This article was excerpted from the Military Forum column, Liberation Army Daily, June 25, 1996.
A future war, which may be triggered by a disruption to the network of the financial sector, may be combat between digitized units or a two-man show, with the spaceman (or robot) on the stage and the think tank behind the scenes. It may also be an interaction in the military, political, and economic domains, making it hard to define as a trial of military strength, a political argument, or an economic dispute. All this has something to do with the leap forward of modern technology and the rise of the revolution in the military domain.
The technological revolution provides only a stage for confrontations. Only when this revolution is married with military operations can it take on the characteristics of confrontation. Some believe that the information superhighway, the Internet, computers, and multimedia are synonymous with commerce, profit, and communications. In fact, this is far from true.
Thanks to modern technology, revolutionary changes in the information domain, such as the development of information carriers and the Internet, are enabling many to take part in fighting without even having to step out of the door. The rapid development of networks has turned each automated system into a potential target of invasion. The fact that information technology is increasingly relevant to people's lives determines that those who take part in information war are not all soldiers and that anybody who understands computers may become a "fighter" on the network. Think tanks composed of nongovernmental experts may take part in decisionmaking; rapid mobilization will not just be directed to young people; information-related industries and domains will be the first to be mobilized and enter the war; traditional modes of operations will undergo major changes; operational plans designed for information warfare will be given priority in formulation and adoption; and so on and so forth. Because other technologies are understood by people only after they are married with information technology and because information technology is becoming increasingly socialized, information warfare is not the business of armed forces alone. Conditions exist that effectively facilitate the participation of the public in information warfare.
Information is intercommunicative and therefore must not be categorized by sector or industry. It is very wrong to think that information in only the military field is worth keeping secret and that information for civil purposes does not belong to the category of secrecy. In fact, if no security measures are taken to protect computers and networks, information may be lost. Similarly, if we think it is the business of intelligence and security departments to obtain the enemy's information and that it has nothing to do with anyone else, we would miss a good opportunity to win an information war.
In March 1995, Beijing's Jingshan School installed a campus network with 400 PCs, an "intelligent building" design, and multimedia technology. The school runs 10 percent of its courses through computers; students borrow books from the library through a computerized retrieval system; and experiments are conducted with demonstrations based on multimedia simulation systems. This illustrates in microcosm the many information networks that our country has built with its own resources. More than one million PCs were sold in China in 1995, and the figure is expected to reach 2.7 million in 1996. Faced with the tendencies of a networking age, if we looked upon these changes merely from a civil perspective and made no military preparations, we would undoubtedly find ourselves biased and shortsighted.
An information war is inexpensive, as the enemy country can receive a paralyzing blow through the Internet, and the party on the receiving end will not be able to tell whether it is a child's prank or an attack from its enemy. This characteristic of information warfare determines that each participant in the war has a higher sense of independence and greater initiative. However, if organization is inadequate, they may each fight their own battles and cannot form joint forces. Additionally, the Internet may generate a large amount of useless information that takes up limited channels and space and blocks the action of one's own side. Therefore, only by bringing relevant systems into play and combining human intelligence with artificial intelligence under effective organization and coordination can we drown our enemies in the ocean of an information offensive.
A people's war in the context of information warfare is carried out by hundreds of millions of people using open-type modern information systems. Because the traditional mode of industrial production has changed from centralization to dispersion and commercial activities have expanded from urban areas to rural areas, the working method and mode of interaction in the original sense are increasingly information-based. Political mobilization for war must rely on information technology to become effective, for example by generating and distributing political mobilization software via the Internet, sending patriotic e-mail messages, and setting up databases for traditional education. This way, modern technical media can be fully utilized and the openness and diffusion effect of the Internet can be expanded, to help political mobilization exert its subtle influence.
In short, the meaning and implications of a people's war have profoundly changed in the information age, and the chance of people taking the initiative and randomly participating in the war has increased. The ethnic signature and geographic mark on an information war are more pronounced and the application of strategies is more secretive and unpredictable.
Information-based confrontations will aim at reaching tangible peace through intangible war, maintaining the peace of hardware through software confrontations, and deterring and blackmailing the enemy with dominance in the possession of information. The bloody type of war will increasingly be replaced by contention for, and confrontations of, information.
The concept of people's war of the old days is bound to continue to be enriched, improved, and updated in the information age to take on a new form. We believe any wise military expert would come to the same conclusion.