In PLA conversations, the phrase shashoujian has come to represent a set of strategies designed to defeat the United States. Specifically, these strategies concentrate on the idea of using the inferior to defeat the superior. In the context of war against the United States, this means either neutralizing or reversing the advantages of the US military. In practice, this can mean anything from concentrating on low cost options for destroying capital intensive US weapons like aircraft carriers, to disrupting American computer and information systems with the purpose of leaving US forces surprised, confused, and helpless.
Shashoujian essentially represents a type of asymmetric warfare, one that is available to mid-level powers, if not to terrorist or guerilla groups. The structure of the international system invites asymmetric warfare, as it will be some time before a peer competitor emerges who could fight the United States on the same level and win.
What does this have to do with Battlestar Galactica? Apropos of recent discussion abotu network centric warfare, BSG (2003) takes a position on the role of advanced warfare technology unnervingly similar to the position adopted by the People’s Republic of China. In essense, the Cylons win by turning Colonial military technology against itself. The Cylons act as both a peer competitor state and a terrorist organization, and win through a combination of conventional assault and unconventional subversive warfare. In a sense, the Cylons manage to represent both China and Al Qaeda at the same time; they are both the inscrutable yet powerful peer competitor, and the tiny, bodiless terrorist organization.
We have no idea of the actual military strength of the Cylons. They have some number of capital ships (basestars), but there is no indication of how many. Two, at least, have been destroyed by the Colonials. We can surmise, however, that Cylon military capacity is not overwhelmingly superior, in terms of numbers of ships, to that of the Colonies prior to the surprise attack. If the Cylons had possessed massive superiority, they would likely not have waited as long to attack. Also, we are led to believe that the Cylons possess only one world, compared to the twelve Colonies. We know that the Colonial Fleet possessed roughly 120 battlestars at the beginning of the war. We have reason to believe that an individual basestar is superior in combat to Galactica, but Galactica is one of the oldest and weakest of the battlestars. We don’t know, for example, whether the gap between Galactica and Pegasus (a newer battlestar) is better described as the difference between Michigan and Iowa, or as the difference between Arkansas and California.
This didn’t mean all that much, because the Cylons undertook a mission of subversion and infiltration that successfully rendered much of the Colonial Fleet useless. Specifically, the Cylons infiltrated Colonial computer systems, with the impact of both giving the Cylons complete information dominance on the battlefield and directly undercutting the effectiveness of those Colonial military vessels dependent on advanced computer technology. The Galactica survives only because of its aging technology and curmudgeonly Commander.
The disruption of conventional Colonial forces through subversion and Fourth Generation Warfare is followed by a very conventional and brutal high intensity assault against Colonial military and civilian targets. The Cylon attack is both conventional and terrorist, and it does not discriminate between civilian and military targets. It is also quite genocidal. The primary weapons for destroying both civilian and military targets are nuclear weapons, adding an additional dimension to the Cylon threat portfolio.
In short, the Cylons manage to encapsulate all of the potential forms of threat that the United States might face. They are terrorists who look and act like us. They are a peer competitor capable of matching and defeating us in open battle. Finally, they succeed in upending our advantage where we hold it most dear; in our advanced technology. In the BSG miniseries, the failure of technology is reacted to with a sense of stunned betrayal; in this, if nothing else, we feel ourselves secure.
…I can’t say that I cared for tonight’s episode, though.