This article is part of a series on the PLA white paper “Unrestricted Warfare” from 1999. You can read part one here.
Part one of this series dealt largely with the framework through which we are going to examine “Unrestricted Warfare,” as well as going through the preface, which laid out what Qiao and Wang were aiming to address. Now we get into the meat with part one.
Part one of the paper begins with a brief discussion not so much of warfare, but of the general impact and perception of technology. The title of the introduction is “Technology is the Totem of Modern Man.” They point out the rapid growth of technology over the past century, along with the insatiable appetite for what is “new.” Along the way, they discuss what they term the “ramification effect,” or what may be termed the second- and third-order effects of a new technology, usually not foreseen when the technology is first implemented. The example they use is the automobile, pointing out that the goal of transportation was not necessarily connected to the mining, smelting, manufacturing, rubber extraction, oil drilling and refining, etc. required to make the automobile work as a usable technology.
The interesting thing about this particular passage, aside from the humanism illustrated in the ruminating on the cost to the human soul of runaway technological progress (which does seem slightly odd coming from officers of a communist country), is that it illustrates the depth of thinking that we are going to be in for. Second- and third-order effects are to be considered, as well as the factors that go into the initial point of consideration.
It has been said that the Chinese, as a whole, tend to be long-game, big-picture thinkers. Their intelligence collection has been described as “grains of sand,” slowly putting hundreds of thousands of small, discrete pieces of information, collected by thousands of people (not all of them trained intelligence collectors, either), into a final, cohesive picture. This discussion of the “ramification effect” smacks of that kind of perception, stepping back to look at the whole picture.
As the introduction goes on, they stress the decentralization and global integration brought about by technology, and continue the opening theme of, “No one actor will dominate the stage,” that was introduced in the preface. It continues as part one starts into chapter one: “The Weapons Revolution Which Invariably Comes First.”
They point out that in the past, weapons technologies such as iron and bronze spears, the bow, the stirrup, gunpowder, the ironclad, the tank, and the airplane led to revolutions in warfare, but that now, weapons are generally part of a much larger system, and with the globalization of technology and information, there is very little that can be introduced as a new weapon that has any hope of revolutionizing warfare. For one thing, there is little genuinely “new” on the horizon, and the systematization of weapons (as they illustrate in “Totem” with everything that went into a single Patriot shooting down a single SCUD over Kuwait) means that every “new” weapon is dependent on multiple existing technologies.
The next part gets really interesting. It begins with comparing two sentences: “Fight the fight that fits one’s weapons” and “Making the weapons to fit the fight.” They point out first that, while it may initially seem that “Fighting the fight that fits one’s weapons” is backward, passive helplessness, they go on to point out that even the United States is so constrained, albeit often on a different level than their lower-tier opponents. They also speak of how, while initially a negative, this mindset has been largely turned into a positive, developing the tactics to most effectively use the tools one has. They warn that the “superstitious” belief in high-technology weapons automatically conferring victory by virtue of being high-technology weapons can lead to disaster, in their words, “…turning something miraculous into something rotten.” (Strange, it seems like we’ve harped on that point here on SOFREP a time or two….)
They then turn to “Making the weapons to fit the fight,” using the primary example of the U.S. AirLand Battle doctrine and growing digitized warfare. In this model, the tactics are determined, and then the weapons systems are developed to match the tactics. As they point out, however, this has pitfalls, and the gravest was illustrated in Somalia (this was, of course, several years before Afghanistan and Iraq). The primary pitfall being, if the tactics don’t match up with the opponent, the weapons aren’t going to help. “Looking at the specific examples of battles that we have, it is difficult for high-tech troops to deal with unconventional warfare and low-tech warfare, and perhaps there is a rule here, or at least it is an interesting phenomenon which is worth studying.” The events of the last decade and a half would appear to reinforce this rule.
There are a couple of major points here in regards to the GWOT. For instance, it has been argued that part of the reason for invading Iraq was to get into an environment and terrain that better favored the U.S. way of mechanized warfare. The idea (purportedly—whether it was really so strategic or simply an attempt to maintain momentum after the Taliban melted away in Afghanistan, pulling down old plans from the Clinton-era “regime change” policy may never truly be known) was to draw the enemy out of the mountains and into the flatter deserts of Iraq. This would definitely appear to be a case of “Fight the fight that fits one’s weapons.” We can’t bring the mechanized might of the U.S. Army to bear on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, so we’ll try to turn Iraq into a new Afghanistan, to kill them with it there.”
The fact that it didn’t really work that well in the long term points more to the failures of “Making the weapons to fit the fight.” Just as Wang and Qiao predicted, the high-tech, mechanized U.S. military has found itself unable to defeat a generally low-tech opponent, because the tactics don’t quite fit the enemy.
Coming up, we’ll continue on with chapter one, exploring “Weapons of New Concepts and New Concepts of Weapons.” (Yes, this is going to be a long series.)
Note: Peter Nealen’s latest American Praetorians thriller, The Devil You Don’t Know, is now available here.
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