War being transformed by the power of words
13 July 2022
All of this may seem a world away from Papua New Guinea but it provides some useful context for China’s efforts to extend its influence. People in the Pacific need to understand that nothing the Chinese do is just a gesture of goodwill or good neighbourliness
ADELAIDE – It’s important that we understand what the hell is going on in much of the world right now.
My recent comments about China in the Pacific, ‘Chinese now a real threat in the Gulf of Papua’, were informed by my reading of Major General Mick Ryan’s book, ‘War Transformed: The Future of Twenty-First-Century Great Power Competition and Conflict’.
In his book, Ryan explains in great detail how war is being reconceived as having many components other than ‘kinetic’ (violent) clashes between antagonists.
The Chinese and Russians in particular have developed quite elaborate strategic doctrines encompassing the political, social, economic, information, technological and military components of warfare.
For example, the Chinese talk about ‘informationising’ war by which they mean the strategic use of misinformation and lies to create confusion and uncertainty in the minds of antagonists.
Social media outlets like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and YouTube are used to facilitate this process.
We have also seen people like Donald Trump exploit this same technology for similar political purposes.
The current head of Putin’s military, General Valery Gerasimov, has written extensively about the transformation of warfare and other matters that occurred during the process of reforming the Russian military.
As it turns out, Gerimasov’s reforms have been less successful than he or Putin hoped.
It turns out that certain aspects of the old Soviet military culture - such as a rigid hierarchy, a sclerotic command and control system and the lack of a corps of highly trained non-commissioned officers - has greatly hindered the army’s performance in Ukraine.
Entrenched corruption and incompetence have not helped either.
In contrast, after their humiliation in the Crimea in 2014, the Ukrainians have transformed their army in some of the ways Ryan describes in his book.
They have proved smart, agile, flexible, innovative and very determined.
They have won the information war hands down, with President Zelensky being exceptionally skilled at influencing people within and outside Ukraine.
Also, the Ukrainians have used hitherto largely underestimated technological advances in missile and drone technology to disrupt, destroy and confound the Russians.
Now they are beginning to master the lethal artillery technologies provided to them by the USA, UK, France, Germany and Australia.
In theory, with enough of these weapons the Ukraine military can at least neutralise the current Russian advantage with artillery.
Whether they can ultimately drive the Russians out of Ukraine is hard to say but there is a real chance they can do so if the Western powers are willing to stand by them for the longer term.
All of this may seem a world away from Papua New Guinea but it provides some useful context for China’s efforts to extend its influence in the Pacific.
People in the Pacific and elsewhere need to understand that nothing the Chinese do is just a gesture of goodwill or good neighbourliness.
Every commercial decision and action by a Chinese company or government agency requires some level of Chinese Communist Party endorsement.
The Chinese version of state corporatism contains echoes of the way the Italian and German fascists operated in the 1930s, when the activities of major corporations were subordinated to the needs and aspirations of the state.
At the apex of the Chinese state apparatus is the communist party and, specifically, President XI.
My comments might strike people as mere exaggeration or being the product of a neurotic mind, but this is exactly what those conducting ‘non kinetic’ warfare want to achieve.
Rational scepticism or doubt is presented as irrational or as evidence of unwarranted hostility or belligerence.
Blame for unpleasantness is always attributed to someone other than the Chinese government as has been repeatedly demonstrated in relation to Australia’s problems with China (even though Morrison’s blundering incompetence and vainglorious blustering didn’t help).
Ditto Russia’s insistence that Ukraine is the aggressor in the current war and that Russia is ‘liberating’ the oppressed Russian speaking peoples of the Donbas region.
The latter is obvious nonsense but is persistently and relentlessly stated in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Sadly, many Russians continue to believe such lies.
While our own governments are hardly without sin in relation to the use and abuse of the truth, at least their more egregious lies, distortions and obfuscations are eventually found out and exposed.
I contend that the Morrison government fell victim largely to its obvious dishonesty, double dealing and sheer incompetence.
Even the incredibly slippery and disingenuous Boris Johnson has finally if belatedly been forced out of office for repeatedly lying about his behaviour (although, like Trump and Morrison, he still has his supporters!).
Talk of warring? Don't you 'warry' about that. It seems the front line is where CCP counters commerce.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 15 July 2022 at 10:30 AM
US and Them - Pink Floyd
Us and them
And after all we're only ordinary men
Me and you
God only knows it's not what we would choose to do
"Forward!" he cried
From the rear
And the front rank died
And the general sat
And the lines on the map
Moved from side to side
Black and blue
And who knows which is which and who is who?
Up and down
And in the end it's only round and round and round
"Haven't you heard it's a battle of words?"
Posted by: Bernard Corden | 14 July 2022 at 08:14 PM
Ed, your comment is correct.
Without going into the long and depressing history of democratic governments lying their heads off and cynically pursuing national self interest at the expense of other countries (e.g. bugging the government of Timor Leste), Paul's comment references the key point of difference being that we can vote the bastards out once we catch onto the lies.
Scott Morrison, Boris Johnson and even Donald Trump are cases in point.
Also, I would contend that our governments tend to rely largely upon evasion, diversion and obfuscation because they know that outright lies tend to be picked up pretty quickly by the media.
Consequently, half truths, misrepresented data and superficially plausible but erroneous reasoning are the stock in trade of our political class, especially when they are winging it under pressure.
Happily, enough of them have worked out that the truth can be both a sword and a shield and act accordingly.
Also, both our mainstream and social media may be biased, puerile and pestiferous at times but outright porkies by politicians are gleefully seized upon and reported with often lurid headlines. The ensuing public outcry can be politically lethal.
Nothing like that can or will happen in China but there is a faint possibility that it might in Russia.
Overall, I think that truth is making a bit of a come back in democratic politics at the moment, at least in the western world.
This is probably because left leaning governments are being elected which tend to be more acquainted (albeit imperfectly) with the truth than their right leaning opponents.
For those who might think that the above statement reflects my left wing bias (to which I cheerfully confess) then I suggest that they examine the record to see which side of politics tells the most egregious porkies. It is not a close contest.
Posted by: Chris Overland | 14 July 2022 at 06:16 PM
Guys, Australia has yet to try to feed, house and occupy (with a sense of meaningful participation) the size of demographic that is within lands governed directly by the CCP.
Military parades, attempting altitudes in space, and posturing are still accepted by folk tolerating CCP.
Australians no less beguiled by corporations seeming to deliver for clients, customers and consumer, yet lavishing richly at the top of the pile and markedly less at other levels.
Posted by: Lindsay F Bond | 14 July 2022 at 01:08 PM
Ed, you're right about Australian politicians being in thrall with big business and developers. The Australian economy is intimately tied to the housing and property market. That's why there is always a push for more immigration in order to drive the property market.
It's a similar situation with the US economy that is beholden to the defence industries and needs conflict to build profits.
The issue is not what drives the economy as much as whether there is an awareness and concern by the general community of what is actually happening.
The intentional 'dumbing down' of the general public by the media and those who drive the media are merely signs of who actually makes the policies and puts them into operation.
Some would say it was ever thus.
The real issue is that in a democracy, if the voters understand what the issues are and are being offered real alternatives, then there is a chance of replacing governments like we have just seen in Australia.
That could not happen in China.
Posted by: Paul Oates | 13 July 2022 at 10:49 PM
Unstated and/but implicit in your, as always, thoughtful piece, Chris - at least in my reading, is that whereas the likes of China are motivated not by good will or good neighbourliness, but, presumably, by self (and commercial) interest, we in Australia are not so inclined.
I am, I hope, not so naive to believe that our government is motivated not by self- and commercial interests but by a spirit of neighbourliness and good will.
Our actions in East Timor alone put paid, emphatically, to that notion. And the environmental devastation wrought by our mining corporations in Papua New Guinea is hardly emblematic of the aforementioned spirit.
Or perhaps I am guilty, yet again, of drawing wrong conclusions?
You state, correctly, that, 'Every commercial decision and action by a Chinese company or government agency requires some level of Chinese Communist Party endorsement.'
I experienced this first hand during ten years of 'doing business' in China. And yet the requirement to have the Party's approval/endorsement did not impede, in any way, our business success.
There is a case to be made, I believe, that the obverse is the case in Australia: that governments are in thrall, increasingly, and in all kinds of ways, to corporations.
Posted by: Ed Brumby | 13 July 2022 at 04:59 PM