The Challenge of Unrestricted Warfare - A Look Back and a Look Ahead

By Kevin Coleman

Let's take a trip back in time. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was created in the spring of 2003. Their sole mission focuses on protecting the United States from threats on the domestic front. So, how well have they done? Excluding the Katrina abomination, DHS has had a very successful year. The most critical measure of their success is, of course, the presence or absence of domestic terrorist attacks. When you use that as the measure, it has been a great year for the DHS. There were no major attacks on U.S. soil and only a handful of minor incidents were reported.

Even though DHS was successful in preventing domestic terrorist attacks, that does not mean that 2005 was a total success for DHS and their battle to keep all of us safe from terrorism. Domestic intelligence and surveillance are critical to prosecuting the war on terrorism. The multiple leaks of information that have taken place regarding classified programs have the entire intelligence community deeply concerned. It is unclear how the publicizing of this information has and will affect the efforts of DHS. It is difficult for people outside the security and intelligence communities to comprehend just how significantly we are exposed because of the lack of confidence in the ability of the government to keep classified data and programs secret. This is a challenge that must be addressed if DHS is to be successful in keeping us safe from the threats we face today.

DHS is combating a threat that is significantly different from any faced throughout history. The nature of conflict has changed. In order to understand the challenges DHS faces, you must first understand the evolving concept of Unrestricted Warfare (URW). Many of you may not be familiar with this term. When examining DHS closely, you begin to see that there are significant issues and challenges that must be addressed immediately. One core challenge is to recognize the significant differences in the threats we have faced in the past, the reality of the threats we face currently, and the threats we will face in the future. It is not just attacks from terrorist and radical nation states that pose threats.

The U.S. faces a new threat environment unlike any we have previously experienced. This multi-faceted threat has several unique characteristics in addition to a highly dynamic environment that seems to change on a daily, if not hourly, basis. These changes in traditional conflicts were recognized and given the name "Unrestricted Warfare." Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui of China first identified this new style of conflict in their book, Unrestricted Warfare. They were the first to voice concerns about the use of unconventional attacks. This book was written in 1999, three years before the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. These concepts were further expanded by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab and have been discussed within the Department of Defense.

Awareness of this multi-faceted threat is growing. Much more attention is being given to threat analysis and to new strategies and technologies needed to address this threat. In March of this year, The Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory and Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies are sponsoring a Symposium on Meeting the Unrestricted Warfare Threat. However, the nature of the URW threat mandates new tactics, approaches, and a new mindset in the effort to combat this threat. The U.S. must adopt a new National Security Strategy that is designed based on the unique attributes of URW.

High Level Attributes Comparison

URW Traditional
Challenges influence
Challenges power
Surprise attacks Declaration of war
Ill-defined field of battle Battle field with defined boundaries
Obscure targets Definable targets
Covert infiltration
Uniformed troops
Multi-faceted battlefronts Military battlefronts
Highly dynamic Low dynamics

What it takes to be successful in the era of Unrestricted Warfare is radically different than that which determined success in asymmetric warfare. When we look at conflict, we tend to look at land, sea and air combat. URW is different. The physical aspects of conflict are obscured. The battlefield now includes the minds of people.

The threats we face represent a new way of thinking about conflict and warfare. It is a battle for the minds of individuals, as well as for influence over culture, values and beliefs. With this dramatic change in the essence of the threats we face, the impact on the way we secure our country and wage war will be equally as significant.

Multiple aspects of life are attacked in an effort to influence and bring about change rather than focusing on attacking life itself. These tactics include disruption in the way of life and destruction of cultural symbols that are core to the opponent's way of life.

The Fourteen Facets of URW
  1. Cultural warfare
  2. Economic aid warfare
  3. Environmental warfare
  4. Financial warfare
  5. Illegal drugs warfare
  6. International law
  7. Information and media warfare
  8. Telecommunication and network warfare
  9. Political warfare
  10. Psychological warfare
  11. Resource warfare
  12. Smuggling warfare
  13. Technological warfare
  14. Terrorism
It is important to note that traditional forms of warfare will not disappear anytime soon. Most likely, any conflict will include tradition and URW techniques. In this context, nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons fall under the definition of traditional warfare.

Let's look at each of these fourteen areas of URW and assess the risk, potential impact, current defense capabilities, and magnitude of change required to address the threat. Using Trans-disciplinary Intelligence Engineering (TIE) techniques I have used in past DHS scenario development and risk analysis, I created the following high-level threat matrix. A numeric value between 1 (or low) and 5 (or high) has been assigned to each evaluation aspect within the matrix. It is important to keep in mind that this is based on the estimated capabilities, motivation, and resources of our adversaries in each of the fourteen facets of URW. This is, of course, based on open source intelligence and does not reflect any classified intelligence.

(Click for larger image)

This is global warfare in the age of technology and information. Creating the capacity to address these threats is arguably the biggest challenge for DHS. Our defenses must be transformed to meet the threat of URW. Perhaps the area that will experience the most time-critical change is that of global intelligence. For the most part, every one of these types of warfare can be planned and launched from anywhere in the world. When all we had to worry about was conventional warfare, the intelligence community concentrated their efforts on a handful of countries. They knew the major suppliers of weapons and monitored them. They also created early warning and surveillance systems to alert them to an attack. They do not have the same capabilities with respect to URW. The information sources required to defend against URW necessitate significant business knowledge and intelligence. This requires collaboration. Previously, the intelligence community operated independently. In URW, they will need a strategic partnership with the private sector.

The change in almost every aspect of conflict and warfare creates the need to redefine success. There is no switch that, when flipped, ends the war- no single battle that brings the conflict to an end.

Unrestricted Warfare
Asymmetric Warfare
Winning = Mindset Change Winning = Overpowering Force and Power
Measured by Influence Measured by Control

A critical success factor will be the ability of the U.S. federal government to educate the masses on the new reality of unrestricted warfare and what changes are necessary to safeguard our way of life.

As we explore URW, our understanding of these threats will continue to evolve. With this evolution comes change. At issue is the fact that there is a limited amount of change that can be absorbed by any individual, group, or organization. When the amount of change exceeds the ability of an individual, group, or organization to adapt, it creates resistance and delays in transformation. Delays are unacceptable in this venue.

This is a battle for the minds of people. Winning the minds of people brings with it power and influence. To win the minds of a targeted audience requires capabilities that are not in our current complement of weapons. We must create new capabilities, like "Digital Warriors," to combat the threat of electronic warfare and information weapons. In addition, our arsenal requires reengineering of our global intelligence resources. New intelligence sources, expansion of our intelligence gathering capabilities, and closer cooperation between intelligence organizations around the world are just a few of the changes required to address these new threats.

For these reasons, technology will become even more important. Just consider the vast amount of intelligence required to monitor specific threats along the 14 facets of URW. Given that backdrop, consider the significant amount of information about what we call the 5Ws (who - what- where- when "“ why) about specific plots and clandestine efforts to wage URW. Then dive down to the next level of detail, the data supporting the 5Ws. You begin to consider the time and location based intelligence maps that will need to be created in near real time to defend against these threats. The database, GIS, visualization and other requirements will drive the advancement of information technology for decades to come. We are truly moving from Guns, Guards and Gates to Information, Intelligence and Integration as the deciding factor in the conflicts yet to come.

In the coming year, this column will focus on the fourteen facets of URW. We will examine the threats, challenges, and technologies that need to be deployed to fight this type of war. This article will also serve as a foundation for understanding the remaining three parts of counter-terrorism for corporations and why business is such a critical component in our war on terrorism as well as the other 13 facets of unrestricted warfare.

Published Thursday, January 12th, 2006

Written by Kevin Coleman

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