What are the best policy options to deal with asymmetrical warfare?

What are the best policy options to deal with asymmetrical warfare

CSS Solved International Relations Past Papers | What are the best policy options to deal with asymmetrical warfare?

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Question Breakdown

The examiner has asked the remedial measures to combat asymmetrical warfare. First, explain what asymmetrical warfare is using its definition and tactical tools. Second, you delve into the recent trends of asymmetrical warfare across the globe. Third, you put forward plan of action to curtail asymmetrical warfare in the best possible way.


1- Introduction

2- What is asymmetrical warfare?

3- A glimpse of the recent trends of asymmetrical warfare

4- A glance at the best policy options to deal with asymmetrical warfare

  • ✓ Mutual settlement of disputes and conflicts through negotiation talks and diplomacy
  • ✓ Contribution to reconstruction assistance
  • ✓ Emergency crisis management
  • ✓ Provision of protective security
  • ✓ Conduct special covert operations
  • ✓ Role of intelligence and military forces

5- Epilogue

Answer to the question


Asymmetrical warfare vitalizes the use of non-traditional military tactics, used generally by the weaker force to balance out the power inequity. Rod Thornton aptly wrote in his famous book “Asymmetric Warfare: Threat and Response in the 21st Century” that the nature of conflict has changed in recent years. From terrorism to information warfare, the West’s air power, sea power, and land power are open to attack from clever, but much weaker, enemies. Vietnamese insurgents against French colonizers, Regional Arab forces fighting against the Ottoman Empire, Organized armies against armed, covert terrorist groups, and Russo-Ukrainian War are some of the trends of asymmetrical warfare. Nevertheless, viable and pragmatic measures are demanded to deal with asymmetrical warfare vigorously. Mutual settlement of disputes and conflicts through negotiation talks and diplomacy, contribution to reconstruction assistance, emergency crisis management, provision of protective security, the conduct of special covert operations, and the role of intelligence and military forces are cited in the account.

What is asymmetrical warfare?

Asymmetrical warfare is an unconventional strategy for armed conflicts to achieve political objectives and, as the name implies, involves a disproportionate distribution of power. It is a type of war, Carl Von Clausewitz wrote in his book “War” that asymmetrical warfare is the continuation of politics by other means. It can describe as a conflict in which belligerents’ resources are uneven; consequently, they both may attempt to exploit each other’s relative weaknesses. In contrast, symmetrical warfare is where two powers have comparable military power, and resources, and rely on similar tactics. It can be defined as a war that occurs between two forces of uneven strength and size. The most common methods used in asymmetric war are guerrilla tactics and elements of psychological warfare. Guerrilla tactics are mostly used by insurgents or rebels, but organized militaries can counter with strategic or fear-promoting isolated actions, or reprisals, in return. Organized militaries frequently counter-guerrilla tactics with the institution of military law and psychological warfare. This may involve the use of propaganda to frame the guerrilla soldiers as threats to the security of the government and the safety of citizens. In addition to suppressing the opposite force, asymmetric warfare may also involve intimidating civilians who are not participating in either side of the conflict.

It is a form of irregular warfare – conflicts in which enemy combatants are not regular military forces of nation-states. It is also called guerrilla warfare, insurgency, counterinsurgency, rebellion, terrorism, and counter-terrorism. It is referred to a significant disparity in power between opposing actors in a conflict.

Asymmetric threats are divided into three categories. First, there are vulnerabilities in the complex but fragile information technology (IT)–based systems-of-systems. Such threats as jamming communications that carry targeting information or the Global Positioning System navigation and timing signal, attacking reconnaissance satellites, or erecting decoy missiles to frustrate reconnaissance-strike systems are examples of challenges to the RMA for which countermeasures must be devised. The RMA military must be made more robust as it is made ever more sophisticated. A second category of asymmetric threat is the potential use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) — on the battlefield, at ports and airfields where U.S. power projection is taking place, or on the territory of allies the U.S. is trying to defend. This threat requires counter-proliferation capabilities such as protective suits and detectors, with accompanying tactics and doctrine for their effective use. Third is the disturbing prospect that opponents will attempt to threaten the U.S. homeland with terrorism on a war-like scale. Catastrophic terrorism might result from the use of weapons of mass destruction, especially biological weapons; from an attack upon the critical infrastructures upon which fragile modern society depends, including power, transport, communications, and finance; or from an attack upon the persons and institutions of the federal government. The spectre of an attack on our homeland is a relatively new one; in this century, America’s wars have been far away. The country is favoured by geography, with oceans to the east and west, and friendly neighbours to the south and north. But globalization and technological change undercut the protection historically afforded by favourable geography.

  • Guerrilla Tactics

The use of guerrilla tactics is one of the most prevalent types of asymmetric warfare. They are mostly utilized to weaken an enemy’s will to fight. Guerrilla fighting occurs when the smaller force repeatedly uses isolated but powerful attacks on an enemy force or a prominent city or region of the state. Guerrilla forces create relatively small but strategic disturbances that present a persistent problem for civilians and the opposing force. One of the great risks of guerrilla warfare is the fact that the asymmetry results in the blending of civilians and combatants. The more organized forces (usually the military) often view the opposing force as merely a group of normal civilians. Thus, military forces and their allies can blur the lines between actual combatants and civilians. In this way, the actions of guerrilla combatants can result in military reprisals against uninvolved community members. Guerrillas utilize this misconception by the military to their advantage. Fighting against unarmed civilian communities can frighten the population of a state to acquiesce to whichever side harms them the most. Frequently, one of the only ways in which guerrilla tactics are successful is when non-combatants supply information, transportation, or other resources to the rebels. Here, the guerrillas raise awareness of the brutality of the military toward civilians, framing themselves as supporters of the people. In some instances, they may threaten to create worse destruction for the people than the military has. Bombings by the guerrillas on civilian groups may underscore this threat. These actions are intended to scare civilians into assisting guerrilla forces.

A glimpse of the recent trends of asymmetrical warfare

There are several prime manifestations of asymmetric wars. However, asymmetric warfare is fought with different motives, contexts, and goals. The motivation for these conflicts was revolution and independence. In the case of global terrorist attacks, the purposes of asymmetric warfare are religious, social, political, and above all psychological.

  •  ✓ Vietnamese insurgents against French colonizers

French Indochina War is also known as First Indochina War. The people living in the areas were poor and farmer, having no formal military training. Rebels, eventually, won and divided Vietnam into two. Thus, people were granted self-autonomy from the French colony. Consequently, France had granted independence to Laos and Cambodia earlier as a means to gain public support for their imperialist policies in the region.

  • ✓ Regional Arab forces fighting against the Ottoman Empire

The Arab Revolt, which began in 1916 during World War I, involved the efforts of many leaders to remove the yoke of the Ottoman Empire from their operations. These groups engaged in guerrilla warfare against multiple strategic locations and tools of the Ottoman Empire. They attacked the crucial Hejaz Railway multiple times throughout the revolt. Although they were acting with the support of Great Britain and other external forces, these guerrilla forces were only loosely organized. In some instances, their attention was diverted toward fighting against each other rather than their common enemy. Notable among these groups were the forces of Faisal I, who was a local shaykh. One of the most significant and enduring effects of this conflict was that Faisal became the king of Iraq.

  • ✓Rebels vs. the national government

Mexican Revolution The first part of the Mexican Revolution took only six months to complete, largely because of the success of the guerrilla tactics of the rebels. They easily unseated Porfirio Díaz, who had been an oppressive dictator for years. Even before guerrilla tactics were instigated, a flood of complaints about Díaz’s national government had been reported. These problems were brought to a head in 1910 when Díaz used a fraudulent, manipulated election to legitimize continuing his presidency. When guerrilla warfare began, Díaz’s troops were spread throughout Mexico, which gave ample opportunity for the rebels, led by Francisco Madero, to overturn divided regional military groups. Once he took control of the presidency, Madero in turn fought against a group of guerrilla soldiers who had previously been his allies. This group, led by Emiliano Zapata, fought against Madero for three years until he was assassinated and replaced by Victoriano Huerta. Yet another guerrilla group, the Constitutionalist Army, arose in 1913, led by politician Venustiano Carranza. Zapata’s and Carranza’s armies continuously fought until the death of Zapata in 1919.

  • ✓ Organized armies against armed, covert terrorist groups

It is global terrorism. This form of asymmetric warfare has caused countries and communities to significantly alter their conceptions of security and warfare since the 1990s. Some of the most prolific examples of global terrorism asymmetric warfare include the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, and a series of attacks in November 2015 carried out by ISIL terrorists in Paris.

  • ✓ Russo-Ukrainian War

Some have stated that this is not an entirely asymmetric war. They would note that Ukraine is a state that is just as organized as Russia. However, the fact remains that the enormous military might of Russia far outpowers any native forces possessed by Ukraine. The stated purpose of Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine was a ”swift and harsh” retribution toward individuals who had attempted to sever ties with Russia.

A glance at the best policy options to deal with asymmetrical warfare

  • ✓Mutual settlement of disputes and conflicts through negotiation talks and diplomacy

Due to the international scope and transnational reach of asymmetrical warfare, no single country can meet a major asymmetrical threat unilaterally. Diplomacy therefore must play a leading role in seeking, maintaining, and participating in multinational and bilateral cooperation at the senior political levels of foreign governments and in facilitating cooperation and cooperation with counterpart agencies and companies. In countering asymmetrical warfare, a major goal is to create and maintain an international consensus that asymmetrical warfare is not just the concern of countries facing a specific threat; it is a global concern of all countries.

  • ✓Contribution to reconstruction assistance

In cases where a country has sustained damage seriously endangering its health and welfare of the general public and economic viability, reconstruction aid can be a key element in undermining the hostility of a bereft population. Care must be taken, however, to avoid political influence and/or unethical business ethics to undermine the economic goals of reconstruction lest they be used to regain support by discredited asymmetrical groups.

  • ✓Emergency crisis management

The role of emergency crisis management extends far beyond asymmetrical threats, including, for example, major natural disasters. In either case, however, they require rapid responses and longer-term public safety and security. To the extent that crises and emergencies can be attributed to asymmetrical attacks, however, it is necessary for agencies tasked with such responsibility to be represented in a comprehensive grand strategy. Not only would that ensure better coordination and cooperation with many of those responsible for many of the other elements of grand strategy elements such as law enforcement, security, and armed forces, but it would provide an early threat warning that could make them better prepared.

  • ✓ Provision of protective security

It is defined here as providing security from criminal activities, including asymmetrical attacks against persons and facilities, installations, and equipment, including transportation, electronic and cyber equipment. Given the international scope and multifaceted scope of asymmetrical warfare, it is virtually impossible to achieve total protective security. Targets requiring significant public access or providing significant public services are particularly attractive for terrorist organizations as they provide an opportunity for broad mass media coverage. Public access and security comprise a zero-sum game; the more there is of one, the less there is of the other. Where public access is necessary, protective security requires seeking an optimum balance between the two.

  • Conduct special covert operations

Covert action and special operations are important elements in countering covert asymmetrical warfare. They include rapid response to incidents and attacks, hostage rescue, and proactive and preemptive strikes against asymmetrical combatants and materiel. Special operations units are generally military, but in some cases, they can be tasked to or shared with intelligence, law enforcement, and protective security services.

  • ✓ Role of intelligence and military forces

Because asymmetrical operations are covert, good, timely intelligence collection analysis and dissemination and sharing are necessary. To defeat the enemy, it is vital to identify asymmetrical adversaries, their locations, assets, capabilities, intentions, and targets. Intelligence collection and analysis are the shared responsibility of civilian and military, law enforcement, and security and intelligence services. Not only is cooperation and sharing among all domestic elements crucial, but liaison with foreign intelligence services is also of major importance against multinational adversaries. The primary role in the use of military force has traditionally been to combat counter-military force. Over the past half-century, however, it has increasingly become involved in counter-insurgency operations when national security is threatened, including restoring and maintaining public order and assisting in public relief programs. A second role of the military is maintaining civil order and public safety in conditions beyond the capability of law enforcement to manage, and pacification in insurgency situations. If insurgencies are sufficiently successful to challenge the enemy militarily, it is no longer asymmetrical warfare. The use of armed force in countering asymmetrical warfare, therefore, is not simply to defeat an enemy militarily on the battlefield. The broader objective is to neutralize the enemy’s ability to achieve its political agenda through a psychological campaign of fear and intimidation.


In a nutshell, radical groups and weak state actors are using unexpected means to deal stunning blows to more powerful opponents in the West under the domain of asymmetrical warfare. A Couple of recent trends are quoted in this regard: Regional Arab forces fighting against the Ottoman Empire and Russia Ukraine War. However, some remedial measures should devise to deal the asymmetrical warfare in the best possible way.

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