Asia Times: Introduction: The smart colonels
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  March 27, 2002  

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Introduction: The smart colonels

By Fabio Mini

No one had ever thought of terrorism as a form of war, even when using military units to fight it. War seemed to refer to an open and declared conflict in which the contenders were states.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was crystalized on such an understanding, and even the Strategic Concept of 1999 considers terrorism and other forms of fight as diffuse risks rather than as threats to the alliance deriving from a new concept of war.

After the nuclear impasse and the Cold War opposition of blocs, the West stuck to a traditional vision of war and concentrated especially on peacekeeping. The use of the prefix "peace" could placate those sensitive souls opposed to the use of military forces and ensured public opinion support to operations that in any case entailed war-type actions. The height of hypocrisy was reached with the theorizing of the so-called Operations Other Than War (OOTW), whose range of operations included real armed conflicts.

The September 11 attacks shook awake international conscience on a terrible and concrete threat and corrected the fiction of the past 10 years. It hasn't been easy. As the Twin Towers were crumbling, many rushed to clarify that the United States' declaration of war against terrorism was not a real war or a traditional war. To avoid upsetting the sensitive souls, some even evoked the milk, wine or cod wars, as if the images of Manhattan could be interpreted in a way other than an act of war.

When the NATO secretary general spoke, on September 13, of the possibility of activating Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty in order to call the alliance to collective defense, many felt obliged to add some ifs and buts. Fortunately the common position was reiterated on October 2 when the US brought forth the proof that the September 11 attack was not carried out by American terrorists.

The following day at the Atlantic Council, when the US tabled the request for NATO support to the operations, it became clear that the solidarity of its partners was not just a political or humanitarian exercise, but operative support. Obviously, every country was free to contribute bilaterally or collectively to the effort with the means it considered necessary, as the treaty establishes.

For the first time in its history, NATO recognized the terrorist attack as a legitimate cause for a collective response. The catastrophic nature of the attack certainly contributed to the decision, but this kind of decision is not the result of emotional responses. The determining factor was operative and derived from the analysis of the breadth and scale of the terrorist threat. The hypocrisy of considering terrorism capable only of small-scale demonstrative acts has been cast away; the global, and thus also military, nature of terrorism has been fully appreciated; it has been recognized that all countries of the alliance are potential terrorist objectives, because they are regarded as enemies and members of the alliance.

The terrorist attacks have been considered part of strategy supported by countries outside the alliance that aim to undermine the Western system and the alliance itself, and the commitment of these countries is such to imagine an escalation of terrorism up to the resort to weapons of mass destruction, and thus activating strategic defenses. Also, it was recognized that a response of a single country, without coordination and agreement of its partners, would risk conflicts with or collateral damage to other countries. And last but not least, it was acknowledged that terrorist prevention and repression tools include the military, and that defense also means the protection of democracy and respect for sovereignty.

This is more than a wake-up call; it is a real conceptual, strategic and operative revolution. The following day the alliance was mobilized, just as some of its member states had done individually. The strategic rapid reaction forces available to the European and American NATO commands and the AWACS were assigned to anti-terrorist operations on October 5, two days before the attack against the Taliban bases in Afghanistan. It is true that every war is different from its predecessor. But it is also different from the cod or wine war: the word used today is not just a euphemism.

However, this war, especially in the unipolar scenario of the past few years, could be of a completely different nature compared to the ones fought in the past, as becomes clear from the bellicose declarations of Islamic fanatics and from the studies published in a part of the world traditionally influential on radical movements throughout the world: the East. While the West was nearly banning the word war and searching for improbable surrogates such as "police operations", preparing armed forces to all the possible variants of peace support operations, the East was thinking about something else. Radical Islamic groups were launching their holy war, and the so-called rogue states were theorizing the use of missiles and weapons of mass destruction in thfight against Western power. The political and strategic underestimation of this war and the evaluation only of its ideological and economic aspects determined the strategic surprise of September 11.

In the East, the signs that a new vision of this war was being conceptualized were clear even from the military point of view. The Aum Shinrikyo sect, responsible for the nerve gas attacks against the city of Matsumoto (Nagano prefecture) and the Tokyo metro system in 1995, had the objectives and the organization to conduct a new type of war. Since the 1980s, under Syrian protection, radical Japanese were training and continue to train radical Islamic groups for terrorist war, as part of a global war. There were clear signals given by the various intelligence communities which were underestimated. Some of the theories coming from the official and doctrinal circles of powers with broad global and regional interests should not have been against ignored.

On May 2, 1995, the newspaper of the Chinese armed forces, Jie Fang Jun Bao, published an article by Hong Shan of the National Defense University, called "The war of structural destruction". The author affirmed, "For inferior forces to win against superior forces, it is necessary to strictly follow the principle 'you fight in your way, I fight in my way and thus maintain the initiative'. We must be brave in opposing destruction to destruction. We must embark with determination upon positive combat actions and launch destructive attacks against the core of the war systems and the adversaries."

The voice of Chinese theorists and strategists was raised largely to bring hope to a system without real prospects of filling the technological gap, but which had clear strategic needs. Theorizing structural destruction and unilateral action could serve as a new deterrent.

The Chinese "exercises" against Taiwan in 1996, preceded by destabilizing actions on the island during the presidential elections, seemed based on a structural war rather than on the intention of carrying out a large-scale conventional attack. The use of strategic missile forces was well above the need to neutralize military objectives. Also, the declarations of Defense Minister Chi Haotian on the vital importance of reunification in nearly exclusive terms of territorial integrity, were ominously referring to territorial acquisition without any consideration for its inhabitants or productive structures.

Hong Shan's article was disquieting also because it received backing from the official establishment. In such a rigid and highly controlled system as the Chinese military apparatus, an article or book published is not the expression of an idea or fantasy of an individual scholar. Just as Chinese laws for millennia meant the backing of a practice, even theoretical articles are the expression of consolidated thoughts or the ballon d'essai to prepare executors for an already decided change of mind or strategy. Structural war also entailed the willingness to use any means capable of destroying the crucial structures of the adversary. In this endeavor, there was no limitation to conventional means or actors.

The theory, just sketched in 1995, was superbly elaborated in 1999 by colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui in their book which has a meaningful title Unrestricted Warfare. The authors make a lucid analysis of the lessons learnt after the Gulf War, which they consider the "mother" of the change that occurred in the concept of war itself. Their inspiration comes from the technological developments in information warfare, from globalization and from its consequences on world trade, and especially from the Asian financial crisis. Yet again the link with the 1996 "exercises": the idea for the book came while the authors were engaged in maneuvers against Taiwan.

It is of special significance to underline that even in this case theory follows praxis. The book is not important because it forecasts events that actually then took place or because it interprets Nostradamus's verses but because it takes stock of what has happened and elaborates it analytically. In this sense the theories of the Chinese colonels cannot be considered as precursors or as an ideological and operative matrix of international terrorism. If it now appears somewhat foresaying, it is only because in the West we have been so blind and deaf not to see and listen to the signal that the Eastern world was sending us.

Hence the surprise, both of the attack and in realizing that the dynamics that produced that attack were known. Our colonels talk about war, a new global war with no limits. While they were doing so five years ago, they were describing today's situation. In fact, they were perfectly conscious because they were solidly knowledgeable of the trends they were analyzing and of the changes that were occurring. In the meantime, the West was playing the game of ambiguous terminology, under the false modesty of not alarming public opinion with words that would have evoked past tragedies.

The results of this practice came to the fore with the events of September 11. An indomitable and super-powerful nation was shocked by surprise; a surprise induced by the underestimation of a threat and by the deliberate willingness to keep it under the surface. The shock was exorcized and overcome by giving the right name to events and by yelling the only word that could describe the state in which the American nation was and that could rise consciousness to will terror: war.

What war, what means, what objectives: the Chinese colonels, some international scholars and some intelligence sources had already told us. It is worth reading them.

Preface to Unrestricted Warfare
By Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui

NOTE: This was written in 1999, on the eighth anniversary of the outbreak of the Gulf War

Everyone who lived through the last decade of the 20th century will have a profound sense of the changes in the world. No one would claim that there has been any decade in history in which changes have been greater than those of this decade. Naturally, the causes behind the enormous changes are too numerous to mention, but there are a few reasons that people bring up repeatedly.

One of those is the Gulf War. One war changed the world. Linking such a conclusion to a war that occurred one time in a limited area and only lasted 42 days seems somewhat of an exaggeration. However, these are the facts, and there is no need to enumerate one by one all the new words that began to appear after January 17, 1991.

It is only necessary to mention the former Soviet Union, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, cloning, Microsoft, hackers, the Internet, the Southeast Asian financial crisis, the euro, as well as the world's final and only superpower - the United States.

These are sufficient. They pretty much constitute the main subjects for the past decade. However, we do want to say that all these issues are related to that war, either directly or indirectly. We definitely do not intend to mythicize war, particularly not a lopsided war in which there was such a great difference in the actual power of the opposing parties. Precisely the contrary. In our in-depth consideration of this war, which changed the entire world in merely half a month, we have also noted another fact: war itself has now changed.

A war which changed the world ultimately changed war itself. This is truly fantastic, yet it also causes people to ponder deeply. No, we are not referring to changes in the instruments, the technology, the modes or the forms of war. We are referring to the function of warfare.

Perhaps those who feel this most deeply are the Americans, who probably should be counted as among the few who want to play all the roles, including savior, fireman, world policeman and emissary of peace. In the aftermath of Desert Storm, Uncle Sam has not been able to again achieve a commendable victory. In Somalia or Bosnia-Herzegovina, this has invariably been the case. In particular, in the most recent action in which the United States and Britain teamed up to carry out air attacks on Iraq, it was the same stage, the same method, and the same actors, but there was no way to successfully perform the magnificent drama that had made such a profound impression eight years earlier.

Faced with political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, ethnic, and religious issues, etc, that are more complex than they are in the minds of most of the military men, the limitations of the military means suddenly became apparent. However, in the age of "might makes right" - and most of the history of this century falls into this period - these were issues which did not constitute a problem. The problem is that the US-led multinational forces brought this period to a close in the desert region of Kuwait, thus beginning a new period.

At present, it is still hard to see if this age will lead to the unemployment of large numbers of military personnel, or if it will cause war to vanish from this world. All these are still undetermined. The only certainty is that war will no longer be what it was originally. Which is to say that if in the days to come mankind has no choice but to engage in war, it can no longer be carried out in the ways with which we are familiar.

It is impossible for us to deny the impact on human society of the new motivations represented by economic freedom, the concept of human rights, and the awareness of environmental protection, but it is certain that the metamorphosis of warfare will have a more complex backdrop. When people begin to lean toward and rejoice in the reduced use of military force to resolve conflicts, war will be reborn in another form and in another arena, becoming an instrument of enormous power in the hands of all those who harbor intentions of controlling other countries or regions.

In this sense, there is reason for us to maintain that the financial attack by George Soros on East Asia, the terrorist attack on the US embassies by Osama bin Laden, the gas attack on the Tokyo subway by the disciples of the Aum Shinri Kyo, and the havoc wreaked by the likes of Morris Jr on the Internet, in which the degree of destruction is by no means second to that of a war, represent semi-warfare, quasi-warfare, and sub-warfare - that is, the embryonic form of another kind of warfare.

But whatever you call them, these episodes cannot make us more optimistic than in the past. We have no reason for optimism. This is because the reduction of the functions of warfare in a pure sense does not mean at all that war has ended. Even in the so-called post-modern, post-industrial age, warfare will not be totally dismantled. It has only re-invaded human society in a more complex, extensive, concealed, and subtle manner. It is as Byron said in his poem mourning Shelley, "Nothing has happened, he has only undergone a sea change." War, having undergone the changes of modern technology and the market system, will be launched even more in atypical forms. In other words, while we are seeing a relative reduction in military violence, at the same time we definitely are seeing an increase in political, economic, and technological violence.

However, regardless of the form the violence takes, war is war, and a change in the external appearance does not keep any war from abiding by the principles of war. If we acknowledge as much, the new principles of war are no longer "using armed force to compel the enemy to submit to one's will", but rather are "using all means, including armed force or non-armed force, military and non-military, and lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one's interest".

This represents change. A change in war and a change in the mode of war occasioned by this. So, just what has led to the change?

On new warfare
Although ancient states were great,
they inevitably perished when they were fond of war - Sima Rangju

Technology is the totem of modern man. (1) Stirred by the warm breeze of utilitarianism, it is not surprising that technology is more in favor to people than science is. The age of great scientific discoveries had already been left behind before Einstein's time. However, modern man is increasingly inclined to seeing all his dreams come true during his lifetime. This causes him, when betting on his own future, to prostrate himself and expect amazing wonders from technology.

In this way, technology has achieved startling and explosive developments in a rather short period of time, and this has resulted in innumerable benefits for mankind, anxious for quick success and instant rewards. However, we proudly term this technological progress, without realizing that we have already consigned ourselves to a technological age in which we have lost our hearts. (2)

Technology today is becoming increasingly dazzling and uncontrollable. Bell Labs and Sony continue to put out novel toys, Bill Gates launches new Windows every year, and Dolly [the cloned sheep] proves that mankind is now planning to take the place of God the Creator. The fearsome Russian-built Su-27 fighter has not been put to use on any battlefield, and already the Su-35 has emerged to strike a pose, (3) but once it has exhausted its time in the limelight, the Su-35 will be able to retire having rendered meritorious service is still a matter of considerable doubt. Technology is like "magic shoes" on the feet of mankind, and people can only dance along with the shoes, whirling rapidly in time to the beat that they set.

The names Watt and Edison are nearly synonymous with great technical inventions, and using these great masters to name their age may be said to be reasonable. However, from then on, the situation changed, and the countless and varied technological discoveries of the past 100 years or so make it difficult for the appearance of any new technology to take on any importance in the realm of human life.

While it may be said that the formulations of "the age of the steam engine" and "the age of electrification" are names which reflect the realities of the time, today, with all kinds of new technology continuously beating against the banks of the age so that people scarcely have the time to accord them brief acclaim while being overwhelmed by an even higher and newer wave of technology, the age in which an era could be named for a single new technology or a single inventor has become a thing of the past. This is the reason why, if one calls the current era the "nuclear age" or the "information age", it will still give people the impression that you are using one aspect to typify the whole situation.

There is absolutely no doubt that the appearance of information technology has been good news for human civilization. This is because it is the only thing to date that is capable of infusing greater energy into the technological "plague" that has been released from Pandora's box, and at the same time it also provides a magic charm as a means of controlling it. It is just that, at present, there is still a question of who in turn will have a magic charm with which to control it (information technology). The pessimistic view is that, if this technology develops in a direction which cannot be controlled by man, ultimately it will turn man into its victim. (4)

However, this frightening conclusion is not reducing people's ardor for it. The optimistic prospects that it displays are intensely seductive for mankind. After all, its unique features of exchanging and sharing represent the light of intelligence which we can hope will lead mankind out of the barbarism of technology, although this is still not sufficient to make us like those futurists who cannot see the forest for the trees, and who use its name to label the entire age. Its characteristics are precisely what keeps it from being able to replace the various technologies that we already have in great quantity, that are just emerging, or that are about to be born, particularly those such as biotechnology, materials technology, and nanotechnology.

These have a symbiotic relationship with information technology in that they rely on and promote one another. Over the past 300 years, people have long since become accustomed to blindly fall in love with the new and discard the old, and the endless pursuit of new technology has become a panacea to resolve all the difficult questions of existence. Infatuated with it, people have gradually gone astray. Just as one will often commit 10 other mistakes to cover up one, to solve one difficult problem people do not hesitate to bring 10 more on themselves. (5)

For example, for a more convenient means of transportation, people invented cars, but a long string of problems followed closely on the heels of the automobile - mining and melting, mechanical processing, oil extraction, rubber refining, and road-building, etc - which in turn required a long string of technical means to solve, until ultimately it led to the pollution of the environment, destroying resources, taking over farmland, traffic accidents, and a host of thornier problems. In the long run, comparing the original goal of using cars for transportation with these derivative problems, it almost seems unimportant.

In this way, the irrational expansion of technology causes mankind to continually forget its goals in the complex ramifications of the tree of technology, losing his way and forgetting how to get back. We may as well dub this phenomenon the "ramification effect".

Fortunately, at this time, modern information technology made its appearance. We can say with certainty that this is the most important revolution in the history of technology. Its revolutionary significance is not merely in that it is a brand new technology itself, but more in that it is a kind of bonding agent which can lightly penetrate the layers of barriers between technologies and link various technologies which appear to be totally unrelated. Through its bonding, not only is it possible to derive numerous new technologies it also provides a kind of brand new approach to the relationship between man and technology.

Only from the perspective of mankind can man clearly perceive the essence of technology as a tool, and only then can he avoid becoming a slave to technol- to the tool - during the process of resolving the difficult problems he faces in his existence. Mankind is completely capable of fully developing its own powers of imagination so that technology is used to its potential and exhausted. Today, the independent use of individual technologies is becoming more and more unimaginable. The emergence of information technology has presented endless possibilities for matchups involving various old and new technologies and between new and advanced technologies. Countless facts have demonstrated that the integrated use of technology is able to promote social progress even more than the discovery of the technology itself. (6)

The situation of loud solo parts is in the process of being replaced by a multipart chorus. The general fusion of technology is irreversibly guiding the rising globalization trend, while globalization in turn is accelerating the process of the general fusion of technology, and this is the basic characteristic of our age. This characteristic will inevitably project its features on every direction of the age, and naturally the realm of war will be no exception. No military force that thirsts for modernization can get by without nurturing new technology, while the demands of war have always been the midwife of new technology.

During the Gulf War, more than 500 kinds of new and advanced technology of the 1980s ascended the stage to strike a pose, making the war simply seem like a demonstration site for new weaponry. However, what left a profound impron on people was not the new weaponry per se, but the trend of systemization in the development and use of weapons. Like the "Patriots" intercepting the "Scuds", it seemed as simple as shooting birds with a shotgun, while in fact it involved numerous weapons deployed over more than half the globe: after a DSP satellite identified a target, an alarm was sent to a ground station in Australia, which was then sent to the central command post in Riyadh through the US Cheyenne Mountain command post, after which the Patriot operators were ordered to take their battle stations, all of which took place in the mere 90-second alarm stage, relying on numerous relays and coordination of space-based systems and C3I systems, truly a "shot heard around the world".

The real-time coordination of numerous weapons over great distances created an unprecedented combat capability, and this was unimaginable prior to the emergence of information technology. While it may be said that the emergence of individual weapons prior to World War II was still able to trigger a military revolution, today no one is capable of dominating the scene alone.

War in the age of technological integration and globalization has eliminated the right of weapons to define war and, with regard to the new starting point, has realigned the relationship of weapons to war, while the appearance of weapons of new concepts, and particularly new concepts of weapons, has gradually blurred the face of war. Does a single hacker attack count as a hostile act or not? Can using financial instruments to destroy a country's economy be seen as a battle? Did CNN's broadcast of an exposed corpse of a US soldier in the streets of Mogadishu shake the determination of the Americans to act as the world's policeman, thereby altering the world's strategic situation? And should an assessment of wartime actions look at the means or the results?

Obviously, proceeding with the traditional definition of war in mind, there is no longer any way to answer the above questions. When we suddenly realize that all these non-war actions may be the new factors constituting future warfare, we have to come up with a new name for this new form of war: warfare which transcends all boundaries and limits; in short, unrestricted warfare.

This kind of war means that all means will be in readiness, that information will be omnipresent, and the battlefield will be everywhere. It means that all weapons and technology can be superimposed at will, that all the boundaries lying between the two worlds of war and non-war, of military and non-military, will be totally destroyed, that many of the current principles of combat will be modified, and even that the rules of war may need to be rewritten. However, the pulse of the God of War is hard to take. If you want to discuss war, particularly the war that will break out tomorrow evening or the morning of the day after tomorrow, there is only one way, and that is to determine its nature with bated breath, carefully feeling the pulse of the God of War today.

Man and Technology, O Spengler stated that, "Like God, our father, technology is eternal and unchanging, like the son of God, it will save mankind, and like the Holy Spirit, it shines upon us." The philosopher Spengler's worship for technology, which was just like that of a theologian for God, was nothing but a manifestation of another type of ignorance as man entered the great age of industrialism, which increasingly flourished in the post-industrial age.

(2) In this regard, the French philosopher and scientist Jean Ladrihre has a unique viewpoint. He believes that science and technology have a destructive effect as well as a guiding effect on culture. Under the combined effects of these two, it is very difficult for mankind to maintain a clear-headed assessment of technology, and we are constantly oscillating between the two extremes of technical fanaticism and "anti-science" movements. Bracing oneself to read through his The Challenge Presented to Cultures by Science and Technology, in which the writing is abstruse but the thinking recondite, may be helpful in observing the impact of technology on the many aspects of human society from a broader perspective.

(3) Although the improvement of beyond visual range (BVR) weapons has already brought about enormous changes in the basic concepts of air combat, after all is said and done it has not completely eliminated short-range combat. The Su-27, which is capable of "cobra" maneuvers, and the Su-35, which is capable of "hook" moves, are the most outstanding fighter aircraft to date.

(4) F G Ronge is the sharpest of the technological pessimists. As early as 1939, Ronge had recognized the series of problems that modern technology brings with it, including the growth of technological control and the threat of environmental problems. In his view, technology has already become an unmatched, diabolical force. It has not only taken over nature, it has also stripped away man's freedom. In Being and Time, Martin Heidegger termed technology an "outstanding absurdity", calling for man to return to nature in order to avoid technology, which posed the greatest threat. The most famous technological optimists were [Norbert] Wiener and Steinbuch. In Wiener's Cybernetics, God and Robots, and The Human Use of Human Beings and Steinbuch's The Information Society, Philosophy and Cybernetics, and other such works, we can see the bright prospects that they describe for human society, driven by technology.

(5) In David Ehrenfeld's book, The Arrogance of Humanism, he cites numerous examples of this. In Too Clever, Schwartz states that "the resolution of one problem may generate a group of new problems, and these problems may ultimately preclude that kind of resolution". In Rational Consciousness, Rene Dibo also discusses a similar phenomenon.

(6) In The Age of Science and the Future of Mankind, E Shulman points out that "during the dynamic development of modern culture, which is based on the explosive development of modern technology, we are increasingly faced with the fact of multidisciplinary cooperation ... it is impossible for one special branch of science to guide our practice in a sufficiently scientific manner".

Next: The weapons revolution

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