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Asymmetrical Warfare Cuts Both Ways--
Whether Practiced by China or Al Qaeda

March 1, 2003

Two Chinese colonels, Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, in their book, Unrestricted Warfare, raised concerns about the use of unconventional attacks on this country's military, economic and social infrastructure. What alarmed many was that the book was written three years before September 11, 2001.

"Whether it be the intrusions of hackers, a major explosion at the World Trade Center, or a bombing attack by bin Laden, all of these greatly exceed the frequency bandwidths understood by the American military..." Osama bin Laden is mentioned frequently in the book.

But the book can be viewed as part of the Chinese military's lingering reaction to the U.S.'s stunning use of information warfare during the 1991 Gulf War. The Chinese took notice not only of America's superior technology, but the destructive power of U.S. joint operations, created through the synergy of multi-service actions. U.S. joint operations included simultaneous attacks from Air Force and Navy aircraft, Army attack helicopters, Navy strike missiles, and mechanized units. Such operations quickly destroyed opposing forces. The Chinese realized that both its "people's war" ground troops and its military doctrine were rendered obsolete.

Unrestricted Warfare was a convenient response in face of this enhanced U.S. military superiority.

But let's return to the colonels' boasts. "From this point on, war will no longer be what it was originally," the colonels write, but will be unrecognizable as it is waged in the heart of American society. "Does a single hacker attack count as a hostile act or not? Can using financial instruments to destroy a country's economy be seen as a battle..?"

"If the attacking side secretly musters large amounts of capital without the enemy nation being aware of this at all and launches a sneak attack against its financial markets," they write, "then after causing a financial crisis, buries a computer virus and hacker detachment in the opponent's computer system in advance, while at the same time carrying out a network attack against the enemy so that the civilian electricity network, traffic-dispatching network, financial-transaction network, telephone-communications network and mass-media network are completely paralyzed, this will cause the enemy nation to fall into social panic, street riots and a political crisis."

In an interview with the official daily of the Chinese Communist Party youth league, the 44-year-old Qiao said, "The first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden."

Some have written that such warfare is part of the fourth generation of war. Non-linear, information warfare, aimed at defeating an enemy beyond head-to-head confrontation of first and second generation warfare and even beyond rapid, encircling maneuvers of third generation warfare. The main impact of fourth generation war is psychological. Thus well-financed international terrorists networks have been offered as a potent fourth generation war enemy.

However, in the end, within military strategy, asymmetrical warfare is only successful with the collapse of the enemy's military strength.

No one showed this better than China's most esteemed contemporary military strategist, Mao Tse-tung. It's true that Mao understood war is fundamentally a "political" undertaking.

"Political mobilization is the most fundamental condition for winning the war." But the third phase of his overall strategy occurs only when the correlation of forces has shifted decisively in the favor of the insurgents and when they commit their regular forces in the final offensive against the government. In the end, for Mao, conventional warfare concludes the psychological and political offensive (and any asymmetrical attacks.)

And asymmetrical warfare cuts both ways.

For example, in May, 2001 President Bush pronounced that the U.S. would do "whatever it takes" to help Taiwan defend itself from Chinese attack. A self-styled "Honker's Union," a network of Chinese nationalistic hackers, took up China's nationalist cause reacting to the President's statement. The group's name in Chinese means "Red hackers," indicating the political motives for their actions. Honkers maintained that they differed from other hackers because they did not act out of malice.

They used modern information technology (their website, e-mail system, and downloadable viruses) to recruit others in a "people's war" against the U.S. by attacking thousands of American websites. They announced in advance that their attacks would coincide with politically sensitive dates.

They succeeded in defacing 1,000 U.S. websites with pro-China messages, paralyzing an untold number of computer systems, penetrating the public information page of the White House, and destroying all data on Web servers to which they were able to gain access.

But their attacks also triggered a furious retaliation by hackers based in the U.S., who indiscriminately attacked all sites with the domain name ".cn," resulting in the destruction of hundreds of Chinese websites!

And in the case of international terrorists, without the political underpinnings, the psychological terror only induces precisely the opposite effect.

Let's return for a moment to Mao. He held that insurgency was supposed to create public support for the rebel movement and thus enable the formation of a real army that would ultimately defeat the government. Where insurgency has succeeded, such as in China and Vietnam, the rebels followed Mao's three-stage model.

Without extensive political mobilization and the ability to engage conventional battle, terrorism and insurgencies that use terrorism only end up causing a marked counter-attack with the full support of the people; for example, the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, with the full support of the American people.

If the 1991 Gulf War was a wakeup call for the Chinese military, the September 2001 terrorist attack has awakened the U.S. military to the impact of asymmetrical warfare.

But America's superior information technology can compensate for any immediate vulnerabilities. Our technological advantage, which itself is the result of our free and open entrepreneurial society, thus characterizes our conventional military forces-as will be dramatically more apparent in the likely confrontation with Iraq. America will use that same technological advantage to defend this country by dominating asymmetrical warfare. The assassination and capture of key Al Qaeda operatives are only the first step in that battle.

The Chinese military may come to regret that they allowed colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui to write Unrestricted Warfare. Asymmetrical Warfare Cuts Both Ways.

Write to Arthur at bruzzone@rightturns.com


Award-winning TV producer, talk show host, and Republican leader Arthur Bruzzone has written over 150 political articles for national and regional media, and has commented on political issues for American and European television and radio networks.  His articles and columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, Campaign & Elections Magazine, among other publications. He is the former Chair of the San Francisco Republican Party.

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