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By Giuseppe Caforio
Asymmetric warfare takes its name from the pitting of a weaker opponent against a stronger one, and from the use of war-fighting techniques that are vastly different from traditional military tactics. It is the use of these untraditional methods that enables the weaker side stand up to its stronger adversary.1 The radical difference of asymmetric warfare from what is now mostly referred to as conventional warfare lies both in the ethical aspect of the conflict and in the types of actions that typically take place, as well as in the instruments brought to bear and the strategies used.
The ethical aspect that characterizes asymmetric warfare is the disregard of any of the ethical standards governing warfare that prevail among most developed nations, replacing it with an ethic founded on religious and/or political fanaticism, disregard for human life, and the justification of every means of struggle that supports the desired end.
The goals of the struggle never appear to be negotiable, and the general psychological condition of those engaged in such warfare can be summed up as “victory or death.”The concrete acts involved in asymmetric warfare serve to educate the younger generations in religious and/or nationalistic fanaticism up to and including martyrdom, with frequent recourse to suicide bombings, generalized bombing, armed attacks, targeted murders, kidnappings (even of persons unrelated to the conflict, for ransom), and the intimidation of populations. The tools used cover an extremely wide range: from traditional weaponry to explosives and chemical weapons to all the means of psychological warfare, propaganda, and indoctrination offered by the information and communications technologies of the Internet society, to the so-called shadow economy. The general strategy of a weaker adversary in an asymmetric campaign is to extend the war to the territory of the stronger side (typically an industrialized country). These states, in a centuries- long evolution, had succeeded in shifting such conflicts away from their cities and countryside to the boundaries of their world and beyond.