Article by Shantanu K. Bansal
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has been deeply influenced by the means of carrying out ‘non-contact warfare’. The concept of unrestricted form of warfare is based on multipronged approach assimilating the legal warfare, economic warfare, financial warfare, psychological warfare, information warfare, propaganda warfare, public opinion warfare, diplomatic warfare, so on and so forth.
China’s perception of conducting non-contact warfare or non-traditional warfare can be understood by a phrase in the “Unrestricted Warfare” book written by Colonel Qiao Liang and Wang Xiang Sui which states that “a single man-made stock market crash, a single computer virus invasion, or a single rumour or scandal that results in a fluctuation in the enemy country’s exchange rates or exposes the leaders of an enemy country on the internet, all can be included in the ranks of new-concept weapons.”
Given the perceived dominance of offensive attacks in this domain, PLA is believed to prefer seizing the initiative through a first-strike. So far, cyber warfare seems to be the most effective non-kinetic weapon with China but it is possible that China is trying to further innovate this domain by adding another component to it called the ‘Biological Warfare’. Think tanks around the world have discovered the possibility for presence of large number of Biological and Chemical Weapon (BCW) reservoirs in China which may be used as a surprise attack by the Chinese in times of conflict or as a part of grey zone operation.
Traditionally, the experts had believed that China would use unrestricted warfare tools to confront the opponent by exploiting its multiple internal and external weaknesses. For this China would use its ‘deep connections’ in the political, socio-economic set-up, her clout over the media, non-state actors with help of Pakistan, and so on to achieve its objectives- all under ‘grey zone’. The main objective of all such tactics will be to make the opponent believe what you offer; it is akin to the teachings of Sun Tzu “to subdue the enemy without fighting!” PLA’s emphasis on ‘unrestricted warfare’ has paved the way for developing PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) , having main objective for leveraging space, electronics, information and cyber warfare capabilities.
The PLA may want to face its opponent with help of non-combat warfare but it is more difficult to engage the opponent in such operations as compared to simple military strikes since conducting non-contact operation involves greater resources, efforts and time as compared to simple military operation under the one hierarchy of command. Pakistan since a long time has been undertaking asymmetric warfare against India but it has not been able to achieve anything significant rather it has resulted in its own isolation and downfall.
The indirect form of warfare can be very effective against a nation but India stands to be an exception which is so diverse in nature that makes India difficult to understand and comprehend. A single propaganda operation, for say, cannot drive the popular discourse given the diversity India has. Therefore, the ‘war winning factor’ will still remain the tactical performance and wisdom of foot soldiers. The Doklam episode is the best example of how the desperate information warfare of China failed.
The tables can be turned when in case we have got substantial facts about the potential of China to use Biological weapons, it can simply put complexities of carrying out today’s non-contact warfare out of focus since using biological weapon would not require extensive social- economic study of the opponent nation, building substantial undercover links, undertaking computer penetration operations, preparing content for propaganda operations and so on.
The perceived way of fighting the non-contact warfare might be evolving and it is time for India to remain conscious. While China is trying to exploit all possibilities of non- contact warfare, India’s own capabilities in the domain have remained zero-sum. Establishment of one of its type organization in the world like the PLASSF shows that how China is developing its capabilities in this domain. It’s time for India to develop credible non-contact warfare capabilities.
For India a better approach to prepare for unrestricted warfare doesn’t mean only to explore possibilities of undertaking offensive operations but it also involves making the country’s defence and security infrastructure resilient to such attacks by the opponent. For instance, endeavours to reinforce better international treaties regarding the use of BCW which so far has remained toothless can be a part of developing resilience against such attacks. The nomenclature like unrestricted warfare, non-combat warfare, asymmetric warfare, unconventional warfare, grey-zone coercions, and so on enables us to think towards utilizing end-number of ways and means to outmanoeuvre the opponent without fighting in a more structured way, helping us turning the tables to our side!
The article first appeared in Defence and Security Alert (DSA) Magazine portal in April, 2020 as part of special COVID-19 issue. (Link: https://www.dsalert.org/unrestricted-warfare-2-0-is-india-ready/)