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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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Asymmetric warfare, a clear and present threat

  • Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Tue, January 28, 2014 | 03:00 pm
Asymmetric warfare, a clear and present threat

Globalization and technological advancement have generated more complex and multidimensional security concepts that cover not only military but also non-military aspects. The characteristics of threat have also expanded with the appearance of non-traditional hazards.

Such conditions have influenced the character of warfare, as evident in the Revolution in Military Affairs that changed fourth generation warfare into asymmetric warfare. The changes are an integral part of the transformation of defense in many countries.

Indonesia, given its vast territory and plural societies, is facing the risks of asymmetric warfare. Domestic politics, terrorism and separatist movements in some regions will potentially trigger asymmetric conflicts that deviate from the normal standards.

Globalization has undeniably influenced the dynamics of world communities. The public'€™s view and response to the impacts of globalization vary. Some accept globalization in a smart, creative and critical way and therefore consider it a challenge, while others who reject it perceive it as a menace.

Those who oppose globalization hold the phenomenon responsible for the rise of THE survival of the fittest, which separates '€œthe winner'€ from '€œthe loser'€. The thrashing of '€œthe loser'€ creates '€œthe angry entity'€, which can lead to polarization and radicalization that manifests in transnational crimes, separatism and even terrorism.

In asymmetric warfare, the military faces not only state actors but also non-state actors, such as terror groups, separatists and others. These groups benefit from technological advancement and globalization in carrying out their actions, with support from the mobility of thoughts/orders that know no boundaries.

Asymmetric warfare is often characterized also by attacks on diverse fields, covering ideology, politics, economy, socio-culture and the military from external (international) as well as internal (domestic) fronts.

Based on this pattern of thought, the types of security threats facing Indonesia is charted in the table at the next page:

The variety of threats, both actual and potential, beg early anticipation, initiatives and proportional responses, as well as extra or special capacity of mastering asymmetric warfare methods involving technology, information, psychology and other things. To surmount the threats, collaboration, cooperation and non-conventional patterns of thought should always come to the fore.

In responding to asymmetric warfare, the military has four tendencies. First, accomplishment of mission orders will tend to be even more determined by low-level organizations. Therefore, mission goals should be understood by the lowest level organizations so that they can quickly respond to developments without having to compromise bigger mission orders.

Second, any shift of the smallest units should keep up their capability of independent operation without relying on centralized logistics. Each unit should be able to survive with natural resources and enemy resources already controlled. Herein lies the necessity for high individual capacity.

Third, maneuvering capability is increasingly important compared with the number of weapons or firepower, considering that mass concentration and firepower is vulnerable to attack. In the future, small troops with high maneuvering capacity, moving rapidly and agilely, will dominate battles because asymmetric warfare is far from normative.

Further, there'€™s a tendency to attack opponents internally by diminishing their physical strength. This can be achieved, among other ways, by pressuring political, financial and logistical bases of opponents that will force them to end their war.

Fourth, asymmetric warfare is devoid of any definite form. The dividing line between war and peace will be even more indistinct, with a non-linear front, perhaps even without a visible battle front.

The dividing line between civilians and military members becomes even vaguer. War will take place in all dimensions, including the cultural dimension; therefore psychological war will be one of the very dominant features. At the level of strategy, the target of fourth generation war is the motivational surrender of opponents'€™ policymakers.

Strategic victory is gained through a series of coordinated and symbolic attacks by different means to destroy the economic, sociocultural and political infrastructure of a state, which demoralizes its political leaders.

Strategic and innovative concepts are required through the development of tactics and techniques in facing asymmetric warfare, particularly by developing the experiences of several countries already undergoing such warfare. The US, for instance, partly due to its global role, considers state actors such as Iran, North Korea and Cuba, as well as those with cyber capabilities such as China and Russia, its asymmetric threats. The US also still deems insurgency forces it faces in '€œhumanity operations'€ in Afghanistan and Iraq as asymmetric threats. Meanwhile, China and Russia consider domestic forces in Tibet and Chechnya their asymmetric threats, respectively.

Indonesia, like the West, recognizes asymmetric warfare as a war tactic of the weak against the strong. But unlike the West, which tends to seek strategic solutions, Indonesia chooses to interpret asymmetric warfare as a modern war that needs a comprehensive response, especially by strengthening state defenses. Partly because of its geostrategic and defenses historical construction, Indonesia'€™s solution to absorb asymmetric warfare is the strategy of welfare supported by security.

It is therefore necessary for Indonesia to brace for imminent asymmetric warfare through various measures now, or it will be too late. First, restructuring conventional war tactics and techniques as well as updating to address the ever-evolving war tactics, according to latest trends, is imperative. In addition, capacity training and development of all components of the nation in facing any contingency of asymmetric warfare is necessary.

For the Indonesian Military (TNI), adjustment of its doctrines, systems and methods as well as the advancement of the capabilities and skills to deal with opponents launching non-conventional attacks deserve priority. In asymmetric warfare, no prediction can ever be made in regards to when, by what means and where opponents/enemies will attack, and what targets they will be aiming at.

Second, the role of territorial commands in empowering defense territories is vital. Territorial commands should be the vanguard of defense forces in the event of asymmetric warfare, be it the war of ideology, politics, economy, socio-culture or security. The commands could advise the defense minister on concepts of action at the operational level and policies at the more strategic level, so that the impact of the threats of asymmetric warfare could be promptly eliminated.

Third, the policy and regulation level, and products of legislation related to national security should be realized as strategic direction in response to national issues on a broader scale.

Fourth, regional cooperation is the only feasible modality to face asymmetric warfare. Some forms of security threats have for a long time been the concern of the ASEAN Regional Forum, APEC, East Asian Summit and ASEAN. But Asia-Pacific solutions remain very limited, with the furthest results being the confidence building measures (CBM), preventive diplomacy and various forms of cooperation to build state capacity (involving legislation, law enforcement competence, exchanges of information, coordinated cooperation, community building). To this end, it is necessary to improve the formula of more favorable regional cooperation with neighboring countries on the basis of mutual respect and equality.

Finally, in the era of asymmetric warfare, there is a tendency of the weak to show no fear of the strong, as long as the former has the capability of enhancing skill levels, intelligence, and above all, strong determination to win. But most importantly, we should prevent the emergence of asymmetric enemies.

In the defense context, the most efficient move to cope with asymmetric warfare is to optimize diplomacy, which is more productive than the use of violence like military force, although diplomacy is not without a doubt desired by hardcore fanatics and fundamentalists.