America's Frontier Wars: Lessons for Asymmetric Conflicts   [open pdf - 918KB]

The author takes a look at America's Frontier Wars, including the second Seminole War of 1835-1842, King Philip's War of 1675-1676, Pontiac's War in 1763, and the 1755 battle in which Major General Edward Braddock lost his life to a small French and Indian force, as they can apply to modern-day challenges. "While asymmetric warfare is not something new, it is very much in vogue today in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War. Given America's resounding success in that conflict, potential adversaries have learned Iraq's lesson that it is foolish to try to match us conventionally. Instead, they are seeking ways to turn our strengths against us. This is the heart of the concept of asymmetry, broadly defined by Steven Metz and Douglas Johnson of the US Army War college as: 'In the realm of military affairs and national security, asymmetry is acting, organizing, and thinking differently than opponents in order to maximize one's own advantages, exploit an opponent's weaknesses, attain the initiative, or gain greater freedom of action.' US forces will have to contend with greater uncertainty in the field as adversaries mask the size, location, disposition and intentions of their forces. They will seek to convince US commanders that they are using conventional tactics while making us vulnerable to unconventional, adaptive and asymmetrical actions. At the heart of asymmetry is the assumption that an adversary will choose to attack the weakest point. In the case of the United States, asymmetric tools may well entail terrorist acts, with or without nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, on the US homeland designed to disrupt deployments, limit access, erode public support and take the fight to the American people. In some respects, this homeland tactic is not new. Beginning with King Philip's War, the New England Indians abandoned their traditional restraints and prepared to wage total war on all of the colonists, making no distinction between combatant and non-combatant.13 Attacks on Americans using weapons of mass destruction take these homeland tactics to a new level. Because of the devastation of these attacks and the interest of many potential adversaries in acquiring these capabilities, the United States must develop strategies for preventing and responding to such an occurrence. The cyber threat now facing the United States is equally compelling and risks both the effectiveness of US forces on the battlefield and the safety of private and government systems throughout the United States. Recent Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed cyber warfare exercises like ELIGIBLE RECEIVER and ZENITH STAR showed how vulnerable command and control networks are to cyber attacks, a prime asymmetric target given the US military's continued reliance on information technology. Moreover, there are now approximately 30 nations that have developed aggressive computer-warfare programs."

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Military Review (September-October 2001), p.22-27
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