Asymmetric Warfare

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The 9/11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan are among the best-known recent examples of asymmetric warfare: conflicts between nations or groups that have disparate military capabilities and strategies. RAND investigates political and military responses to — and the impacts of — counterinsurgency, terrorism, and other forms of irregular warfare.

  • A Delta IV rocket successfully launches the Global Positioning System IIF-5 satellite from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, February 20, 2014, photo by Ben Cooper/United Launch Alliance

    Research Brief

    What Will the Future of Warfare Look Like?

    May 11, 2020

    Poor predictions about wars stem from failing to think holistically about the factors that drive changes in the global environment and their implications for warfare. Geopolitical, economic, military, space, nuclear, cyber, and other trends will shape the contours of conflict through 2030.

  • A group of U.S. NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) soldiers climb off a destroyed Bosnian tank March 16, 1996, that was hit in 1992, at the beginning of the war between Bosnian Moslem and Serbs, photo by Peter Andrews/Reuters

    Report

    Why America Fails in Irregular Warfare

    Jul 29, 2020

    A memoir drawn from four decades of experience in the U.S. Army explores the strengths and limitations of America's irregular warfare capability. The author, who often saw success at the tactical level only to be followed by strategic muddling and eventual failure, offers ideas on how to develop a world-class way of irregular war.

Explore Asymmetric Warfare

  • Ukrainian soldiers and press after clashes between the Ukrainian and Russian Army in Irpin, outside of Kyiv, Ukraine, April 2, 2022, photo by Raphael Lafargue/ABACAPRESS.COM/Reuters

    Commentary

    Could Insurgency Offer Ukraine a Decisive Edge?

    While insurgency rarely offers a path to early victory, a campaign of popular resistance that supports the continuing conventional battle could give overmatched Ukraine an edge in its fight against Russian occupiers.

    Apr 6, 2022

  • News Release

    News Release

    Efforts to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Raqqa, Syria, in 2017 Were Considerable but Insufficient

    U.S. strategic choices in the battle to liberate Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS in 2017 likely increased civilian harm despite considerable efforts to avoid civilian casualties by both U.S. and coalition forces.

    Mar 31, 2022

  • The destruction on Al-Qouatli street in Raqqa, Syria, photo by Abood Hamam

    Report

    Efforts to Avoid Civilian Casualties in Raqqa Were Considerable but Insufficient

    The 2017 battle to liberate Raqqa, Syria, from ISIS is a cautionary tale in 21st-century conflicts. U.S. strategic choices likely increased civilian harm despite considerable efforts to avoid civilian casualties by both U.S. and coalition forces. What lessons can be applied to future operations?

    Mar 31, 2022

  • Ukrainian Marines take part in multinational Sea Breeze 2021 military exercises involving more than 30 countries near Kherson, Ukraine, July 2, 2021.

    Multimedia

    Armed Resistance in Ukraine

    RAND senior political scientist Stephen J. Flanagan discusses the concept of a state-organized national resistance movement in Ukraine.

    Mar 29, 2022

  • Taiwanese soldiers walk down a street in this undated photo posted to Twitter on March 11, 2022 by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, photo courtesy of the Office of the President of Taiwan

    Commentary

    What the Invasion of Ukraine Might Teach Us About a Potential Taiwan Crisis

    Chinese leaders are learning from the conflict in Ukraine, not just by observing Russia's actions, but also the West's response. By also learning from the conflict, the United States, Taiwan, and other like-minded partners can help ensure that Beijing comes away from the current crisis with a greater appreciation of the risks that attacking Taiwan would entail.

    Mar 17, 2022

  • Ukrainian service members at a check point after Russia launched a massive military operation against Ukraine, in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, February 27, 2022, photo by Viacheslav Ratynskyi/Reuters

    Commentary

    What Kind of Resistance Can Ukraine Mount?

    Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered general mobilization, and Ukrainians are already engaging in irregular warfare and preparing for a prolonged resistance. What might a comprehensive Ukrainian resistance entail? What is the potential effectiveness, and what are the risks? What support could the international community provide?

    Feb 28, 2022

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    The Atomization of Political Violence

    The conclusion that terrorism is likely to persist at low levels does not preclude large-scale attacks. The present tumultuous state of the world and growing domestic extremism could produce dramatic changes in the future trajectory of political violence.

    Feb 25, 2022

  • A U.S. Army reenlistment ceremony held at Baghdad's Cross Sabers

    Report

    Securing Gains in Fragile States: Using U.S. Leverage in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Beyond

    This report evaluates U.S. options for stabilizing conflict-affected states by incentivizing governance reforms through military and development assistance in the context of U.S. military interventions.

    Jun 15, 2021

  • The colors are retired during a ceremony marking the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq in Baghdad on December 15, 2011, photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo/U.S. Department of Defense

    Report

    Using U.S. Leverage to Limit Instability in Fragile States

    The United States can effectively support governance reforms in postconflict states by seizing on opportunities when partner interests align with U.S. interests. And it can use its leverage, including conditions on military and economic assistance, when interests do not align.

    Jun 15, 2021

  • Journal Article

    Journal Article

    The Missing, Irregular Half of Great Power Competition

    The U.S. military must learn to embrace a new framework for understanding competition through the lens of its current approaches to traditional and irregular warfare.

    Apr 30, 2021

  • An Indian fighter plane flies over a mountain range in Leh, in the Ladakh region, India, September 15, 2020, photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

    Commentary

    Stabilizing China-India Relations in 2021: Is This Possible?

    China-India relations seem to be at their lowest point in decades. The Ladakh confrontation is fraught with the risk of escalation. But both countries have much to gain from a compromise. Leadership on both sides could help by focusing on the long-term gains in a spirit of give-and-take.

    Feb 2, 2021

  • Two USAF A-10 Thunderbolt IIs release countermeasure flares over the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, July 23, 2020, photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Parsons/U.S. Air Force

    Q&A

    The Future of Warfare: Q&A with Raphael Cohen

    What will the next decade of warfare look like? Raphael Cohen led a project to answer that question for the U.S. Air Force. The team considered not just technological or force changes, but also how global politics, economics, and the environment will shift and evolve between now and 2030.

    Sep 8, 2020

  • Report

    Report

    The Future of Warfare Boxed Set

    This series of reports examines the key geopolitical, economic, environmental, geographic, legal, informational, and military trends that will shape the contours of conflict between now and 2030.

    Aug 26, 2020

  • Blog

    China in 2050, Using Mobile Tools to Track COVID-19, Telemedicine: RAND Weekly Recap

    This weekly recap focuses on the future of U.S.-China competition, privacy concerns surrounding mobile tools used to track COVID-19, how telemedicine can help patients access specialized care, and more.

    Jul 31, 2020

  • Smoke rises during a fight between members of the Libyan internationally recognized government forces and Eastern forces, in southern Tripoli, Libya June 22, 2019, photo by Yosri Aljamal/Reuters

    Commentary

    Is the Conflict in Libya a Preview of the Future of Warfare?

    The Libyan conflict, now entering its ninth year, could well be a testing ground for how wars will be fought in the future. External nation-states have long interfered in other countries' civil wars, so what is new, exactly, about what is happening in Libya?

    Jun 2, 2020

  • Joint Interagency Task Force South, JIATF South, JIATF-S, Drug trafficking, illicit trafficking, DOD, Federal Agencies, Interagency, Border Safety, Customs, Border Patrol

    Report

    The Future of Warfare in 2030: Project Overview and Conclusions

    This report is the overview in a series that seeks to answer questions about the future of warfare, including who might be the United States' adversaries and allies, where conflicts will be fought, and how and why they might occur.

    May 11, 2020

  • Report

    Military Trends and the Future of Warfare: The Changing Global Environment and Its Implications for the U.S. Air Force

    This volume of the Future of Warfare series examines significant factors shaping military trends over the next 10–15 years: changes in the size, quality, and character of military forces available to the United States and its potential adversaries.

    May 11, 2020

  • Afghanistan, Bazaar School, Combat Camera, Hutal, Kandahar Province, OEF, U.S. Army, Afghanistan, Bazaar School, Combat Camera, Hutal, Kandahar Province, OEF, U.S. Army

    Report

    Restraint and the Future of Warfare: The Changing Global Environment and Its Implications for the U.S. Air Force

    This volume of the Future of Warfare series examines trends in factors affecting the use of restraint in warfare that could affect U.S. national security, notably effectiveness of false accusations and public concern for civilian casualties.

    May 11, 2020