The fact that my question remains unanswered suggests that such a term doesn't exist. That, by itself, is valuable information.

Consider this definition of asymmetric warfare:

Asymmetric warfare is war between belligerents whose relative military power differs significantly, or whose strategy or tactics differ significantly.


Classic examples include the U.S. invasions of Vietnam (which beat the U.S.) and Afghanistan (where freedom fighters are still putting up a stiff resistance).

Now imagine a scenario where another country wages a non-traditional war against the U.S. not on its own soil but in the U.S. For example, the U.S. government has complained about China's cyberwarfare capabilities, and there are also concerns that China is capable of attacking America's infrastructure.

We could broadly describe such an attack as asymmetrical warfare, but I'd like to find a distinct word or term for such an attack, something that distinguishes it from the more traditional asymmetrical warfare we see in the various countries invaded by the U.S.

The term blowback comes to mind, but I think that's a little too broad. Can you think of a better term for a non-conventional attack on a country targeting not its military, but its infrastructure or other assets on its home soil?

Feel free to coin new terms.


My question is apparently confusing to some, so I wanted to add an example to make it more clear.

Suppose you could travel a hundred years into the future, and you read the following in book titled History of the 21st Century.

"World War I and World War II were the biggest 'conventional wars' ever fought. In the face of continuing U.S. aggression, smaller, weaker countries turned to guerilla warfare and what came to be known as asymmetric warfare, which was stunningly successful in Vietnam.

"Towards the end of the 20th century, Afghan freedom fighters practiced asymmetric warfare against the Soviet Union, then against the U.S. during the first two decades of the 21st century.

"Though the Afghans enjoyed some success, the tide didn't really begin to turn until the advent of ________, first employed on a large scale by Iran, which launched a cyberattack against Israel in 2018. Two years later, the U.S was dealt a stunning blow by a massive cyberattack and an equally massive attack on its infrastructure, apparently a joint Russian-Chinese operation with support from some other countries, notably Latin American."

What word or term would you fill in the blank with to describe this new type of warfare?

  • How is it different? Just because of perspective, or...? Mar 15, 2015 at 4:18
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    You are under the impression that this is not what the USA does? Mar 15, 2015 at 4:26
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    @ Blessed Greek - Thanks for the feedback, but your terminology (e.g. "unmatched retaliation") ironically sounds very confusing to me. I think this is a situation where "new jargon" would indeed by helpful - unless there's already some kind of term I'm not familiar with that does the job. Mar 15, 2015 at 5:06
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    The title is simple and straight, the body of the question is not.
    – Kris
    Mar 15, 2015 at 5:18
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    attacks can be qualified by all sorts of adjectives but your blank in the question is begging for cyber, isn't it?
    – Lambie
    May 3, 2018 at 17:17

4 Answers 4


Something like "alternative retaliation" or "alternative retaliatory measures"? Just thinking aloud here, giving food for thought"!

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    Hello, Ben. ELU requires answers that are well researched and usage-based, not speculative. Please check this in the Help Center. May 3, 2018 at 18:52
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    And we're looking for answers that describe terms people actually use, rather than answers that make up new terms. May 4, 2018 at 19:24

The closest thing to what you look for might be active measures, which as we will see is a broad term. According to Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence:

After World War II, the Soviet intelligence service used the term "active measures" to describe covert political action designed to affect the political opinion of unfriendly and neutral countries.

A somewhat recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee characterises them as follows:

The tried and tested way of active measures is to use an adversary’s existing weaknesses against himself, to drive wedges into pre-existing cracks: the more polarized a society, the more vulnerable it is—America in 2016 was highly polarized, with myriad cracks and fissures to drive wedges into

Now, you may ask, do active measures include the cyber attacks explained in your example? Yes, if we go by Cyber Strategy: The Evolving Character of Power and Coercion, which says about Russian DDoS attacks (emphasis is mine):

This distribution is indicative of Russian strategic practice, leveraging cyber operations as part of broader active measure campaigns designed to influence targeted populations and undermine a rival state from within.


1 Pringle, Robert W. Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.

2 SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE UNITED STATES SENATE. "DISINFORMATION A PRIMER IN RUSSIAN ACTIVE MEASURES AND INFLUENCE CAMPAIGNS." Intelligence.senate.gov. March 30, 2017. Accessed May 4, 2018. https://www.intelligence.senate.gov/sites/default/files/documents/os-trid-033017.pdf.

3 Valeriano, B., Jensen, B. & Maness, R.C. (2018). Cyber Strategy: The Evolving Character of Power and Coercion. Oxford University Press



The phrase you are looking for describes any conflict created as part of a cold war, and also serves as an umbrella that groups all of them under a common structure. Any of these are accurately described as (a) cold war conflict. The phrase has a dual use: the phrase can be used as an descriptor, to describe a specific conflict (a cold war conflict, taken literally, is a conflict that happens as part of a cold war), or as an umbrella term, to be described by a specific conflict (an action could be an instance of cold war conflict).


cold war


  1. intense economic, political, military, and ideological rivalry between nations, short of military conflict; sustained hostile political policies and an atmosphere of strain between opposed countries.
  2. a continuing state of resentful antagonism between two parties short of open hostility or violence.
  3. (initial capital letters) rivalry after World War II between the Soviet Union and its satellites and the democratic countries of the Western world, under the leadership of the United States.

from dictionary.com


verb (used without object)

  1. to come into collision or disagreement; be contradictory, at variance, or in opposition; clash: The account of one eyewitness conflicted with that of the other. My class conflicts with my going to the concert.
  2. to fight or contend; do battle.


  1. a fight, battle, or struggle, especially a prolonged struggle; strife.
  2. controversy; quarrel: conflicts between parties.
  3. discord of action, feeling, or effect; antagonism or opposition, as of interests or principles: a conflict of ideas.
  4. a striking together; collision.
  5. incompatibility or interference, as of one idea, desire, event, or activity with another: a conflict in the schedule.
  6. Psychiatry. a mental struggle arising from opposing demands or impulses.

from dictionary.com

  • Welcome to ELU, we welcome nice answers. Your answer (including sources) lacks support for cold war conflict being used as a term to specifically describe those conflicts in the question. If you have evidence of the term used in that way, please add it.
    – JJJ
    May 28, 2018 at 3:16

GUERILLA WARFARE is usually what asymmetric war refers to.
Usually a smaller force that is not a military, sometimes a revolutionary or terrorist force. As such they use ambushes, hiding, often indigenous to the terrain or get help of citizens, etc.

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