National security entities in Taiwan and the US — including the National Security Bureau and the Institute for National Defense and Security Research — have in the past few weeks sought to raise awareness within their respective armed forces and the wider public about indications and analyses that China is waging “cognitive warfare” against its adversaries.
China’s efforts were born out of, and still closely emulate, Russian cognitive warfare. During the 2014 Ukraine crisis, the Kremlin employed cognitive warfare tactics, including military subversion, disinformation and “mind control” to annex Crimea. The Kremlin’s successes in this field increased Beijing’s appetite to annex Taiwan.
Russia had deployed political, economic and military coercion against Ukraine long before the crisis unfolded.
After former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych took office in 2010, he signed an agreement with Russia to exchange supplies of Russian natural gas for an extension on the annual lease of the Sevastopol Naval Base on the Crimean Peninsula for use by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet until 2014 and beyond. The agreement allowed Russian forces to continue operating within Crimea and made it easier for Russia to infiltrate public opinion in Ukraine.
Next, the Kremlin spread disinformation, and carried out psychological and public opinion attacks within Crimea to implant a positive perception of Russia in people’s minds. Having employed cognitive warfare to “soften up” its residents and instill cognitive bias, the Kremlin was able to annex the area.
China has been using the cognitive bias of its “one China” policy as a diplomatic tool to restrict Taiwan’s representation on the international stage and thwart Taiwan from developing friendly relations with other nations.
The policy is complimented by the normalization encirclement “exercises” by People’s Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft and ships.
The intention is to gradually whittle away the Taiwanese military’s alertness and vigilance.
As part of this tactic, PLA aircraft have begun to regularly flout the tacit agreement not to cross the median line of the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwanese military personnel are becoming increasingly worn out by the tangible show of force and the psychological warfare aspect.
At the same time, disinformation tactics are also being employed by the PLA to sow division and chip away at morale within Taiwan’s armed forces.
Each of these are examples of cognitive warfare tactics, with the ultimate goal to produce an environment conducive to a successful military invasion of Taiwan.
While a country might possess a large military force and considerable resources, the foundation for victory in battle rests in the stability of its leadership, morale and logistics — an idea endorsed by British military theorist B.H. Liddell Hart in his book Strategy and Chinese philosopher Mencius (孟子).
It is crucial that Taiwanese are aware of China’s true intentions, that trust in government institutions is enhanced and more support is found to bolster national defense.
This would prevent Taiwan from falling into the trap of China’s cognitive warfare, act as a bulwark against PLA psychological warfare and defeatism, and help the nation keep its precious sovereignty and democracy.
Hou Hsin-tien is an instructor at the National Defense University.
Translated by Edward Jones
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