Guide Another View of the Revolution in Military Affairs

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Having long downplayed the People's Liberation Army PLA 's capabilities and aims, China is now publicizing its capacity to inflict damage while cultivating uncertainty about its precise intentions to induce caution in adversaries. For defense strategists and international relations theorists alike, a fundamental change in the behavior of military organizations and the conduct of war raises the question of which states or actors are best positioned to benefit. It has been demonstrated that the Soviet Union saw the current revolution in military affairs RMA as delivering a major advantage to the United States.

This article argues that a traditional Chinese strategic outlook emphasizing superior information, intelligence, and the manipulation of perceptions to prepare the battlefield in peacetime shapes the People's Republic of China's PRC's approach to the RMA.

Yoda and the Jedis: the Revolution in Military Affairs and the Transformation of War

The advances in computing and communications and the fundamental shift in strategic affairs associated with the RMA therefore provide China, at least in Beijing's eyes, with an opportunity to benefit disproportionately relative to its rivals. A related finding is that the current environment differs fundamentally from the Cold War context in which the RMA first emerged.

The pace of technological change is accelerating. We have not fully exploited and adjusted to developments in information and communication technologies; the next wave of change-producing developments is coming out of the biological and human sciences, which are likely to become significant sources of change in military operations and organizations. View all notes. View all notes This fact may constitute the lone point of agreement within a set of lively RMA debates among strategic studies scholars and students of the Cold War. In particular, notwithstanding controversies about the existence, definition, significance, and future of the RMA, 3 3 Thomas Keaney and Eliot A.

While it is clear that the Soviet and American defense establishments exhibited significant variation in the degree to which, and the ways in which, they conceptualized and employed the RMA, 4 4 Dima P. By the mid- to lates, the United States and the USSR shared a perspective on what would be the dominant engagement if their competition devolved into a hot war. Their approaches, while different, did proceed from a common point of departure. Today, by contrast, the nature of the dominant engagement, and even the existence of a competition between the United States and China are disputed.

War’s Sci-Fi Future

Turning to Chinese writings on the RMA promises to shed some light on why this may be the case. What is the Chinese conception of the RMA xin junshi geming , new military revolution, or junshi geming , military revolution? This is no mean task considering the various definitions and understandings within the United States and elsewhere around the world. View all notes and in many cases it is difficult to discern whether they added a particular gloss of their own to the foreign assessments.

But in this period, one can also find articles emphasizing the new vulnerabilities and opportunities for information warfare IW, or xinxi zhan , alternately translated as informatized or informationalized [ xinxi hua ] war created by the reliance of militaries, as well as broader social and economic systems, on computer networks. These discussions seem to reflect unique Chinese contributions, or a unique synthesis of Russian and American writings that ends up looking like neither.

Consider, for instance, this article by then-Senior Colonel Wang Baocun, published in the PLA Daily newspaper in April , worth quoting at length: The opportunity created by the new military revolution is a chance of a lifetime. Our army enjoys many favorable conditions for informatization. An important feature of the present military revolution is that local informationization begins sooner and develops faster than in the armed forces and is technologically more advanced. The Chinese military will benefit from this through absorbing advances generated in other countries. View all notes Wang's method of exposition and the conclusions he draws for China are sui generis.

View all notes Indeed, the goal of reaping competitive benefits from open trade and technology flows creates an imperative to reassure the United States and other militarily advanced states. Hence the omission of any specific platforms, either American or desired Chinese, in favor of statements like this: During the Eighth Five-Year Plan period, China's telephone switching capacity increased by China thus became a country with one of the largest telephone networks in the world.

To prevent the abstract language and invocation of China's historical deficits from distracting us from the PLA's practical efforts to leapfrog, it helps to keep in mind what China was pursuing in the way of capabilities at the time. For instance, in the years running up to Wang's publication, the periodical Naval and Merchant Ships Jianchuan Zhishi , published by the Chinese Society of Naval Architecture and Engineering CSNAME , a major Chinese shipbuilding concern, had run a series of articles on technical aspects of naval operations ranging from the uses of infrared sensors on naval attack planes and helicopters and methods for jamming anti-ship missiles to anti-submarine warfare ASW acoustics, various types of sonar arrays, and stealth casings for torpedoes to defeat sonar.

This excerpt begins with the author's third point, following a discussion of how the increased transparency of political actions has reduced the scope of warfare point one and its destructiveness point two , which may again be taken as a form of reassurance: 3.


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Transformation from nuclear deterrence to information deterrence. Traditional deterrence theory is mainly nuclear deterrence theory. Nuclear weapons are capable of enormous destruction far exceeding that of conventional weapons. Thus, nuclear weapons can produce a huge social and psychological reaction, and they have a unique deterrent effect.

This concept asserts that in the information age, information superiority has a similar deterrent role. The article proceeds to state that some scholars see an information umbrella as capable of replacing the nuclear umbrella and as superior to the latter insofar as information superiority, unlike nuclear superiority, may actually be exercised in peacetime.

Among the key characteristics of the information umbrella, the author explains, is the fact that it can facilitate observing the enemy while denying the enemy the ability to monitor one's own forces.

View all notes and thus win the war. The article proceeds to explore how a variety of violent and nonviolent means can be used to exploit vulnerabilities in military computer networks. According to the author, the principal forms of combat operations in future information warfare will be viruses and hackers. Viruses will be used to target command and control systems, radars, and sensors, as well as other computer operated platforms such as the navigation and fire systems on aircraft, ships, tanks, and missiles.

View all notes In sum, the author argues, the dependence of modern militaries on information networks means that information security will be increasingly critical. View all notes Specifically, it seems that the Chinese have conceptualized the RMA as a set of technological advances that create new opportunities to target an enemy's resolve through the threat or infliction of focused, limited, but highly damaging strikes. In a world in which nuclear weapons raise the specter of total destruction and are thus almost unusable, cyber attacks and precision strikes may be employed to generate acute pain or losses.

In this vein it is noteworthy that when Chinese military researchers invited a small group of American analysts to Beijing in March for one of the first post-Tiananmen US-China defense gatherings, albeit at the sub-official level, it was the RMA that was on the agenda. View all notes This suggests a clear focus on the ways in which combat simulations are conducted and influence US decision making; the strengths and weaknesses associated with US command and control arrangements in a networked environment; and the protection or vulnerability of data in Pentagon computers.

As hinted above, we may be deceived if we rely only on what is written, particularly in English-language publications that the Chinese can expect foreigners to read. Even if the extant Chinese writings are not designed to mislead, one must account for the possibility that not all RMA exponents within the PRC will be equipped to determine or to foresee its evolution in China.

View all notes Stepping back from what has been written, we can try to gauge the RMA's impact by considering how it corresponds to or interacts with deeper traditions in China's approach to matters of war and peace. From the close monitoring of foreign perspectives to the emphasis on information warfare, many aspects of the Chinese writings on the xin junshi geming come into focus when considered in light of the strategic tradition inherited by the PRC.

What is the connection between the current regime in Beijing's approach to the RMA and China's strategic tradition?

Revolution in Military Affairs?

The answer lies in the endurance of certain fundamental philosophical and political views that are reflected in the tradition and continue to shape the regime's behavior around war and peace. It is no accident that Deng Xiaoping encouraged senior PLA strategists to study the ancient Chinese military classics as he launched them on the course of modernization or that he compared the contemporary security environment to the world of the Warring States period, when the classics were written.

The Warring States period c. By the end of the period, the Qin dynasty had finally managed to centralize control over all the lands that then made up the Chinese ecumene, prevailing by outmaneuvering and defeating the six other states with which it had been vying for ascendancy for more than a century.

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Sun Zi's masterpiece offers stratagems and counsel developed for that struggle. A key feature of the Warring States context was the performance-based nature of political legitimacy. Rulers were judged on their ability to provide at least a subsistence level of goods and to preside over a stable realm, and verdicts were always rendered retrospectively: a dynast was considered to have lost the right to rule if and when he had failed to survive a challenge. View all notes The ruling house of a warring state endured so long as the state's peasants and landowners had confidence in its stewardship, confidence derived from the enjoyment of material comfort rather than any organic allegiance.

But in the wake of a natural disaster or when confronted with a dynasty that had succumbed to corruption and was no longer capable of rallying forces to its defense, invaders, rebels, or both were likely to encroach. Underlying the performance-based criteria for legitimacy, the various schools of traditional Chinese philosophy converged in emphasizing the pursuit of harmony with one's environment.

Harmony could be achieved through proper social relations and the observance of rites Confucianism but also through aligning oneself with nature Taoism. Toril Aalberg. Rory Stewart. Charles Eisenstein. Carroll Quigley. Dan Slater. Lawrence Wright. David Icke. Francis Fukuyama.

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