What is Unconventional Warfare?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 May 2020
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Unconventional warfare is a form of warfare which is based on the idea that it is possible to destabilize an enemy so much that it concedes even if it has the ability to continue making war. Rather than relying on the brute force tactics of conventional warfare, unconventional warfare is based on using creative, innovative, and usually stealthy tactics so that the enemy never knows what to expect. This style of warfare is also called “nonconventional” or “asymmetrical” warfare, although when the enemy is using unconventional tactics, it is often referred to as “terrorism.”

In conventional warfare, soldiers have a clearly stated objective, and a plan for getting there. In unconventional warfare, however, the goals are usually more nebulous, and soldiers often work independently, in small groups, striking blows at the enemy as they see fit. Any target is fair game in unconventional warfare, from uniformed enemy troops to civilians, as the idea is essentially to collapse the enemy from the inside out, forcing them to capitulate and negotiate a surrender.

People who have trained in unconventional warfare use a variety of tactics to harry and harass enemy troops, including training and arming insurgent movements. They also work to undermine quality of life for civilians by making life more dangerous, encouraging the curtailment of civil liberties, and generating a sense of war weariness in the population. By weakening the will of the people to support the war, sometimes it is possible to generate enough anger that politicians also withdraw their support, bringing the war to an end.

The use of intimidation and coercion is common in unconventional warfare, where anything goes, as long as the greater goal of eventually bringing about a concession is eventually achieved. The lack of clear goals and encouragement of subversive tactics sometimes leads to the development of rogue operators, who may lost sight of the greater mission as they work independently. For example, a guerrilla force may move from active harassment of villagers supporting the enemy to tormenting innocent civilians who have no vested interest in the outcome of the war.

Many militaries around the world have elite forces who have been trained in unconventional warfare. Fewer modern conflicts are as clear-cut as historical wars, leading to a much more widespread need for warriors who can use asymmetric tactics. Especially in cases where the enemy is a nebulous and unclear entity, many members of the military support the use of unconventional tactics, because conventional tactics are believed to be inadequate for the task.

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Post 2

The US forces in Vietnam used unconventional warfare as well. The Navy SEALS originated in World War II and the John Kennedy created the Green Berets. Both of these Special Forces groups were unconventional. Small groups of Green Berets actually worked and lived with the natives to try to combat the insurgents in the villages who farmed by day and fought the Americans by night.

Post 1

I guess one of the best examples of unconventional warfare would be the Vietnam War. The United States tried to fight a conventional war and the Viet Cong fought and unconventional war. They tried to convince the Americans that it was not worth the fight. The Viet Cong would attack smaller groups but run and hide from larger military forces. They also killed any civilians they thought were helping the Americans, in order to break the will of the South Vietnamese. They did not defeat the American Army, but they did defeat the American people. America became “war weary.”

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