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The Future of Irregular Warfare in the Nuclear Age 11/11/2009

Posted by Team API in Prospective, The english corner.
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By Axel Lebrun

In December 2004, Mustapha Setmariam Nasar, alias Abu Musab al-Suri, uploaded a 1600-page manifesto on the internet, The Call for Worldwide Islamic Resistance. Al-Suri explained in it how al-Qaeda was “not an organization [but] a call, a reference, a methodology”, an idea behind a “leaderless resistance” wearing down the enemy, preparing the ground for a war which would be global and nuclear. Of course the theories of a well-known terrorist arrested in 2005 may seem a bit megalomaniac to say the least. But considering Iraq and Afghanistan cases it is certainly not a wrong approach to think about the evolution of what is today the major issue for global security: irregular warfare in the form of terrorism, especially Islamic. In this essay we’ll try to see what could be the evolution of the Islamic terrorism in the coming decades and how nuclear technology could fit into terrorists “plans”.

Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist, published in 2005 al-Qaeda – 2nd Generation, a book about the past, present and future of Islamic terrorism (featuring interviews of important al-Qaeda thinkers, notably al-Maqdisi and especially al-Zarqawi). The blueprint of a step-by-step plan was elaborated:

  • “Awakening” was played between 2000 and 2003, and was a “provoke and bait” strategy to lead the USA into “self-defeating tactics”.
  • “Opening Eyes” took place between 2003 and 2006: “divide and rule”, the idea was to broaden the anti-Americanism feeling into an anti-Shia movement (religious tensions). Electronic jihad would play a major propaganda role (“cyberterrorism” would rise).
  • “Rising and Standing Up” (till 2010) would see Islamic “insurgents” challenging the weakening Arab powers (Syria, Jordan, etc).
  • By 2010, “hated Arab governments” would have collapsed, and terrorism would target global economy (burning oil, using gold instead of dollars,etc). The USA would retreat into isolationism, weakening at the same time Israel defense.
  • The next step would be the declaration of an Islamic state.
  • “Total Confrontation” would be the ultimate stage: nuclear, chemical and biological weapons would be used in the regular war against the “kafir” (the infidels), bringing the total domination of a global caliphate by 2020.

This Armageddon scenario can be criticized but it shows the will of a progressive evolution from an irregular, non-solid form to a regular (or “advanced regular”) shape able to challenge “non-believers” force de frappe. The final chapter being the nuclear apogee of a 30 years struggle. In the mind of Islamic terrorists, the future of irregular warfare in the nuclear age is clear: evolution (terrorism to insurgency), transformation and/or revolution (insurgency to regular army) and supremacy. And as nightmarish as this probability may sound, one should remember that some terrorists already tried to purchase, or already used biochemical/radioactive agents to make WMD attacks (cf. Abu Khabab al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s WMD chief, or the sect Aum Shinrikyo which released sarin gas in Tokyo’s subway).

Even if Islamic terrorism is defeated (and it may take some time!), irregular warfare will not end with it. As Franck G. Hoffman explained, irregular warfare may be “a natural reaction to globalization and America’s overwhelming military superiority”. New irregular warfare, should it be the “2nd Generation” blueprint from al-Qaeda, the “4th generation warfare” theorized by Thomas Hammes, or even the “advanced/complex irregular warfare” suggested by F.G. Hoffman, yes, new irregular warfare will challenge the world and, already, new military/political strategies should be (are ?) clearly oriented toward the counter-(new)insurgency. The question is: with most of the theories and strategies easily found on the internet, aren’t the “irregulars” getting ready for their next “big move”? A “move” this time made using the enemy’s knowledge and, maybe, weapons.


Deception, A. Levy and C. Scott-Clark, 2007
War, Peace and International Relations, C.S. Gray, 2007
“Complex Irregular Warfare”, F.G. Hoffman, 2006
“The Economics of Nuclear Terrorism”, J.G. Lewis, 2006
“Challenges in Fighting a Global Insurgency”, D.W.Barno, 2006

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