Task Forces


Asymmetric Threats Within The Context of Caribbean Community (CARICOM)

By Orlando Mardner, EWB & PSA


This paper defines the concept of asymmetric threats within the context of Caribbean Community (CARICOM). In order to achieve this objective, the author focused on presenting the concept of asymmetric threats with respect to CARICOM and other developed states and regions such as the United States of America and countries within the European Union. Further, the author provides the historical context of the manifestation and development of asymmetry forms of endangering security. Notably, within CARICOM, the present researches established not a single form of asymmetric threat to have happened in the past. Thus, the strategic context of the contemporary asymmetric threats was found to have a high likelihood of occurring in CARICOM in the future. They include asymmetry of the method; asymmetry of technology; and the asymmetry of WILL. Thus, in order to prevent such asymmetric threats from taking place within CARICOM in the future, there is need to adopt appropriate political means, innovative and well-formulated diplomacy, to have a proper regional commitment to fight terror threats, and to develop regional strategic communication strategy (to be defensive and offensive in nature). Overall, this paper proved the relevance of classical strategic thought in preventing asymmetric threat within CARICOM.   






Asymmetry and Strategy


In the contemporary society, there are increasingly unstable, unpredictable and more dangerous security concerns around the world. Several factors have been associated with the endangering security; among them are the fascinating technological progress and the ambivalent global processes. The results of the changing multinational dynamics include extremism, terrorism, and antisocial nature of the global processes exhibiting asymmetrical threats. Importantly, various concepts, buzzwords, and theories have been postulated to explain the origin, occurrence, and trends of the asymmetric threats (Møller, 2003). However, there is limited scientific proof to the existence of the asymmetric threat. For example, scholars have used several theories like the core principle of international relations theory, which indicates that “the power implies victory in war” (Arreguin-Toft, 2001, p. 96); whereby, in the asymmetric conflicts, the strong actors always emerge victoriously. Thus, the primary objective of this paper is to define the concept of asymmetric threat, provide the strategic context of contemporary asymmetrical threats, and to examine the relevance of classical strategic thought. Thus, this paper contributes to the appreciation of the asymmetric threats including the destabilizing factors that contributes to the generation of conflicts within a regional organization, Caribbean Community (CARICOM).  Notably, CARICOM is one of the two sub-regional organizations within the Caribbean region, which was established 1973 based on economic, political and security grounds with the dominating powers such as Jamaica, T&T and Barbados.     


There are various definitions and descriptions of asymmetry and asymmetric threats, which have been postulated by scholars. For example, Bennett et al. (1999) defines asymmetric threats as the “attack on the vulnerable members of the community or a threat who is no prepared against the threat. Also, Gray (2002, p. 5) indicates that the definition of asymmetric threats relies on the “identification of principal characteristics of, and corollaries to, asymmetry. In this paper, asymmetry is defined in terms of the military doctrine. In the development of a comprehensive definition of asymmetry, several countries and cultures have postulated unique definitions depending on the context and culture. The non-English-speaking nations such as Russia have defined asymmetry as “the absence or destruction of symmetry” (Thomas, 2001). The first explicit mention of the asymmetry was recorded in the Joint Doctrine (1995), where the concept of asymmetry in the military was used within a limited sense. The Joint Doctrine in 1995 defined asymmetry in the context of asymmetric engagement, which exists between dissimilar forces such as air versus land. Further, the Military Strategy approach of 1995 in the US decided to incorporate several aspects such as the words terrorism and threatened use of weapons in mass destruction into the definition of asymmetry. Consequently, in 1997, the concept of asymmetric threat was incorporated into military concerns, where the Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) indicated that:

“ the US dominance in the conventional military arena may encourage adversaries to use…asymmetric means to attack our forces and interest overseas and Americans at home” (Arreguin-Toft, 2001, p. 98; Cohen, 1997).     

The report by the National Defense University (1998) in the US defined asymmetry as a “not fighting fair” (Arreguin-Toft, 2001, p. 99). Otherwise, in 1999, there came the agreed definition of asymmetry, where the Joint Strategic Review defined asymmetric approaches as the:

attempts to circumvent or undermine US strengths while exploiting US weaknesses using methods that differ significantly from the US’s expected method of operations” (Arreguin-Toft, 2001, p. 98; Joint Strategy Review, 1999).  

Therefore, in the military context and within a multinational security framework and as held in this paper, asymmetry is defined as ‘acting, organizing and thinking differently compared to opponents so as to maximize your advantages while exploiting the opponents weaknesses, gaining freedom of action and attaining an initiative to overcome the opponent’.  Also, asymmetric threats are the threats involving “not fighting fair” and which takes advantage of the critical weak points in a stronger enemy’s defenses (Primmerman, 2006, p. 1).

Overall, the definition of asymmetry is evidently building to the wider concept of the asymmetric threat. A comparative review of the definition of asymmetric threats from the literature obtained several instances where asymmetric warfare leads to the defining situations of the asymmetric threats. Notably, the US government documents, dated between the 1990s and 2016, indicate that asymmetric warfare means everything ranging from the 9/11 terrorist strikes to the supercomputer viruses to the roadside bombs (Harris, 2014; Buffaloe, 2006). Otherwise, most scholars agree that asymmetric threats tend to unusual in our eyes and are irregular in the sense that they are posed by instruments unrecognized by the long-standing laws of war involving the regular military machines, which have been engaged in open combat.  

There are various forms of asymmetry and asymmetric threats, which fall within the realm of national security and warfare. First, there is the asymmetry of the method, which involves the use of different tactical doctrines or operational concepts compared to a target or enemy (Johnson & Metz, 2001). There is also the asymmetry of technology. In this asymmetry, the threats emanate from industrial advancements pitting a developed state against the one considered to be backward in terms of industrial advancements. According to Johnson and Metz (2001), another form of asymmetry is that of WILL, wherein an antagonist considers its vital interest to be at stake, thus it launches attacks as a strategy to calm the attacks by the less-than-vital interest. For example, such asymmetry is manifested where a country such as the US play a role in conflicts in states such as Somalia so as to protect her interests.


The context of asymmetric threats that is considered in this section involves warfare instances that fall within the relevant international (particularly the US) and to the larger extent the South American continent. In the Caribbean Community, all the Caribbean nations are considered in this manifestation and development of asymmetry forms that have or will endanger their security. Thus, the historical manifestation of the asymmetric threats, which are considered in this paper, covers only the previous forms of the asymmetric threats that have hit the rest of the world.        

The historical examples of warfare exhibiting asymmetric threats are numerous. Notably, the Japanese behavior in the World War II is a perfect example of an asymmetric threat. Accordingly, Japan began the war that involved an asymmetric action, whereby they sneaked attack on Pearl Harbor despite the ongoing peace negotiations (Primmerman, 2016). The other classical asymmetric threat is where the same Japanese used kamikaze attacks, where they combined elements of asymmetric equipment, strategy, and tactics to hit about American ships off Okinawa. Further, During the Cold War, Soviet Union also exhibited asymmetric action; specifically, they signed the Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention that banned the application of biological weapons. The agreement did not last, as the Soviet Union began a massive expansion of offensive biological-warfare program just after one year of the agreement. It is this act of negotiating and then ignoring the treaties on the use of biological weapons by the Soviet Union, which exhibits typical asymmetric threat.    

Within the US, the asymmetry and asymmetric threats have developed in a version of “not fighting fair”. The asymmetric forms that have been witnessed involve the use of surprising operations and strategic dimensions in terms of the use of weapons in ways that are unplanned by the world’s superpower, the US. The historical context of the manifestation of the asymmetric threats includes NATO’s Cold War doctrine of the first application of nuclear weapons, which was meant to compensate for the nonnuclear superiority of the Red Army (Chilcoat, 1998). The other historical manifestation of the asymmetric endangering of security is where there was the exploitation of major nuclear-armed allies like China and the Soviet Union, which was conducted by North Vietnam and North Korea. The purpose of such exploitations was to limit various options for military escalation by the US in its respective Major Theater Wars (Johnson & Metz, 2001).

There is also the terrorism by proxy, which was used by different Islamic states against the US as well as the European interests (Chilcoat, 1998). The literature by Heim (2016) showed some of the manifestations of the asymmetric threats where the US and allied efforts failed to completely neutralize the threat of Iraqi theater ballistic missile (TBM), particularly in the Persian Gulf War. In this case, Saddam Hussein military contingent succeeded in laying a failure of the American-led coalition to locate and destroy their mobile theater missiles (Heim, 2016). Thus, such tactics employed by Saddam Hussein indicates a clear case of asymmetric threats, where the US military failed in their war strategies in Iraq. Overall, all these historical examples indicate the strategies that manifested the context and development of different forms of asymmetry, which significantly endangered security. 

Presently, there are various manifestations of asymmetry threats within the US. Notably, the continued development in the cyberspace creates a major room for the enhancements of the asymmetric threats. For example, in the US, cyberattacks could provide a platform for the terrorists to attack the national strategic infrastructure (NSI) including their allies. In Jamaica, a threat to the manifestation of asymmetry is posed by the Islamic States (ISIS), which is a common threat to all Caribbean states. The ISIS group, which emanates the Middle East and Boko Haram (Central Africa), are constantly causing fears, deaths, and destruction of property. The ISIS group is well resourced, having a monstrous act that seems unstoppable; thus, their quest and reach in the Caribbean islands could prove to be the real danger for CARICOM.

Despite the international asymmetric threats that have been witnessed, it is important to note that within CARICOM, there is no single asymmetric threat that has occurred. Thus, there are only intentions of unique asymmetric threats, which are propagated by the locals. According to the report by Epps (2013), the prevailing asymmetry threats consist of the mutually-reinforcing relationship that exists between the transnational organized crime activities, which involves illegal guns and drugs, cyber-crime, gangs and organized crime, and corruption among other economic crimes. These asymmetric threats are thus grouped as the Tier 1 threats, which imply that they are the main drivers of the prevailing criminality levels with a possibility of crippling the fragile socioeconomic development progress among the Caribbean states. Besides, the organized crime is influenced by the facilitators of criminality, who operate in both the licit and illicit world (CARICOM Crime and Security Strategy, 2013). The Tier 2 threats are considered to be substantial threats to CARICOM, which include human trafficking, and smuggling. All these activities are organized in forms that manifest the asymmetric threats to the Caribbean states. Therefore, CARICOM security agency should take into keen consideration into while dealing with asymmetry.   

Overall, the manifestations of asymmetric threats are exhibited by the existence of equipment asymmetric threats, which include the use of biological weapons, chemical weapons, lasers for blinding, and some types of mines (Primmerman, 2006). Further, there are various forms of tactical asymmetric threats that have been developed; they include the suicide attacks, brutal attacks on civilians and neutral nations, environmental attacks, and surprise first strikes. Lastly, the strategic symmetric threats are the ones where specific groups fund terrorists to launch attacks, and groups engaging in a fight with the intention of not winning (Primmerman, 2006).       


There lay various questions based on the kinds of asymmetric threats that the CARICOM may face in the future including the prevailing circumstances under which the asymmetric threats may thrive. The increasingly global security concern, particularly in the contemporary society has been associated with the concrete form of asymmetric endangering of security. According to Blank (2003), contemporary writings recognize the asymmetric threat in form of terrorism and other unconventional or guerrilla warfare, cyberwarfare, or the information warfare. Further, the report by Conference of heads of government of the CARICOM member states of July 2001, indicate the potential security risks in the form of asymmetric threats. The task force formed by the CARICOM heads of states admitted to the existence of the new form of violence and crime that have been witnessed or will occur in the region. The report by the task force identified aspects like illegal firearms, illegal drugs, rising crime rate, criminal deportees, increased poverty and inequity, lawlessness, and terrorism as the major security threat to the member states. Other reports also indicate the possible increase in cyber crimes and terrorism to be the key threats to the socio-economic and political development of the region.

CARICOM and Cyber Securities:

Focusing on the CARICOM, this research aimed at reviewing these contemporary asymmetric threats in terms of their possibility in occurrence within the member states. First, the issue on the cyberwarfare has realized a significant growth in the Caribbean. Cyber crime is ranked in Tier I (level of key threats), with the possibility of causing major social and economic problems to CARICOM. This is according to the Global Crisis Response Support Program (GCRSP) (2016); whereby, in the Press Release, it was indicated that government websites have been hacked as well as the exploitation of children online. Other avenues for the potential asymmetric threats in CARICOM that were labeled to at risk of cybercrime are telecommunications and health systems. Also, the increased fraud through information security and weapons are the biggest problem, particularly in the financial sector. For example, the ministerial report on the Jamaican National Cyber Security (2016) indicates that the cyber threats are real, with the increase in organized international gangs targeting critical infrastructure such as communication system. Thus, the devastating impacts of the cyberwarfare should be well addressed to ensure that the social and economic development of the member states is not hampered.   

Terrorism and CARICOM:

The review of the literature indicates that in the CARICOM context, the asymmetric threats in the form of terrorism rises from the possible affiliation of the member states to the U.S. Presently, there is fear of the possible movement of materials and personnel by the terrorist, who may use the same route as drug traffickers. According to the report by the US News (2016), there are about 150 radicals, within the CARICOM member states, who have attempted to join ISIS in 2016 only. Also, Trinidad is reported to have the highest rate of Islamic State recruitment in the whole of Western Hemisphere (The Atlantic, 2016). This is a significant number that should create a clear indication of the threat such a group can cause to the CARICOM bearing in mind that the countries do not proper intelligence services such as the FBI. For example, the movement by the terrorist along similar routes as the drug traffickers present platform for the possible attack on nuclear waste shipments and other hazardous materials within the Caribbean Islands. The situation may worsen depending on the number of Americans who visit the Caribbean (7 million people in 2014), and who might be attacked by the extremist group (US News, 2016), which in the long run hamper the economic growth supported by the tourism sector.  It is, therefore, possible that continued attacks by the US military on the ISIS territory in Syria and Iraq may be countered through attacks on US citizens in the CARICOM. Thus, the existence of funders and recruitment of the extremists in the Caribbean poses a serious asymmetric threat to the CARICOM and allies. 

In the Caribbean Basin, there are various extremist groups that have been notorious throughout Tobago and Trinidad. The group includes Jamaat al-Muslimeen, which is a traditional group comprising Afro-Trinidadian Muslim converts who are converted to Islam. Besides, the existing terror group, the CARICOM member states are prone to high rates of violent crimes and homicides. The following excerpt shows the possibility of the Caribbean being at the risk of extremism and terrorism:

“ An ISIS video featuring four Trinidad-born fighters urging Trinidad and Tobago’s Muslims to take up arms to fight in Syria; news that between 80 to 130 Trinidadians and their families have now travelled to Syria to fight and live in the so called Islamic state; the arrest in St Maarten of three people probably of Syrian origin travelling from Haiti on false Greek passports; and in the French territories in the Caribbean the declaration of a state of emergency” (Caribbean News Service, 2015).              

The excerpt clearly shows that CARICOM is no longer safe, as the extremists combined with the activities of gangs and organized crimes, financial crimes, cybercrimes, and corruption in the member states, which all contribute to major threats in asymmetries. It is, therefore, important that the Caribbean community develops a workable strategy to prevent the contemporary asymmetric threats. 

Overall, CARICOM faces the multiplicity of asymmetric threats, from increasing number of sources. The highest risk of asymmetric threats includes cyber threats and the potential attack or influence of world’s major terror groups amongst the individuals within the member states. The increased vulnerabilities and threats in the region towards asymmetric threats could, therefore, cause serious impacts on the region’s social and economic development as well as stability. Thus, the increasingly numerous and complex risks to CARICOM states in terms of cyber threats and terrorism should be properly countered.     


The theoretical and practical aspects of asymmetry and strategy indicate that asymmetries always arise where the opponents enjoy a greater freedom of action. Thus, the opponents take the advantage of freedom and ability to follow the specific course of action to launch attacks while they remain encountered effectively (Barnett, 2003). The first strategy that CARICOM can consider in its strategy to prevent asymmetric threats includes redefining of its policies on illegal guns and drugs, migration and financial crimes. Among the CARICOM member states, there is no single member state that manufactures ammunition or imports significant quantities. The review of the CARICOM Crime and Security Strategic Goals indicates 14-strategic goals, which have been developed for implementation of counter-symmetric threats. The strategic goals include taking the profit out of crime where the criminal assets are targeted and the financial systems protected from possible financial crimes. There is also a strategy to increase the trans-border intelligence as well as information sharing among the member states.

Considering the nature of terrorism, the strategy to ending the contemporary asymmetric threat is based on the nature of the threat that is posed by the existing terror groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda. The strategies that have been adopted include the elimination of the leaders, elimination by the strong force, ensuring no generational transition and a switch to political means. There is need to develop a technical approach with the intentions of reducing communication networks such as the modification of circuits that can prevent cyber-crimes. The other proposed strategy here is a switch to the political means. For example, there should be the creation of an American Islam, which should be taken as a serious part of the societies in Caribbean island and the entire American continent. The countries should enhance their political capacities even if it means the involvement of the United Nations special political missions, with the intention of regaining control and helping them maintain the rule of law.

The strategy that was proposed by CACI International (2008) is the need to have an integrated national asymmetric threat strategy. In the report, CACI International (2008) indicated the possible opportunities, which the even the CARICOM can employ in dealing with the asymmetric threats within its member states. The opportunities include; having a strategic communication strategy, an economic strategy, a diplomatic strategy, and a defense and homeland security strategy. It was important appreciating the need for both the member states including non-governmental institutions such as the industries to provide more strength to the existing partnerships that will ensured a unified Grand National security strategy, which can then proactively address the increasingly asymmetric threats to the CARICOM and the rest of the world (CACI International, 2008). The CARICOM can borrow the strategies used by the US and other global security strategies to effectively prevent asymmetric threats within its boundaries.

The diplomatic strategy that has been proposed by various researchers of the asymmetric threats indicates important strategies that CARICOM should develop. According to Wilson (2010), preventing asymmetric threats requires innovative diplomacy and proper regional commitments. The same strategy was proposed by Kugler and National Defense University (2011); whereby, there is need to embrace diplomatic approaches so as to achieve regional objectives in ensuring security. It implies that CARICOM should have a well-formulated diplomacy strategy with other nations such as the US and other like-minded countries in dealing with asymmetric threats. The report by CACI International (2008) recommends that states such as the US should work towards convincing her allies and other international partners to have unified approaches that can effectively counter asymmetric threats such as the “revolution through participation”.

Lastly, CARICOM should embrace a strategic communication strategy as a means of preventing asymmetric threats. This is one strategy that has not been effectively used in the US, where both international and external communication programs are the major weaknesses in dealing with asymmetric threats (CACI International, 2008). It is there appropriate that the regional strategic communication strategy within CARICOM should be defensive and offensive in nature; whereby, there must be integrated capabilities of the member states such as Jamaica to counter propaganda and untruths used by the cybercriminals and terrorists (Janczewski & Caelli, 2016; CACI International, 2008). Thus, the Caribbean community should recognize its strengths in communication strategies and plan appropriate protections as well as countermeasures. Overall, the CARICOM must be proactive in its strategies and approaches to preventing contemporary asymmetric threats.  

Strategic thinking refers to a mental or thinking process, which is applied by a specific individual within the context of achieving success in an endeavor (Zhu, 2016). The Classical Strategic Thought has been widely considered in the international security, specifically in the characterization of the transition period from unilateral to the multilateral world. In the contemporary international security, Classical Strategic Thought is particularly useful in the modern world; particularly, with the increasing asymmetric threats. This is because; warfare in the future will be different from the existing nature of wars. For example, it is anticipated that cyber-crimes will be more intense in the future compared to the present crimes. Thus, it is important that classical strategic thought is considered in the analysis of strategies in preventing future asymmetric threats.

There are previous instances where classical strategic thought has been implemented and became effective. In the 1980s, the United Kingdom successfully navigated into the Cold War. The classical strategic thought in Britain continued to thrive through the 1990s, with the rehabilitation of two pariah states (Russia and The People’s Republic of China) of the Cold War era (http://www.ccw.ox.ac.uk/). It may be seen that it is difficult to predict the future, and the contemporary asymmetric threats have significantly changed from the Cold War or World War II era. However, the strategies those are involved or considered by the classical strategists is still relevant in the contemporary era.  


The primary objective of this was to establish the asymmetric security concerns and the strategies used to prevent them in the contemporary society. Consequently, the author investigated the factors that are associated with endangering security. In order to achieve this objective, the research focused on defining the concept of the asymmetric threat as well as providing the strategic context of these threats. Thus, classical strategic thought was proposed as a relevant strategy to preventing asymmetric threat within the Caribbean Community. Some of the notable achievements of this paper include the definition of the concept of the asymmetric threat as postulated by various scholars in the previous researches. From the numerous definitions of asymmetric threats, the author established the agreeable definition of the asymmetric threat in the military context as “the attack on the vulnerable population, exploiting the weaknesses of stronger (protective forces) using strategies that are significantly different from the methods of operations”. As a result, the definition of asymmetric threats summarizes the whole concept of “asymmetric threats” as used within the CARICOM.

The author found out various forms of asymmetry and asymmetric threats, whereby, in the present paper focused on the space of national security and warfare in CARICOM.  Among these forms of asymmetric threats are: asymmetry of method (use of different tactical doctrines in comparison to the target); asymmetry of technology (threats emanating from industrial advancements between developing and developed countries); and the asymmetry of WILL (involving an antagonist considering its vital interest to be at stake and consequently launching attacks as a strategy to calm the perceived attacks). Otherwise, with respect to CARICOM, the potential forms of asymmetric threat are asymmetric of WILL and that of technology, where Caribbean Community may be attacked as a soft target by stronger powers with advanced technological strength. Otherwise, CARICOM may likely experience the asymmetry of WILL, where this region may be attacked as a soft target to “shaken” the interested and stronger powers in the community. 

Further, the review of the literature to establish the historical context of the manifestation and development of the forms of asymmetry that endangers security, several similar asymmetric threats were found. It was important to appreciate the fact that in CARICOM, no such asymmetric threats have been recorded in the past. Thus, the historical asymmetric threats were recorded from various parts of the world. Notably, during the World War II, Japanese staged an asymmetric threat where they attacked Pearl Harbour using asymmetric equipment to hit about the American ships off the Okinawa. Another instance of asymmetric threat was recorded during the Cold War where the Soviet Union signed Biological and Toxin Weapon Convention that banned the application of biological weapons. However, that agreement did not last for over one year before the Soviet Union began a massive expansion of the offensive biological-warfare program. The other recorded asymmetric threat is by the US, where states organized surprising operations and strategic dimensions to states that were perceived to disobey the world’s superpower. Otherwise, the manifestation of the asymmetric threats in contemporary society includes cyber attacks on the NIS and their allies. Moreover, the ISIS group from the Middle East and Boko Haram pose serious asymmetric threats to CARICOM.

Overall, the classical strategic thought proved to be relevant in preventing asymmetric threats within CARICOM. Thus, this paper established that CARICOM needs to redefine policies on financial crimes (such as virtual currencies and terror financing), illegal drugs and guns, and migration. Otherwise, the overall strategies to preventing asymmetric threats by CARICOM include developing the proper political approach to maintaining rule of law and technical approach to counter the cyber-crimes through modification of circuits. Besides, CARICOM should develop an integrated national asymmetric threat strategy comprising strategic communication, economic, diplomatic, defense and homeland security strategies. Summarily, the classical strategic thought is critical in the characterization of the transition period from the unilateral aspect of the world to that of multilateral.                                   




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