A Fearful Symmetry: A New Soldier in the Age of Asymmetric Conflict

  • Published

A Fearful Symmetry: A New Soldier in the Age of Asymmetric Conflict by Rumu Sarkar. ABC-CLIO, 2010, 160 pp.

Today’s threat environment involves diverse national security challenges, which include asymmetric warfare such as terrorism. By its nature, asymmetric warfare is amorphous. Adversaries adapt quickly, assessing an enemy’s vulnerabilities and often using the superior military capabilities of the nation-state against it. Conventional wisdom asserts that the dynamic, adaptive, and highly complex nature of asymmetric warfare demands that US national security strategy implement a holistic approach that integrates all of the nation’s capabilities to combat these threats. A layered strategy, adaptive to the nature of asymmetric warfare, should be implemented in conjunction with existing symmetric strategies. Such efforts are vital to counter terrorism and enhance national security. In A Fearful Symmetry, Dr. Rumu Sarkar masterfully discusses global terrorism and some of its causes as well as innovative strategies for approaching global terrorism by developing a “new soldier,” defined as one who uses cultural understanding, empathy, and compassion as strategic weapons.

Dr. Sarkar, who currently serves as senior legal advisor at CALIBRE Systems, a defense consulting group, offers a highly structured analysis of existing linkages among state failure, poverty, and the absence of development as contributors to the rise of terrorism in modern conflicts. She argues that a direct correlation exists between global terrorism and the new challenges to the structure of the nation-state. Accordingly, the weakening of the nation-state paradigm in some instances has enabled the current rise of terrorism and its acceptance by many individuals as an acceptable tactic. Through a multidisciplinary examination of these issues, Dr. Sarkar offers possible courses of action. By utilizing both narrative and academic writing styles, she masterfully argues that asymmetric challenges demand asymmetric responses. She posits that aspects of political, economic, cultural, informational, and psychological strategies, tactics, and techniques are necessary to combat modern terrorists’ organizations successfully. Further, Dr. Sarkar astutely observes that much of the threat environment involves enemies who avoid direct, conventional conflict with the United States and seek asymmetric tactics of irregular warfare. Given the change in the threat environment, our strategies and training must also change, including an ability to understand and maneuver through cultural and emotional terrains. Doing so can enhance our agility in operational environments and further develop non-weapon-based tactical maneuvering. According to the author, integral to this paradigm are the new soldiers, whose skills and capabilities are critical operational assets for successfully combating terrorism and resolving issues that lead to global conflict. Their cultural understanding, empathy, compassion, wisdom, and intuitive skills will enable them to better establish trust and develop relationships that they can use in understanding the essentials of a conflict and its underlying causes.

The United States has become increasingly conscious of the fact that, despite its tremendous military power, it remains vulnerable in this new threat environment and its associated asymmetric challenges. Dr. Sarkar’s innovative approach offers valuable insights for the United States and its allies that seek to develop successful strategies with global reach. Overall, civilian leaders concerned with policy and military planners will benefit from integrating her recommendations into their security paradigm. Dr. Sarkar provides effective and fundamental tools for the US military’s stability, security, transition, and reconstruction plan paradigm. The effects might very well result in the reduction of global risk and enhance US national security.

Satgin S. Hamrah, MA, MPA
Boston, Massachusetts

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."