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.

  • An Israeli tank drives near the border as it returns to Israel from Gaza, August 3, 2014

    Report

    Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    Jul 26, 2017

    The Israel Defense Force had to evolve to meet an adaptive and determined hybrid adversary during its wars in Gaza. The U.S. Army and the joint force can learn from the IDF's challenge of balancing intense international legal public scrutiny and the hard operational realities of urban warfare.

  • Flags of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia are raised in a ceremony outside the presidential palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, during the country's centenary celebration, February 16, 2018, photo by Birute/Getty Images

    Report

    Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States

    Apr 14, 2019

    Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are vulnerable to low-level, hybrid, and full-scale attacks by Russian forces. Which unconventional strategies could they use to deter aggression and buy time for conventional military responses? And how can NATO allies help develop and fund these efforts?

Explore Asymmetric Warfare

  • People in New York City react after hearing of the death of Osama bin Laden, photo by Sgt. Randall A. Clinton/U.S. Marine Corps Photo

    Commentary

    The Politics of Man-Hunting and the Illusion of Victory

    Captures and strikes are important accomplishments and the countless nameless professionals who carry them out deserve the credit for executing them. But leaders are charged with something larger and should be judged by a higher standard: namely, seeing beyond the illusion and producing actual strategic victories.

    Jan 22, 2020

  • A demonstrator holds a picture of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a protest in Tehran, Iran, January 3, 2020, photo by Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency/Reuters

    Commentary

    Iran Claws Back Its Regional Influence

    Last year, Iran faced protests at home as well as in Iraq and Lebanon, where thousands rallied against Tehran's regional hegemony. But with its recent machinations and the fallout over the killing of Soleimani, Iran has succeeded in changing the regional conversation.

    Jan 17, 2020

  • An Iranian mourner holds a picture of late General Qassem Soleimani as people gather to mourn him in Tehran, Iran, January 4, 2020, photo by Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Reuters

    Commentary

    How Will Iran Respond to Soleimani's Killing—and Where Will the Escalation End?

    Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani's death will reverberate in the Middle East region for a long time. The United States must know its end game and be able to respond to this changing landscape of its own making, without stumbling into another full-fledged conflict that the Trump administration itself, Congress, and the American people have said they do not want.

    Jan 7, 2020

  • Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion 11, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, conduct live-fire, fire and movement drills near Camp Beuhring, Kuwait, March 5, 2017, photo by Sgt. Xzavior McNeal/U.S. Marine Corps photo

    Commentary

    Bad Idea: Assuming the Small Wars Era Is Over

    The national security community doesn't need to deny the potential for future great power conflict—or neglect to prepare for it—in order to acknowledge the enduring reality of asymmetric threats. Containing, resolving, and even preventing smaller conflicts is essential to avoiding bigger ones.

    Dec 18, 2019

  • Artificial intelligence concept with face, photo by kentoh/Getty Images

    Commentary

    AI and Irregular Warfare: An Evolution, Not a Revolution

    How will artificial intelligence change the way wars are fought? The answer, of course, depends. And it mainly depends on what type of wars are being fought. And how will AI affect the type of wars that the United States is most likely to fight?

    Oct 31, 2019

  • A view shows Russian warships and a sailing vessel during a rehearsal for the Navy Day parade in the Black Sea port of Sevastopol, Crimea July 26, 2019, photo by Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters

    Commentary

    Russia's Strategy in the Black Sea: How NATO Can Up Its Game

    The Black Sea region is a central locus of the competition between Russia and the West for the future of Europe. In March 2019, RAND brought together a group of experts to discuss Moscow's strategy there—and what Western countries can do to counter it.

    Sep 24, 2019

  • Report

    Russia, NATO, and Black Sea Security Strategy: Regional Perspectives from a 2019 Workshop

    The authors report workshop discussions of four topics related to the strategic context in the Black Sea: Russia's strategy in the region; Russian military and soft-power instruments; Western goals and interests; and elements of Western strategy.

    Sep 24, 2019

  • U.S. Army Soldiers conduct actions on an objective during a training scenario at the Asymmetric Warfare Training Center, Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Feb. 23, 2018, photo by St. Randis Monroe/U.S. Army

    Commentary

    Urban Legend: Is Combat in Cities Really Inevitable?

    Future combat will take place in dense urban areas and likely in megacities. These are the new “truths” that are taking hold in the U.S. military. But before going all-in on optimizing for urban operations, the U.S. military should take a deep breath and think carefully about future operations within the context of the National Defense Strategy.

    May 7, 2019

  • News Release

    Unconventional Approaches Could Help Deter Russian Intimidation and Aggression Against the Baltic States

    Amid concerns that Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are vulnerable to Russian intimidation and hybrid warfare, a new RAND Corporation report concludes that unconventional defense plans could help deter and counteract Russian aggression.

    Apr 15, 2019

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, photo by the Russian Presidential Press and Information Office

    Commentary

    Russia's Soft Strategy to Hostile Measures in Europe

    They've been called political warfare, measures short of war, gray zone warfare, and a host of other terms. Russia has used a wide range of hostile measures to expand its influence and undermine governments across the European continent. These tactics should be appreciated for what they are: part of a larger, coherent Russian effort, but ultimately not an insurmountable one.

    Feb 26, 2019

  • A map depicting Russian influence over Europe

    Report

    How to Counter Russia's Hostile Measures in Europe

    Russia has a range of tools and methods short of conventional war that it can use to achieve its goals in Europe. There is no way to predict what Russia will do, but it's possible to analyze its motives and opportunities, the means it might employ, and how the United States should respond.

    Jan 28, 2019

  • U.S. Army SOF take the hill while training in the elements at Panzer Kaserne, photo by Jason Johnston/U.S. Army

    Report

    Improving the Understanding of Special Operations

    An analysis of U.S. decisions related to the development or use of special operations forces can assist in future planning by the Army Special Operations Forces, the U.S. Army, and the joint special operations community.

    Feb 8, 2018

  • A C-130J Super Hercules aircraft flies over a formation of Airmen during a ceremony to remember veterans of World War II on the 70th anniversary of D-Day in Picauville, France, June 6, 2014

    Commentary

    The Chairman the Pentagon Needs

    Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joe Dunford says that to fight and win 21st century wars, the department should find a way to globally integrate below the secretary of defense. To do so, the chairman's role would have to expand to allow him to advise the secretary on the allocation and transfer of forces for transregional, multi-functional, and multi-domain operations.

    Jan 5, 2018

  • Journal Article

    The Implications of Iran's Expanding Shi'a Foreign Fighter Network

    Well-trained and resourced, Iranian-directed Shi'a foreign fighters pose a significant potential threat to U.S. interests. The more robust this network grows, the more opportunities it will have to expand abroad.

    Dec 7, 2017

  • Research Brief

    Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    This brief summarizes a RAND report that explores lessons that the U.S. Army and the Joint force can draw from Israel's military operations in Gaza from 2009 to 2014 and how Israel adapted to hybrid adversaries in complex urban terrain.

    Oct 18, 2017

  • Israeli soldiers training for urban wafare

    Commentary

    Five Lessons from Israel's Wars in Gaza

    After a decade of operating against Hamas in Gaza, the Israel Defense Force has learned many lessons about urban warfare against hybrid adversaries. The last confrontation teaches five basic lessons that apply well beyond Gaza.

    Aug 3, 2017

  • Ismail Haniyeh, newly elected head of Hamas' political office, arrives to visit a sit-in in support of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, Gaza City, May 8, 2017

    Commentary

    Hamas's Strategic Rebranding

    Hamas has unveiled a revised version of its charter that appears to soften the group's stance toward Israel. Does this represent a shift away from violence and toward a more lasting and peaceful political presence? Or is it a ploy to buy time to rearm?

    May 17, 2017

  • Hezbollah members salute during the funeral of Ali Fayyad, a senior commander who was killed fighting in Syria, Lebanon, March 2, 2016

    Commentary

    Hezbollah Is Winning the War in Syria

    Most parties have been on the losing side of the war in Syria. Meanwhile, Lebanese terrorist militia Hezbollah has cemented its status as a regional power player. The group has gained fighting experience and benefited from a growing alliance with the Assad regime, Iran, and Russia.

    Jan 30, 2017