Does Beijing learn from Russia? – AMAC
Beijing draws new lessons from Russia’s attack on Ukraine. If Beijing aims to attack contiguous countries, and Taiwan, India and less powerful nations are in danger, Communist China will not repeat Russia. Why?
Russia, which China declared a strong ally a few weeks ago, is stumbling badly. The lessons are many, continue to accumulate and create a geopolitical backdraft, burning away what seemed untouchable, teaching what seemed not worth learning.
First, the so-called modern Russian army was supposed to be quick on its feet, agile like the old Soviet army and navy were not. It was supposed to be well equipped, provisioned and manned, with the ability to move quickly on command.
It turned out to be a fiction, a happy self-delusion which, in times of war, appears not only false, but embarrassing. Yes, Russia has superior firepower, numbers and endurance. Russia is Russia, but the counterforce, the power and the spirit of resistance proved to be more than competent.
The resistance proved they could win on the battlefield, inflicting serious damage. He can also win in the world of public relations, attracting hearts and minds to the cause. This, in turn, increases support. Russia seems to have miscalculated the chances of a quick victory on the battlefield and the impact of losing the scenario.
Second, China is witnessing – along with all of us – a seemingly huge Russian intelligence failure. Sometimes intelligence failures are predictable. When the target is closed, information scarce, human intelligence vital and national technical resources limited, things go wrong.
When the United States sought to assess and act on the intelligence we had from Iraq in the early 2000s, knowing that sources and methods were limited, the numerous inferences, more unknown than known, the odds were even, we could be wrong, and we did.
On the other hand, when the sources are opened, penetrated, the battlefield conditions are obvious to the point of transparency, and the wrong questions are asked, the right questions are never asked, and the result is presumed positive when ‘a little research might reveal even odds, the intelligence community failed. Not seeing that the Ukrainians, like the Poles in the 1980s, would fight to the death was a Russian intelligence failure.
Third, as China collects data on this conflict, unseen factors – the shadow of history, often overlooked – can be powerful. Unseen historical factors can be so powerful that they overwhelm what seemed to be facts.
An example from the past: when the Second World War began, Nazi Germany had 60 battle-hardened divisions. The United States had one. In early analyzes of Germany, the spirit that drove Americans was missing, the power that resides in the defenders of freedom, democracy, law – and its power never ends.
The Russian analysis lacked an appreciation for the history of those in Ukraine who resented Soviet rule, who resisted a recasting of history that fails in their life experience. Even though many Russians view Ukraine as a kind of birthright, many Ukrainians don’t buy into this story.
Fourth, Russia – and China will take stock – has underestimated the power of diffuse, seemingly disconnected and conflicted democratic governments – and their corporate sectors – to come together when the chips are down when what has makes them what they are is endangered.
Europe, America and much of the world are indulging in economic and political crossings of swords – when indulging has little cost, some economic, some prestige-driven, nothing existential. But when a communist, autocratic, pseudo-fascist country decides to go “medieval” and attack, they come together.
This too seems lost to Russia and yet will now be understood by China. If you attack a free nation, assuming the rest of the world is amoral, immoral, or indifferent, watch your sixes as the power of unity can be deafening.
Fifth, Russia’s computer prowess has kind of disappeared. They were expected to coordinate attacks in the physical and cyber worlds, but they failed. The failure is glaring. If China has adventurous ambitions – which it clearly does – it is rethinking the cyber-physical connection.
The failure is remarkable. While some US defense contractors, suppliers and exporters of LNG, as well as Ukrainian companies, government institutions and personnel have been targeted, the impact has been modest and the counterforce – state and non-state actors states attacking Russia – was real.
Rather than the expected coordination, “significant cyberattacks in Ukraine, the shutdown of the country’s power grid for example…large-scale operations have not materialized.” To see, Where is Russia’s cyberblitzkrieg?.
While “cyberattacks and disinformation are definitely part of Russia’s overall strategy to stir up chaos and instill fear,” the coordination has been hard to see or follow, leading many to believe that the art is not is not developed. See, for example, Follow-up of cyber operations and actors of the Russian-Ukrainian war; Hackers targeted US LNG producers ahead of war in Ukraine.
What China will take from all this could be: caution. The first thought was that China would root for Russia, knowing the invasion was coming. Their recent “security pact” would be the first step in a multifaceted and mutually reinforcing confrontation with the free world, a Western territory with ideals.
However, what this invasion shows cannot be missed by China. Military modernization, effective intelligence, applicable history, Western unity, and cyber-physical coordination all matter. You get it wrong, even one of them gets it wrong – not to mention all of them – and you’ll stumble, start sucking in air and have to change on the fly – with no clear outcome.
China can learn lessons from this conflict that no one thought of in the cards. Russia shows how not to attack a free country, how not to be a foolish aggressor, how not to fight a short war, what happens when you get the big things wrong – capability, supply lines, morale, intelligence , history lessons, Western determination, cyber-coordination and the motivation of free people to fight.
China is learning – or should be. The sobering lesson could encourage future stability.
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