Unconventional warfare (UW) is the support of a foreign insurgency or resistance movement against its government or an occupying power.
Whereas conventional warfare is used to reduce the opponent’s military capability directly through attacks and manoeuvres, UW is an attempt to achieve victory indirectly through a proxy force. UW contrasts with conventional warfare in that forces are often covert or not well-defined and it relies heavily on subversion and guerrilla warfare.
As with all forms of warfare, unconventional warfare’s general objective is to instil a belief that peace and security are not possible without compromise or concession. Two original definitions are claiming: “The intent of U.S. Unconventional Warfare efforts is to exploit a hostile power’s political, military, economic, and psychological vulnerabilities by developing and sustaining resistance forces to accomplish U.S. strategic objectives.” or according to John F. Kennedy: “There is another type of warfare—new in its intensity, ancient in its origin—war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat, by infiltration instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him. It preys on unrest.”
UW can be employed in the furtherance of one of three strategic outcomes: Overthrow of an existing government or occupying power, disruption of the operations of that power, or the coercion of that power.
Methods and Organisation
UW targets the civilian population psychologically to win hearts and minds, and only targets military and political bodies for that purpose, seeking to render the military proficiency of the enemy irrelevant. Limited conventional warfare tactics can be used unconventionally to demonstrate might and power, rather than to reduce the enemy’s ability to fight substantially. In addition to the surgical application of traditional weapons, other armaments that specifically target the military can be used are: airstrikes, nuclear weapons, incendiary devices, or other such weapons.
Special Forces, inserted deep behind enemy lines, are used unconventionally to train, equip, and advise locals who oppose their government. They can also spread subversion and propaganda, while they aid native resistance fighters, to ultimately cause a hostile government to capitulate. Tactics focus on destroying military targets while avoiding damage to civilian infrastructure and blockading military resupply are used to decrease the morale of government forces.
The US Department of Defence defines UW as activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.