Great Powers, Weak States and Asymmetric Strategies   [open pdf - 4MB]

On the verge of the twenty-first century, America finds itself in the position of a great power with dominant military technology. This thesis examines the possibility that weaker states may be able to strategically innovate and defeat us in war despite our technological advantages. The purpose of the thesis is to survey what type of strategic innovations, also known as asymmetric strategies, are possible and to examine the conditions under which they may be successful. This thesis begins by defining asymmetric strategies using a comprehensive model of strategy developed by Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie. The thesis also examines four variables which may explain the success or failure of asymmetric strategies. To illustrate possible asymmetric strategies and examine the contextual conditions under which they work, the thesis considers the cases of the Italo-Ethiopian war of 1935-36, the Russo-Finnish War of 1939-40, and the American-North Vietnamese War of 1965-73. The thesis finds that the four variables have significant explanatory power for the success or failure of these strategies. The thesis concludes by examining strategic implications for the United States, both as a possible opponent of weak states and as a supporter of a weak state faced by a great power threat.

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