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Title: Unrestricted Warfare: A Chinese doctrine for future warfare?
Author: Major John A. Van Messel, USMC
Thesis: Unrestricted Warfare is neither a revolution in military thought nor an executable doctrine for future warfare but a collection of tactics, techniques, and procedures that have been used throughout history and will continue to be used by future adversaries.
Discussion: In February 1999, two Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) senior Air
Force colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, published Unrestricted Warfare. This
paper critically analyzes the concept of “Unrestricted Warfare” as it relates to future
warfare doctrine. It accomplishes this by discussing why “Unrestricted Warfare” is not
an original concept; provides three examples of why the concept would be difficult to
adopt; explains what direction the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has taken
since the book was published; and concludes with an analysis of the impact of the
publication on future warfare.
Conclusion(s) or Recommendation(s): Unrestricted Warfare fails to recognize that
future war will still have its limitations. In order to adhere to the concepts of the book, a
nation would have to conduct warfare with all elements of national power, resembling
something closer to the Clausewitzian model of “total” war. There are major constraints
to the implementation of this model, from directing a legitimate government to wage
indiscriminate acts of warfare to the effects of warfare waged in an era of increased
globalization. Additionally, the book fails to explain how a nation organizes, trains, and
equips all elements of national power to execute the different forms and methods of
“Unrestricted Warfare.” Unrestricted Warfare, as it is currently written, is less of an
executable doctrine than a collection of tactics, techniques, and procedures for future war
Table of Contents
Executive Summary iii
Table of Contents iv
Unrestricted Warfare – not an Original Concept 2
Applying the Concept of Unrestricted Warfare 9
The PLA Today 12
Annex A – Forms of Unrestricted Warfare 17
Annex B – Methods of Combination 18
Annex C – Principles of War 19
“Whether it be the instructions 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…This is because
they have never taken into consideration and have even refused to consider
means that are contrary to tradition and to select measures of operation other than
In February 1999, two Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) senior Air Force
colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, published Unrestricted Warfare. The book was
written in reaction to the stunning 1991 U.S. led coalition victory in the Gulf War against Iraq.
By the time it was translated and placed in wide distribution, the events of September 11, 2001 where occurring in the United States. The above quotation foreshadowed events to come and highlighted concern that the Chinese were adopting a new style of warfare for the 21 century.
Now five years since the publication of Unrestricted Warfare, what impact has the book had on the discussion of future war?
This paper will critically analyze the concept of “Unrestricted Warfare” as it relates to
future warfare doctrine. It attempts to accomplish this by discussing why “Unrestricted Warfare” is not an original concept; providing three examples of why the concept would be difficult to adopt; explaining what direction the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) has taken since the book was published; and concluding with an analysis of the impact of the publication on future warfare. Ultimately, this paper determines that Unrestricted Warfare is neither a revolution in military thought nor an executable doctrine for future warfare but a collection of tactics, techniques, and procedures that have been used throughout history and will continue to be used by future adversaries.
Unrestricted Warfare – not an original concept
The thesis of Unrestricted Warfare is that recent advances in technology, the rise of
globalism, the diffusion of power beyond the nation-state, coupled with increased capabilities of modern weapons, have all combined to create a new context for conflict.
The authors believe that their publication contains a new concept to adopt in order to succeed in this new context.
Neither the factors expressed in the thesis nor the concept that they can be combined in future conflict is an original idea. Close examination of the footnotes shows that most of the inspiration in Unrestricted Warfare comes from western futurists, U.S. military theorists and U.S.
Department of Defense (DoD) documents. A closer look at each chapter is necessary to gauge the originality of the work.
The first chapter, on the relationship of weapons and warfare, begins with the concept
that a weapons revolution precedes a revolution in military affairs (RMA). In the past, the
invention of a few weapons could alter the form of war. Today, numerous weapons integrated into a weapons system have the same effect.
This idea comes from the 1996 article, “Preparing for the Next War: Some Views on the Revolution of Military Affairs”, written by theorist Steven Blank. The chapter continues with a discussion of the ideas of “fight the fight that fits one’s weapons” and “build the weapons to fit the fight.” The first concept describes the natural evolution of weapons and tactics in warfare. The second concept describes an American approach to future warfare. This discussion draws largely from T.N. Dupuy’s The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare.
The authors then discuss “old concept” and “new concept” weapons. Precision-guided
bombs, for example, are considered “old concept” weapons because they are an extension of an existing weapon used in the same manner. “New concept” weapons use technology in a new way, such as the use of silver iodide power to help detect soldiers walking along the Ho Chi Minh Trail during the Vietnam War. This discussion is then extended to the notion of “weapons of new concept,” which encompasses weapons that transcend the military realm, but can still be used in combat operations, such as a man-made stock market crash, a computer virus, or an earthquake. Numerous books and articles on “concept” weapons were written prior to the publication of Unrestricted Warfare, including the referenced 1997 book New Military Perspectives for the Next Century by the Military Science Publishing House.
The second chapter focuses on future war. The authors believe that non-professional
warriors and non-state actors are posing a greater threat to sovereign nations, making these warriors and actors more serious adversaries for every professional army.
numerous examples including a 16 year-old hacker who broke into the Pentagon’s secure
The authors cite internet system and a global investor who caused economic instability in the Malaysian market.
The chapter concludes with a critique of the American definition of military operations other
than war (MOOTW). The authors feel that the definition of missions and operations undertaken by armed forces when there is no state of war is too narrow. They believe that “non-military war operations” better captures the true essence that human beings will use every conceivable means to achieve their goals.
This chapter references multiple articles from military journals and draws on a big
influence from U.S. futurists Alvin and Heidi Toffler. In their book War and Anti War, the
authors reference the quote “If the tools of warfare are no longer tanks and artillery, but rather computer viruses and micro-robots, then we can no longer say that nations are the only armed groups or that soldiers are the only ones in possession of the tools of war.”
Clearly this quote is striking similar to the thesis of chapter two. Additionally, the examples of “non-military” means (Annex A) are commonly known methods of warfare.
The third chapter analyses the 1991 Gulf War from various perspectives in order to prove
that this war was a model for future wars. The chapter begins with an explanation of why the
Gulf War should be considered a classic war in the age of technically integrated globalization.
The chapter shifts to a discussion of military reorganization and the vital role the Goldwater- Nichols Act played in making the U.S. services fight as a joint force. The authors believe that any country that hopes to win a war in the 21 reorganizing or being defeated.
The authors note that battles of the Gulf War were mainly decided by an integrated air campaign and showed the possibility of “omni-directional” combat.
The chapter concludes with an exploration of the role of the tank, the emerging role of the
attack helicopter, and the media’s role and its importance to future wars.
This chapter is almost entirely derived from DoD documents, military books and
journals. Analysis of the Gulf War footnotes the Center for Strategic and International Studies
(CSIS) report Military Experiences and Lessons of the Gulf War and quotes heavily from
numerous Gulf War books including The Gulf War and Desert Warrior. Later in the chapter, the authors’ note that the term “omni-directional” combat is taken directly from U.S. Army
literature. The concluding discussions of tanks, attack helicopters, and the role of the media have been addressed by numerous western sources prior to the publication of Unrestricted Warfare.
The fourth chapter looks at what lessons the American Armed Forces learned from the
Gulf War and what current trends the U.S. military is pursuing. Each of the services learned
different lessons from the Gulf War: the Army learned that it needed to be more digital, flexible, and smaller; the Air Force that it needed to deploy faster and be able to exploit space; and the Navy that it needed to transition from seapower to a role of supplying the other services.
Currently, the authors believe that the fundamental objective of the U.S. military is to use
technology and weapons to achieve victory, while keeping casualties to a minimum. The authors also see military leaders striving to keep combat and non-combat military operations separate, which does not accurately reflect future warfare. Finally, the authors point out how each of the services has not learned the real lessons of “omni-directional” warfare from the Gulf War and missed the opportunity of progressing toward an RMA.
Gulf War lessons and current trends is another chapter almost exclusively derived from
western sources. DoD documents and military journals are referenced at length, to include joint documents such as “Joint Doctrine for 2010.” The only originality of the chapter is the debatable conclusion that the services have not learned the real lessons of “omni-directional” warfare, the power of jointness, and the connection between combat and non-combat operations.
The fifth chapter begins with a discussion of the perceived American attitude that
military means will always be decisive in future conflict. The authors believe this is a
shortsighted view because war does not involve only conventional weapons and that
technologies are now in the hands of new kinds of enemies. The authors go on to point out how America is poorly organized for non-military threats, especially terrorism. The chapter then turns to a proposed method for fighting future war. The “cocktail style” of combining different forms of warfare (See Annex A) will be the key to conducting war in the future. The authors’ note that regardless of whether the war was 3,000 years ago or at the opening of the 20 it seemed that all victories display one common phenomenon – the winner is the one who combined well.
In developing a common operating method for future warfare, the authors reference
military journals, fellow Chinese and U.S. theorists. Of note “Strategy and the Revolution in
Military Affairs – From Theory to Policy” (June 1995) by Steven Metz and James Kievit of the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute is referenced in relation to combining new technology. While the extent to which the authors develop the “cocktail style” method may be original, the idea of combining forms of warfare is not.
The sixth chapter is a philosophical chapter on identifying “Rules of Victory.” The
authors are certain that there have always been “Rules of Victory” throughout the history of warfare. The chapter discusses the rule of the “Golden Section” and the “Side-Principle” rule.
In relation to warfare, both of these rules are based on using an indirect approach to achieve victory. The authors use historical examples to show that these rules can be used in various forms (means, tactics, weapons, point of attack, opportunities of fighting, uneven deployment of forces, or strategy) to achieve an advantage. The chapter concludes that victory always belongs to the side that understands and correctly uses the rules.
This chapter primarily references Chinese authors and various military historians. While
the “Golden Section” and the “Side-Principle” rules are not original, the concept of applying
them to modern warfare is. The authors use historical examples, including Desert Storm, to
validate the existence of these rules. While the authors are vague in defining tangible “Rules of Victory”, they are successful in adapting an indirect approach philosophy to their body of work.
The seventh chapter suggests how the means of unrestricted warfare should be combined
as one. This chapter discusses how to be victorious in a war that is fought beyond the traditional battlefield. The authors believe the key to victory is to understand and effectively use four combinations of means: Supra-National Combinations (combining national, international, and non-state organizations to a country’s benefit), Supra-Domain Combinations (combining battlefields and choosing the main domain), Supra-Means Combinations (combining all available means, military and non-military, to carry out operations), and Supra-Tier Combinations (combining all levels of conflict into each campaign). (See Annex B) Once we accept the authors’ proposed concept of combined warfare, then the means used in peacetime can be used in war. Moreover, tactical level means can be used effectively at the strategic level.
The chapter references the writings of theorists Zbigniew Brzezinski and Alvin Toffler.
The PLA colonels quote approvingly of Brzezinski’s books Out of Control: Global Turmoil on
the Eve of the Twenty-First Century and The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its
Geostrategic Imperitives and Toffler’s book Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century. Although the four combinations of means are originally labeled, the ideas are largely borrowed from these theorists.
The final chapter identifies the principles of future war. The chapter begins with a
historical study of known principles of war. The authors note that principles are important to understanding war within a certain time and a specific national environment. In an attempt to update the historical principles, the authors identify eight essential principles of “Unrestricted Warfare”: Omnidirectionality, Synchrony, Limited Objectives, Unlimited Measures, Asymmetry, Minimal Consumption, Multidimensional Coordination, and Adjustment and Control of the Entire Process. (See Annex C) While not guaranteeing success in every case, the authors do feel that a commander will definitely fail if he does not follow their principles.
This chapter references historical works by Sun Tzu and J.F.C. Fuller in describing
principles of war. Although the terms and general concepts of the eight new principles of
Unrestricted Warfare are not new, the authors are original in making an attempt to prioritize what is most important in future war. The authors use a common sense approach and try to take those principles that are most applicable to a multi-dimensional battlefield that focuses on combining actions at the right place and at the right time.
A final analysis of Unrestricted Warfare leads to the conclusion that the book, to a large
degree, lacks original thought. A majority of the references come from U.S. military theorists, futurists, DoD documents, and military journals. What may end up being the principle innovation of the authors is that they have provided a broad perspective on the implications of combining tactics and technologies in the new era of globalism.
Applying the Concept of Unrestricted Warfare
In order to test the concepts of “Unrestricted Warfare,” three models, a large “nation-
state”, a small “nation-state”, and a “non-state” actor are chosen to be applied to the forms of “Unrestricted Warfare” (See Annex A), the methods of combinations (See Annex B), the principles of war (See Annex C), and a scenario example from the book. The purpose of this analysis is to determine what difficulties the models would have in adopting the concepts of “Unrestricted Warfare.” The test will use China as a large “nation-state”, Taiwan as a small “nation-state”, and the Abu Sayyaf Group as a “non-state” actor to facilitate a clearer understanding of the three models.
In chapter five, the authors give an example of the “Cocktail Style” method of combining
different forms of warfare. The example paints the following scenario: An attacking nation
secretly musters large amounts of capital without the enemy nation being aware and launches a sneak attack against its financial markets. After causing a financial crisis, the nation buries a computer virus and hacker detachment in the opponent’s computer system while at the same time carrying out a network attack against the enemy so that the civilian electricity, traffic dispatching, financial transaction, telephone communications, and mass media networks are completely paralyzed. This action causes the enemy nation to fall into social panic, street riots, and a political crisis. Finally, military means are utilized in gradual stages until the enemy is forced to sign a dishonorable peace treaty.
In the large “nation-state” model, China is capable of conducting trade, financial,
cultural, ecological, media, technological, resource, psychological, network, international law, environmental and economic aid forms of warfare. The forms of new terror, smuggling, and drug warfare most likely would not be conducted by China due to adhering to rules of law.
China is a member of numerous organizations, such as the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations, that are bounded by rules of law. Although the
majority of the forms of warfare can be executed, China would also have to be concerned with the unintended consequences of globalization. For example, if the Chinese were to initiate a financial war, their economy may be adversely affected due to the interdependence of the world economy.
China should have the capability of using all four methods of combination and should be
the most capable of applying the principles of war. The only principle that may be difficult to adopt is the principle of unlimited measures. In this instance, China again would be restricted in using unlimited measures by rules of law. Applying this model to the scenario, China should be capable of combining all actions of the example.
In the small “nation-state” model, Taiwan may be capable of conducting trade, financial,
cultural, ecological, media, technological, resource, psychological, network, international law, environmental and economic aid forms of warfare to a limited degree. The level of success in these forms would depend on the power and resources that Taiwan has at its disposal. Like China, the forms of new terror, smuggling, and drug warfare would be restricted to Taiwan by rules of law. Additionally, any unintended consequences would have an even greater impact on a small “nation-state” like Taiwan.
Taiwan should have the capability of employing the Supra-domain, Supra-means, and
Supra-tier methods of combination. The Supra-national method, combining national,
international, and non-state organizations, would be difficult for Taiwan to achieve due to its limited power and influence. Taiwan should be able to apply the omnidirectionality, synchrony, limited objectives, asymmetry, and adjustment and control principles of war. The principles of minimal consumption and multidimensional coordination may be beyond the capabilities of Taiwan and the principle of unlimited measures is again restricted by rules of law. Applying this model to the scenario, Taiwan would be challenged to achieve all components of the example, especially against an equal or larger sized nation.
In the “non-state” actor model, the Abu Sayyaf may be capable of conducting all forms of
warfare but would be limited in conducting trade, international law, and economic aid warfare.
These three types of warfare are more dependent on interaction at the national level. Although a majority of the forms of warfare can be executed, the Abu Sayyaf also may be limited in its ability to execute multiple forms simultaneously or to a sufficient level of magnitude due to its size and resources. The Abu Sayyaf however does have a big advantage over China and Taiwan in not abiding by rules of law.
The Abu Sayyaf should have a similar capability that Taiwan has in employing methods
of combination. The Abu Sayyaf’s limitations would be in its level of power and influence. The Abu Sayyaf should be able to apply omnidirectionality, synchrony, limited objectives, unlimited measures, asymmetry, and adjustment and control principles of war. The principles of minimal consumption and multidimensional coordination may be beyond the capabilities of the Abu Sayyaf due to its size and resources. Applying this model to the scenario, the Abu Sayyaf may be able to achieve a majority of the components of the example, but most likely would be unable to use effective military means in the end to force a treaty.
Based on the analysis above, it can be concluded that China has the best chance of
successfully applying the tenets of “Unrestricted Warfare”, but is impacted by adhering to rules of law and the effects of globalization. Taiwan has the least chance of successfully applying the tenets of “Unrestricted Warfare” because it has the same limitations as China and has limitations in size, power, and resources. The Abu Sayyaf has the distinct advantage of not being encumbered by rules of law, but has some of the same limitations as Taiwan and may be restricted in sufficient military means. In applying the tenets of “Unrestricted Warfare”, it can be concluded that the concept would be difficult for any of the actors to fully adopt.
The PLA Today
After reviewing FBIS translated messages since 2001 and the 2004 PRC translated white
paper on national defense, it does not appear that the PLA has adopted the concept of
Unrestricted Warfare as a future warfare doctrine. The Chinese have reoriented their military doctrine from fighting a people’s war under modern conditions to fighting and winning a high- technology war against a modern opponent. The PLA recognizes it’s weapons and equipment gap with western militaries and is focused on correcting this deficiency. According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, by 2010, even the best 10 percent of the Chinese military will have equipment that is more than 20 years behind the capabilities of the U.S. military.
Intelligence estimates with a grain of salt, the Chinese state that the main task of their national defense is to step up modernization of its armed forces.
Concurrent with modernization of the PLA, the Chinese are also attempting to
incorporate new information technology. The body of reporting on Chinese military initiatives points to an emphasis on a simultaneous approach of informationalization and mechanization.
Informationalization is a word used by the Chinese to describe the integration of information- linked systems with armed forces in order to enhance warfighting capabilities. To a lesser extent, the Chinese are also focused on transforming the military from a manpower-intensive one to a technology-intensive one, stepping up development of new and high-tech weaponry and equipment, raising military training to a higher level, building joint operational capabilities, improving their system of leadership and command, and realigning the organizational structure of military educational institutions. These initiatives sound strikingly similar to some of our own DoD transformation initiatives.
As the authors of Unrestricted Warfare have pointed out, the Chinese believe that there is
a worldwide RMA gaining momentum. The forms of war are undergoing changes from
mechanization to informationalization. Confrontation between systems will become the principle feature of future confrontation on the battlefield. While the Chinese do show a special interest in information technology, they do not emphasize the majority of the methods and forms of “Unrestricted Warfare.” Not surprisingly, the concepts discussed in the book may be appealing to China’s political leaders because it offers the lure of a defense policy on the cheap.
The PLA, on the other hand, is less to embrace these forms of warfare because they will tend to see it translating into smaller defense budgets, lower manpower, less bureaucratic clout, and declining prestige.
So far, the PLA has dictated China’s military transformation efforts.
This paper has examined the concept of “Unrestricted Warfare” as it relates to future
warfare doctrine. It accomplished the task by concluding that the book lacks original thought; that applying the tenets of “Unrestricted Warfare” would be difficult for a large “nation-state”, a small “nation-state”, or a “non-state” actor to adopt; and that the PLA has not currently adopted the concept. Lastly, this paper will answer the question of whether “Unrestricted Warfare” is a viable doctrine for future warfare or whether it is a collection of tactics, techniques, and procedures for future war adversaries.
In understanding the future warfare environment, the conclusions of Unrestricted
Warfare are invaluable. The authors correctly identify that we are entering an era of global and technological integration. The modern concept of “nation states” may no longer be the sole representative occupying the top position in social, political, economic and cultural
organizations. They believe that the transition of “nation states” to globalization has supplanted military means with diplomatic, informational, and economic means. Faced with warfare in the broad sense that will unfold on a borderless battlefield, it is no longer possible to rely on military forces and weapons alone to achieve national security in the larger strategic sense. Unrestricted Warfare also provides insight into understanding different forms and methods of conducting warfare.
Where Unrestricted Warfare falls short is in providing a proper context for war and in
translating theory into executable doctrine. In regards to context, Unrestricted Warfare fails to recognize that future war will still have its limitations. In order to adhere to the concepts of the book, a nation would have to conduct warfare with all elements of national power, resembling something closer to the Clausewitzian model of “total” war. There are major constraints to the implementation of this model, from directing a legitimate government to wage indiscriminate acts of warfare to the effects of warfare waged in an era of increased globalization. Additionally, the book fails to explain how a nation organizes, trains, and equips all elements of national power to execute the different forms and methods of “Unrestricted Warfare.”
Unrestricted Warfare, as it is currently written, is less of an executable doctrine than a
collection of tactics, techniques, and procedures for future war adversaries. Although
Unrestricted Warfare will remain a concept, it will continue to stimulate professional thought
and discussion. Unrestricted Warfare reminds us that potential enemies are always thinking, the field of military theory is always changing, and ensuring our national security is always an on- going process.
1 Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America. Panama City, Panama: Pan American Pub., 2002, 122.
2 Dean Cheng “Unrestricted Warfare: Review Essay II” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Spring 2000, 123.
3 Unrestricted Warfare, 36.
4 Ibid., 38
5 Ibid., 45 6
“Omni-directional” combat is a theory that combat will extend over a broad and all-inclusive range that covers the ground, sea, air, space, and cyber realms.
Unrestricted Warfare, 117.
The “Golden Section” is an ancient Greek architectural formula that was believed to be perfect. The “SidePrinciple” rule is a metaphor for
of body and soul based upon the relationship of nouns and modifiers in the Chinese language. 10.
12. Unrestricted Warfare, 122-3. Gill Bates and Michael O’Hanlon, “China’s Hollow Military.” National Interest, Summer 1999, 4. State Council Information Office, People’s Republic of China, China’s Nation Defense in 2004, 27 December 2004, 5.
13 Unclassified Message, R191258Z Jun 03, from FBIS, Subj: TKP: High-level CPC study section on RMA focuses on Lessons from Iraq War, 3.
14 Andrew Scobell “Introduction to Review Essays on ‘Unrestricted Warfare’.” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Spring 2000, 113.
Liang, Qiao and Wang Xiangsui Unrestricted Warfare,(Mandarin version). Beijing: PLA
Literature and Arts Publishing House, February 1999.
Liang, Qiao and Wang Xiangsui Unrestricted Warfare (English translation).
Washington, DC: Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), n.d.
Liang, Qiao and Wang Xiangsui Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy
America. Panama City, Panama: Pan American Pub., 2002.
Adams, David A., Lieutenant Commander, USN. “Managing China’s transition.”
United States Naval Institute: Proceedings, July, 2003, 50.
Bates, Gill and Michael O’Hanlon, “China’s Hollow Military.” National Interest,
Summer 1999, 4.
Bolander, Jeffery W., Lieutenant Colonel, USMC. “The Dragon’s New Claws.” Marine
Corps Gazette, February 2001, 58-9.
Bruzzone, Arthur “Asymmetrical Warfare Cuts Both Ways.” American Daily, 1 March
Bunker, Robert J., “Unrestricted Warfare: Review Essay I” Small Wars & Insurgencies,
Spring 2000, 114-121.
Cheng, Dean “Unrestricted Warfare: Review Essay II” Small Wars & Insurgencies,
Spring 2000, 121-8.
Flynt, Bill, Lieutenant Colonel, USA. “Threat Kingdom.” Military Review, Jul/Aug
Nan, Li “Unrestricted Warfare and Chinese Military Strategy.” The Strait Times, 24
October 2004. http://www.ntu.edu.sg/idss/Perspective/research_050222.htm
Scobell, Andrew “Introduction to Review Essays on ‘Unrestricted Warfare’.” Small Wars
& Insurgencies, Spring 2000, 112-13.
20 Government Publications:
Fikelstein, David M., “Evolving Operational Concepts of the Chinese People’s Liberation
Army: A Preliminary Exploration.” Alexandria, Va: Center for Naval Analysis,
Flanagan, Stephen J. and Michael E. Monti The People’s Liberation Army and China in
Transition. Washington DC: National Defense University Press, 2003.
State Council Information Office, People’s Republic of China, China’s Nation Defense in
2004, December, 2004, 5.
Unclassified Message, R191258Z Jun 03, from FBIS, Subj: TKP: High-level CPC study
section on RMA focuses on Lessons from Iraq War, 3.
Unclassified Message, R121005Z Mar 04, from FBIS, Subj: PLA NPC deputies discuss
promoting military affairs revolution, 5.
Masters Papers: Lee, Tsunghsi, Major, Taiwan Marine Corps, “Unrestricted Warfare: A Chinese Vision of Future War”, Command and Staff College, Quantico, VA. 2003.
Forms of Unrestricted Warfare
“Trade Warfare” means using trade measures for waging non-military warfare.
“Financial Warfare” means entering and subverting banking and stock markets and
manipulating the value of a targeted currency.
“New Terror Warfare” means terrorist operations using the latest technology to attack
humanity as a whole.
“Ecological Warfare” means employing modern technology to adversely influence the
natural state of rivers, oceans, the crust of the earth, the polar ice sheets, the air
circulating in the atmosphere, and the ozone layer.
“Smuggling warfare” means sabotaging a rival country’s economy by flooding its
markets with illegal goods, and jeopardizing a local economy by flooding the market with
“Cultural warfare” means influencing the cultural biases of a targeted country by
imposing your own cultural viewpoints.
“Drug warfare” means flooding illicit drugs across national borders and breaking down
the fabric of a society through their use.
“Media warfare” means manipulating foreign media, either by compromising or
intimidating journalists or getting access to another country’s airwaves and imposing
your own national perspectives.
“Technological warfare” means gaining control or having an edge in particular vital
technologies that can be used in both peace and wartime.
“Resource warfare” means gaining control of scarce natural resources and being able to
control or manipulate their access and market value.
“Psychological warfare” means imposing one’s national interest by dominating a rival
nation’s perception of its own strengths and weaknesses.
“Network warfare” means dominating or subverting transnational information systems.
“International law warfare” means joining international or multinational organizations
in order to subvert their policies and the interpretation of legal rulings.
“Environmental warfare” means weakening or subjugating a rival nation by despoiling
or altering its natural environment.
“Economic aid warfare” means controlling a targeted country through aid dependency.
Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America. Panama City, Panama: Pan American Pub., 2002, xii, 38-43.
Methods of Combination
Supra-national: Combining national, international, and non-state organizations to a
Example: The U.S. and the international community during and after the Gulf War.
Americans garnered the support of practically all of the countries in the United Nations,
which led to a multi-national force of over 30 countries joining in the war on Iraq and
after the war, supporting an economic embargo, arms inspections, and continued political
and military pressure.
Supra-domain: Combining battlefields. The means of Supra-domain combinations is
considered as the link between the Supra-national combinations and the Supra-means
combinations, and is concerned with choosing which domain will be the main battlefield
and will provide the greatest likelihood of achieving victory. Information warfare,
financial warfare, and trade warfare are just a few of the examples of domains.
Supra-means: Combining all available means (military and non-military) to carry out
operations. In essence, Supra-means combinations combine military means with
diplomatic, economic, financial, technological, cultural, and other legal and illegal
means. The Supra-means combinations are considered in relation to the objective.
Example: A good example of Supra-means combinations is the 1978 U.S. Embassy
hostage crisis in Iran. After the military rescue failed, the crisis was solved by a
combination of freezing Iran’s foreign assets, imposing an arms embargo, supporting Iraq
against Iran and conducting diplomatic negations.
Supra-tier: Combining all levels of conflict into each campaign. The PLA colonels
propose four different levels of war and the appropriate focus at each level: Grand War –
War Policy; War – Strategy; Campaign – Operational Art; and Battles – Tactics. They
consider the level of Grand War, in terms of scale, to include military and non-military
actions of warfare. The goal of Supra-tier combinations is to use combinations of all four
Example: Some examples of Supra-tier combinations are using a strategic method,
which is some sort of non-military action, to go along with the accomplishment of a
tactical mission or using a tactical method to accomplish an object on the war policy
level. A good example is Bin Laden using a tactical level method of two truckloads of
explosives on the World Trade Center that threatened U.S. national interests at the
Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America. Panama City, Panama: Pan American Pub., 2002, 155-171.
Eight Principles of Unrestricted Warfare
1. Omnidirectionality – 360 degree observation and design which combines use of all
related factors. Omnidirectionality gives all-around consideration of all factors related to
war and when observing the battlefield, designing plans, employing measures, and
combining the use of all war resources to have a field of vision with no blind spots.
Warfare can be military, quasi-military, or non-military. (The battlefield is said to exist
everywhere and no distinctions are made between combatants and non-combatants)
2. Synchrony – Conducting actions in different spaces within the same period of time.
Synchrony accomplishes objectives quickly under conditions of simultaneous occurrence,
simultaneous action, and simultaneous completion. (Synchrony replaces the older idea of
phasing of forces sequentially in an operation)
3. Limited Objectives – Set a compass to guide action within an acceptable range for
measures. Limited objectives means limited in relation to measures used. Objectives
must always be smaller than measures. (Means that measures, effort and resources, must
be greater than the requirements of the objective to be sought or the action will fail)
4. Unlimited Measures – The trend is toward unrestricted employment of measures, but
restricted to the accomplishment of limited objectives. (Is the notion that whatever means
are necessary should be used to obtain a limited objective. No restrictions exist on what
these measures can be – hence the idea of unrestricted warfare)
5. Asymmetry – Seek nodes of action in the opposite direction from the contours of the
balance of symmetry. Understanding and employing the principle of asymmetry
correctly allows us always to find and exploit an enemy’s soft spots. (Means that the
enemy’s soft spots can be better exploited by directing asymmetric forces and techniques
at these points rather than engaging in a mirror response with conventional force)
6. Minimal Consumption – Use the least amount of combat resources sufficient to
accomplish the objective. (Analogous to the U.S. principle of economy of force. All
types of resources must be considered)
7. Multidimensional Coordination – Coordinating and allocating all forces which can
be mobilized in the military and non-military spheres covering an objective.
(Encompasses multiple spheres and multiple fronts. This is not a new concept except that
non-military factors, such as cultural warfare, are now brought into the equation)
8. Adjustment and Control of the Entire Process – During the entire course of a war,
from its start, through its progress, to its conclusion, continually acquire information,
adjust action, and control the situation. (This is a systems approach to warfare that allows
for adjustment of the system via a feedback loop of some sort. A premium is placed on
intuition (art) rather than mathematical deduction (science))
Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America. Panama
City, Panama: Pan American Pub., 2002, 177-186. and Robert J. Bunker “Unrestricted Warfare: Review Essay I” Small Wars & Insurgencies, Spring 2000, 119-20.