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.

  • Essay

    Civilian Casualties: Lessons from the Battle for Raqqa

    The United States' emphasis on minimizing civilian harm in Raqqa, Syria, was quite clear and strong up and down the chain of command. But the way in which the U.S. military waged war in Raqqa too often undercut that commitment. The Pentagon asked RAND to find out what happened.

    Jul 1, 2022

  • Report

    Ukrainian Civilians' Contributions to Resisting Russia

    Civilian-based resistance in Ukraine began in the first hours of Russia's 2022 invasion. Civilians' actions have potential value in helping ensure victory by regaining territorial integrity and maintaining political sovereignty. And this war offers insight into what civilian contributions in future wars could look like.

    Aug 15, 2023

Explore Asymmetric Warfare

  • DragonFire laser directed energy weapon, photo courtesy of UK Ministry of Defence/Open Government Licence

    Commentary

    Directed Energy Dilemmas: Industrial Implications of a Military-Technological Revolution

    Alongside more traditional gun- and missile-based interceptors, directed energy weapons (DEW) are part of a layered approach to integrated air and missile defence. But with wide-ranging and disruptive implications for defence budgets and for industry that have only just begun to be considered, could the military impact of this possible DEW revolution be just the tip of the iceberg?

    Feb 20, 2024

  • Israeli soldiers in front of a damaged building in the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024, photo by Dylan Martinez/Reuters

    Commentary

    Is Israel Losing Sight of Its Long Game?

    If Israel is to succeed in its war against Hamas, then it needs to embrace the fact that it is responsible for Gaza’s more than two million civilians and ensure their welfare.

    Feb 16, 2024

  • An Israeli soldier crouches near a column of military vehicles moving out of the Gaza Strip, January 15, 2024, photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

    Commentary

    Israel's 'People's Army' at War

    The IDF's relationship with Israeli society, cultural predilections, and individual norms make it a very different kind of military—informing how it fights in Gaza.

    Jan 16, 2024

  • Israel Defense Forces' ground operation in Gaza on November 12, 2023, photo by EyePress via Reuters

    Commentary

    The Trouble with a Cease-Fire

    Given that Hamas promised to repeat the October 7 attack until Israel's annihilation, it is no wonder that Israelis nearly uniformly want, as one Israeli politician put it, to finish the job this time around. To Israelis, the international calls for a cease-fire ring hollow.

    Dec 26, 2023

  • Report

    Report

    Strategic Disruption by Special Operations Forces: A Concept for Proactive Campaigning Short of Traditional War

    RAND researchers develop a new concept for strategic disruption by special operations forces, exploring how disruptive campaigns can frustrate an adversary’s preferred strategy and enable friendly gains across multiple instruments of national power.

    Dec 5, 2023

  • Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari shows what the Israeli military says is a tunnel at a location given as Gaza, in this still image taken from video released November 13, 2023, photo by Israel Defense Forces/Handout via Reuters

    Commentary

    The West's Incoherent Critique of Israel's Gaza Strategy

    The battlefield geography of Gaza means that any operation there would turn into a bloody, highly destructive ground operation, with a lot of civilians caught in the crossfire. While Israel can mitigate some of these effects, neither Israel nor any other military can prevent them entirely. In this war, there is no happy medium.

    Nov 16, 2023

  • Multimedia

    Multimedia

    A New Approach to Power Projection: Reversing the Erosion of U.S. and Allied Military Power and Influence

    The RAND National Security Research Division hosted a discussion focused on emerging approaches to projecting power against the United States' most capable adversaries and the implications of these new approaches for defense planning.

    Nov 14, 2023

  • An Israeli soldier moves through a building in the northern Gaza Strip, November 8, 2023, photo by Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

    Commentary

    Why the Oct. 7 Attack Wasn't Israel's 9/11

    There are some basic strategic lessons to be learned from the U.S. response to 9/11 that are applicable to Israel's unfolding operation in Gaza. But in many key ways, the two conflicts couldn't be further apart.

    Nov 13, 2023

  • An Israeli artillery unit fires from an undisclosed location near the Gaza Strip border, November 6, 2023, photo by Ilan Rosenberg/Reuters

    Commentary

    What Israel's Ground Offensive Can—and Cannot—Accomplish

    Weeks after terrorist attacks left 1,400 Israelis dead, Israel has started its much-anticipated ground offensive in Gaza. But what can such an operation hope to achieve, and why launch such a campaign now?

    Nov 6, 2023

  • U.S. service members participate with allies and partners from multiple nations in exercises throughout West Virginia, May and June 2023, photo by Staff Sgt. Jake SeaWolf/U.S. National Guard

    Commentary

    Winning the Irregular World War

    If the United States hopes to prevail in an asymmetrical world war, it must upgrade its abilities to provide self-defense and resistance support to its allies and partners, and better coordinate its disparate efforts to counter Russia and China across departments and agencies.

    Nov 6, 2023

  • A Marine amphibious assault crewman with 3rd Marine Regiment communicates with other AAVs after landing ashore at the Naval Education Training Center in Zambales, Philippines, April 21, 2015, photo by Cpl. Matthew J. Bragg/U.S. Marine Corps

    Commentary

    Inflection Point: How to Reverse the Erosion of U.S. and Allied Military Power and Influence

    U.S. military forces no longer enjoy the kind of comprehensive superiority that was the foundation of victories over adversary states. Re-establishing a credible posture against aggression by highly capable adversaries will call for sustained, coordinated efforts by the United States, its allies, and its key partners to rethink their approaches to defeating aggression and to recast important elements of their military forces and postures.

    Nov 3, 2023

  • Smoke rises over buildings during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, October 9, 2023, photo by Sameh Rahmi/Reuters

    Commentary

    Sparing Civilian Lives in Gaza

    How do you protect innocent civilians while conducting effective urban military operations against an enemy who is integrated into the civilian population and entrenched in a location's infrastructure? Despite the ferocity of the Hamas attack and the Israeli response, the moral obligation to reduce civilian harm cannot be ignored.

    Oct 21, 2023

  • Call with the Experts: The North Korean Nuclear Threat

    Multimedia

    RAND Experts Discuss Surge in Misinformation Amid Israel-Hamas War

    RAND Experts Discuss Surge in Misinformation Amid Israel-Hamas War. This call was recorded on October 19, 2023.

    Oct 19, 2023

  • Call with the Experts: The North Korean Nuclear Threat

    Multimedia

    RAND Experts Discuss the Gaza War

    RAND experts discuss the Gaza War. This call was recorded on October 12, 2023.

    Oct 12, 2023

  • The Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group sails in formation with NATO ships during an integrated sailing event as part of Neptune Strike, July 11, 2023, photo by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Jacob Mattingly/U.S. Department of Defense

    Report

    How to Reverse the Erosion of U.S. and Allied Military Power and Influence

    Sustained, coordinated efforts by the United States and its allies are necessary to deter and defeat modern threats, including those posed by Russia and China. What gaps do U.S. and allied forces have to fill to successfully meet this challenge?

    Jul 25, 2023

  • A Navy Research Laboratory unmanned surface vehicle near Panama Beach, Florida, November 9, 2020, photo by U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

    Commentary

    Revive the Ram

    In the face of aggressive maneuvers by Chinese vessels, the U.S. Navy can brandish ramming unmanned surface vessels as a capability to inhibit threats while limiting the risk of escalation. These relatively simple, inexpensive vehicles could be used alongside a variety of nonlethal weapons to manage confrontations, giving commanders more options.

    Jun 22, 2023

  • A still image taken from video shows a flying object approaching the dome of the Kremlin Senate building in Moscow, Russia, May 2, 2023, photo by Ostorozhno Novosti

    Commentary

    What the Drone Strikes on the Kremlin Reveal About the War in Ukraine

    False flag, special op, or fizzled attack—it may not be possible to get to the bottom of who launched drones at the Kremlin and why any time soon. But the incident and reactions it has elicited from the war's major players reveal just how important weaponized, long-range drones have become in this conflict.

    May 4, 2023

  • Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the president's proposed 2024 Budget, at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, D.C., March 28, 2023, photo by Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Reuters

    Commentary

    Maximizing the Potential of American Irregular Warfare in Strategic Competition

    It is time that the United States develop the concepts and associated doctrine, commands, field operating agencies, and personnel to maximize the potential of American irregular warfare in strategic competition.

    Apr 3, 2023

  • Report

    Report

    Proxy Warfare in Strategic Competition: Overarching Findings and Recommendations

    This report synthesizes the findings and recommendations from two companion reports on intrastate proxy wars: civil wars in which at least one local warring party receives material support from an external state.

    Mar 9, 2023