How Important is Information as Power?
Our enemies understand the importance of information in warfare. “Wars cannot be won without media…. Media aim at the heart rather than the body, [and] if the heart is defeated, the battle is won” noted the Taliban’s Abdul Sattar Maiwandirecently. In short, Maiwandi understands the concept of center of gravity as described by the great Prussian strategist, Carl von Clausewitz. In his treatise, “On War” Clausewitz describes the center of gravity as “the hub of all power and movement upon which everything depends.” Destroy the center of gravity directly then, and you defeat your enemy. And in modern democracies, the strategic center of gravity is the will of the people to support the war effort.
Consequently, poorly armed, but strategically savvy armies and insurgent groups use information to chip away at that popular support. The American military refers to this capability as strategic communication (SC). While SC has an eye-rolling official definition, the Department of Defense (DoD) has provided a clearer understanding of the concept by describing it as “the…synchronization of actions, images and words to achieve a desired effect….” Certainly our enemies understand and exploit SC as, arguably, their strategic weapon of choice. The dramatic and devastating use of improvised explosive devices to kill and maim are tactics intended to achieve strategic information effects. In Iraq, after all, the attacks are most often conducted by two-man teams: the detonator and the videographer. The use of misinformation and disinformation, rumor and innuendo by an enemy takes full advantage of an information environment where the medium moves at the speed of light and U.S. forces maintain adherence to the truth. Images of gruesome beheadings and, yes, friendly collateral damage to property and civilians play on the psyches of the American people.
Over the past 10 years the U.S. military has recognized the need to compete in this environment. They too employ strategic communication to tell their story proactively, react rapidly to enemy misinformation and to preemptively counter the enemy’s information modus operandi. There have been mixed results, but there has been progress as well. DoD has moved forward in exploiting social media. They have made great strides by empowering junior leaders and soldiers to achieve speed of response while educating them on their information “right and left limits.” Staffs have become sophisticated in both their ability to employ information as power and respond to the enemy’s use of it.
At the strategic level, resource allocation is the most telling indication of the importance DoD places on a capability. Consequently, a real sign of how the U.S. military views information in warfare can be gleaned by looking at resources allocated against it. In 2009, Congress had heated debates about information operations and strategic communication budget requests from DoD. But while this new and increased oversight may, at first glance, appear to have been a vote against adequate resources, it was in fact a real reflection of information in warfare reaching a positive tipping point. For the first time, IO and SC were sufficiently resourced that they caught the eye of Congress. This was real money and Congress finally wanted to see the bang for their buck.
DoD is entering a period of austerity and cuts. The U.S. Army recently announced the elimination of 8,700 civilian positions. Following the Cold War the United States Information Agency (USIA) was eliminated in what was then described as the State Department’s peace dividend. Currently, DoD appears to put its money where its mouth is with regard to the importance of information in warfare. But it will be interesting to see if history repeats itself as our wars draw down. Will the resources be reduced? Eliminated? Will IO and SC training and education continue in the professional military education institutions? Will the personnel pipeline continue to produce trained and educated IO and SC practitioners? Keep your eye on this ball. The answers are soon forthcoming.