Like a Jedi mind trick, deception involves subverting an opponent with misleading information and intentions that conform with their expectations. Given a Chinese warrior named Sun Tzu wrote one of the most cited books on warfare with deception at its heart, surely the brains of Western strategy would be the last to be deceived by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Instead, when it comes to China, Western governments have been lured into believing what they want to believe. As Obi-Wan Kenobi explained, the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. The CCP’s deception has been to shape our minds with the aim of securing the means to limit Australia’s capacity for independent action. In other words, the ability to survive on own terms. If this is one definition of freedom then we are in the biggest fight for freedom since the last Cold War.
While 2,000 years behind Sun Tzu, in 1989, United States military theorist William S. Lind developed the concept of fourth generational warfare. Essentially the distinction between war and peace would be blurred. The previous three generations involving what most imagine battles to be like from the time of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 until the second world war. Deception relies on knowing how your opponent believes the world ought to be. The West still believes warfare starts when the shooting begins with tanks, soldiers and battleships. In his Marine Corps Gazette paper Lind describes how fourth generational warfare will seek to disrupt and collapse the enemy from within. Not through physical destruction on the battlefield. Targets would include the enemy’s culture, economy and information systems. Seducing Australian business leaders, investors, universities, and state premiers, all to become reliant on China. They then become supporters.
Geopolitical power is enabled by the capability to dominate maritime, air, land, space and cyber domains for access and control of resources. Dominating the levers of geo-politics enables a nation to achieve security of social resources by subverting and reweaving those of opponents and allies. One of the most valuable resources is the minds of the government presiding over the governed. You can either take control by force or you can take control by deception. During World War I, Major Richard Meinertzhagen (one of Sir General Allenby’s smartest staff officers), understood the key to effective deception is not simply to conceal what you are doing but to persuade your opponent that what you are doing is the reverse of what you are actually doing. Feel familiar?
Take Operation Mincemeat, one of the greatest deceptions in military history. It involved dropping a dead body (a tramp who had died from eating rat poison) dressed as an officer in the Royal Marines off the Spanish Coast during the second world war with a brief case stuffed with fake war plans. Acting Major William Martin (the tramp’s new identity) even had letters from his fake fiancée and father, along with Soho theatre tickets and other pocket litter. The idea was for the Spanish authorities to pass the plans onto the Germans. Although neutral, Spanish authorities cooperated with the Abwehr, (German military intelligence). In the end, Hitler was fooled into thinking the Allied invasion of southern Europe would begin in Greece and not Sicily. The deception reinforced what Hitler believed. The whole thing only cost around two hundred pounds but was an expensive disaster for the Germans.
The CCP’s deception has also been economic and material. We wanted to believe these win-win deals were genuinely benign. Instead, the plan has been to control the strategic assets and to penetrate our intellectual and political classes. Left unchecked, this manoeuvre across all layers (infrastructure, cyber, technology, academic, media and community) will make Australia less able to operate on our own terms.
The strategy is one of simultaneous disruption, interaction and isolation of relationships. As military strategist and designer of the F-16 fighter aircraft Colonel John Boyd (1927-1997) argued, the name of the game is for opponents to ‘preserve or build up their moral authority while compromising that of their adversaries’. For decades, the CCP have been adjusting the spirit within Western nations by attempting to convince the appeasers that China is weak. As a result, the US and many Western countries just handed over military, scientific, technological know-how. China still receives millions in foreign aid despite having its own space exploration program.
Then the biggest deceptions of them all – climate change. What better way to get Western nations to divide themselves and undermine their economies than a frenzied fear-based, world-ending narrative? Then sell them the solution. Approximately 80 per cent of Australia’s solar panels and windmills come from China. Controlling multilateral organisations such as the UN and seducing scientists and academics have been masterful. Then have teenagers screaming at world leaders. Before you know it grown adults are actually signing agreements to control the earth’s temperature.
Yet not a single protest outside the embassy of the world’s biggest polluter and user of coal-fired power stations, China. Instead, we turn on our own. Now former Nationals Leader Mark Vaile has been stopped from becoming Chancellor of the University of Newcastle, and been treated like a job applicant who neglected to disclose a criminal record for a heinous crime. All because he is on the board of Whitehaven Coal.
The great minds at the World Health Organisation (you know the ones who advised us on Covid-19) are even calling for ‘climate lockdowns’. Not kidding. An entire rent-seeking industry of scientists, academics, investors, media, public relations firms and non-government organisations have become unwitting actors in support of the CCP’s grand strategy.
Perhaps one of the differences between this Cold War and the last one is that there is no talk of nuclear war. No point wasting blood and treasure. Surely by now, policymakers are beginning to suspect they have fallen for this Jedi mind trick.
As Sun Tzu advised, seize that which your adversary holds dear or values most highly; then they will conform to your desires. As British geo-political theorist Sir Halford Mackinder (1861-1947) recognised, democracies rarely think strategically until forced to do so. Our Mackinder moment is now.
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