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.

  • 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

  • Report

    Counterinsurgency Scorecard: Afghanistan in Early 2013 Relative to Insurgencies Since World War II

    Previous RAND research on historical insurgencies found that a conflict's overall balance of good and bad factors and practices perfectly discriminated its outcome. A RAND study applied this scorecard approach to Afghanistan in early 2013.

    Oct 7, 2013

  • Christopher Paul, RAND senior social scientist, giving testimony

    Blog

    Christopher Paul Receives Fulbright Specialist Award

    RAND's Christopher Paul has been selected for a Fulbright Specialist project in New Zealand at Massey University's Centre for Defence and Security Studies (CDSS). Collaborating with CDSS, he will provide an internal review of the security studies curriculum and consult on the development of a new internship program and a proposed course of study on irregular warfare.

    Oct 2, 2013

  • counterinsurgency mission in Afghanistan

    Commentary

    Paths to Victory in the Australian Defence and Security Context

    The historical importance of commitment and motivation and the need to overmatch insurgents suggest that Australia should weigh any commitment of support against existing conditions, those that can be changed and those that can't, writes Christopher Paul.

    Oct 2, 2013

  • U.S. soldiers on a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army

    Blog

    New RAND Report Updates, Expands Research on Successful Counterinsurgency Approaches

    When a country is threatened by an insurgency, what efforts give its government the best chance of prevailing? A new update to a RAND 2010 study expands the data set of 30 insurgencies to 71, and compares all 71 of them begun and completed worldwide since World War II.

    Sep 27, 2013

  • U.S. soldiers on COIN operation in Iraq

    Report

    Lessons from Modern Insurgencies

    A comparison of all 71 insurgencies begun and completed worldwide since World War II finds the counterinsurgency (COIN) practices or combinations of practices that offer the most promise for a government win against an insurgency.

    Sep 26, 2013

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    Report

    Paths to Victory: Detailed Insurgency Case Studies

    This companion volume to Paths to Victory: Lessons from Modern Insurgencies offers in-depth case studies of 41 insurgencies since World War II. Each case breaks the conflict into phases and examines the trajectory that led to the outcome.

    Sep 26, 2013

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    Research Brief

    Preparing for "Hybrid" Opponents: Israeli Experiences in Lebanon and Gaza

    The experiences of the Israel Defense Forces against hybrid opponents — Hezbollah and Hamas — in the recent conflicts in Lebanon and Gaza will help the U.S. Army understand the capabilities that it and the joint force will require in the future.

    Sep 18, 2013

  • Pro-Kurdish politicians read the statement of jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan ordering his fighters to cease fire and withdraw from Turkish soil during a gathering to celebrate Newroz in the Turkish city of Diyarbakir on March 21, 2013

    Commentary

    Why Erdogan Wants Peace with the PKK

    With the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) now apparently ready to try to peacefully resolve differences with Turkey, the prospects that the uprising will come to an end have improved, writes F. Stephen Larrabee.

    Mar 27, 2013

  • Report

    Syria as an Arena of Strategic Competition

    Less than two years since the beginning of the uprising in Syria, localized protests have morphed into full-blown civil conflict, and external actors have become involved as well. RAND conducted an analytic exercise to generate a greater understanding of the parties and issues in play, including the actors, their motivations, and potential impact of their activities.

    Mar 18, 2013

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    Journal Article

    The Future of Insurgency

    What do key historical trends suggest about the future of insurgency? Based on an examination of quantitative and qualitative data surrounding causes of insurgency, outside support, strategies, and tactics, this report makes several arguments about the future.

    Jan 1, 2013

  • Egyptian convoy at the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt

    Blog

    Gaza: Hard Fighting Looms Without a Broader Peace Strategy

    The United States and Israel should capitalize on Egypt's active role in mediating a cease-fire and thus revisit initiatives like the Arab Peace Initiative, which in the new regional strategic environment may be the best hope of reviving the moribund peace process before it is too late.

    Nov 20, 2012

  • a U.S. Army Soldier and Afghan National Policemen

    Commentary

    Difficult Questions on Afghanistan and Pakistan

    In Afghanistan, the U.S. military has been fighting the longest war in the nation's history—and many Americans don't understand why. The final presidential debate on Monday affords President Obama and Governor Romney an excellent opportunity to provide answers, writes Jonah Blank.

    Oct 17, 2012

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    Research Brief

    The Value and Limitations of Minimalist Stabilization Efforts

    Minimalist stabilizations — small-scale interventions designed to stabilize a partner government engaged in violent conflict — have both utility and limitations. This report proposes policy recommendations to improve the outcomes of such operations.

    Oct 1, 2012

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    Report

    The Uses and Limits of Small-Scale Military Interventions

    Minimalist stabilizations — small-scale interventions designed to stabilize a partner government engaged in violent conflict — have both utility and limitations. This report proposes policy recommendations to improve the outcomes of such operations.

    Sep 27, 2012

  • Report

    Historical Lessons for Creating Local Defense Forces for Afghanistan and Beyond

    Lessons learned from past cases of local defense forces used in the context of counterinsurgency—in Indochina, Algeria, South Vietnam, Oman, El Salvador, Southern Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Iraq—can be applied to the current development of the Afghan Local Police.

    Sep 18, 2012

  • Syrian civilians flee from fighting after Syrian army tanks entered the northwestern city of Idlib

    Commentary

    Syrian Scenarios

    The most likely outcome, in my opinion, may be no outcome at all, but instead a civil war lasting years. The conflict has become an existential struggle for its participants—their survival is at stake, writes Brian Michael Jenkins.

    Aug 8, 2012

  • Free Syrian Army members raise an opposition flag on top of a damaged building in Al-Rasten, near Homs, Syria, July 27, 2012

    Blog

    The Case for Expanding Assistance to the Syrian Opposition

    What is important for the U.S. government to do at this stage is forge relationships with those likely to next govern Syria. The United States should up its assistance to the rebels, providing military assets needed for success that only the United States possesses in adequate number.

    Aug 1, 2012

  • Testimony

    The Case for Expanding Assistance to the Syrian Opposition

    The U.S. and its European allies have a strong interest in Assad's fall, largely due to that regime's alignment with Iran. Syria provides the main bridge by which Iran is able to support Hezbollah and Hamas, influence Lebanon, outflank its Sunni Gulf adversaries and threaten Israel.

    Aug 1, 2012

  • A wargames board game

    Commentary

    Anatomy of a War Game

    War games are especially important as countries prepare to counter adversaries who use asymmetric strategies or weapons, forcing military planners to deal with unfamiliar threats, writes Bruce Bennett.

    Jun 12, 2012

  • Commercial Book

    Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of Al Qa'ida Since 9/11

    A comprehensive, landmark history and insider's account chronicles the ongoing battle against al Qa'ida, the greatest threat the West has faced in the modern era.

    Apr 9, 2012