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Thornton, Rod. Asymmetric Warfare: Threat and Response in the 21st Century.

Thornton, Rod. Asymmetric Warfare: Threat and Response in the 21st Century. Hoboken, N.I.: Wiley, 2007. 256pp. $69.95

Asymmetric warfare, although anything but new, is among the current political-military hot topics of the day. The success of al-Qa'ida in striking the World Trade Center, and the difficulties encountered by the United States and its partner countries in achieving stability and security in Iraq and Afghanistan, has convinced some observers that those who would wage asymmetric warfare against powerful states may now have the upper hand. Other analysts, less willing to go quite so far, agree that asymmetry will be a notable facet of most military conflicts for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately, discussions of asymmetric warfare all too often devolve into efforts to push pet programs or ideas, attack or defend political leaders, and substitute emotion for understanding. Thankfully, Asymmetric Warfare is cut from a different cloth. Dr. Rod Thornton, an authority on security issues at King's College London, has produced a practical and useful primer on this important subject. In doing so, he also dispels several common misconceptions, including the ideas that asymmetric means unequal, and that asymmetric warfare is solely a tool of the weak.

While asymmetric warfare can be practiced by any actor, it is the modern terrorist who creates the most concern. Thornton takes a close look at terrorists as adversaries and how "new" terrorists differ from their historical predecessors. He identifies three characteristics as particularly important: an increased degree of fervor, an increased ability to implement attacks, and an increased ability to cause mass casualties. The author takes the time to explain why these changes have occurred and how they might manifest themselves in future attacks.

Thorton does not overlook the relationship among terrorism and asymmetric warfare and strategic communication. In addition, he explores how an asymmetric opponent would seek to win a war through attacks on infrastructure and the use of deception, electronic warfare, and psychological operations. Each of these issues is dealt with in some detail.

Asymmetric Warfare is not a perfect book. A deeper discussion of historical examples of asymmetric warfare would have been a powerful addition to the work. It may also be that Thornton overstates the vulnerabilities of some of the unmanned systems he examines. However, these flaws are minor at best. Asymmetric Warfare is a valuable addition to current security-related literature. It is especially useful for readers new to the field who are seeking a cogent and readable description of asymmetric warfare, its various facets and aspects, and potential methods that might be used to deal with asymmetric foes.


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Author:Norton, Richard
Publication:Naval War College Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2008
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