Friday, September 18, 2020

Weaponized Narratives - The Future of War

With Washington continuously ramping up the rhetoric against both China and Russia, a physical conflict between the world's superpowers could well be in the offing.  As you will see from this posting, the first and possibly most important phase of the "war" is already being undertaken.

The Center on the Future of War at Arizona State University looks at the "social, political, economic and cultural implications of the changing nature of war and conflict".  One of the Center's focuses is on the  "Weaponized Narrative Initiative":

A weaponized narrative is defined as follows:

"A weaponized narrative is an attack that seeks to undermine an opponent's civilization, intensity and will.  By generating confusion, complexity and political and social schism, it confounds response on the par of the defender."

The Center outlines how a weaponized narrative works:

"A fast-moving information deluge is the ideal battleground for this kind of warfare – for guerrillas and terrorists as well as adversary states. A firehose of narrative attacks gives the targeted populace little time to process and evaluate. It is cognitively disorienting and confusing – especially if the opponents barely realize what’s hitting them. Opportunities abound for emotional manipulation undermining the opponent’s will to resist."

Ironically, the Center states that Weaponized Narratives are being used by enemy states including both Russia and the Islamic State in their battle against the United States:

"Efforts by Russia to meddle in the elections of Western democracies – including France and Germany as well as the United States – are in the news. The Islamic State’s weaponized narrative has been highly effective. Even political movements have caught on, as one can see in the rise of the alt-right in the United States and Europe. In short, many different types of adversaries have found weaponized narratives advantageous in this battlespace. Additional recent targets have included Ukraine, Brexit, NATO, the Baltics, and even the Pope."

In a book entitled Narrative Warfare, author Ajit Mann states the following:

"Weaponized narrative represents a deep threat to national and international security and cooperation - a threat that our advanced kinetic capacity, and those of our partner nations, cannot address alone.  When narratives are weaponized, they can undermine homeland security by shaking the faith of citizens in democratic institutions and the rule of law causing civil unrest...This form of warfare is all about influence.  But this is not information warfare; this is warfare over the meaning of the information.  Information consists of facts - raw data.  Narratives do not tell the facts.  Narratives tell the meaning of the facts.  This is narrative warfare, and our adversaries are beating our brawn with their brains."

The most important part of a narrative is its credibility.  The narrator of the narrative must be viewed as a credible source of information and is viewed by the target audience as most crucible if they are part of the targeted group and reflect the experiences of the targeted group.  It is also important that the narrative be shared by civilians rather than just representatives of the government or military. 

If you wish to read a more in-depth analysis of weaponized narratives, please follow this link to a White Paper on the  by a collection of authors affiliated with the Center on the Future of War in which they state that "weaponized narrative us realm and ut us a vert effective form of asymmetric warfare when directed against the West.  It presents challenges not just to military and security organizations but to civil society and to democratic principles and institutions.

All that I can say in response to the accusations that Russia and China are purveyors of weaponized narratives to "defeat" the United States, it certainly is a good thing that Washington doesn't use its powers of weaponized narratives against these nations....except through its funding of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which you can read more about here (sarcasm intended).

Let's close this posting with a quote from Sun Tzu in the Art of War:

"The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting." 

Given how rapidly the world has accepted the current government-created narrative about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, it shouldn't surprise any of us how gullible the vast majority of people are when it comes to governments' use of narratives to change public opinion.  As P.T. Barnum/David Hannum put it, "There's a sucker born every minute."

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