UK Defense Staff Chief Warns China and Russia Conducting ‘Political War’

Photo: LA(Phot) Simmo Simpson/MOD via Wikimedia Commons

The Chief of the UK Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter, warned that China and Russia already believe they are at war with the West and said, “We must fundamentally change our thinking if we are not to be overwhelmed.” The general noted that Russia and China are not fighting a regular war, but waging “political war” on the West with the express goal of “breaking our willpower.”

Carter said hostile powers “cannot afford” a regular military conflict and so are turning to cyberattacks and disinformation. These attacks, he noted, while falling outside the traditional definition of war still aim to defeat us by sowing division and sapping our “economic, political and social resilience.”

Gen. Carter gave these warnings while speaking to the Policy Exchange think tank in London on Wednesday, reported the Daily Mail. He also announced Britain’s new “Integrated Operating Concept 2025” intended to face these evolving threats, which he called the greatest shift in the UK’s defense strategy “for a generation.”

The Integrated Operating Concept will focus on bolstering defenses which fall below the “threshold” of traditional warfare.

“These regimes [China and Russia] believe that they are already engaged in an intense form of conflict that is predominantly political rather than kinetic,’ Carter said, according to the Daily Mail, adding “Their strategy of “political warfare” is designed to undermine cohesion, to erode economic, political and social resilience, and to compete for strategic advantage in key regions of the world.”

“Their goal is to win without going to war: to achieve their objectives by breaking our willpower, using attacks below the threshold that would prompt a war-fighting response,” argues the general, adding, “Our adversaries have studied our ‘Western way of war’, identified our vulnerabilities and modernized their own capabilities to target them.”

Some worry that this new UK defense strategy is partly a cover for reducing spending on traditional high-end military items such as aircraft and ships. Unfortunately, China and Russia still possess the full spectrum of real warfighting capabilities and are increasing them daily as well. In his remarks, the general did not ignore these threats.

Singling out China, the Daily Mail noted that Gen. Carter said Beijing is “forging a future of mass surveillance… and is rapidly exporting these tools to other parts of the world.” He added that, in addition to amassing a weapons arsenal that includes cutting edge ballistic missiles, China has marshaled technological forms of attack:

It [China] commands satellite information attack and defence forces, electronic assault forces and Internet assault forces, campaign information operations forces, which include conventional electronic warfare forces, anti-radiation assault forces, and battlefield cyber warfare forces.

Regarding the Russia threat, Gen. Carter pointed to the “St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency troll farm which engages in sowing division abroad,” but added that “Russia has created battle laboratories from real-life events to develop their tactics and battle harden a new generation of soldiers.”

The Pentagon and U.S. national security establishment should take General Carter’s warnings and efforts to heart as it develops its own approach to combat this nontraditional political warfare threat. But the U.S. cannot afford the luxury of substituting one threat for the other. The U.S. needs to prepare for both kinetic and non-kinetic warfare.

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Paul Crespo is the Managing Editor of American Defense News. A defense and national security expert, he served as a Marine Corps officer and as a military attaché with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) at US embassies worldwide. Paul holds degrees from Georgetown, London, and Cambridge Universities. He is also CEO of SPECTRE Global Risk, a security advisory firm, and President of the Center for American Defense Studies, a national security think tank.

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