Unrestricted Warfare Theory And Meaning.


Unrestricted Warfare was published in February 1999  by two Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui. 


The book became a best-seller in China, and it was extensively read at the PLA's and Chinese Communist Party's highest levels. 

 The book, on the other hand, was regarded with anxiety in the United States. 

"Unrestricted Warfare" implies that any method can be prepared for use, that information is everywhere, that the battlefield is everywhere, that any technology can be combined with any other technology, and that the lines between war and non-war, as well as between military and non-military affairs, have been systematically blurred.

'You need to read Unrestricted Warfare because it shows China's game plan in its approaching conflict with America,' said Admiral Thomas Moorer, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 

  • China believes that by using these measures, it would be able to destroy America.'  
  • Qiao and Wang's book, as originally interpreted by US scholars and military strategists, promoted an immoral and potentially illegal transformation of warfare in which the international system and international law "will be... required to be overthrown in order for the Chinese to achieve their desired policies."  
  • This view, however, is based on a misinterpretation of the book's title rather than the overall philosophy, since the notion of unfettered warfare has subsequently sparked healthy discussion in US military circles.  

Indeed, the book's original title may have been too literally translated; a less incendiary option would be 'warfare beyond borders,' and a more accurate translation for the notion itself, based on the book's core storyline, would be 'warfare that transcends boundaries.' 

'Thus, we acquire a comprehensive notion, a totally new type of combat dubbed "modified combined conflict that goes beyond limitations,"' say Qiao and Wang.  

Because the term 'transcending bounds' does not carry the negative connotations connected with the concept of 'unrestricted' combat, such a translation may have averted the uproar that the book caused when it was initially released. 

  • This is shown by a line in the book's following section: 'Unlimited exceeding of limitations is difficult to attain.' Any breaking of constraints must be done within specified parameters. 
  • That instance, "moving beyond boundaries" does not imply "no limits," but rather the extension of "limited."  
  • Leaving aside the initial unfavorable reaction to the notion of unlimited warfare, it has now achieved a broader acceptance in the US, not least because, as Hoffman puts it, "a deeper reading of the text exposes a number of valuable and even obvious implications."  

The authors of the book make three contributions to the field of strategy: 

  1.  a constructive observation of war; 
  2.  a comprehensive analysis of the transformation of warfare at the end of the twentieth century, with the Gulf War against Iraq in 1999 serving as a symbol of this transformation; and 
  3.  an intellectual conceptualization of future conflicts in the twenty-first century. 

While the majority of Qiao and Wang's work focuses on the nature of war in the late twentieth century and makes some conceptual predictions for the future, they also make several key observations about the nature of war and its principles, such as "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." 

The most important concept is the significance of combining —'combining two or more battlefield aspects together' —in order to defeat an opponent. 

Using various examples from Chinese and Western military history, Qiao and Wang arrive at the following conclusion: 

'Regardless of whether the war occurred , 3000 years ago or at the end of the twentieth century, it appears that all victories display one common phenomenon: the winner is the one who combined well.'  

In other words, the capacity of strategists to integrate diverse technologies, conceptions of operations, means, and procedures in a manner that delivers major benefits and enhances current combat to a large degree is one of the most crucial components in achieving success in a conflict. 

In creating this concept of combination, Qiao and Wang rightly point out that not every combination is a potential force multiplier, but also that 'it will be pointless to conduct combination  100 times incompetently without grasping the secret of how to conduct combination.' 

The authors recommend two primary guidelines that contribute to the best combination, based on historical examples: 

  1. the golden section rule (0.618:1 ratio) 
  2. and the side-principle rule (taken from linguistics, where one word modifies another and determines its tendency and features). 

The first rule was inspired by the realm of art, while the second was inspired by Chinese language. 

  • By questioning, "Can you still calmly accept them as accidents if too many mishaps reveal the same phenomena?" 
  • Qiao and Wang effectively establish the applicability of these laws to the phenomenon of war. 
  • Qiao and Wang support a concept based on which the combination should be used in battle in the debate that specifies and fuses these two principles. 

  1. First, they contend that each of the five primary components of war, weapons, means, force, direction, and sphere, must have a dominating element defined. 
  2. Second, the 0.618:1 ratio should be used to establish the connections between the dominant weapons and all weapons, the dominant means and all methods, and the dominant force and all forces.

  • Instead of acting strictly according to the rule, Qiao and Wang claim to have discovered a principle that increases the likelihood of winning a war: 'the key [to victory] is to grasp the essence and apply the principle,' rather than acting strictly according to the rule, because 'correct rules do not guarantee that there will always be victories; the secret to victory is to correctly apply rules.'  
  • 'Whoever [will be] able to mix a tasty and unique cocktail for the future banquet of war will eventually be able to wear the laurels of success on his own head,' say Qiao and Wang, claiming that the principle of combination has played a crucial role in achieving victory since the dawn of human conflict. 

Qiao and Wang conclude that 'a conflict that altered the globe eventually changed war itself' after examining the influence of technical advancement and globalization processes on the character of war.  

  • These two innovations are not only at the heart of the end-of-the-century change of combat, but they are also intricately intertwined, each boosting the influence of the other and therefore speeding up the transformation of war. 
  • Building on their notion of combat success as the capacity to put together winning combinations, According to Qiao and Wang, the second half of the twentieth century saw tremendous demand for more intricate combinations than ever before due to technology integration and globalization. 

According to their theory of unrestrained warfare, the technical and geopolitical circumstances of the twentieth century have produced a scenario in which strategists must generate and deploy 'combinations that transcend frontiers.'  

Qiao and Wang highlight two independent but related processes in terms of technology growth and globalization. 

  • On the one hand, they emphasize the growing importance of information technology by claiming that: [It is pointless for military organizations] to wrack their brains over whether or not information technology will grow strong and unruly today, because it is a synthesis of other technologies, and its first appearance and every step forward are all a process of blending with other technologies, so that it is part of them, and they are part of it, and this is precisely what is happening today.  
  • 'Non-professional warriors and non-state organizations are posing a greater and greater threat to sovereign nations, making these warriors and organizations more and more serious adversaries for every professional army,' Qiao and Wang state when discussing the impact of globalization in this age of information technology. 

According to the notion of unrestrained warfare, these two developments expand the importance of 'non-military' means and tactics of conflict, such as terrorism, cybercrime, and financial manipulations.  

These two observations led Qiao and Wang to develop the strategic concept of 'combinations that transcend boundaries,' based on the claim that modern warfare blurs 'technical, scientific, theoretical, psychological, ethical, traditional, customary, and other sorts of boundaries,' erasing 'the boundary between the battlefield and what is not the battlefield, between what is a weapon and what is not, between soldier and non-combatant, between state and non-sovereign, between state and As a result, the authors suggest four new sorts of combinations that, in their opinion, best characterize contemporary combat. 

1. The first is 'supranational combinations,' which bring together national, international, and non-governmental organizations to "assemble and mix together additional tools to fix the issue in a spectrum greater than the problem itself." 

  • As international organizations (multinational, non-state, commercial, religious, criminal, terror, etc.) increasingly affect modern countries, Qiao and Wang argue that modern conflict has transcended the nation-state boundary, and that there is "no better means for countering such threats than the use of supranational combinations."  

2. The second form of combination is known as "supra-domain combinations," which go beyond the battlefield's realms. 

  • As current information technology and globalization compel 'politics, economics, the military, culture, diplomacy, and religion to overlap,' new types of warfare, including as information warfare, financial warfare, trade warfare, and psychological warfare, have emerged in the sphere of conflict. 

Combinations of these domains of warfare are referred to as "supra-domain combinations," which focus efforts on certain dimensions that are most conducive to achieving a conflict's goals.  

'Supra-means combinations,' or a blend of diverse means within each area of warfare that delivers the best beneficial impact on an enemy, are the third sort of combination.  

  • The final and most essential sort of combination is'superior combinations,' which integrate all stages of conflict into a single campaign. 

Qiao and Wang argue that the line between tactics, operations, strategy, and grand-strategy has blurred in today's wars, which are characterized by "supranational powers" that deploy "supra-means" in "supra-domains."

  •  'Bin Laden used a tactical level method of just two truckloads of explosives and threatened U.S. national interests on a strategic level, whilst the Americans can only achieve the strategic goal of protecting their own safety by carrying out tactical level retaliation against him.'  
  • Qiao and Wang utilize a variety of historical instances to illustrate their theories, but the 1991 Gulf War of  is their major point of reference:  
    • 'When we try to utilize previous conflicts to examine what defines war in the era of technological integration and globalization, only "Desert Storm" comes to mind as a ready-made example.'  

The Gulf Conflict, according to Qiao and Wang, "finished one era and began a new one" because it was the first war to fully transcend the bounds of combat. 

  • There were 'supra-national combinations,' as the US was successful in forming a coalition of over thirty countries, including those that were antagonistic to one another, as well as garnering backing from virtually all UN member countries, as well as international and non-governmental organizations (e.g. the World Bank, the World Trade Organization). 
  • There were 'supra-domain combinations,' such as 'the 42 day military operation of Desert Storm was followed by eight years of military pressure + economic embargo + weapons inspections.'  Different means were used in each of the used domains, resulting in 'supra-means combinations' (e.g. the authors discuss the military and psychological domains in detail).  

While the writers do not present any instances of "superior-tier combinations" from the Gulf War, they are plainly identifiable. 

  • The finest example is the employment of reasonably accurate munitions, which, although tactical in nature, had a strategic influence thanks to information technology and live broadcasting of exploding targets, impacting the eyes and ears of the whole globe. 
  • The authors conclude that "although we are witnessing a relative decline in military violence, we are clearly seeing a rise in political, economic, and technical violence" as they examine geopolitical changes in the second half of the twentieth century.  

In other words, on the battlefields of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, unrestrained warfare is an endeavor to argue for the victory of nontraditional realms of violence (i.e. 'non-military' or 'non-war' activities) over strictly military methods to accomplish desired aims. 

Qiao and Wang suggest eight principles at the conclusion of their book that currently characterize modern warfare and will have a greater impact on the nature of future battles. 

  • The first is a concept known as 'omnidirectionality.' Future wars will be marked by a lack of distinction between what is and is not the battlefield, and will encompass not only traditional military domains (i.e. land, sea, air, etc. ), but also social domains such as politics, economics, culture, and the psyche of the nations involved, according to this principle (as well as neutral nations). 
    • Participants in these wars will be required to: Consider all aspects of 'this particular' war when observing the battlefield or a potential battlefield, designing plans, employing measures, and combining the use of all available war resources, to have a field of vision with no blind spots, a concept free of obstacles, and an orientation free of blind angles when observing the battlefield or a potential battlefield, to have a field of vision with no blind spots, a concept free of obstacles, and an orientation free of blind angles when  

  • The second premise is 'synchrony,' which means that future battles will need operations to be carried out in several domains at the same time. 
  • According to Qiao and Wang, technology integration and globalization will allow for not only more synchronized and simultaneous execution of diverse activities using different methods in different domains, but also more synchronized and simultaneous execution of these combinations. 
  • If goals had to be achieved in stages in the past "through an accumulation of battles and campaigns," they could be accomplished in the future "under conditions of simultaneous occurrence, simultaneous action, and simultaneous completion."  
  • According to Qiao and Wang, the third and fourth criteria that will characterize future conflicts are "limited aims" and "unlimited methods." 
  • The former emphasizes the significance of establishing precise and feasible aims for future battles, as "defining objectives that transcend the permissible bounds of the existing methods would only result in tragic outcomes." 
  • The infinite measures concept is founded on the premise that "to achieve certain specified aims, one may break through limits and choose among alternative ways."  
  • While none of these concepts adds anything new to the nature of warfare, their combination creates the central concept of unconstrained warfare: limited goals attained by infinite means. 

  • The sixth notion is 'asymmetry,' which entails exploiting an opponent's weak points. 
    • Although this principle adds little to the nature of war, Qiao and Wang believe that the shift of warfare from the traditional military domain to non-military domains (i.e. politics, economy, and culture) will increase the role of this principle, giving weaker actors more opportunities and exposing the vulnerabilities of stronger actors.  
    • The sixth concept is 'minimal consumption,' which is based on 'rational categorization of goals and rational resource usage.' 

In future conflicts, Qiao and Wang argue that the expanding number of conceivable goals and the many ways to achieve them would inevitably raise the risk of 'high consumption with poor performance,' and that it will be necessary (more than ever before): 

'To combine the superiorities of various types of battle resources in various types of places to build a totally new kind of combat that achieves the goal while minimizing consumption.'  

  • The seventh principle is 'multidimensional coordination,' which entails the coordination and collaboration of all necessary means and actions in all necessary domains in order to achieve the war's goal. 

    • Because unrestricted warfare assumes that any domain, not just the military, can be a battlefield, future war participants should be "inclined to understand multidimensional coordination as the coordination of the military dimension with various other dimensions in the pursuit of a specific objective."  
    • According to Qiao and Wang, the ultimate premise of future battles is "correction and control of the whole process." 
    • 'The ability of these factors to cloud the issues of war, and their intense influence on war, means that loss of control over any one link may be like the proverbial loss of a horseshoe nail that led to the loss of a whole war.'  

  • Finally, it is critical to concentrate on three key components of this theory. 

    • The first and most significant is the notion that human conflict extends beyond the conventional military domain, entering other areas of human interaction (such as politics, economics, and culture) at the subnational, national, and supranational levels. 
    • As a result, Qiao and Wang believe that "he who wishes to win today's war, or tomorrow's war, must "combine" all of the war resources [military and non-military] at his disposal and employ them as means of prosecuting war."  

The writers acknowledge that their concept of 'combination' isn't particularly novel, claiming that "Alexander the Great and the martial monarchs of the Zhou Dynasty never heard of cocktails [i.e. combinations], but they grasped the importance of the combined use of things."  

However, the key point is that in present and future battles, this ancient strategy of combining actions, means, and tactics that were not previously considered aspects of combat will be utilized. 

This leads straight to the third fundamental point advanced by unrestrained warfare: 

the technical and societal developments at the end of the twentieth century were the two primary forces behind the emergence of this "Warfare that Transcends Boundaries" (i.e. globalization). 

In response to these changes, the new principle of war is "using all means, including armed force or non-military force, military and non-military, and lethal and non-lethal means to compel the enemy to accept one's interests," rather than "using armed force to compel the enemy to submit to one's will."

~ Jai Krishna Ponnappan

You may also want to read and learn more about Global Geo Politics, Conflicts, And Conflict Resolution here.

Sources, References & Further Reading:

  • Hoffman, Frank, Conflict in the 21st Century: The Rise of Hybrid Warfare, Arlington: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 2007, p. 14.
  • For example: Nemeth, William, ‘Future War and Chechnya: A Case for Hybrid Warfare’, PhD diss., Monterey, Naval Postgraduate School, 2002; Morelock, Jerry, ‘Washington as Strategist: Compound Warfare in the American Revolution, 1775–1783’, in Huber, Thomas (ed.), Compound Warfare: That Fatal Knot, Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College, 2002, p. 78.
  • Qiao, Liang and Xiangsui Wang, Unrestricted Warfare: China’s Master Plan to Destroy America, Panama City: Pan American Publishing Company, 2002.
  • Scobell, Andrew, ‘Introduction to Review Essays on “Unrestricted Warfare”’, Small Wars and Insurgencies, 11, 1 (Spring 2000), pp. 112–13; Cheng, Dean, ‘Unrestricted Warfare: Review Essay II’, Small Wars and Insurgencies, 11, 1 (Spring 2000), pp. 122–9.
  • Thomas Moorer cited on the back cover of Qiao and Wang, Unrestricted Warfare.
  • Bunker, Robert, ‘Unrestricted Warfare: Review Essay II’, Small Wars and Insurgencies, 11, 1 (Spring 2000), pp. 114.
  • Luman, Ronald (ed.), Unrestricted Warfare Symposium 2006: Proceedings on Strategy, Analysis, and Technology, Laurel, MD: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 2006; Luman, (ed.), Unrestricted Warfare Symposium 2008: Proceedings on Combating the Unrestricted Warfare Threat; Integrating Strategy, Analysis, and Technology, Laurel, MD: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 2008.
  • Qiao and Wang, Unrestricted Warfare, p. 155.
  • Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st Century, p. 22.
  • Qiao and Wang, Unrestricted Warfare, p. xxi.
  • Bunker, ‘Unrestricted Warfare: Review Essay II’; Van Messel, John, ‘Unrestricted Warfare: A Chinese Doctrine for Future Warfare?’, Master’s thesis, Marine Corps University, Quantico, 2005.
  • Qiao and Wang, Unrestricted Warfare, p. 48.
  • Lind, William, et al., ‘The Changing Face of War: Into the Fourth Generation’, Marine Corps Gazette (October 1989), pp. 22–6.
  • Van Creveld, Martin, On Future War, London: Brasseys, 1991.
  • Huntington, Samuel, The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of World Order, London: Simon and Schuster, 1997.
  • For example: Terriff, Terry, Aaron Karp and Regina Karp, (eds), Global Insurgency and the Future of Armed Conflict, New York: Routledge Press, 2007; Hammes, Thomas, The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century, St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2004; Benbow, Tim, ‘Talking ’Bout Our Generation? Assessing the Concept of “Fourth Generation Warfare”’, Comparative Strategy, 27, 2 (2008), pp. 148–63.
  • Echevarria, Antulio, Fourth Generation War and Other Myths, Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2005.
  • Lind, William, ‘Understanding Fourth Generation War’, Military Review (September–October 2004), p. 12.
  • Echevarria, Fourth Generation War and Other Myths, p. v.
  • Hammes, Sling and the Stone, p. 16.
  • Rogers, Clifford (ed.), The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe, Oxford: Westview Press, 1995; Parker, Geoffrey, The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500–1800, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988; Boot, Max, War Made New: Technology, Warfare and the Course of History, 1500 to Today, New York: Gotham Books, 2006; Murray, Williamson and Macgregor Knox (eds), The Dynamics of Military Revolution 1300–2050, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Hammes, Sling and the Stone, pp. 17, 18.
  • For example: Rogers, Military Revolution Debate; Parker, Military Revolution.
  • Lind, ‘Understanding Fourth Generation War’, p. 12.
  • Lind et al., ‘Changing Face of War’, p. 23; also see Hammes, Sling and the Stone, pp. 22–31.
  • Lind, ‘Understanding Fourth Generation War’, p. 13.
  • Hammes, Thomas, ‘War Evolves into the Fourth Generation’, Contemporary Security Policy, 26, 2 (2005), p. 197.
  • Hammes, ‘War Evolves into the Fourth Generation’, p. 206.
  • Echevarria, Fourth Generation War and Other Myths, p. 16.
  • Huber, Thomas, ‘Napoleon in Spain and Naples: Fortified Compound Warfare’, in C610: The Evolution of Modern Warfare, Term I Syllabus/Book of Readings, Fort Leavenworth: Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College, 1997.
  • Huber, Thomas, ‘Compound Warfare: A Conceptual Framework’, in Huber, Compound Warfare, p. 1.
  • Roberts, Michael, ‘The Military Revolution, 1560–1660’, in Rogers, Military Revolution Debate.
  • See Morelock, Jerry, ‘Washington as Strategist: Compound Warfare in the American Revolution’ in Huber, Compound Warfare; Baumann, Robert, ‘Compound War Case Study: The Soviets in Afghanistan’, in Huber, Compound Warfare.
  • Hoffman, Conflict in the 21st Century, pp. 25–6.
  • Rumsfeld, Donald, ‘The National Defense Strategy of the United States of America’, Washington, DC, March 2005, p. v.