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Meeting the Unrestricted Warfare Threat:
Integrating Strategy, Analysis, and Technology


Discussion Groups

Senior Level Panel

What is Unrestricted Warfare?

The United States is presently encountering a national security threat different than the conventional warfare for which we have become preeminent in the world. This new threat is becoming known as "Unrestricted Warfare" and spans two of the four "security environments" identified by DoD for use in strategic planning: Irregular and Catastrophic, as contrasted with Traditional and Disruptive challenges. Both state and non-state actors, seeking to gain advantage over stronger state opponents will employ a multitude of means, both military and non-military, to strike out during times of conflict.
The first rule of Unrestricted Warfare is that there are no rules; nothing is forbidden. Unrestricted Warfare involves multi-dimensional, asymmetric attacks on almost every aspect of the adversary's social, economic, and political life. Unrestricted Warfare employs surprise and deception and uses both civilian technology and military weapons to break the opponent's will. The recent book by Liang and Xiansui offers an overview of unrestricted warfare, utilizing "unrestricted employment of measures, but restricted to the accomplishment of limited objectives." Among the many means cited in their description of unrestricted warfare are integrated attacks exploiting diverse areas of vulnerability:
•  Cultural warfare by influencing or controlling cultural viewpoints within the adversary nation
•  Drug warfare by targeting an adversary nation with illegal drugs
•  Economic aid warfare by using aid dependency to control a targeted adversary
•  Environmental warfare by despoiling the natural environment of the adversary nation
•  Financial warfare by subverting the adversary's banking system and stock market
•  International law warfare by subverting the policies of international or multinational organizations
•  Media warfare by manipulating foreign news media
•  Network warfare by dominating or subverting transnational information systems
•  Psychological warfare by dominating the adversary nation's perception of its capabilities
•  Resource warfare by controlling access to scarce natural resources or manipulating their market value
•  Smuggling warfare by flooding an adversary's markets with illegal goods
•  Technological warfare by gaining advantage or control of key civilian and military technologies
•  Terrorism

Reference: Unrestricted Warfare , Col. Qiao Liang and Col. Wang Xiangsui, Panama City, Panama, 2002. Back to top

The National Critical Challenge

The United States must adapt its national security focus to fighting and defending itself against the radical Islamic insurgency and future adversaries who choose catastrophic terrorist attacks as their weapon of choice. This involves development of strategy, concepts and capabilities appropriate to protracted conflicts of an unrestricted nature.

Unrestricted Warfare will manifest itself across the full spectrum of political, social, economic, and military networks, blurring the distinction between war and peace and between combatants and bystanders. This is not new, as evidenced by John F. Kennedy's challenge in 1962. What is new and different is the global reach of adversaries, enabled by advanced information technology.
“This is another type of war, new in its intensity, ancient in its origins—war by guerrillas, subversives, insurgents, assassins; war by ambush instead of by combat; by infiltration, instead of aggression, seeking victory by eroding and exhausting the enemy instead of engaging him… It requires in those situations where we must counter it…. a whole new kind of strategy, a wholly different kind of force, and therefore a new and wholly different kind of military training.”
John F. Kennedy
USMA Graduation Speech, 1962

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