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Terrorism and the “Unlimited War"
Yang Fan
9/25/2002



As terrorism once again becomes the focus of discussion, people naturally draw the connection between it and the new term "unlimited war.” What is “unlimited war?" Co-authors of the book The Unlimited War give the following definition:

"... The war at this globalization time abolished the prestige of the weapons in the war, and has re-arranged the relationship between the weapons and the war on a new basis. As the new concept of weapon comes on the stage, it has made the face of war gradually become obscure. Shouldn't a hacker's attack be counted as a hostile act? Shan't we regard it as a war to use financial tools to destroy a nation's economy? Didn't CNN's report on an American soldier's body exposing on a Mogadishu street shake the determination of Americans to act as the global military policemen, and consequently changed the world strategic setup? Also, should one judge the act of war by looking at the methods or looking at the effect? Obviously, one can no longer give satisfactory answers to the above questions with the traditional definition of war. As we suddenly realize that all these non-war actions can possibly become the new constitution factors of the future war, we have no choice but to give a new name to this kind of new model of war: the war that surpasses all thresholds and limits, or in brief: the unlimited war."

The authors infer that all countries worshipping modern sovereignty have already self-consciously expanded the boundaries for security to encompass politics, economy, resources, nationality, religion, culture, the Internet, geography, environment, outer space, and so on. To defend this "pan-territory" of national interest and national security, "only having the sword is insufficient."

Expounding on earlier war tactics, the combination of weapons, methods, battle formation, and strategy employed was all within the "limits" in the military domain; this kind of "narrow-sensed" combination is obviously insufficient nowadays. The authors argue that the combination must "surpass all boundaries and limits, and only conform to the requirements of the winning rules to make the combinations for the war."

Why does "unlimited war" provide guidance for terrorism? As we know, throughout human history, people have oftentimes resorted to unscrupulous means in times of war and conflict – slaughtering prisoners of war in the battlefields, using biochemical warfare, conducting espionage and terrorist activities such as murder and sabotage, etc. Along with the end of World War I came the establishment of civil order in the society, and various countries also reached an agreement on the rules of war. These rules provided guarantees to the normal livelihood of the people in belligerent countries in addition to safeguarding the lives of the wounded and the prisoners of war. Under these rules of war, various treaties that limit the development of strategic weapons have effectively suppressed the eruption of a global-scale war. Now, however, with the support of the “unlimited war” theory, all kinds of rascal methods that violate the conventions of war are very likely to become the key to future world wars.

Even before the 9-11 attacks, the authors had summarized Bin Laden's "achievement" in war -- of using two vehicles full of explosives to shock the world. That is to say, the objective of war that originally required the use of enormous military strength and modern weapons like missiles can actually be realized with only two vehicles of explosives. The authors also point out the terrorist activities are a mice-playing-cats type of unbalanced, asymmetrical warfare, which is the best annotation in summarizing terrorist activities into military theory. One can imagine how joyful it would make Taliban soldiers who are in primitive conditions to obtain The Unlimited War.

Expanding the targets of attack to include common people is to realize individual benefits through sacrificing the innocent. Sacrificing the innocent makes any defense for terrorist acts weak and meaningless, even when used under the guise of so-called nationalism or national interests.

Similarly, the Internet is the public information tool belonging to the world's people, and must have its own order. If any hackers disregard moral justice, and use so-called national interest as an excuse for carrying out an "unlimited war" to destroy public order, they must be condemned and sanctioned by the international society. One must say that the Chinese Communist Party is supporting a large number of Internet police to destroy and interfere with order on the Internet. Although this may have some effect on temporarily maintaining its own political power, sooner or later it must eat the bitter fruit of its own making.

Carrying out terrorist acts to benefit an individual or a group is a cruel and violent challenge to the world civilization and international order, and runs counter to the democratic spirit of freedom, dignity, justice, and benevolence. The 9-11 tragedies have instead aroused the American people's patriotism, and the American people are now united as one to support the Bush administration's anti-terrorism war. Then what are the consequences from the 9-14 tragedy in China? The Chinese Communist authorities are fearful of people knowing more, nevertheless, the Internet has actually enabled the Chinese people to see and hear more, and to no longer be hoodwinked by the Communist Party. The Chinese authorities' control over the media has encountered a total defeat this time in front of the information freedom provided by the Internet.

The negative consequence of the 9-14 incident is just that. However, it has made the terrorists realize that there is another more powerful avenue that they can use besides the explosive - poison. It is more lethal than arson and explosion, and moreover, it is by far the best terrorist method to protect the safety of the terrorists themselves.

Once the new concept of the "unlimited war" and its tactics are mastered by terrorists, without a doubt these will put a legitimate coat on all kinds of terrorist activities. The theory that "the weak group" can resort to unscrupulous means to strive for its own benefit has elevated those anti-humanity crimes such as explosion, murder, arson, poisoning, Internet attacks that harm the innocent, into something that is rational, technological, and scientific. It causes people who originally had sober minds to give up the peaceful idea of resolving conflicts through laws and non-violent resistance, replacing it with the immoral and rascal "unlimited war."

When conflicts of interest arise between different levels of society or different countries, and when "unlimited war" becomes the most likely solution, then China will inevitably fall into violence and turbulence, and our world will also fall into the endless chaos caused by war.

* Yang Fan is a free-lance writer based in Beijing, P.R. of China. The author's view in this article does not necessarily reflect that of AFAR.

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