Posted by: Sam Carson | 25 March, 2007

How the Weak Win Wars

There is a very interesting post at the Nieman Watchdog on the nature of asymmetric conflict: when the powerful engage in war on a weaker nation.

Since 1800, the powerful have won only 78.5% of asymmetric conflicts. More interesting is that this number has been falling, since 1950 only 49% of conflicts have been won by the powerful.

The writer behind the post, Harvard post-doc Ivan Arreguin-Toft has written a book on the matter. He regards this decline as the result of the strategic mismatch between the open, conventional and highly technological Second World War style of direct fighting the powers employ, and the guerilla insurgent
indirect style of fighting used by the less powerful.

As an example, he points to the Iraq war. In the first months of the war against the Saddam Hussein state, fighting was direct and conventional, and very easy for the coalition. Since then, a direct vs. indirect style of fighting has occurred, resulting in the current quagmire.

I also think there is an important element of Nationalism to this. During the nineteenth century, imperialism was at its height and the ideas of self-determination and nationalism were not held by the colonies of the European powers. Gradually, nationalism has taken hold and the twentieth century has seen the end of imperialism (for all intents and purposes) and the rise of self-determination of many independent sovereign nation states.

The rise of nationalism also coincides with the decline in success of asymmetric conflict for the powerful. This is hardly surprising. People don’t want to be invaded and occupied. They do not wish to lose their self-determination.

powered by performancing firefox


  1. […] Power fails when seeking compliance Further to: How the Weak Win Wars […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: