In the ever-evolving landscape of global conflicts, China has emerged as a strategic rival to the United States, employing a unique approach that extends beyond traditional warfare. Through an examination of the 1999 white paper titled “Unrestricted Warfare” by two People’s Liberation Army (PLA) colonels, Qiao Liang, and Wang Xiangsui, we gain insight into China’s unconventional strategies. This article is the first in a 3-part series that delves into the chapters of this influential document, shedding light on China’s unrestricted warfare doctrine. By understanding this paradigm shift, we can better navigate the complexities of modern warfare and safeguard our interests.

Beyond Conventional Military Capabilities

The paper opens with a bold assertion: Operation Desert Storm marked a turning point, altering the nature of warfare and reshaping the world. Qiao and Wang challenge the prevailing notion that Desert Storm epitomized a future dominated by high-tech, push-button hyperwar, instead arguing that it represented the last instance of overwhelming military strength. They contend that the future demands a comprehensive, “unrestricted” approach to warfare, encompassing economic, cyber, terroristic, and guerrilla tactics.

By examining subsequent conflicts such as Somalia, Bosnia, and the ineffective bombing campaign in Iraq, Qiao and Wang argue that traditional military victories have become increasingly elusive. They emphasize that new forms of warfare, epitomized by financial attacks, terrorist acts, and cyber disruptions, have emerged as potent tools for achieving strategic objectives. The goal, they assert, is no longer to compel the enemy’s surrender through armed force alone but rather to employ a range of military and non-military means to shape the adversary’s acceptance of one’s interests.

Operation Desert Storm
(Image source: DVIDS)

Challenging Assumptions: Economic Interdependence and Strategic Rivalry

It is essential to dispel the notion that China’s economic interdependence with the United States precludes the possibility of conflict. While economic ties exist, Unrestricted Warfare challenges the conventional model of warfare that underpins such assumptions. Recent cyber operations targeting American intelligence demonstrate China’s willingness to engage in strategic rivalry. Despite its now-twenty-four-year age, the document reveals China’s departure from traditional views of war.

While reports suggest weaknesses in China’s conventional military capabilities, focusing solely on these aspects overlooks the broader scope of China’s unrestricted warfare strategy. Qiao and Wang’s work examines unconventional warfare in the context of developing countries, highlighting the global trend towards embracing non-traditional approaches to conflict. As the world navigates this shifting landscape, expanding our understanding of warfare beyond traditional definitions becomes paramount, ensuring that we remain vigilant and prepared in the face of 21st-century threats.

Navigating the Shifting Landscape

In a world where the principles and boundaries of war are constantly evolving, it is crucial to comprehend China’s unrestricted warfare doctrine. By exploring the insights Unrestricted Warfare provides, we gain a deeper understanding of China’s strategic mindset and its implications for global security. Only by broadening our definition of warfare and acknowledging the unconventional tactics employed by emerging powers can we effectively safeguard our interests and preserve peace in an ever-changing world.

Comparing Unrestricted Warfare to the Current Landscape

While the insights from the 1999 white paper Unrestricted Warfare provide a valuable understanding of China’s unconventional approach to warfare, it is essential to assess its relevance in the present-day landscape. Since the document’s publication, geopolitical dynamics have insanely evolved, technology has advanced, and new challenges have emerged. Therefore, it is essential to compare the ideas presented in Unrestricted Warfare to contemporary events to understand China’s strategic intentions comprehensively.