know the ground of death and life." - Sun Tzu

Like the assassins of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy in the 1960s, or the modern suicide bombers, they would likely appear from nowhere, kill their target, and be quickly caught or be already dead. Their families or loved ones may well benefit, as in the case of Palestinian suicide bombers in the West Bank during the Intifada (which one?). They may believe in some afterlife of pleasure--as the original "Hashishim" did--or simply seek to sacrifice self for a loyalty group.

Are there any civilians any more?

The sheer numbers of such people in the developing world, plus the lack of education and opportunity, and an abundance of ruthless tactical leaders who will happily employ even children as tools, suggests that the age of highly trained professional assassins, soldiers, or even "terrorists" may well be over. The new assassin or terrorist may be every frustrated individual with nothing to live for, every true believer, and in some places every grieving man.

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