Attempts by China, Russia to Undermine Britain Risk Igniting War, UK Defence Experts Warn

Action is needed to counter 'unconvential warfare' attacks
January 12, 2021 Updated: January 12, 2021

If “unconventional warfare” attacks on Britain from hostile adversaries such as China and Russia are not kept in check, this could lead to a conventional war, the head of the UK’s armed forces said.

Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Nick Carter made the comments in a new Sky News podcast, “Into the Grey Zone,” published on Sunday, describing how there’s a risk a shooting war could be triggered by the “significant amount of activity which is below the threshold of what we would [normally] call war.”

Under unconventional warfare, also known as “unrestricted warfare,” almost anything can be weaponized to undermine a target country.

Methods include “using cyber tools against us, using disinformation into our society, in some areas using financial corruption, using organised crime to divide us, to weaken us, or to compete with us,” UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, also interviewed on the podcast, said.

Asked what will happen if Britain doesn’t tackle the unconventional warfare threats Carter said, “We might wake up one day and discover that we are in a police state and all of our freedoms have been denied us.”

Without us noticing, he said, “Our opponents will have found a way to unravel our democracy from inside.”

And all “without a shot being fired,” Wallace added.

“[Adversaries] know that if they can do all of those things, they might not have to commit a gun or a tank,” he said.

“And they will have done it using proxies, done it through cyber, done it through crippling an economy.”

After that, if an enemy wanted to invade with its “armoured brigade, then there’s not much left to get in the way,” Wallace said.

‘Uncontrollable State of War’

Carter said the most worrying thing is the risk of Britain miscalculating the unconventional hostile attacks and allowing them to end up “lighting a fuse.”

“Of course, if you look back over history, it’s those moments of miscalculation which often precipitate what ends up being an uncontrollable state of war. And that’s the bit that we really, really have to watch,” Carter said.

Former director of UK Special Forces Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb, also speaking to the podcast, said that Britain is neither in a state of peace nor war but “sitting in this very dangerous place between.”

“I find the terms war and peace absolutely irrelevant. Everybody assumes we are in a peaceful state—nothing could be further from the truth; we are in a warlike state,” he said.

Undermining Society

To undo a democracy, “you don’t just go against the military … you work on all the other things … the warfare people can’t find the word for,” Lamb said.

This includes deliberately undermining confidence in the country’s economy through manipulation of the media and via the misuse of diplomacy, intelligence, and information channels, he said.

He also said adversaries use “divide and rule,” amplifying messages that sow division, doubts, or undermine respect for the country or leadership to separate parts of society from each other.

“You separate the individuals within the country, and suddenly, in fact, now they are malleable—so these things are absolutely under attack by others who wish to gain an advantage,” Lamb said.

In a chilling analogy, Lamb said Britain is being slowly “boiled like a frog” and subjected over time to attacks that are more subtle and surreptitious than immediate conventional military attack.

Nevertheless, Britain’s enemies still have the same objectives.

Evoking Winston Churchill’s account of the run-up to World War II, Lamb likened the current state of unconventional warfare that Britain is in to “a gathering storm.”

“This is not a case of a Cold War against China, this is not a new Cold War against Russia, this is the 1930s,” he said.

He warned that if we “merely try and accept that others would act in our best interest when they absolutely by design did not intend to, then don’t be surprised if we end up in 1939—and a world war which nearly killed this country and would have changed the global order as we know it.”

Unrestricted Warfare

Unconventional or “unrestricted” warfare is a strategy crafted by two Chinese military colonels in the 1990s, which espouses using a series of unconventional tactics designed to accomplish the objectives of war without engaging in actual combat.

China has been strongly criticized for using such tactics. In one example, last year a Chinese database containing the personal information of 2.4 million people around the globe was leaked to Western media, offering a glimpse into the regime’s vast data harvesting campaign targeting foreigners.

A reconstruction of just 10 percent of the database by an Australian cybersecurity firm named Internet 2.0 revealed that it included nearly 10,000 Britons. The database included records on people ranging from ordinary business professionals to naval officers and members of the British Royal family.

It also provided details on countries’ infrastructure, movements of military assets, and public opinion analysis.

Casey Fleming, CEO of intelligence and security strategy firm BlackOps Partners, said at the time that the intelligence gathered in the database was used to support the Chinese regime’s “unrestricted hybrid warfare” operations. This includes espionage, covert overseas influence campaigns, and stealing foreign innovation and military technology.

The ultimate goal of this strategy, Fleming said, is to “destroy democracy for the takeover of Chinese communism globally.”

Cathy He contributed to this report.