Unrestricted Warfare

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The cover to the original Simplified Chinese edition

Unrestricted Warfare: Two Air Force Senior Colonels on Scenarios for War and the Operational Art in an Era of Globalization[1] (simplified Chinese: 超限战; traditional Chinese: 超限戰; lit. '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).[2] 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 as political warfare.[3][4][5] Such means include using legal tools (see lawfare) and economic means as leverage over one's opponent and circumvent the need for direct military action.[6][7][8][9]


Taylor Fravel pointed out a common error in translation of the subtitle of the book. While it was translated and understood in the West by many as "China’s Master Plan to Destroy America", the actual subtitle was "Two Air Force Senior Colonels on Scenarios for War and the Operational Art in an Era of Globalization".[1]

Source of text[edit]

The English translation of the book was made available by the Foreign Broadcast Information Service in 1999.[2] 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.[10] A French translation was published in 2003.[11]

The text has been cited by the US government, e.g. on a military website by James Perry 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.[12]

Weaknesses of the United States[edit]

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 attacks along these lines.[13]

Alternative methods of attack[edit]

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."


A 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[edit]

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[edit]

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 instance of threats to nations within the scope of the concept of "unrestricted warfare" 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[edit]

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.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

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

Unrestricted Warfare is heavily referenced in the non-fiction 2019 book Stealth War: How China Took Over While America's Elite Slept.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b McReynolds, Joe (10 January 2017). China's Evolving Military Strategy. p. 41. ISBN 9780985504595.
  2. ^ a b Liang, Qiao; Xiangsui, Wang (1999). "Unrestricted Warfare". People's Liberation Army Literature and Arts Publishing House. CiteSeerX
  3. ^ Commin, G; Filiol, E (2015). "Unrestricted Warfare versus Western Traditional Warfare: A Comparative Study". Journal of Information Warfare. 14 (1): 14–23. ISSN 1445-3312. JSTOR 26487515.
  4. ^ Hagestad, William T. (2012). 21st Century Chinese Cyberwarfare. IT Governance Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84928-334-2. JSTOR j.ctt5hh5nz.
  5. ^ a b c Spalding, Robert (October 2019). Stealth War: How China Took Over While America's Elite Slept. Penguin. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-593-08434-2. OCLC 1119746281.
  6. ^ Adams, David A. (July 2003). "Managing China's Transition". Proceedings & Naval History Magazine. ISSN 0041-798X.
  7. ^ Van Messel, John A. (January 2005). "Unrestricted Warfare: A Chinese Doctrine for Future Warfare?". Archived from the original on June 8, 2020. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Bunker, Robert J. (March 2000). "Unrestricted warfare: Review essay I". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 11 (1): 114–121. doi:10.1080/09592310008423265. ISSN 0959-2318. S2CID 145170451.
  9. ^ Cheng, Dean (March 2000). "Unrestricted warfare: Review essay II". Small Wars & Insurgencies. 11 (1): 122–123. doi:10.1080/09592310008423266. ISSN 0959-2318. S2CID 144355000.
  10. ^ Qiao, Liang; Santoli, Al; Wang, Xiangsui (2000). Unrestricted warfare : China's master plan to destroy America. Internet Archive. ISBN 9780971680722. OCLC 1035666615. OL 18168579W.
  11. ^ Qiao, Liang; Wang, Xiangsui; Denès, Hervé (2003). La guerre hors limites (in French). Paris: Payot. ISBN 978-2-7436-1149-1. OCLC 63131359.
  12. ^ Perry, James D. (January 2000). "Operation Allied Force: The View from Beijing". Aerospace Power Journal. ISSN 2169-2246. OCLC 44432584. Archived from the original on June 8, 2020.
  13. ^ Bolander, Jeffery W. (February 2001). "The Dragon's New Claws". Marine Corps Gazette.

External links[edit]