30 October 2009

China's "Unrestricted Warfare"

In an attempt to continually broaden the blog’s subject matter (as User81 did with his great article on the ties between Somali piracy and AQ), I wanted to highlight a recent in-depth study of China’s Computer Network Operations (CNO) – aka “Cyber War” – capabilities and strategy. As the WSJ reports in its recent article, the study was commissioned by the bi-partisan U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. The report (see full PDF version here) does a great job of compiling a variety of open-source reporting and interviews to provide a comprehensive look at China’s current Cyber programs and their plan for the way ahead.

Putting this report in context, China’s cyber efforts should be considered one pillar in its efforts to develop a wide range of asymmetric capabilities that will be able to challenge its enemies who can outmatch them in the conventional realm. In 1999, Chinese COLs Liang and Xiangsui published “Unrestricted Warfare,” which argued that the US has created a self-induced trap by the very dominance of our conventional warfare. They conclude that confronting the US in direct conventional combat would be folly. Instead they recommend developing a strategy that emphasizes the “principle of addition,” advocating combined direct combat through electronic, diplomatic, cyber, terrorist, economic, proxy and propaganda means that exhaust the US system of systems. This 228-page book (translated into English and available here in PDF format)discusses the elements of "beyond-limits combined war" and provides invaluable insight into China’s perspective for the future of warfare. If you are limited on time, read Chapter 8 ("Essential Principles"), which begins on pg. 204 of the PDF. These guys definitely "get it."

As we consider this future, we must continue to develop capabilities and doctrine that address the full range of conventional and asymmetric threats posed by both traditional nation-states (and their proxies i.e. Iran/Syria – Hezbollah) and non-state actors (AQAM, criminal networks, etc).

1 comment:

  1. China may have a long history with insurgency and asymmetrical warfare, but we shouldn't extrapolate that to the entire military just yet. Asymmetric forces aren't very good at going across borders to other nations, nor are they good at policing a nation. Also it should be safe to assume that the Chinese leadership (military and civil) have observed what generally happens to a nation after an insurgency, they end up weakened by such a long war for years after.
    Does this mean that we shouldn't have a program to study potential methods of Chinese insurgents or legal asymmetric forces? No, indeed combining conventional and unconventional tactics should be closely studied. However, don't presume that China's mastered this either, particularly as the nation hasn't actually fought a war in thirty years.