"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."


July 19, 2007

"Asymmetric warfare" sounds impressive, but like quite a few other expressions in common use—"Global War on Terror," "smart bomb," and "surgical strike" come to mind—it's a phrase that on closer inspection turns out to be just about empty, semantically.  Is it too much to hope that the personnel of the fifty agencies participating in an "asymmetric warfare" exercise in the Puget Sound over the next few days will reflect on that fact?


You can watch from afar, but "[t]here will be no public or media access to the exercise" staged by the Center for Asymmetric Warfare (CAW) at the Port of Tacoma on Tues., Jul. 24, beginning at 8:00 a.m., the Port authorities announced a few days ago.  The Business Examiner posted a few sentences about the event in its daily e-mailing on Tuesday.  Tacoma's Daily Index published the Port's "news advisory," adding a photo caption saying that "the Port [of Tacoma] has been selected as the site for a testing center aimed to scan and detect intermodal cargo for traces of radiation.  The first set of exercises will occur July 24" (Daily Index [Tacoma], July 18, 2007).  (Whether any radiation will be released as part of the exercise, we don't know.)  As for the lackadaisical News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), it has yet to get around to saying anything about it.

It's all part of a larger exercise that starts Friday "with the simulated seizure of a ferry in Steilacoom, Washington."  The exercise concludes a few days later with "disasters and mock terrorist attacks around the Puget Sound.  In all, more than 50 agencies will participate in the two-phase exercise, including participants from the Department of Defense and federal, state, county, local, and private entities."  That's up from 40 agencies last time.  "Scenarios will include both terrorist and non-terrorist activities and the distinction between the two could be ambiguous, further challenging participants," according to the statement from the Port.


To the ferry "seizure" and assorted disasters and attacks around the Sound, our protectors have decided it would be a good idea to throw an anti-immigrant action into the soup, too.  That way, the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), along with the Coast Guard, the Seattle Police and Fire Departments, and the Port of Seattle can get into the act:  "The United States Coast Guard Sector Command, USCG District 13, the Captain of the Port of Seattle, Pier 90/91 Facility Security, Port of Seattle Police, Seattle Fire, U. S. Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement will have a concurrent exercise to validate their Alien Migrant Interdiction Operation (AMIO) plan.  This scenario involves a fishing vessel that arrives with people aboard who do not have proper identification and a civil disturbance with an attempt to enter secured areas."


Earlier "asymmetric warfare" exercises were held in October 2003 (Port Hueneme, CA), August 2004 (the Los Angeles harbor area), October 2004 (an area stretching from the Strait of Juan de Fuca through Elliott Bay and Seattle to the Port of Tacoma), and May 2006 (in the Puget Sound region again). 

The exercise will gather a veritable Who's Who of security personnel in the region. According to an official account, the October 2004 event involved, in addition to the agencies mentioned above, the Department of Defense Western Region Medical Command, the Coast Guard, FEMA, the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), SWAT, and Hazardous Materials Response Team (HMRT), the National Guard Civil Support Team (CST) and CBRNE Enhanced Response Force Package (CERFP), the Civil Air Patrol, Amateur Radio Emergency Services, Washington's National Guard, Emergency Management Department, Department of Transportation, State Police, Department of Health (Radiological Protection), the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic System, the Tacoma Police (including SWAT teams) and Fire Departments, the Port of Tacoma, the Everett Police Department, and the King and Pierce County Hospitals Disaster Medical Control Centers (DMCC).

            The Training Integration Branch (BCTIB) of the Fort Lewis Battle Command Training Center (BCTC) supported the exercise with simulation systems of the sort used in military exercises.  The Exercise Control Center was sited on Fort Lewis, at the BCTC.  We're sure Fort Lewis will be a key player in the exercise, though for some reason the word "military" hasn't appeared in descriptions of this year's event.

The May 2006 exercise was an even more elaborate affair, involving more than forty agencies representing all levels of government, and more than a thousand people.  You can read all about it on the web.  (Why the government is putting all this information online if we're in a "Global War on Terror" is something we don't understand.)


The phrase "asymmetric warfare" first appeared in the U.S. National Security Strategy document in 1997.  The Center for Asymmetric Warfare was created in 1999.  It's located at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, Point Mugu, California, up the coast from L.A. and Santa Monica and down the coast from the Reagan Ranch.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which has a "satellite office" in Tacoma, is operated by the Battelle Memorial Institute for the U.S. Dept. of Energy, and is based in Richland, is one of the "teammates" of the Center for Asymmetric Warfare.  The other "teammates" are Battelle itself (a key institution of the U.S. national security state) and three agencies of the U.S. Navy devoted to warfare or engineering.

On its website, the Center for Asymmetric Warfare doesn't have much to say for itself, and tells you nothing about the upcoming exercise.  It lists "AWI07N/SEAHAWK" as a "key event" for July, but gives no information whatsoever.  Is AWI07N/SEAHAWK the Puget Sound exercise?  We suppose it is, but your guess is as good as ours.

The only other "event" announced for July 2007 is an "Oil Platform Security Training" in Santa Barbara, near Point Mugu.


"Asymmetric warfare" sounds impressive, but like the expression "Global War on Terror," on closer inspection it's a phrase that turns out to be just about empty, semantically.

On Sept. 4, 2002, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted to the New York Times he didn't know what "asymmetric warfare" really meant: "I don't like it. I wish I knew an alternative. I wish I knew a better way of saying 'weapons of mass destruction.'"*

Stephen J. Lambakis criticizes the concept in "Reconsidering Asymmetric Warfare," Joint Force Quarterly 36 (2005): 102-08.

Lambakis, a national security and international affairs analyst specializing in space power and policy studies at the National Institute for Public Policy, writes:  "Asymmetry boils down to recognizing difference, since to be asymmetric is to be different.  Yet differences lie at the heart of international life. . . . Heterogeneity permeates the military universe and yields strikingly dissimilar military cultures.  Threats from enemies who think in unorthodox ways and resort to surprising tactics are as old as warfare. . . . The United States has historically been familiar with asymmetric foes" (p. 104).

The concept, Lambakis points out, amounts to common sense, and he questions "how discerning we are if we are amazed by what once passed for common sense." (p. 107).  Lambakis ends by predicting that "[o]wing to its analytical shortcomings and the need for a strong sense of priority in defense planning, this concept will fade rapidly from defense jargon" (p. 108).

We hope that exercises like the one coming up in the Puget Sound region will help enlighten our nation's guardians about the strategic nullity of the concept of "asymmetric warfare."  In the meantime, be careful what you do on Tuesday.  You wouldn't want to do something "ambiguous."

* NOTE: We know from Bob Woodward that Donald Rumsfeld had WMDs on his mind at that particular time, Sept. 4, 2002.  That was the day that Rumsfeld gave a one-and-a-half-hour briefing to the U.S. Senate that was attended by two thirds of all senators.  Afterwards, "In the 'Night Note for September 4,' Christine M. Ciccone, a young lawyer who covered the Senate for [Nick] Calio [head of White House congressional relations], reported . . . 'You have already heard it was a disaster and Lott views it has having destroyed all of the goodwill and groundwork that the president accomplished during his meeting this morning.  I found myself struggling to keep from laughing out loud at times, especially when Sec. Rumsfeld became a caricature of himself with the 'we know what we know, we know there are things we do not know, and we know there are things we know we don't know we don't know.'  Senators had expected that the briefing, coming on the heels of the president's meeting that morning, would begin the process of making the administration's case, she reported.  'Instead, Secretary Rumsfeld was not prepared to discuss Iraq issues, was unwilling to share even the most basic intelligence information, and wasn't having a good day'" (Plan of Attack [New York: Simon and Schuster, 2004], p. 171).


"We nonviolently oppose the reliance on unilateral military actions rather than cooperative diplomacy."