The United States needs a unifying information strategy. America’s adversaries gain political and military advantages every day the U.S. goes without clear priorities in the current information war. To succeed, American military leaders and political scientists emphasize prioritizing the use of resources. The prioritization of these resources requires a comprehensive strategy.
Understanding Western precepts of Just War Theory, analogous concepts within Islamic jurisprudence, and analyzing militant Islamic movement actions against them may offer strategists and policymakers philosophical means from which to attack the legitimacy of militant Islamic movements and thereby weaken their critical popular support.
Effects-Based Operations was the last overarching airpower strategy embraced by the USAF, but its influence has waned over the last decade, and no airpower theory has taken its place. This has had very real consequences; Airmen have come to believe airpower exists simply to support ground operations, as opposed to a mechanism to deter, shape, and win conflicts. The USAF is desperately in need of an overarching airpower strategy to explain to itself, and the joint and coalition community, what airpower is capable of, and how it will be employed in current and future conflicts across the realm of military operations.
Traditional warfare has long used information and technology to gain a competitive advantage over opponents. The shift is that more of these activities are now occurring in a place visible to the public –– online –– and is now being directed at civilians. As the ever-growing volume of literature on this topic illustrates, we are currently observing the great value in sustained disinformation campaigns. The low cost and high effectiveness of these non-military measures combined with few counter-measures as well as strong drivers of change (such as automation) increasing their effectiveness, indicate their use will continue to increase. This has significant implications for policy makers, analysts, and defence personnel.
Weaponizing a narrative resembles weaponizing a disease in several ways. One similarity is that neither is kinetic, yet both can have immense effects. Both are dangerous and chaotic, but are less dangerous to the faction prepared for the risks—or with less to lose. Like viruses, narratives can combine to create overwhelming effects, and can appear and propagate with unnerving rapidity. Unlike viruses, though, the narrative is so inexpensive that almost anyone can weaponize and deploy it. Also unlike viruses, the weaponized narrative targets our minds.
We should encourage those not familiar with information operations to see it as a vital component of planning in an information environment that is much more important to military planning and operations with each passing day. Focus on capabilities does more to confuse than enlighten, and simple alternatives are available.
The good news about China’s anti-access/area denial actions in the South China Sea and beyond may be that in apparently selecting a hybrid strategy, China has chosen to operate in the Phase 0/Gray Zone/Shaping area, thus avoiding activity that generates an overt military response. That said, the strategy involves brinksmanship, so proper use of information operations is critical to communicate intentions and avoid miscommunications leading to miscalculations and overt military conflict. Information operations can also cloud Chinese calculations to make preemptive strikes less appealing and more fraught with risk.
Russia showed the world the effectiveness of social media as a weapon system in the cyber domain. By leveraging the population against one another, it successfully took ground from another sovereign nation without the employment of massed conventional forces. Future conflicts will involve civilian populations as connected, or more connected, as those in Crimea, and the employment of social media will be essential to shaping the narrative of U.S. Army operations. As the Russian government proved, through proper timing, messaging, and population targeting, social media has the potential to manipulate the outcome of a conflict and win a complex engagement.
While we do not expect to settle the debate over what information operations is, we do hope to contribute valuable insights to the discussion by building awareness and empathy in their partner’s roles and methods, allowing readers to draw their own conclusions about information operations and how they might employ them for the benefit of their own organizations.
Looking to Putin’s intelligence apparatus is not to witness the genesis of political information warfare. In fact, the United States was birthed in a stew of information, misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda projected by competing entities both internally and externally. Thus, instead of looking at the apparent success of Russian intelligence in the recent election as the perfected form of information warfare, it is worth considering colonial and revolutionary America to appreciate the historical precedent and perspective.
Developing the depth and flexibility of mind and understanding to work effectively within the information environment, in addition to the operational environment, is challenging. However, given the systemic changes in virtually every field of human activity during the new century, and the threats they may pose to our country’s security and prosperity, this is a challenge we must accept.