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

  • Report

    Report

    Building Security in the Persian Gulf

    The U.S. must determine how best to promote long-term security and stability in the Persian Gulf region while seeking to reduce the risks and costs imposed by its role as a permanent regional power—particularly vis-à-vis Iraq's future, the role of Iran, asymmetric threats, regional tensions, and the roles of other external actors.

    May 18, 2010

  • Report

    Report

    Military Capabilities for Hybrid War: Insights from the Israel Defense Forces 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.

    Mar 17, 2010

  • News Release

    News Release

    U.S. Strategy Should Avoid Inflating Iran's Role in Middle East Instability, Exploit Constraints on Iranian Power and ...

    Iran's rise as a regional power presents a key foreign policy and security challenge to the United States, but its reach may be more limited than Western conventional wisdom suggests, according to a RAND Corporation study issued today. U.S. strategy must recognize Iran's role as an influential, but not omnipotent, player in the Middle East and work to exploit existing barriers to Iran's harmful activities, while simultaneously seeking areas of engagement.

    May 19, 2009

  • solidiers in silhouette with flag

    Report

    Assessing Irregular Warfare: A Framework for Intelligence Analysis

    An analytic framework and procedure for the intelligence analysis of irregular warfare (IW) environments that can serve as the basis for a subsequent IW intelligence analysis curriculum development effort.

    Dec 11, 2008

  • Report

    Analytic Support to Intelligence in Counterinsurgencies

    An examination of the nature of the contemporary insurgent threat which provides insights on using operational analysis techniques to support intelligence operations in counterinsurgencies.

    May 22, 2008

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    The Real Analogy for Iraq

    The conflict raging in Iraq has been compared to many earlier wars, but the best historical comparison has been largely overlooked, write John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt in a commentary appearing in United Press International.

    Aug 24, 2007

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    Ad Men for U.S. Defense

    Improving the U.S. military's brand identity demands more than just a catchy new slogan. While communications can help explain U.S. policies, the behavior of every soldier, sailor, airman and marine is what ultimately determines how civilians view U.S. forces, write Todd Helmus, Russell Glenn and Christopher ...

    Aug 20, 2007

  • News Release

    News Release

    RAND Study Finds Terrorist Groups Teach Each Other Deadly Skills

    May 9, 2007 news release: RAND Study Finds Terrorist Groups Teach Each Other Deadly Skills.

    May 9, 2007

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    The View from Ground Zero: Is America Safer?

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Sep 12, 2004

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    Mao as Guide to Fight in Iraq

    And strange as it may seem, a look at the thoughts of Chairman Mao on battling an occupying army from 66 years ago may help us make some educated guesses about the challenges facing the United States and the next government of Iraq.

    Jan 4, 2004

  • Commercial Book

    Commercial Book

    The Dynamics of Coercion: American Foreign Policy and the Limits of Military Might

    Despite the lopsided U.S. edge in raw power, regional foes persist in defying the threats and ultimatums brought by the United States and its allies. This book examines why some attempts to strong-arm an adversary work while others do not.

    Dec 31, 2001

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    Violence Unraveling the Fabric of Society

    Threats to democracy and stability in the Andean region of South America could confront the United States with its most serious security crisis in this hemisphere since the Central American wars of the 1980s.

    Jun 17, 2001

  • Commentary

    Commentary

    A Confounding, Complex Tragedy

    Without external assistance, Colombia cannot defeat the guerrilla-gangster Minotaur that consumes it. It is in our national interest to help. At the same time, it is necessary that we fully comprehend the harsh realities we and our Colombian allies face.

    Jun 17, 2001

  • Report

    Report

    The Centennial Air Force: The Future of Air Power at the Air Force's 100th Birthday

    The authors imagine that in the year 2047, the U.S. Air Force will be the service of choice for attacking and defending against asymmetric warfare and near-peer competitors.

    Dec 31, 2000

  • Report

    Report

    Commando Raids: 1946-1983

    This Note assesses the effectiveness of a selected sample of raids executed by small commando and commando-type forces in response to terrorist threats or attacks. One hundred raids by irregular forces (guerrilla groups, terrorist organizations, and ...

    Dec 31, 1984

  • Report

    Report

    Colombia's Bold Gamble for Peace

    Colombia's recent rash of kidnappings and terrorism has given rise to government efforts to put an end to the guerrilla warfare and political violence that have plagued the country for twenty years.

    Dec 31, 1984

  • Report

    Report

    The Bridge between Generations in Indonesian Military Politics.

    A discussion of the Indonesian officer corps. A new generation lacking experience of guerrilla warfare against the Dutch but with more professional training will soon be in command. They absorbed the army doctrine with its populist emphasis on terr...

    Dec 31, 1975

  • Report

    Report

    Soldiers Versus Gunmen: The Challenge of Urban Guerrilla Warfare

    In the late 1960s, the world's revolutionaries moved from rural to urban guerrilla warfare. How have they fared in the first three years of the decade?

    Dec 31, 1973

  • Report

    Report

    The Five Stages of Urban Guerrilla Warfare: Challenge of the 1970s

    Guerrilla strategy began in the country, but has moved to the city. To a degree, the urbanization of guerrilla warfare signals its failure in the countryside.

    Dec 31, 1970

  • Content

    Content

    Rick Brennan, Jr.

    Senior Political Scientist
    Education Ph.D. in political science/international relations, University of California, Los Angeles; M.S. in political science/international relations, University of California, Los Angeles; B.S. in criminal justice, Arizona State University