China’s cyber-generals are reinventing the art of war

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The conventional wisdom is that the future of war will involve private robot armies, predator drones carrying out precision strikes, and maybe even the militarization of space.

All of this assumes, however, that the fundamental nature of war does not change, only the technological sophistication with which we wage this war. And, contrary to just about any military text dating back to the era of Sun Tzu, it also assumes that we always know who our enemies are.

Yes, nations still fight wars, but it’s in a totally new and different way.

That’s why the current high-profile tussle over Chinese cyberattacks is so fascinating. The White House’s recent condemnation of Chinese cyberspying is just the clearest signal to date that we have entered a new era of warfare. Instead of tallying costs in terms of dead and wounded, we now measure them in purely economic terms. Instead of a known enemy, we now have a shadowy assailant who, on the surface, is still our friend. For every claim by the United States that the Chinese have gone beyond mere spying for national security to include ruthless appropriation of commercial secrets, there is a counterclaim by China that the United States has been using the NSA as its own kind of global surveillance state.

When the new paradigm for the world is economic power rather than military power, it means that we will find ways to fight without destroying our economic relationships. The new warfare will be cheap, low-intensity and most likely, waged primarily in cyberspace. Attacks will occur against economic targets rather than military targets. Taking down a stock market or a currency has greater tactical value than taking out a hardened military target.

China’s cyber-generals are reinventing the art of war