This article is part of a series examining the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) white paper “Unrestricted Warfare” from 1999. You can read part one here.

In this series, we delve into the comprehensive analysis presented in “Unrestricted Warfare,” a strategic paper by Chinese colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. Here we explore technology’s profound impact on warfare and the need for adapting military strategies to the evolving global landscape.

Qiao is a retired Chinese air force officer and a People’s Liberation Army National Defense University professor, while Wang is a former colonel in the Chinese military and a professor at Beihang University in Beijing.

Technology is the Totem of Modern Man

Qiao and Wang open their paper by emphasizing the transformative power of technology in the past century. The rapid growth of technology and humanity’s insatiable appetite for innovation has led to unforeseen consequences, referred to as the “ramification effect.” This effect illustrates how the emergence of new technologies sets off a chain reaction involving second and third-order repercussions that are often not immediately apparent.

The authors use the example of the automobile to demonstrate the ramification effect, where advancements in transportation technology significantly impacted industries like mining, smelting, manufacturing, and oil refining. Despite being officers of a communist country, Qiao and Wang contemplate the ethical cost of runaway technological progress and show a depth of thinking that considers both initial and long-term implications.

cyber warfare
U.S. Air Force Cyber-warfare Training Event, 2022 (Image source: DVIDS)

Decentralization and Global Integration

The paper emphasizes that technology has decentralized power and facilitated global integration. This highlights the growing interdependence of nations and actors on a worldwide stage. Consequently, Qiao and Wang stress that no single entity can dominate the world, aligning with the theme introduced in the preface.

“The Weapons Revolution Which Invariably Comes First”

The authors delve into the historical impact of weapons technology revolutions, such as iron and bronze spears, the bow, gunpowder, and modern weapons like tanks and airplanes. However, they argue that new weapons are part of a more extensive system in the current era of globalization and are unlikely to revolutionize warfare independently. They point out that most contemporary weapons are dependent on existing technologies, leaving little genuinely “new” technology on the horizon.