Information wars in the post-modern world (Part 4)

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

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Information society

Back in 1980 an American futurist Alan Toffler published his famous book The Third Wave, in which the author distinguished three large distinct periods in the human history: primitive (pre-traditional), agrarian (traditional) and industrial (modern). Today we are entering a new phase of development – “the third wave” (with the count starting from traditional society) – which has its peculiar social, economic, and technological characteristics. This new era has been labeled as the Information Age by A. Toffler and others, following the Industrial Age and Agricultural Age. Other names suggested are the post-industrial society and the post-modern society.

The world has indeed irrevocably changed over the past few decades, with information and knowledge becoming major resources, in contrast to land in the agrarian society and capital in the industrial one. Every resource is by definition an object of struggle and a target for ownership. In this regard, the concept of war has also evolved in the post-modern world. Namely, the information age is transforming the notion of classical wars into information wars that can be described as an extreme form of informational confrontation manifested in the attacks on a population via disinformation and propaganda in order to achieve certain political or military objectives.

Understanding information wars

While researchers and military experts distinguish several types of information warfare (IW) and IW weapons, it is essential to understand the concept of the information war in its broader meaning as defined above, which in this sense can be also referred to as a type of “soft war”. Information wars are closely linked to psychological wars which target, via various techniques, a population’s values and belief systems, as well as emotions and reasoning. With the two concepts combined, we can talk about information-psychological wars that are becoming an integral part of post-modern geopolitics, in additional to traditional warfare.

Another approach to define the notion of information war is to distinguish its two dimensions: humanitarian (social) and technical. In its humanitarian understanding, information war is “a set of active methods of transforming the infosphere by imposing different models of the world in order to induce the required types of behavior.” An example of IW in this regard is disinformation and propaganda. As for the technical understanding, information war equals the usage of special technology that targets the destruction of computer hardware, program software, communication networks, etc. Critical data deletion is such an example of IW.

Finally, a comprehensive understanding and classification of information wars was offered by Martin Libicki. Coupled with the humanitarian-technical approach above, this can be summarized in the following table.

Dimension Type of warfare Description
Humanitarian Command-and-Control (C2W) Attacks on ability to generate and communicate commands
Psychological Impact on perceptions, intentions, and orientations of decision makers
Economic Information blockade and information imperialism
Technical Intelligence-based (IBW) Integration of sensors, emitters, etc. into reconnaissance and surveillance
Electronic (EW) and hacker Technics to enhance, degrade, or intercept flows of information
Cyber warfare The use of information systems against  virtual individuals or groups

Understanding information wars

Conclusion: “the battle off the battlefield”

Among many benefits, the onrush of technology has brought about the challenge of information wars. Information war as a phenomenon of the post-modern world is truly a battle off the battlefield, as it can be waged without a single shot. While traditional warfare aimed to physically eliminate an opponent, information warfare leads to disruption of financial, transport and communication networks and systems, destabilization of the economic infrastructure, changing the mindset of the population, and triggering doubt in the necessity of managing an independent and sovereign state.

Still, the recent political disruptions of the Arab Spring, the war against Lybia, the civil war in Syria, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, to name only a few, all highlight an important trend: organizing and implementing effective information and psychological operations is a key element in winning a post-modern war, and ensuring the information security of the state or any other polity.


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