A defense contractor report produced for the Office of Net Assessment, the Pentagon’s think tank on future warfare, describes in detail China’s “Three Warfares” as psychological, media, and legal operations.
They represent an asymmetric “military technology” that is a surrogate for conflict involving nuclear and conventional weapons.
The unclassified 566-page report warns that the US government and the military lack effective tools for countering the non-kinetic warfare methods, and notes that US military academies do not teach future military leaders about the Chinese use of unconventional warfare. It urges greater efforts to understand the threat and adopt steps to counter it.
The report highlights China’s use of the Three Warfares in various disputes, including dangerous encounters between US and Chinese warships; the crisis over the 2001 mid-air collision between a US EP-3E surveillance plane and a Chinese jet; and China’s growing aggressiveness in various maritime disputes in the South China and East China Seas.
“The Three Warfares is a dynamic three dimensional war-fighting process that constitutes war by other means,” said Cambridge University professor Stefan Halper, who directed the study. “It is China’s weapon of choice in the South China Sea.”
Seven other China specialists, including former Reagan Pentagon policymaker Michael Pillsbury, contributed to the study. A copy of the assessment was obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. Disclosure of the report is unusual as most studies produced for the Office of Net Assessment are withheld from public release.
The May 2013 report was written before the dangerous near collision in the South China Sea last December between the guided missile cruiser USS Cowpens and a Chinese naval vessel. Senior defense officials said the incident could have led to a larger military “miscalculation” between the two nations.
Chinese state media blamed the United States for the incident and asserted that it had declared a no-sail zone prior to the Dec. 5 encounter. The zone was imposed after that date.
According to the final Pentagon report, China’s use of Three Warfares is based on the notion that the modern information age has rendered nuclear weapons unusable and conventional conflict too problematic for achieving political goals. China’s goals are to acquire resources, influence, and territory and to project national will.
“China’s Three Warfares [are] designed to counter US power projection,” the report says. “The United States is one of four key audiences targeted by the campaign, as part of China’s broader military strategy of ‘anti-access/area denial’ in the South China Sea.”
The Pentagon regards China’s high-technology arms, such as anti-satellite missiles and cyber warfare capabilities, as arms designed to prevent the US military from entering the region or operating freely there.
The study concludes that in the decade ahead China will employ unconventional warfare techniques on issues ranging from the Senkaku Islands dispute in northeast Asia to the disputed Paracels in the South China Sea.
For the United States, the Three Warfares seek to curtail US power projection in Asia that is needed to support allies, such as Japan and South Korea, and to assure freedom of navigation by attempting to set terms for allowing US access to the region.
The use of psychological, media, and legal attacks by China is part of an effort to raise “doubts about the legitimacy of the US presence.”