European Affairs

Asymmetric Warfare Creates the Need for “New Soldier”     Print Email
Rumu Sarkar

Rumu SarkarThis essay addresses the stabilization and reconstruction operations currently taking place in conflict areas of dangerous, unpredictable and highly volatile environments.

The world finds itself severely challenged by asymmetric threats posed by global terrorists acting through non-state actors such as Al Qaeda and related organizations or cells. In this stage, not only are we, the West, terrorized by the acts of terrorists, but I also feel that many Islamic-based terrorists are fearful (if not actually terrorized) by the perceived threat posed by Western ideals and institutions. There has been a palpable shift from the mere tactical level of posing asymmetric threats by global terrorists to an overarching psychological dimension where both sides instill fear in each other.

As a result, the asymmetric threat of global terrorism is no longer confined to conflict zones with specific military engagements underway, but now affects civilians in every walk of life. There is a need for engagement – by Arabs themselves and perhaps by non-governmental organizations – to dissuade disaffected youth from a dangerous religious fanaticism that can never succeed in building a modern state that meets the real needs of its citizens. In response to global terrorism, I advocate the need to create a “New Soldier” as a way of engaging with and combating global jihadists. This new breed of soldier has highly subjective qualities of empathy, compassion, wisdom, and heightened intuitive and perceptive abilities that enables him or her to navigate in unknown cultural, linguistic and emotional terrains.

To help create this New Soldier who can win on the battlefield, a new alliance with social scientists (traditionally kept at arm’s length by the military) will need to be forged. Soldiers will need to operate in smaller units. They will need to be trained to be able to move seamlessly from traditional warfare to combat against irregular threats, and initially focus on providing humanitarian assistance to the innocent.

Does this mean that such new forces will ultimately win the global war on terror? Probably not. But if we can learn to face the most unrelenting, deadly and uncompromising hatred and commitment to our violent destruction by global terrorists, and respond with empathy, compassion and intuitive decision-making on the battlefield, this may be one of the greatest lessons that human history may have to offer.

Of course, creating and cultivating a corps of these new soldiers is an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. Nevertheless, there are obvious advantages to trying to move in this direction. Taking this direction, however, is completely dependent on the military establishments’ readiness to commit to a securitization, stabilization, transition and reconstruction (SSTR) process. Military forces (whether unilateral or multilateral) are generally the first actors in conflict and post-conflict situations, so the New Soldier (whether in unilateral or multilateral operations) is a necessary agent of stability and, ultimately, of change.

In my view, the initial task of the military (whether national or multilateral) is to provide security. However, providing security alone is not sufficient; it is only the first step that permits other actors to implement strategic and tactical measures in initiating SSTR operations. The question is how to coordinate such complex and interrelated functions that are being carried out by different institutional actors with varying objectives, timelines and mandates.

In answer to that question, I would argue that a corps of the New Soldier should be created to operate in multilateral armed forces and peacekeeping units to be deployed by agencies such as the UN, NATO, the European Union, the African Union, and the G-8’s Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). By 2010, the GPOI calls for training a multilateral, self-sustaining peacekeeping force of 75,000, largely African soldiers. The AU is in the process of creating its Standby Force initially consisting of five brigades, and this may be a highly suitable opportunity to test and deploy the concept of the New Soldier. The concept of the New Soldier may also be relevant to the Africa Counterinsurgency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) program, and to paramilitary programs currently operational in Great Britain, France, Spain, India, Indonesia, Morocco and the Philippines.

In my view, the New Soldier is best suited to multilateral and regional peacekeeping forces that are committed to using multilingual and multicultural approaches. A recent RAND study points out that multilateral peacekeeping forces have added credibility, lower operating costs, and more access to seasoned professionals with experience in handling failed states. Rather than relying on standing national armies, perhaps it is time to examine a new approach that reinvents militarized interventions in a way that can be undertaken by soldiers with a new sensibility and training. Once the post-conflict zone is sufficiently stabilized, the civilian corps may then enter the scene.

The interventions that the New Soldier should initially focus on are to provide: (1) humanitarian relief; (2) securitization and stabilization; and (3) conflict resolution and prevention. This may mean creating broader authorities, for example, to intervene in international conflict zones by regional military forces, where necessary. (For example, the AU Standby Force may be tasked with setting up peacekeeping forces in the Philippines.) If this approach is adopted, it implies a paradigm shift for Western military establishments.

In addition, recruitment strategies may need to be drastically altered. There are concerns about any moves that change the focus away from the kinetic aspects of warfare to “softer” skills involved in conflict prevention and reconciliation as well as nation-building exercises. Critics may contend that such shifts would conflict with (and demoralize) existing military structures built on skill sets and expectations of established militaries. Nevertheless, since the New Soldier has a different mission based on a different perspective and training, the core curriculum of military schools will need to be modified. In this regard, retired military officers may wish to lead the effort in order to share their “lessons learned” perspective with others, and help shift the military paradigm to include a different kind of soldiering by creating a different kind of soldier.

This may be the new challenge: to create the New Soldier, not in conflict with the soldier of today, but as a new and invaluable part of the military of tomorrow. As Defense Secretary Gates put it, “New institutions are needed for the 21st century, new organizations with a 21st century mind-set.”


Rumu Sarkar is an adjunct law professor and visiting researcher at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, DC. The original essay was published in May 2008 under the title, “Une symétrie de la peur: Un nouvel équilibre mondial des puissances?”

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 10, Issue number 1-2 in the Winter/Spring of 2009.