How The Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict

How The Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict

It has been reported by The New Yorker that President Elect Trump, not unlike President George Bush, has not paid much attention to the classified briefings. One can only hope that come January 20 2017, when President Trump takes over the White House proper, some catastrophic terrorism is not in the offing; as was the case with the attacks of September 11th 2001. But, if there is one book that team Trump needs to read first, it is probably this one. "How The Weak Win Wars: A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict," by former scholar at Harvard University, Ivan-Arreguin Toft, is an impressive work.

It seeks to answer just two puzzles: Why did weak states and non state actors keep increasing their ability to win wars, indeed, to out-last the great powers since the 1800 ? Indeed, even if the great powers out-size the weaker ones by a measure of 5:1, the statistics still showed the weaker actors increasingly gaining the stealth, the strength, and the strategy to defeat the larger actors.

This does not apply to Vietnam War alone, but the Algerian war against the French, even the Iraqi war of insurgency against the United States. Part of the explanation lies in the distribution of forces, argued Ivan Arreguin Toft, now an assistant professor in political science at Boston University.

The US armed forced only have 3 per cent of its forces that are derived from commandos and counter insurgency specialists. Unlike the United Kingdom, that specialized in the pacification of nationalist and colonial wars, with the exception of losing India to strategic non violence in the 1950s, the United States tend to array its overwhelming forces against the state or the coalition of states.

When the matrix of a conflict takes on a Maoist or insurgency character, as was the case with the war in Iraq, then the United States quickly become trapped in the conflict theater. One, it doesn't know how to listen to those local authorities in the field, as the generals prefer to conduct their military campaigns with their over whelming force and superb technological gadgetry, which are put at their disposal. Two, its military doctrine is shaped in the form of a Chinese box, where it keeps taking out the tools to pacify the war, even when the remit of the conflict has enlarged from interdicting the enemy to nation building then to democracy promotion.

Three, in recent decades, the weak has prevailed to the degree they earn the sympathy and trust of the people, who the provide the shelter and sanctuary to pummel the Goliath. In the case of Israel, it hasn't been able to win its conflict against the Palestine simply because the Palestinians have been led to believe that since a cohesive Palestinian state is never forthcoming, the might as well throw their lot with the Palestinian authority or the HAMAS government, both of which guarantee their permanent animosity against Israel.

Ivan Arreguine Toft also pointed to the lessons offered by Robert Thompson in the Malayan insurgency. In the 1950s, Robert Thompson encouraged the use of police forces and intelligence operatives to end the emergency in Malaya. But the United States, being used to the deployment of conventional forces, could not shuffle the mix of its forces quick enough. Nor did the United States try to prevent the corruption and wide scale dysfunction of South Vietnam, invariably, allowing Vietnamese nationalism to simmer to a boil. The results were the predictable defeat of the United States; just as Mao had fanned the growth of Chinese nationalism to upend the rule of Kuomintang.

Faced with Islamic State, Talebans, and Shia armed militias in the Middle East, which president elect Trump promised to weed out, the United States are inclined to believe that a tactic of "shock and awe" once again will cow the enemy combatants into compliance. Ivan Arreguin Toft showed that nothing could be furthest from the truth. The more the enemies hate you, the more the weaker actors drawing on the support of the people, will eke out a victory.