05/17/2013 10:25 am ET Updated Jul 17, 2013

Asymmetrical Warfare: For all Americans a 21st Century Challenge

"Don't be too proud of this technological terror you've constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the force."

Darth Vader from the film STAR WARS: EPISODE IV - A NEW HOPE

As evil as he was, Lord Vader was right. Within the fictional realm of the STAR WARS galaxy, there is the mystical power of the force. Such a power it is that cannot be seen, but can be unleashed to be visible. And in his own way, the Sith Lord in black tried to make that clear to the six commanders in the room as he stood next to Governor Tarkin on board the Death Star, a technologically advanced planet killing space station.

But in our reality, we have the power of what is called an idea. It too is invisible same as the force, which also can be manifested to be visible. And furthermore like the force, an idea can also have a good side or a dark side. And Vader, though he had not said it specifically, was also talking about the threat of asymmetrical warfare. So yes, he was trying to tell those knuckleheaded commanders that their mighty battle station that is the size of a small moon can still be destroyed by those middling Rebel forces.

In symmetrical warfare two great powers also called belligerents, have the same basic military might. In other words a balance of power exists. A very good historical example of this would be the Cuban Missile Crisis faced by the Kennedy Administration in October 1962. A tense time in which, for thirteen days the United States had a stand-off against the Soviet Union, now called simply Russia. But those days are gone.

The United States is now the sole technological super power in the world, and spends far more on defense than any other nation in the world. America had spent $711 billion on the War on Terror which also included the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the brief involvement in Libya. Although for the proposed 2014 defense budget under the Obama Administration according to, a base budget of $526.6 billion will be allocated to include also $8.4 billion for the purchase of 29 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. But will all that expenditures still be enough, to calm the jittery nerves of Americans whenever a small nimble group of terrorists attack on American soil?

The late yet still highly esteemed Jonathan B. Tucker, a former United States chemical and biological weapons expert educated at both Yale and MIT, had written the following in the Summer of 1999 while a director of a Nonproliferation Project at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, Monterey, CA on asymmetrical warfare, "We must learn to negotiate a new geography, where borders are irrelevant and distances meaningless, where an enemy may be able to harm the vital systems we depend on without confronting our military power."

Coincidentally in late Summer of 1999, I still remember walking out of a bookstore with my brand new copy of Fast Company July/August 1999 issue 26. The magazine was three times thicker then than now. A thought came to me then that something was going to happen to us. From my perspective from about mid to 1ate 1990's everybody in America just seemed too giddy, with up to that moment in the late Summer of 1999, the United States Unemployment rate was at 4.2 %!

The only concern nationally then in 1999 was Y2K, but that turned out to be a non-event. But then in the following year the trifecta of the Dow, the S & P 500, and the NASDAQ all tanked in March 2000. Still that wasn't enough. But following that, the September 11, 2001 terror attacks where cheap asymmetrical methods such as utility knives and box cutters were used on board the hijacked passenger planes. And that was enough to not only change our American psyche, but also enough to send world capital markets asunder. Furthermore according to, the terror attacks was enough for the NYSE and the NASDAQ to have remained closed until September 17, 2001, the longest temporary shut down since 1933. And years later another cheap method will be used, a pressure cooker, both in the failed May 1, 2010 attempt in New York's Time Square, and in the two recent Boston bombings.

One of my favorite TV shows, although supposedly it had its final season in 2010 but there's current news of it coming back soon, is called 24, starring actor Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. In season 7 they went all out, moving from the previous season's locale in LA to Washington DC. Passed midway into that season, then former CTU (Counter Terrorist Unit) agent Jack Bauer had temporarily thwarted a road transport of a bio-weapon. The bio-weapon was made by Starkwood, an American private defense company in northern Virginia, but produced in Africa.

During the heroic attempt in that episode, the fictional Jack Bauer was exposed from a broken canister among many canisters of the bio-weapon while shutting it down. In the last time slot, 7am to 8 am, with the threat over, he lies in a hospital bed expecting to die. Or so he thinks. His last request before dying was for the hospital staff to call a Muslim imam named Muhtadi Gohar, a character professionally and sensitively acted by British stage, film, and TV actor Ravi Kapoor. Bauer previously suspected the imam of harboring a terrorist, yet both the imam and the framed local Muslim American were soon found innocent. Jack Bauer then begins the dialogue.

You don't know what I've done, says Bauer, as he winces from pain as his body had been exposed to the weaponized pathogen. Following that, the imam says softly, We live in complex times Mr. Bauer. Nothing is black and white. But I do know this. I see before me a man, with all his flaws, and all his goodness, simply a man. Then he takes Jack Bauer's hand before he adds, Let us both forgive ourselves for all the wrongs we have done. To which Bauer replies softly, Thank you. It's time.

Complex times, man o man is that the truth.