Episode 52: Elsa B Kania: Catalysts for Change in the Chinese Military

Many governments watched the display of US military power in 1991, and again in 2003, and were awestruck. For some, this was a wake-up call that had far reaching consequences.

Elsa B Kania, China military expert at the Center for a New American Security, explains the significance to Peter Roberts in terms of People’s Liberation Army modernisation across fighting arms, as well as how we need to understand potential vulnerabilities and weaknesses based on the slowe

Play the episode

  • Moderator: Professor Peter Roberts
    Respondent: Elsa B Kania

    Unedited Transcript


    Moderator: Welcome to the Western Way of War. This is a weekly podcast that tries to understand the issues around how to fight and succeed against adversaries in the 2020s. I'm Peter Roberts, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute on Whitehall and every week I talk to a guest about the Western Way of War. Has it been successful? Is it fit for task today and how might it need to adapt in the future? The podcast is only possible because of the kind sponsorship of the good people at Raytheon UK, a subsidiary of Raytheon Technologies, a British company that creates jobs in England, Wales and Scotland, contributing over £700 million to the UK Economy.


    China's military capability has evolved and developed at a magisterial pace. We can and should talk more about the growth and modernisation of the PLA. Why? Because their force design is based in many ways around an idea of how to bypass and counter strengths in the Western Way of War. How often have we talked over the past 50-plus episodes about our own lack of imagination and our obsession with buzz phrases and fads? Yet, seeing our weaknesses and strengths through the eyes of others, sometimes is useful. It takes an outsider to map your strengths accurately and to understand the opportunities for them in your own selected force design.


    While so much press is given over to the PLAN, the Chinese navy and platform numbers, much of the modernisation of the PLA and the growth of the PLA Air Force has gone unreported and it shouldn't, because it's really quite significant. And the emergence of the PLA rocket force inside their support command has an equally compelling story that few appreciate. But given that a Chinese view on the Western Way of War would be interesting, we don't seem to be able to attract the Southern Theatre commander of the PLA, Admiral Yuan Yubai, to London to make some remarks, despite his love of gambling. So today, we have the next best thing, the best China analyst we know, to come and give us their view of the Western Way of War through their eyes. Elsa B. Kania is an adjunct Senior Fellow with the Technology and National Security program at the Center for a New American Security. Her research focuses on the Chinese military strategy, military innovation and emerging technologies. Her book, Fighting to Innovate, should be coming out from the Naval Institute Press in 2022. At CNAS, Elsa has contributed to the AI and Global Security Initiative and Securing Our 5G Future program. Amongst other things, she works in support of the US Air Forces, China Aerospace Studies Institute, she's a non-resident fellow in the Indo-Pacific Defence with the institute on the study of war and she's a non-resident fellow with ASPI's International Cyber Policy Centre.


    Now, my team always read Elsa's stuff, but we're not her only fans. She's been invited to testify before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission and the National Commission on Service. Elsa was named as an official 'Mad Scientist' by the US army's TRADOC and was a 2019 Fulbright scholar in Australia with ASPI. Her writings and commentary appear only in the best journals and media. Genuinely, Elsa is one of those people that is really worth following in this field, particularly because she understands China with a perspective that other watchers lack. Having been a Boren scholar in Beijing, she maintains a professional proficiency in Mandarin Chinese and thus, she can access source material rather than the translation of others. But before we get to that whole conversation, we need to situate Elsa in our broader discussion. So, Elsa, what does the Western Way of War mean to you?


    Elsa Kania: Well, first of all, thank you for the very kind introduction and I'm very glad to be joining the podcast. Yes, that's a great question and I'll perhaps answer it a bit obliquely and perhaps speak to what concerns me about the Western Way of War, at least from an American perspective. I think I would say I had initially started focusing on the Chinese military's approach to innovation because I was concerned about that, at the time, there was a tendency, at least in US circles, to underestimate the PLA and to believe that through initiatives like the Third Offset Strategy or through reinvigorating American investments in emerging technologies, the US military could re-establish or maintain a position of technological superiority or dominance, relative to the PLA and I think it's relatively established at this point and hardly surprising to say that US ways of war have very much centred upon technology and focus on maintaining superiority in that regard, and I'm concerned that that particular assumption no longer holds true in a world in which we're seeing China's rise in many of the same frontiers of science and technology, in which the US once hoped to leverage to maintain an advantage relative to China and, also, at a moment when the emerging technologies that are most transformative, whether we're talking about artificial intelligence or biotechnology, or quantum information science as a discipline that's spurring advances in quantum computing and cryptography, many of these advances are increasingly quite open and international in character. The diffusion of progress on these fronts, whether that is through international collaborations in research or the open sharing and dissemination of knowledge, including when a lot of what's at the cutting edge of AI is open and open-sourced and freely available online.


    Yes, I think the notion that we can control the diffusion of these technologies or maintain the dominance to which the US military had been accustomed in the past and in a recent history, I worry that's a dangerous assumption to make and my initial work looking at how the PLA was regarding initiatives like the Third Offset Strategy when it launched back in 2014 and some of the successive initiatives to promote defence innovation in an American context and some of my work in looking at how the PLA has tried to pursue military innovation and responding to what it regards as a revolution in military affairs in its own right, was initially motivated by a concern that there was still an attitude or dismissal of China's potential to be a truly peer rival on these fronts. I still, until recently, hear the notion that China can't innovate or that the PLA can't reform and clearly, although there are serious and systemic difficulties and challenges that China has yet to overcome in its technological capabilities or that the PLA has yet to overcome in the course of its quest for transformation, I think we shouldn't be as dismissive as we once tended to be. I think also it's through the PLA's eyes as they describe the US military, it's regarded as a powerful adversary that is still leagues ahead of it and yet also a force that is potentially vulnerable and faltering on some fronts, perhaps, in ways that do create opportunities for the Chinese military to either fight asymmetrically or to start to match the US or even surpass it in new frontiers of military power in which no military today has a clear advantage and therefore leadership or the potential for advantage going forward is much more contested at this point.


    Moderator: This was a great answer and I want to dig into a few of those points, but can I come back to something first? Because, within that answer there's a lot of talk about the military language that we've associated, probably since the Cold War, right the way through, about dominance, superiority, advantage, control. You know, these are things which almost point to the fact of an American, pre-ordained right to superiority, to be the peer amongst all others when it comes to warfare and it sits, not just within our subconscious, actually within our doctrines, these are the things we're striving to do and I've also noted or been told that lots of these terms and phrases also appear in Chinese military doctrine, too. Indeed, you know, their acceptance of the idea of fighting for dominance, of looking for advantage, of superiority, of the need to control. These phrases have translated straight into Mandarin. Is that the case?


    Elsa Kania: There are indeed some striking similarities between US and Chinese military concepts and terminology, and that is hardly accidental. Including because the PLA has often looked to the US military as the template or exemplar of what it means to be a world-class military, such as Xi Jinping has since declared the PLA aspires to be. And sometimes, in US debates on strategy or defence, we talk a lot about the return or the recent renewal of great power competition as if it's a contemporary phenomenon that sprung back into being with the new national defence strategy and in fact, I would point back to the 1990s, when great power competition (TC 00:10:00) started for the Chinese military and when they started to look at the US as their primary adversary and the benchmark by which the PLA has measured its progress towards modernity. Look at the US military's performance in the Gulf War and how the PLA studied that and was alarmed at the time by US military power and its own relative impotence, and that provoked initial changes in Chinese military strategy and continued revisions over the year to a focus on high-tech warfare, on informatised warfare, lately on intelligentised warfare and, yes, I think at each step, the PLA has looked to learn from and create elements of what the US military has, in working towards increasing its capabilities across the board, whether that is in joint operations or in developing C4ISR architecture. But, at the same time, the PLA has looked to diagnose weaknesses in US military power including, of course, the dependence upon battle networks, including space systems that have led the PLA to believe the US could be a 'no satellites, no fight' military if that enjoyment of space and of our networks were to be disrupted, such as by cyber or electronic warfare.


    And I think certainly the PLA's pursuit of informatisation over the past couple of decades has been closely informed by US concepts, initially around network-centric warfare, our ideas around the information technology revolution of military affairs, so there are aspects of its approach and thinking that are emulative, but one of the significant differences I would point to is how central information is to Chinese military strategy. We've talked a lot about information, but sometimes its importance is secondary and we don't really live up to or fully implement our own concepts in terms of recognising that information has been critical to modern operations and will be far more contested going forward than it has been in recent conflicts. I think that there are, again, reasons to question objectively whether any military can have or maintain dominance, advantage or superiority, but I think that in PLA writings and strategic thinking on concepts of operations, there is a recognition that the future tempo and complexity of operations will be far greater than in the past and information, dominance, or the capacity to control and leverage information, will be contested continuously. And (mw 12.38) also to concepts of system or system of systems confrontation and the importance of protecting your own systems and capacity to assure informed decision making, while disrupting or destroying those of an adversary. So, I think that the US military's become accustomed to fighting without having that same constant contestation that the PLA expects to see and the PLA is also trained, for instance, under complex electromagnetic conditions and really undertaken large-scale training exercises involving joint operations, integrating the focus on space and cyberspace as key domains of warfare and I think we haven't seen, to date, quite the same experimentation and exercises with a direct purpose of preparing for the possibility of a peer conflict.


    Moderator: You've gone in so much there but, again, I just want to peel it back a little bit. It strikes me that we talk about the '90s and the US performance in 1991, which shocked quite a lot of non-western states around the world, I think, into action. And, I guess '91 was a catalyst for the PLA, but again, 2003, I think, was another of those catalysts, right? I mean, you know, if there was significant change in '91, 2003 and the Shock and Awe campaign, again, brought about, not just a change in platform investments, but a sort of structural reform of the PLA and appreciation of the requirement that was needed to modernise if they were going to match up to this. So, a revisitation of everything that they'd done so far, right? It strikes me that '03, and it did all the experience going through how the US and the coalition were able to do, to mobilise kill chains really effectively, to use blue-water navies to do close air support over hundreds of miles, inland. That all of that has been a continuing driver of reform of the PLA, right? They've responded really well to this outside influence, I think.


    Elsa Kania: Absolutely and indeed there was a new revision of Chinese military strategy in 2004, so shortly thereafter and I think one of the things that the PLA has undertaken with relative success has been a focus on what I would describe as 'learning without fighting'. Often, there can be a tendency to be dismissive of the PLA and say, 'Well, they haven't fought a modern conflict.' There also are concerns within the PLA about the prospects for peace disease or Xi Jinping has called upon the PLA to be ready to fight and win and I think there's still a degree of uncertainty about the extent of that readiness, including the capability of Chinese commanders to perform under actual combat conditions, which has been why there's been so much training dedicated to those purposes. But, yes, I think that the PLA has really focused on learning from foreign militaries and studying foreign operations as a means of informing its own revisions and strategy doctrine and concepts of operations, as they play out within China's military system. And, there have been more recent and ongoing revisions to their strategic guidelines and operational regulations or, sort of, outlines on joint campaigns, including as recently as last fall, so I think it's striking to me that although the PLA has not had the experience that the US and other militaries have had of warfare in the information age, there has been a very keen focus on leveraging lessons learned from other militaries' experiences and also undertaking extensive study and analysis of relevant campaigns with the objective of driving and designing reforms in innovation that ensure the PLA could be prepared for such a future conflict scenario.


    I think sometimes, we have not quite studied as closely, lessons from our own experiences or we don't go so far to implement and adapt and for the PLA, the pressure of potentially confronting a powerful adversary, as the US is perceived to be, I think has provided a very strong impetus to overcome, eventually, the initial bureaucratic resistance to the reforms that were needed to enable (inaudible 17.05) and of course, the creation of the PLA's Strategic Support Force, which integrates cyberspace and electronic warfare capabilities, in my view-, though I may be biased because I've found it fascinating to watch over the years. In my view, the PLA's Strategic Support Force is perhaps the most significant component of these reforms, in terms of what it says about the centrality and strategic significance of space and cyberspace to the future of Chinese military operations and this is regarded as a strategic capability directly under the command of the central military commission and I think that is telling, as well.


    Moderator: What's interesting is where they note the fact that they don't have, for example, combat experience, they've been pushing to get even more operational experience in deploying units when you look at the missions for counter-piracy, when you look at missions they've been running off Djibouti, moving into bases there, where they've been looking at peace-keeping, you feel that they are stretching themselves to gain as much of this knowledge, this experience as they can, so that when come up with opportunities like, for example, against the Indians, perhaps, that they really want to exploit those opportunities, they really want to make the most of them and draw every squeeze, every ounce of value they can from each of those. And having seen the Chinese throw themselves at things like counter-piracy missions in the Arabian sea, you do get the feeling that they are really dedicated at wanting to draw this value out.


    Elsa Kania: Absolutely and I think that even though those counter-piracy operations have not provided combat experience per se, I think the PLA, in shifting to become more of a blue-water navy, has really leveraged those types of activities to build up its capacity to conduct global operations in really transitioning from a force that was more regional and focused, to one that is capable of operating quite a bit further beyond China's neighbourhood and including the logistics and communications required to undertake those efforts, as we've seen in the Gulf of Aden and beyond. I think the PLA certainly is a ways from matching the US military in its global reach and capacity for power production and yet, to achieve the CCP's core aims, it wouldn't have to. It just would have to have that relative dominance or relative efficacy within its own neighbourhood, especially with regard to the possibility of the Taiwan contingency and yet, I think beyond that, in terms of that learning and expansion, there is the, sort of, beyond the immediate objective of national reunification, as the CCP calls it, despite the fact that there has not been unification between the mainland China and Taiwan in modern history. There is also a focus beyond that particular core interest on the fact that as China's economic (TC 00:20:00) interests go global, including through One Belt One Road, Chinese military power must go global, as well, in the defence of those interests and having the capacity to defend overseas Chinese interests, whether citizens or companies, I think is an important driver of the PLA, especially the PLA Navy and their efforts to go global as well, in their own right.


    Moderator: So, there are sort of three areas that I want to get to. One is about the culture of the PLA, right across the fore-structure. One of the things that analysts often come out with is, one of the features of communist system is there's a huge amount of centralised control that doesn't allow the delegations, this idea of mission command that is talked about so much in western states, as part of our western way of war. And that that is something that communist run organisations cannot possibly get because it's outside their culture. I'm not sure that we've seen the evidence of the absence of such mission command, where you get actions by the PLA Air Force in busting air defence zones, where you get the PLA Navy interacting with the US Navy in the South China seas, where you have peacekeepers and troops against the Indians having interactions, I sort of sense that there is a feeling that mission command does exist but it's perhaps not as deeply embedded. What do you think about that?


    Elsa Kania: That is a great question and a difficult one. I guess I'll say to start by way of methodology in trying to study China and the Chinese military in particular, I am guided by the philosophy that there is no such thing as a true China expert. Including because the complexity and the, in some respects, opacity of the subjects we are trying to study ought to engender a great deal of humility, especially in conditions in which access to information and the ability to travel to China or undertake substantive engagements is highly, highly constrained. And of course, I have not been able to travel to China since fall of 2019 given COVID conditions and who knows what that outlook will look like going forward and even beyond that, opportunities to engage with the PLA directly are at best limited, even for those who are defence attachés who have doing so as a core element of their job from what I've heard, and again, as an academic, I've been able to engage in a couple of Track II dialogues, I've been able to talk to Chinese defence academics, I've certainly been able to leverage a lot of Chinese military writings and textbooks and resources. But the types of information that are accessible to those of us working with open sources in academic or analytic endeavours is inherently limited and culture is one of those intangible influences that is most difficult to evaluate objectively when we may be looking at primary sources but the information is, in a sense, second hand and also channelled through a system in which propaganda and censorship are core features of how Xi Jinping has called upon media of all kinds to tell China's story well.


    So, yes, I can look at the different initiatives underway, can look at how the PLA talks about itself and what that says about its culture or attitudes, or at least the culture and attitudes that are portrayed to an internal and external audience but it's hard to generalise about culture from the outside. And it's hard to generalise as well about an organisation that is as vast in size and scale as the PLA. And not unlike any military or bureaucracy, I suspect, that there are various and different cultures across the PLA, across and within services, in military research institutions for instance relative to other units and across different generations as well. Where senior Chinese military officers sometimes complain about new recruits and Chinese millennials for not having quite the same resilience or willingness to handle the hardships of military life. And that's why I think that some of the differences and divergences across the PLA in terms of cultures and attitudes are significant and I try to be wary of ever looking at China or any institution within China as at all monolithic given that. But I think that is a couple of impressions that I have would be first that, certainly there is a lack of trust within that system as a whole. And again when Xi Jinping reasserts as often as he does that the party controls the gun and must control the gun, and has spoken very vehemently against any prospects of nationalisation as opposed to party control of the military, I think that is telling in terms of the style of command and control, and the political conditions and ideological influences that impact the PLA and how it operates.


    Certainly we've seen, for instance, the anti-corruption campaign over the past couple of years and, sort of, concerns about the PLA's capacity to have a good work style as per one Xi Jinping's frequent exhortations, to phrase it rather euphemistically. So, I mean, one open question that is still, I think, difficult to evaluate again from a distance is how well these reforms and efforts including in anti-corruption have succeeded in deliberately transforming the PLA's culture again from a force that was once very army-centric and dominant to one that is more joined, from one that was corrupt and cronyistic to one that is now seemingly, or supposed to be, less corrupt and more professional. And one in which military professionalism is debanded (ph 26.06) but the overriding imperative is loyalty to the party and Xi Jinping in his capacity as chairman of the central military commission. So I think there are a couple of different trends and countervailing factors for the PLA as a whole as we look across recent years.


    I think another question is to what extent does the PLA have the capacity to innovate, to be creative including and experimenting with new capabilities or designing new concepts of operations? And I think that's another case where we're seeing efforts to change culture that are quite deliberate. So, for instance, there may have been efforts within the academy of military science to bring together the old AMS and the new AMS, the more traditional strategists and a new generation of technologists for what's known as theory technology integration as an approach to some of the ongoing reforms to strategy and doctrinal guidance. And there have been efforts to promote scientific and technological innovation across the PLA including with the elevation of the central military commission science and technology commission, which might be characterised approximately as intended to be analogous to DARPA in its role of trying to promote innovation in frontier technologies and really advancing science for the purpose of future military power. And through the CMC, SMTC, which is a rapid response small team that I've, sort of, described sometimes as a DIU with Chinese characteristics or fans of DIU initially started out of Shenzhen who have tried to have, sort of rapid response for procurement and acquisition, contests and competitions, bringing in new companies or universities to work on important projects, whether that's drone swarming or COVID countermeasures and the like. And beyond that there have been competitions that are relatively DARPA style in their focus. So whether for ground vehicles or different, you know, a lot of drones going on there too across nearly every service of the PLA across the past couple of years as well as large-scale tournaments in wargaming involving military members as well as students from civilian universities.


    So I think that there are efforts to create the conditions for creativity and for experimentation at least in terms of the activities that are underway. It's harder to speak to whether that is truly causing changes in culture and it's also difficult to evaluate. I think there are also some contradictions in terms of how we think about the questions of command control and initiative. So certainly there have been calls for promoting a creativity and initiative in operations and PLA has progressed from having a very scripted, tightly controlled style, at least in their training, to trying to require more initiative on lead parts of commanders at various levels in exercises. However, it's again difficult to evaluate how seriously to take claims of progress in PLA media, there often are quite candid self-assessments and critiques but yes, I think the reasons to be sceptical about, or reasons at least to recognise that it's a long process of change to move towards anything that would resemble mission command as we know it in western militaries, broadly speaking. But I think there are also questions about command and control that arise with what could either be regarded as initiative or a failure of control. So for instance, some of the incidences of unsafe encounters at sea, some of the messiness, for lack of a better word, and clashes along the border with India, (TC 00:30:00) as well as a history of moonlighting in cyber operations. Those can be regarded as, in some cases perhaps, plausible deniability in perhaps the folks involved were acting in accordance with official authorisation but there was not a willingness in the part of Beijing to be clear about that those provocative behaviours were formally sanctioned, or in some cases there's, sort of, the risk or question of whether that is simply unprofessionalism and that there has been poor control or poor judgement or a lack of effective oversight of those activities or operations.


    And it's certainly one of the potential motivations looking to the cyber side of this for the PLA's strategic support force was to have more centralised and consolidated command and control of cyber operations again directly through the central military commission. So, I think a couple of different dimension to how we think about these trends and I don't have a conclusive answer but those are a couple of initial reactions in trying to puzzle out where things have been and may be going on those fronts.


    Moderator: Elsa, that is really interesting. I want to touch on two more things very briefly if we can. The first one is about PLA land forces modernisation and, you know, we've talked about drones, we've talked about the ability for them to take the initiative but genuinely, whilst the focus has been on whether it's the rocket forces or the navy or even combat aircraft numbers that the PLA air force has been getting, the land forces in terms of their equipment capability recapitalisation programs have been stunning over the past ten years. You know, if you compare to the US which now has 22 of the US army's 35 top capability programs have got to field some kind of capability in the next four years to keep up. The Chinese have just been quietly recapitalising, rebuilding their land force capability across armoured platforms, artillery, support, communications. And you get a sense of that, I think, in some of their announcements, I admit they're (ph 32.06) announcements, and their performance on exercise. Do you get a sense that this is as significant as I'm reading into it or is there more height to it than I'm seeing?


    Elsa Kania: That's a great question, I suppose there are a couple of trends and tendencies here that may be countervailing. I mean on one hand, I'd say one of the most significant transformations has been away from the army, away from the ground forces, a recognition that the PLA cannot remain as army-centric as it has been in the past and that the PLA navy and air force, as well as the rocket force and strategic support force of course, need more of a share of the resources and more of a share of leadership positions and responsibilities as well. So I think in some respects the army was the loser from the PLA reforms we've seen play out over the past couple of years but at the same time it still has considerable capabilities to bring to bear and is rather singular, either in the scale and scope of the training it undertakes or the ways in which it continues to modernise and experiment with more traditional as well as emerging capabilities, (mw 33.15) the exoskeletons for instance among them rooting for more specialised units potentially and yes, I'm not the best person to speak to PLA grand forces in their totality but I think that it goes to show that we should continue to expect that their modernisation and force development will be worth watching going forward.


    Moderator: And I guess the final one to think about in terms of China is no conversation would be complete without a mention of Taiwan, which is almost where the western way of war and the Chinese way of war may well come into, at least theoretical conflict, if not actuality. There is a considerable examination of the PLA that says it's gearing itself in so many ways towards Taiwan reunification by force if necessary, something, I think, Xi Jinping has said he's prepared to do. And you get that idea, Jim Farnell's (ph 34.10) great idea, that the difference in timing between the Tian'anmen Square and becoming the international pariah and then the Beijing Olympics whereby every world leader arrived to be awestruck by the stadium and China was once again accepted, the move into Hong Kong and the idea that China could make a move in Taiwan with force if necessary and still be accepted back into the international community some time later. There is a sort of feeling in one way that this is preordained to happen, if Taiwan doesn't give in then China's coming by force. Where do you sit in these conversations?


    Elsa Kania: I suppose I would say I am worried and deeply concerned but I try not to be alarmist on the question of Taiwan. I think that certainly Xi Jinping has been very, very explicit about his intentions and clearly we've seen the trajectory of Chinese military modernisation as well as their training, as well as capabilities development and demonstration of said capabilities and exercises have been geared towards that type of scenario. And I worry that neither the US military nor the Taiwanese military is fully prepared for that very bad day or for that contingency and I think there's definitely a lot of work to be done in thinking about options and ways to reinforce deterrence both in terms of the military balance and in terms of diplomacy as well going forward. And yes, I don't believe the PLA is ready to fight tomorrow on that front, I think that there's still a way from reaching a point from being fully confident in their own capabilities to make that type of mission a success but I think the gap between where the PLA is today and where they'd need to be to be successful in that scenario is closing and, at times, more quickly than expected. And as someone who focuses more on emerging than traditional capabilities in this context I think also sort of beyond the PLA rocket force and the available capabilities for amphibious landing. I'm also concerned about Cyber capabilities and potential intrusions against Taiwan and ways in which that could enable coercion. I'm concerned about experimentation with all kinds of drones across all services and including interest in saturation attacks as a, sort of, means of overwhelming any force or any platforms defences going forward. And I think also beyond the scenario that comes to mind of a Chinese invasion over Taiwan or a US/China fight in response to that.


    I also worry sometimes that we think too much about kinetic threats or we think too much about the expected contingency and not enough about ways we may see more of a gradual erosion of Taiwan's autonomy today in a sort of continuation of the types of coercion whether economically, diplomatically or through cyber capabilities and the like that we've seen play out very effectively. And certainly looking at the South China sea as an example, there was no single fight or decisive moment, it was salami slicing, for lack of a better cliché, in these incremental advancement towards an objective in ways that did not allow for deterrence in the ways we've traditionally approached it or for a forceful and decisive response with the instruments we had to bring to bear at the time. So, I think we do need to give more thought to threats to Taiwan and ways in which China is already undertaking campaigns, whether cyber or influence or otherwise, that are troubling and look at options for responding to these contingencies and thinking more creatively about what beyond a kinetic fight we should be preparing for. And also, I think, the questions of politics, diplomacy and coordination really critical as well, we've had quite a fierce debate in the US around US policy in Taiwan, about our commitments to Taiwan. And I worry that uncertainty about American resolve and uncertainty within the United States about the contours of our commitment and ways in which we're going to actualise that commitment and sustain it going forward are really critical issues to work out sooner rather than later.


    Moderator: Elsa, absolutely fascinating as a view of the PLA as a reflection of the western way of war more than anything else. Superb, thank you very much. You can find our show on all major podcasting platforms including iTunes and Spotify. Your downloads now place us in the top 2.5% percent of nearly two million podcast shows globally. More and more of our listeners seem to go back and dig through previous episodes both in this series and series one. Thanks for all your feedback, good and bad, we're shaping season three of the podcast as we record this one. Much of our approach will be based on your most excellent suggestions. I do need to remind you that the accompanying digital output on the way adversaries think about conflict is available in a series called adversarial studies, you can find that and our other digital outputs at rusi.org/professionofarms. You might also consider becoming a member of RUSI, the institute was founded by the Duke of Wellington a few years (TC 00:40:00) after The Battle of Waterloo to counter the institutional and systemic bureaucracy he found in the war office. His agenda, a free thinking, stimulating intellectual curiosity and challenge remain at the heart of our work. We receive no core funding from the UK government, Ministry of Defence or military, and we're a charity so we can't make a profit. Our aim is to provide you with an opportunity to grow and improve as a member of the profession of arms. You can find details of that, and lots of other things at rusi.org/membership. The show's produced by Peppi Väänänen and Kieron Yates, and is sponsored by (mw 40.36) UK. Thanks for listening.

Western Way of War Podcast Series

A collection of discussions with those in the Profession of Arms that tries to understand the issues around how to fight, and succeed, against adversaries in the 2020s. We pose the questions as whether a single Western Way of Warfare (how Western militaries fight) has been successful, whether it remains fit for task today, and how it might need to adapt in the future? It is complemented by the ‘Adversarial Studies’ project that looks at how adversaries fight.


Professor Peter Roberts

Director, Military Sciences

Military Sciences

View profile

Explore our related content