Unconventional Security in new International Era


The word unconventional is typically categorized as something which is not conventional or ordinary. Its occurrence is not as common as frequent and is in contravention to prevailing established rules and norms in the society. It can also be termed as Asymmetric in nature.

The concept of unconventional security became prominent amongst strategists in post cold war era. It emphasized on the changing nature of the warfare primarily because of the availability and application of the new technologies along with innovative doctrinal concepts to conventional military operations and development of new forms of asymmetric warfare.

Moreover another element which helped spreading unconventional warfare included globalization and improved communication. In wake of these emerging challenges world has started to put more emphasis on unconventional security threats.

In 2010, NATO created within its international staff a new Emerging Security Challenges Division (ESCD) aimed at countering the emerging and fast growing nontraditional and unconventional risks and threats such as Terrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), cyber security and energy Security. The term unconventional security threats now encompasses a plethora of issues which have urgent national and international security implications.


The US Department of Defence 2014 Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR) has also expanded the categories of unconventional security threats by including terrorist organizations, organized criminal and drug trafficking networks, WMD Proliferation and use of lethal biological, chemical agents, space domains attacks and cyber security (US Department of Defence, 2014).

The unconventional security threats to national security are generally not based on the ability to capture or seize territory and defeat the military forces completely rather they impact the national security interests through less direct means and is directed by non state actors or forces. Terrorism, Insurgency, subversion, narcotics and drug trafficking and refugees flow are the means that foreign adversary forces may use or employ to achieve their clandestine objectives.


These threats are categorized as unconventional security threats as they are distinct from the traditional military forces threats on borders by adversary nations. It is considered that cumulative effect of these unconventional threats is although slow but it steadily erodes the security posture of the state and it is best to deal with these threats whilst they are smaller in their early stage and more easily manageable.


Unconventional warfare is a covert military operation which is conducted in enemy held and enemy controlled politically sensitive territory which includes guerrilla warfare and support to already existing insurgency being carried out by indigenous native disgruntled elements.

The unconventional threats are opposite to conventional military threats posed by adversaries. The objective of unconventional threats and warfare is to achieve the military victory through the clandestine and covert operations in generally an already existing conflict or issue. The covert external support through the non state actors is employed in order to achieve the desired results such as support to existing insurgency, terrorism by exploiting the weaknesses of the adversary state in a particular situation.


The intent of the Unconventional warfare is to exploit the hostile power's political, military, economic and psychological vulnerabilities and shortcomings by developing and sustaining the resistance forces to accomplish and achieve the strategic objectives.

US Army J.F.Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School introduced the Unconventional warfare as another type of warfare, new in its intensity but ancient in its origin. It is war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins. It is war by ambush rather than attacks by combatants forces. It is war by infiltrations rather than direct aggression on borders, it is for seeking victory by essentially eroding and exhausting the enemy rather than directly attacking and engaging them in conventional and traditional operations on borders.

The unconventional war preys on unrest and weakens the enemy to an extent that in case of a subsequent conventional military attack, the demoralized, exhausted and war weary forces are unable to defend the frontiers of the homeland. In this kind of unconventional warfare special forces and intelligence agents are inserted and planted deep behind enemy lines in order to train, equip, finance and advise local insurgents and warring groups who are fighting their respective oppressive regimes or either fighting for their rights.

Propaganda and psychological tools are also employed as a tactic to achieve the desired objective. US Department of Defence Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms JP 1-2 has defined unconventional warfare 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”.

Unconventional and nontraditional security issues are now considered as core national security issues for the policy makers and strategists all along the world. The rise of unconventional threats poses new challenges for developing nations and ensuring the security policies of the states.

The Securitization Theory provides a novel approach to the security issues faced by the states. This concept provides an analytical framework in which the unconventional security threats are critically analyzed posed by either states or non state actors. Focusing on these nontraditional and unconventional security threats such as terrorism, insurgency, organized crimes and drug trafficking, information security challenges, climate changes etc. the analysts and strategic security experts either expand or limit the field of security issues to encompass the threats.


According to Barry Buzan a prominent security expert has categorized these security challenges into five broad categories: Military, Economic, Societal, Political and environmental.

Unconventional or nontraditional security threats became source of increasing concerns and anxiety for the policy makers and strategists after 9/11. September 11 attacks in US have changed the international scenario and security has dominated the international policies and the foreign affairs. Unconventional security threats entitles a new and different set of enemies other than the traditional and conventional threats, an enemy which is difficult to be recognized as foe, with novel and innovative means of inflicting harm and damage to the adversary state.

The writer Makhdoom Qaiser Bashir is a senior police officer and a PhD Student in Security Studies.