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China's Space Odyssey And Unrestricted Warfare

In the 1991 Gulf War, international military observers watched the stunning allacrity with which the United States military routed and dispatched what was then the world's fourth largest standing army. Principle among them were Chinese military professionals in the People's Liberation Army (PLA), who noted that the technological advantage the Americans commanded could not be defeated if confronted directly. Thus, in 1999, PLA Air Force colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui wrote Unrestricted Warfare, where Qiao and Wang determined that in order to defeat China's Western enemy, warfare must not be restricted to the traditional military realm but should necessarily also include fully engaged economic, energy, finance, and computer network warfare, among other forms. Defeating their American enemy required a radical shift in thinking that included non-traditional combat by uniformed soldier and civilian professional alike.

In 2007: A Chinese Space Odyssey, Fred Stakelbeck takes a brief yet studied look at events leading to and surrounding China's recent intercept and destruction of one of their own aging satellites, a move which rekindled debate on the inevitable militarization and defense of space and space assets.

The development is once again - in part - the product of Chinese observation of American military dominance and the search for the means to strike its Achilles Heel: The flow of information which drives the technological advantage.

Evaluating America’s recent conflict in Iraq, China’s communist leadership believes that a weaker military can defeat a superior force by attacking its space-based communications and surveillance systems, using powerful “lightning strikes” as a prerequisite for victory. A January 22, 2007 New York Times article noted that China has “extensively studied how the U.S. has used satellite imagery in the Persian Gulf War, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in tracking North Korea’s nuclear program.”

Not since the October 4, 1957 launch of Russia’s Sputnik has the U.S. felt as threatened by another country’s space activities. At that time, America answered the challenge, developing the greatest space program on Earth. Now, China has thrown down the gauntlet. With advances in other areas such as submarine, aircraft and warship design, China has improved its extra-regional capabilities allowing it to extend its influence beyond the Taiwan Strait. Adding a space-based military capability will only make the country more dangerous to potential future adversaries such as the U.S.

Clearly, to delay or refuse space and/or space-based defense on the principle that the heavens should remain un-militarized is to leave vulnerable and unprotected America's true Achilles Heel. The Chinese have demonstrated their capability and desire and announced that the heavens indeed are already militarized through ground-based systems. To fail to defend our satellites with a concerted effort now would be wholly irresponsible.

2007: A Chinese Space Odyssey is well worth the reader's time, as it is vital to understand our vulnerabilities, lest they remain unaddressed and undefended. A Senior Asia Fellow at the Center for Security Policy, Fred Stakelbeck is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Center for Threat Awareness.

1 Comment

Stakelbeck's look at the implications of China's work on anti-satellite capability reminds us of that nation's long-term plans for becoming a prime world power. Likely their military is also exploring electromagnetic pulse techniques for temporarily disrupting U.S. communications at times when our forces are initiating one of their swift distant interventions. However,we must not forget that it's not China's aim to destroy America. In fact, China needs us as customers for their products, balancer against nearby powers like Japan or Russia and, indeed, scientific/cultural partners. There's no doubt of course that the Chinese will strive to push us out from such areas as the Taiwan Strait where our presence impedes their national goals such as China's unification or securing the safety of their resource trade. To the extent that we do impede, they will raise the costs to us and make countermoves, like their own interventions in South America, etc.