by Ed Beakley
Essential Elements of Information for a Culture of Preparedness
( From The Counter Terrorism Puzzle; A Guide for Decision Makers, used with permission of the author, Dr. Boaz Ganor, the Associate Dean of the Lauder School of Government, at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya, Israel, and the founder and Executive Director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism )
The above graphic placing terrorism in context of war and the definitions below of many of the terms used throughout the “What kind of war” series are intended only as reference, not as anyone’s formal authorized definition. They have been gleaned from multiple sources. Of particular note should be the degree of overlap and ambiguity.
Definitions: Special Operations, Asymmetric Warfare, Terrorism, Guerrilla Warfare, Irregular Warfare, Unconventional Warfare, The Long War, Fourth Generation Warfare, Hybrid Warfare:
Special operations are military operations that are considered “special” (that is, unconventional).
Special operations are typically performed independently or in conjunction with conventional military operations. The primary goal is to achieve a political or military objective where a conventional force requirement does not exist or might affect the overall strategic outcome. Special operations are usually conducted in a low-profile manner that typically aim to achieve the advantage of speed, surprise, and violence of action against an unsuspecting target. Special ops are typically carried out with limited numbers of highly trained personnel that are able to operate in all environments, utilize self-reliance, are able to easily adapt and overcome obstacles, and use unconventional combat skills and equipment to complete objectives. Special operations are usually implemented through specific or tailored intelligence
Asymmetric warfare is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.
“Asymmetric warfare” can describe a conflict in which the resources of two belligerents differ in essence and in the struggle, interact and attempt to exploit each other’s characteristic weaknesses. Such struggles often involve strategies and tactics of unconventional warfare, the “weaker” combatants attempting to use strategy to offset deficiencies in quantity or quality. Such strategies may not necessarily be militarized. This is in contrast to symmetric warfare, where two powers have similar military power and resources and rely on tactics that are similar overall, differing only in details and execution.
Terrorism is the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion. At present, there is no internationally agreed definition of terrorism. Common definitions of terrorism refer only to those violent acts which are intended to create fear (terror), are perpetrated for an ideological goal (as opposed to a lone attack), and deliberately target or disregard the safety of non-combatants (civilians).
Some definitions also include acts of unlawful violence and war. The history of terrorist organizations suggests that they do not select terrorism for its political effectiveness. Individual terrorists tend to be motivated more by a desire for social solidarity with other members of their organization than by political platforms or strategic objectives, which are often murky and undefined.
Guerrilla warfare is combat in which a small group of combatants use mobile military tactics in the form of ambushes and raids to combat a larger and less mobile formal army.
The term means “little war” in Spanish and was created during the Peninsular War. The concept acknowledges a conflict between armed civilians against a powerful nation state army, either foreign or domestic and uses tactics such as ambush, sabotage and mobility in attacking vulnerable targets in enemy territory. The tactics of guerrilla warfare were used successfully in the recent 20th century by among others the People’s Liberation Army in the Chinese Civil War, Fidel Castro’s rebel army in the Cuban Revolution, and by the Viet Cong, the North Vietnam Army in the Vietnam War, the Kosovo Liberation Army in the Kosovo War and the Bosnian War . Most factions of the Iraqi Insurgency, Colombia’s FARC, and the Communist Party of India (Maoist) are said to be engaged in some form of guerrilla warfare — as was, until recently, the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
Irregular warfare (IW) is warfare in which one or more combatants are irregular military rather than regular forces. Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare, and so is asymmetric warfare.
Irregular warfare favors indirect and asymmetric warfare approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities, in order to erode an adversary’s power, influence, and will. It is inherently a protracted struggle that will test the resolve of a nation and its strategic partners. Concepts associated with irregular warfare are not as recent as the irregular warfare term itself.
Unconventional warfare is the opposite of conventional warfare. Where conventional warfare is used to reduce an opponent’s military capability, unconventional warfare is an attempt to achieve military victory through acquiescence, capitulation, or clandestine support for one side of an existing conflict.
On the surface, UW contrasts with conventional warfare in that: forces or objectives are covert or not well-defined, tactics and weapons intensify environments of subversion or intimidation, and the general or long-term goals are coercive or subversive to a political body.
The Long War is a term used by the administration of US President George W. Bush referring to US actions against various governments and terrorist organisations, as a reaction to the September 11 attacks. Other designations are the “War on Terrorism”, the “War on Terror”, the “Global War On Terror (G.W.O.T.)” and the “Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE)”. It has been criticized as a justification for perpetual war.
Fourth generation warfare (4GW) is conflict characterized by a blurring of the lines between war and politics, soldier and civilian.
The military doctrine was first defined in 1989 by a team of United States analysts, including William S. Lind, used to describe warfare’s return to a decentralized form. In terms of generational modern warfare, the fourth generation signifies the nation states’ loss of their near-monopoly on combat forces, returning to modes of conflict common in pre-modern times. The simplest definition includes any war in which one of the major participants is not a state but rather a violent non-state actor. As such, fourth generation warfare uses classical tactics—tactics deemed unacceptable by more traditional thinking—to weaken the advantaged opponent’s will to win.
Hybrid warfare incorporates a range of different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, terrorists acts including indiscriminate violence and coercion, and criminal disorder. These multi-modal activities can be conducted by separate units, or even by the same unit, but are generally operationally and tactically directed and coordinated within the main battlespace to achieve synergistic effects. Hybrid wars can be conducted by both states and a variety of non-state actors.