Unrestricted Warfare

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File:Unconditional warfare.jpg
The cover to the original Simplified Chinese edition

Unrestricted Warfare (超限战, literally "warfare beyond bounds") is a book on military strategy written in 1999 by two colonels in the People's Liberation Army, Qiao Liang (乔良) and Wang Xiangsui (王湘穗). Its primary concern is how a nation such as China can defeat a technologically superior opponent (such as the United States) through a variety of means. Rather than focusing on direct military confrontation, this book instead examines a variety of other means. Such means include using International Law (see Lawfare) and a variety of economic means to place one's opponent in a bad position and circumvent the need for direct military action.[1]

Source of text

The English translation of the book was made available by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service on the internet in 1999. Reportedly, the United States Naval Academy wrote to the authors to ask for permission to use this book.[citation needed] The book was then published in English by a previously unknown Panamanian publisher, with the subtitle "China's Master Plan to Destroy America" and a picture of the burning World Trade Center on the cover. These additions were thought to be misinterpretations of the text, not intended by the original authors. A French translation was published in 2003.[2]

The text has been cited by the U.S. government, e.g. on a military website by James Perry[3] who states:

In February 1999, the PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House issued Unrestricted Warfare, a book written by two PLA air force political officers, Senior Col Qiao Liang and Senior Col Wang Xiangsui. The venue for publication and the laudatory reviews of the book in official publications suggested that Unrestricted Warfare enjoyed the support of some elements of the PLA leadership. The Western press quoted various sensational passages from the book and described it in terms that verged on hyperbole. The book was not a blueprint for a “dirty war” against the West but a call for innovative thinking on future warfare.

Weaknesses of the United States

The book argues that the primary weakness of the United States in military matters is that the US views revolution in military thought solely in terms of technology. The book further argues that to the US, military doctrine evolves because new technology allows new capabilities. As such, the book argues that the United States does not consider the wider picture of military strategy, which includes legal and economic factors. The book proceeds to argue that the United States is vulnerable to attack along these lines.[4]

Alternative methods of attack

Reducing one's opponent, the book notes, can be accomplished in a number of ways other than direct military confrontation. The book notes that these alternative methods "have the same and even greater destructive force than military warfare, and they have already produced serious threats different from the past and in many directions for...national security."


Lawfare, or political action through transnational or non-governmental organizations can effect a policy change that would be impossible otherwise. Because of the international nature of the modern world and activism, it is much easier for nation-states to affect policy in other nation-states through a proxy.

Economic warfare

Owing to the interconnected nature of global economics, nations can inflict grievous harm on the economies of other nations without taking any offensive action.

Network warfare

see iWar

One of the better-known alternatives in this book is the idea of attacking networks. Networks are increasingly important in not only data exchange but also transportation, financial institutions, and communication. Attacks that disable networks can easily hamstring large areas of life that are dependent on them for coordination. One example of network warfare would be shutting down a network that supplies power. If there is a significant failure in the power grid caused by the attack, massive power outages could result, crippling industry, defense, medicine, and all other areas of life.


Another famous instance of Unrestricted Warfare policy is terrorism. Terrorism is used by a group to gain satisfaction for certain demands. Even if these demands are not satisfied, a terrorist attack can have vastly disproportionate effects on national welfare. One only has to look at the economic crisis that followed the terrorist attacks against the United States, or the extensive security measures put in place after those same attacks. Terrorism erodes a nation's sense of security and well being, even if the direct effects of the attacks only concern a minute percentage of the population.

Defense against unrestricted warfare

The authors note that an old-fashioned mentality that considers military action the only offensive action is inadequate given the new range of threats. Instead, the authors advocate forming a "composite force in all aspects related to national interest. Moreover, given this type of composite force, it is also necessary to have this type of composite force to become the means which can be utilized for actual operations. This should be a "grand warfare method" which combines all of the dimensions and methods in the two major areas of military and non-military affairs so as to carry out warfare. This is opposite of the formula for warfare methods brought forth in past wars."


As the authors state, the new range of options combined with the rising cost (both political and financial) of waging traditional warfare results in the rising dominance of the new alternatives to traditional military action. A state that does not heed these warnings is in dire shape.

In popular culture

The novels Foreign Influence, Full Black, and Act of War by Brad Thor are based on this book.


  1. "Managing China's transition." David A Adams. United States Naval Institute. Proceedings. Annapolis: Jul 2003. Vol.129, Iss. 7; pg. 50 Source type: Periodical ISSN: 0041798X ProQuest document ID: 370666521 Text Word Count 2870 Document URL: [1] (Proquest subscription required) retrieved June 19, 2007
  2. http://pourconvaincre.blogspot.com/2009/08/la-guerre-hors-limites.html
  3. Aerospace Power Journal, Summer 2000 accessed June 21, 2007
  4. "The dragon's new claws." Jeffrey W Bolander. Marine Corps Gazette. Quantico: Feb 2001. Vol.85, Iss. 2; pg. 58, 2 pgs. Document types: Book Review-Favorable Source type: Periodical ISSN: 00253170 ProQuest document ID: 68630540 Text Word Count 1113 Document URL: [2] (Proquest subscription required) retrieved June 19, 2007

External links