This policy brief offers a framework to analyse information warfare and underlines the importance of cognitive security
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This policy brief is part of “Legitimate Influence or Unlawful Manipulation?” Freedom of Thought project at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, led by Susie Alegre and Aaron Shull. (Download PDF)
Politics is everywhere a perpetual quest for narrative dominance. Aphorisms from ancient practitioners of statecraft in Assyria, India and China warn us that the word is mightier than the sword, that the power of knowledge is superior to force and wealth, and that to vanquish the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. History is replete with the use of cultural power, propaganda, disinformation, deceit and censorship as instruments of policy. Information warfare — the use of information to influence decisions in order to achieve a political objective without necessarily using physical force — is not new. It has, however, become the centrepiece of international politics because we are in the Information Age, an epoch where society is structured around the production, consumption and effects of information.
This policy brief presents a high-level analysis of the external, geopolitical dimension of information warfare and offers recommendations for defence and national security policies for liberal democratic states.
To the extent information warfare reduces violence and bloodshed, it may be seen as an indicator of human progress. Achieving one’s goals through persuasion and influence can be one of the most civilized forms of conducting politics. A fair contest where contenders use facts, logic and reason to persuade a free, open-minded audience is an ideal way for a society to settle its affairs. Evidence from cognitive sciences, however, puts a dampener on such hopes. The human mind has both intuitive and reasoning faculties, and the former are in the driver’s seat (Kahneman 2011). Also, our opinions and decisions are far more socially influenced than it was previously believed (Haidt 2012). As a result, our cognitive makeup is susceptible to biases and manipulation. The human mind is vulnerable. The collective is even more so.
Constitutional and statutory safeguards can help protect the freedom to think within a country’s domestic context. International relations, however, are conducted in an anarchy. There are no rules of the game and, even if there were, no means to ensure fair play. While international law can help at the margin, states have little choice but to engage in information warfare to protect their citizens’ freedom to think.
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