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During this episode, Colonel Koichiro Takagi discusses his recent article: The Future of China’s Cognitive Warfare and East Asia security. He notes that China’s concept of cognitive warfare and intelligentized warfare have merged in recent years. Koichiro is currently a fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Research Question: Koichiro believes that interested students should develop innovative operational concepts which employ cutting edge technologies which are currently being developed. What is important is not the superiority of the technology itself, but the superiority of the operational concept.
Koichiro Takagi is a Colonel in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force. He is also a visiting fellow of the Hudson Institute. He is a former Deputy Chief, Defense Operation Section, 1st Operations Division, J-3, Joint Staff Japan, and has designed joint operation plans and orders in the severe security environment of East Asia.
Q: Could we start by getting your assessment of the global strategic landscape?
A: Conflicts between major powers are increasing, such as the confrontation between NATO and Russia due to the war in Ukraine and also the confrontation between the United States and China. It is noteworthy that these confrontations are occurring simultaneously with unprecedentedly rapid scientific and technological development. For example, rapidly developing commercial technologies, such as drones, commercial satellites, and social media, are being used widely in the war in Ukraine.
In order to assess the world’s strategic landscape in this situation, it is necessary to properly evaluate technological developments. For example, many experts discuss China’s invasion of Taiwan and point out the possibility of the invasion in the late 2020s or 2030s. However, given the current rapid technological development, technologies used in a war more than a decade from now will be quite different from what are used today. For this reason, it is not appropriate to discuss future wars based on existing weapons.
Let’s look back at the history of humankind here. With the development of science and technology, the warfighting domain in which wars are fought has expanded rapidly. Since the beginning of human history, humankind has fought on land. Maritime battles also have a history of a few thousand years. On the other hand, aerial, space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains have developed rapidly in the 20th century. Aircraft were first used in warfare during the Italian-Turkish War of 1911. Electromagnetic waves were also first used in warfare in the early 20th century. In the 1950s, satellites were launched and the military use of space began. Internet technology was developed in the second half of the 20th century. These technologies have changed the character of warfare.
In this way, satellites, electronic warfare weapons, and cyber technologies, which play an important role in the current war in Ukraine, are not new technologies. These are technologies that were developed in the last century and are already mature. Then, how will humankind in the 22nd century evaluate the wars of the 21st century? What will historians of the 22nd century write about the changes in warfare in the 21st century? It may be unimaginable today. However, in this context, I think artificial intelligence could bring revolutionary change.
Artificial intelligence enhances or replaces the human brain. Weapons developed in previous human history have enhanced human muscles, eyes, and ears. Compared to primitive humans, modern humans have acquired powerful killing power and are able to see their enemies thousands of miles away and communicate with their allies thousands of miles away. But for the first time in the long history of human warfare, the brain is being enhanced. The changes brought about by artificial intelligence will therefore be unprecedented and distinctive in the history of humankind.
This is my analysis of the global strategic situation. The security environment is becoming increasingly uncertain, with increasing confrontations between major powers. This change is occurring simultaneously with the rapid development of science and technology, and the character of warfare is changing dramatically. In this context, the development of artificial intelligence could bring unprecedented changes to future warfare.
Q: Could you please give our audience a little more background about your career
A: I joined Japan Ground Self-Defense Forces in 2004 after graduating from Hokkaido University with a Master’s degree in Engineering. My major at that time was information engineering, and I studied artificial intelligence and data mining. I wrote a computer program in C language and invented a bot. The bot automatically collected and analyzed millions of web pages. The algorithm of the bot was so innovative at the time that it was adopted by a start-up company.
However, my interest shifted to strategic theory after I studied at Staff College. The theories of past strategic thinkers such as Clausewitz, Mahan, and Liddell Hart piqued my interest. Since then, I have published many peer-reviewed articles. The topics I have published include unmanned weapons, space, cyber and electromagnetic domains, and cognitive warfare. These papers analyzed the latest technologies from the perspective of ancient strategic theories. Combining my knowledge of engineering and strategic theories has given me a unique perspective.
Such knowledge was best applied in practice when I was in charge of designing operational plans and orders in the planning section, J-3, Joint Staff Japan. I had to consider the cyber and electromagnetic domains in addition to the land, sea, and air domains. It was a job that utilized my total knowledge of engineering and strategic theories and was fascinating for me. I also gained insight into the East Asian security environment.
Q. You authored an article recently entitled: The Future of China’s Cognitive Warfare. Could we start by asking you to define what you mean by “Cognitive Warfare?” Also, do you perceive any differences between China’s style of warfare compared to other nations?
A: Cognitive warfare is an operational theory that affects the cognition of the human brain, and influences the will of the opponent, thereby creating a strategically favorable environment or subduing the opponent without a fight. This way of thinking has existed since ancient times. However, with the recent development of social media, artificial intelligence, and neuroscience, China is paying renewed attention to this method. It is exactly this cognitive warfare that distinguishes China’s style of warfare from that of other countries. However, this concept and the fact that China is focusing on cognitive warfare are not yet fully recognized in Western countries.
China’s cognitive warfare has two major roots. One is Unlimited Warfare, and the other is Inteligentized Warfare.
Unlimited Warfare is the title of a book privately published by two Chinese colonels in 1999. This book referred to future warfare that will employ all possible means, including psychological warfare, legal warfare, and media warfare. This was only a private publication, and the Chinese government had never officially adopted it. However, at that time, President Jiang Zemin and other government officials, and senior officers of the PLA read the book and were greatly influenced by it. In fact, in 2003, the Chinese government officially adopted the Three Battles which consist of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare. These are the concepts that affect human cognition.
The second is Intelligentized Warfare. Intelligentized Warfare is China’s new military strategy that utilizes artificial intelligence. The theory has been developed since the 2000s and the Chinese government officially mentioned it in 2019. Intelligentized Warfare utilizes operational methods based on artificial intelligence and is conducted in the land, sea, air, space, electromagnetic, cyber, and cognitive domains.
Recent statements by PLA officials indicate that the concept of cognitive warfare and Intelligentized Warfare have merged in recent years. For example, the former Deputy Chief of Staff of the PLA stated that those who gain advantages in artificial intelligence will be able to control human cognition, which is the lifeline of national security.
China seeks to leverage artificial intelligence in four aspects. One is faster information processing, the second is faster decision-making, the third is unmanned weapons including swarms, and the fourth is cognitive warfare. Of these, cognitive warfare is an issue that has not been discussed much in Western countries.
Q. What are some of the other key points in your article?
A: PLA officials and strategists state that cognitive warfare can subdue the enemy without a physical fight. But is it really possible to subdue the enemy only by non-physical means, as they say? This is the research question of my article.
Let’s look at the war in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine illustrates the importance of strategically disseminating information, influencing public opinion, and winning the support of international public opinion in the digital age. The Ukrainian government has disseminated accurate information and has also appealed to the international community for Ukraine’s courage and the atrocities committed by Russian forces. These efforts have helped to win support from a number of countries.
U.S. support also played an important role. The United States utilized rapidly declassified information and publicized President Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine before the war began. This strategy declined the credibility of Russia’s strategic narrative, fostering an environment of support for Ukraine.
Thus, the war in Ukraine demonstrates the importance of influencing people’s cognition. However, Ukraine cannot regain lost territories solely through cognitive warfare. Ultimately, Ukraine had to fight in physical domains. One of the lessons of the war in Ukraine is that while cognitive warfare is important, cognitive warfare alone cannot win a war. Winning a war through cognitive warfare without direct combat, as Chinese theorists claim, will not be feasible with current technologies.
Q. How should these concepts that we’ve been discussing inform current East Asia security policy?
A: China has developed a theory of cognitive warfare. In order to counter this, the United States and its allies, as democratic countries, need to strengthen their own theories. Influencing the cognitive domain of another country requires understanding its culture, identifying targets, and creating strategic narratives tailored to its characteristics. In cognitive warfare, information is ammunition, and the right bullet needs to be fired at the right time and place.
The war in Ukraine illustrates the importance of winning international public support. However, the feasibility of subduing the enemy through cognitive warfare alone, without physical fighting, is questionable. Therefore, cognitive warfare needs to be effectively integrated into operations in the land, sea, air, space, and cyber domains. We need such a new concept of operations.
Q. We have lots of students and researchers who listen to this podcast. Could you offer a fruitful research question that’s related to the kinds of things we’ve been discussing?
A: I like to think about the future. So, I would suggest looking into which technologies will have a decisive impact on the future security environment and what impact they will have.
In the 1920s, a few innovative strategists bet on the future of tanks. Tanks in the time of World War I were prone to breakdown, were not technologically mature, and did not always have a good reputation for their performance. However, in the 1920s, despite being forbidden to possess tanks by Treaty, Germany developed an innovative concept of using tanks. They conducted experiments using tractors to act as tanks. Then, in 1940, the innovative concept using tanks defeated the French in only 42 days. There will always be technologies that will play a decisive role in future wars decades from now, even though they are considered immature and very unlikely to be used in combat today. It is necessary to properly assess their potential.
And the most important thing is to develop innovative operational concepts using those technologies. France, which was defeated by Germany in 1940, possessed more tanks that performed better than the Germans. Railroad technology also played an important role in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, and the losing side, France, was also superior in railroad technology. What is important is not the superiority of the technology itself, but the superiority of the operational concept.
Q. What’s a good book or other online resources that you can recommend which is related to everything that we’ve been talking about?
A: I recommend reading the classic books written by Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Thucydides again in this age of rapid technological change. As many have said, while the characteristics of war change, the nature of war is constant. When discussing future wars and future technologies, we must always return to the unchanging nature of war. Otherwise, we will be under the illusion that new technologies will change everything, and we will not be able to predict the future correctly. The unchanging nature of war is summed up in the theories presented by Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and Thucydides. For this reason, before talking about the latest technologies and future warfare, we must surely understand classical theories.
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