Beyond the Operational Environment: Reflections on Information Warfare

Beyond the Operational Environment: Reflections on Information Warfare

Evan Salbego

We belong to the most over-consumptive generation in history, seldom drawing the line at commercial goods. Feelings, ideas, beliefs, and perceptions are all fair game in the Information Age and, although we tend to gloss over the potential costs of these invisible acquisitions, others do not.

Information Warfare aims to socially engineer an audience, rendering a group or community utterly incapable of recognizing the truth, even when it should be evident. The effects can cause the dissolution of social constructs such as law, order, leadership, and civility if intended. Due to the advent of the internet and its many permutations, our culture continually consumes so much information that it’s become deconditioned to the fidelity of the digested content, a symptom indicative of susceptibility to the full effects of Information Warfare.

As participants in a world that seldom unplugs from an otherwise overly saturated Information Environment, we must assume that our adversaries remain fully aware of the power of information, its ability to affect perception, change human behavior, and dissolve cultural identity over time. In short, information affects perception which affects behavior which affects culture, a downward spiral of synergetic effects perpetuated by virtue of repetitive information designed to manipulate its audience.

In the Information Age, the principles of warfare remain basically the same. Our engagement area still resides within the minds of our opponents. Victory still hinges on persuading them that we are right and they are wrong. Survival still requires relentless deterrence from those intending to impose unwanted change.

We must recognize that technology and warfare have always evolved together. Once comfortable with obliterating whole civilizations for the sake of achieving victory, superpowers are now successfully employing emergent techniques capable of influencing, disrupting, corrupting, and usurping entire populations with minimal casualties. This “take it whole” approach, echoes of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good.”*

Perhaps just the realization that we simply don’t know if we’ve been affected by adversarial narratives accomplishes the goal of Information Warfare after all. Fixating on this dilemma can render us prone over-scrutinizing long held beliefs and perceptions. By living unsure of whether or not our own thoughts and feelings have been compromised by information designed to unwittingly manipulate us over time, we render ourselves incapable of recognizing the truth, even when it should be obvious. It is a double-edged sword sharpened by extreme skepticism along one edge and absolute obliviousness on the other, a conundrum of incredible potential and magnitude.

Information Warfare provides an advanced platform from which to achieve cultural domination, arguably warfare’s premier intention, if so desired. Even upon developing effective strategies to combat enemy information operations on the battlefield, there is no guarantee that similar remedies will protect the U.S. population from full-scale Information Warfare waged upon our Homefront. Ultimately, it is unlikely that our enemies will waste time differentiating between these two (currently) separate environments in the future.

*Sun-tzu, and Samuel B. Griffith. The Art of War. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.

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'Information warfare' has always been part of war and it has always been about understanding human decision-making - whether the decision-making of our opponents or that of the population that supports them. We have new means to go about affecting that decision-making but "right" and "wrong" have little to do with that. Cultural domination may have been an outcome of victory but I don't see the evidence to suggest is was or is the "premier intention."

The author is absolutely correct that we have the tools to affect the decision-making of the populace without kinetic action and thus turn the tide of war making kinetic action less- or ineffective.

The author seems to claim the purpose of war is convincing our adversary that we're right and they're wrong. I suggest he revisit that argument. He further argues that the principles of war apply to information operations. I would like to see that justified with some logical arguments that illustrates why he believes this. I believe he is right that our adversaries will not differentiate between the theater of war and the homeland. Our culture and war fighting doctrine is largely disconnected from reality. We prefer to believe war will conform to the way we prefer to fight it, versus the way it is. We have self imposed so many seams to protect organizational interests that we have severely undermined our ability to compete or fight our adversaries in the 21st Century. Our nuclear and conventional superiority are important, but inadequate to protect our interests. This article needs to become a series of article's that point our competitive advantages and disadvantages in the information domain and the associated risks.