Given the success of terrorist organizations against the United States since 1983 it is prudent to ask if nations will pursue unconventional engagements with the United States. According to the National Defense Strategy, "U.S. dominance in conventional warfare has given prospective adversaries, particularly non-state actors and their state sponsors, strong motivation to adopt asymmetric methods to counter our advantages. For this reason, we must display a mastery of irregular warfare comparable to that which we possess in conventional combat." What are the implications for future National Defense Strategies?
The United States of America is no stranger to unconventional warfare. The American Revolution was the United States' first experience in terrorism and guerrilla warfare. The National Defense Strategy of 2008 states that the conventional warfare dominance of the United States will remain unchecked for the foreseeable future. However, despite its ability to defeat a conventional enemy, the United States has shown an inability to effectively deal with an enemy, either nation-state or non-state actor, that employs terrorism and asymmetric warfare as a means to engage in combat. The United States' conventional dominance has been no deterrent to terrorism. While the immediate adversaries in the Global War on Terrorism campaign are Al Qaeda and its allies, the reality exists that legitimate nation-states would resort to unconventional warfare operations in order to defeat the United States in a future conflict. Iran supports terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, Iran continues to develop nuclear technology. The United States must be prepared to face nations, like China, that have a far broader program for unconventional warfare that includes cyber, satellite, economic, diplomatic, and information warfare.
The United States needs to adopt a new definition of full-spectrum operations. Previously, this phrase was equated to the combined arms concept used by the military. In order to defeat an unconventional threat, full-spectrum operations must encompass all the instruments of national power and be able to meet the unconventional adversary at their level and, if possible, preempt their attack. It will require the United States to develop an unconventional strategy and the capability to employ that strategy. Through economics, diplomacy, information operations, propaganda, alliance building, military might, governmental subversion and fear, the United States can defeat an unconventional enemy.