Asymmetric Warfare – Not every war has to end?
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Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Croatia
Online publication date: 2016-06-27
Publication date: 2016-06-30
Security and Defence Quarterly 2016;11(2):30-44
The study of warfare, throughout its history, as well as efforts to legally regulate the resort to war and the conduct of war, were concentrated exclusively on one form of warfare - interstate conflict. Only since the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York in 2001 and the following ‘Global War on Terrorism’ has a discussion on a potentially new kind of warfare - asymmetric warfare - moved into the spotlight. Despite all the scientific attention, the concept of asymmetric warfare remains undefined or ill-defined until today, resulting in a proliferation of its use and limiting its value. Hence, restraint in the use of the term is necessary, in order to reinforce its analytical value and applicability. Defining asymmetric warfare as a conflict among opponents who are so different in their basic features that comparison of their military power is rendered impossible, is such an attempt to limit the term to a substantially new form of warfare, witnessed in a conflict that is often commonly called the Global War on Terrorism.

The past two years, since the upsurge of the so-called Islamic State to the forefront of the salafi jihadi movement, have witnessed a significant change in this war. Superficial analysis could lead to the conclusion that the proclamation of the Islamic Caliphate on the territories of Iraq and Syria (for now) seems to have recalibrated this conflict into traditional inter- state war again, making the concept of asymmetric warfare obsolete and diminishing it into just a short-term aberration in the history of warfare. Nothing could be further from the truth. The enemy in the Global War on Terrorism was and remains a global and territorially unrestricted ideological movement whose numbers cannot even be estimated, which fights its battles wherever it chooses to, and whose ultimate goal is the annihilation of the international system of sovereign states, not the creation of a new state within this system. The Islamic Caliphate in its current boundaries is nothing more than the “model Islamic state”, as envisioned by Osama bin Laden in his 1996 fatwa as part of Al Qaeda’s 200 year plan for the establishment of God’s Islamic World Order. This grand strategy is the guiding blueprint of the salafi jihad that is waged against the Westphalian state system in a war that is truly asymmetric. We have to adjust to this strategic asymmetry if we are to prevail in this struggle, fighting a long war against an indefinable enemy on battlefields that are still unknown.
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