New technologies always amplify the power of information and, with it, the ability to confuse the public about the authenticity of the information they receive. One of the most insidious aspects of the technological advances in the Digital Era is that now it has become possible to tailor information quite specifically to the individual beliefs and prejudices of targeted groups in society. This is one of the reasons why the 21st century is seeing a new scale of media manipulation and disinformation. It is even safe to say that this new information environment has changed the nature of warfare.
Analysis of this new information environment suggests that states and international organisations must adapt to the new reality where information superiority, in relation to military power, is becoming increasingly important. It has been demonstrated by various state and non-state actors that in the current and continually evolving information environment, power and control can easily be gained by manipulating information to affect not only financial markets, business practices and public policy, but also to influence societal perceptions, attitudes and behaviours.
Within the newly emergent information environment of the past decade, and in parallel to a series of critical negative trends in global politics, several state and non-state actors have increasingly engaged in the systematic use of a wide range of non-military tools, so as to influence both the perception and the behaviour of the inhabitants of many countries.
A product of the Digital Era, information warfare is the struggle to dominate the generation and flow of information in order to enhance and support one’s own strategic goals, while degrading and constraining those of an opponent. An integral part of information warfare is psychological warfare, and psychological warfare operations are embedded in the broad concept of information warfare.
Psychological warfare involves the application of specialised information and media in accordance with a strategic goal and in support of political and military objectives. Such efforts are aimed at a variety of potential audiences and usually involve operational missions against an opponent’s psychology and cognitive capacities.
There are myriad targets and objects of psychological warfare; it is applied against the enemy, but also against friends; it targets externally, but also internally; it must deal with allied countries, but also the entire globe, and one must rely on the media acting in multiple directions jointly, with effective coverage of many areas, in order to comprehensively realise the various goals. The final goal of psychological warfare is to influence, constrain, and/or alter an opponent’s thoughts, emotions, and habits, while at the same time strengthening friendly psychology.
The Digital Era provides unparalleled ability to influence both a nation’s leaders and its population. The core of psychological warfare is to manipulate those audiences by affecting their thought processes and cognitive frameworks. In doing so, state or non-state actors are positioning themselves in a situation to be able to win future conflicts without firing a shot – victory realised through a combination of undermining opponents’ wills and inducing maximum confusion.
Indeed, although it is a time of peace, psychological warfare is already underway, employing a variety of both military and civilian means. It is therefore essential to counter such psychological operations now, while preparing to use our own arsenal of psychological warfare weapons should a conflict ever arise.