The recent OPM hack has highlighted (again) Chinese strategic opposition to the United States. While the Chinese use of cyber and economic warfare is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, it may well be worthwhile to look into some of the literature the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has produced on the subject. As our own Coriolanus has pointed out, the Chinese have announced everything they’ve done; it’s just been overlooked in the mass of documentation and communication (with too few Mandarin speakers to sift through it), or it hasn’t fallen into our set categories.

Falling into set categories that the U.S. considers “war” is in fact addressed in the 1999 white paper produced by two PLA colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Entitled “Unrestricted Warfare,” the paper is one of those bits of intention, strategy, and technique announcements that didn’t get overlooked, as it’s been translated into English. This article is going to be the first in a series, going through this paper/book chapter by chapter.  Know your enemy.

The preface

The paper starts with the assertion that Operation Desert Storm changed war and changed the world. The authors admit that this is an extraordinary claim to make about such a short, relatively unopposed war. And in fact, they go on to assert that the change wasn’t in the “future high-tech, push-button hyperwar” direction that most Americans thought Desert Storm represented. Instead, the assertion is that Desert Storm was the last time any player—including the sole remaining superpower, the United States—would find itself in such a position of overwhelming strength. By Qiao’s and Wang’s logic, Desert Storm ensured that any actor in the future would have to address war in an “unrestricted” way, expanding it into economic, terroristic, cyber, and guerrilla forms.

The significance with which Qiao and Wang address Desert Storm is described as, “Who could imagine that an insufferably arrogant actor, whose appearance has chagned the entire plot, suddenly finds that he himself is actually the last person to play this unique role?” They proceed to point out the subsequent failure of the U.S. to attain a clear-cut victory in places like Somalia and Bosnia, as well as the attempt to resolve the later tension with Iraq in 1994 by bombing, which proved utterly ineffectual.