The nature of warfare has changed. The human mind is now a new domain of war. So far wars have been fought in ﬁve domains namely – air, land, sea, space and cyber – now we have the sixth operational domain, namely the Human Domain. Cognitive warfare is a relatively new but rapidly evolving field of study. As technology advances and our understanding of the human mind deepens, we can expect to see even more sophisticated and effective cognitive warfare techniques emerge in the future.
Cognitive warfare refers to the use of the internet and other means to spread information to influence and manipulate the way the opponent (enemy) thinks, perceives information, and makes decisions.
“The brain is the battlefield of the future”, says Dr. James Giordano- Executive Director of the Institute for Bio defense Research, University of New York, Washington DC.
Cognitive warfare also called the “battle of the brain” has emerged as a formidable and complex dimension of modern conflict. Western theorists call it “cognitive warfare,” while Russians use the term “New Generation Warfare”.
Cognitive warfare refers to the use of the internet and other means to spread information to influence and manipulate the way the opponent (enemy) thinks, perceives information, and makes decisions. Cognitive warfare, tactics may include the spread of disinformation, psychological operations, propaganda, and other methods aimed at shaping perceptions and beliefs. The ultimate aim is to gain a strategic advantage by swaying public opinion or destabilizing the opponent’s society. Cognitive warfare goes beyond traditional forms of warfare and focuses on the cognitive and psychological aspects. Cognitive warfare integrates cyber, information, psychological, and social engineering tools to achieve victory and overpower the enemy’s mind without firing a single bullet. It is a cost-effective way to prevent collateral damage and friendly casualties.
The primary objective of cognitive warfare is to “harm the brain” and cripple the enemy’s decision-making chain of command by eroding the credibility of the top leadership. Cognitive warfare seeks to overpower and paralyze the enemy’s mind and make them lose the will to fight – even before firing the first and only bullet.
It’s a modern twist to the age-old adage that knowledge is power, emphasizing the importance of understanding and influencing the way people think in contemporary conflicts and geopolitical struggles.
In the age where information and knowledge symbolize power, cognitive warfare seeks to overpower the opponent’s brain and influence or manipulate not only what people think, but how they think and act. This article will explore the multifaceted nature of cognitive warfare, its historical roots, contemporary manifestations, and the implications it holds for the future.
Cognitive warfare is more potent than physical warfare. It can be used to influence the decision-making of a nation and to influence public opinion.
The advantage in all formats of cognitive warfare is with the one who makes the first move and hits hardest at the right time, and place, using the most effective media.
Cognitive warfare is more potent than physical warfare. It can be used to influence the decision-making of a nation and to influence public opinion. It can also be used to interrupt communication and disrupt the enemy’s ability to respond to a situation.
It is a matter of grave concern for India that China has been clandestinely using cognitive methods as part of its “three-warfare” doctrine to sway public opinion in its favour. China has been accused of interfering in the political processes of other countries through various means, such as supporting certain political groups, providing financial aid, or using covert tactics to influence elections. The Chinese government utilizes propaganda to shape the thoughts and beliefs of its citizens. This includes controlling the narrative in schools, controlling access to information, and promoting a particular ideology. China’s objective is to falsify history, and project its political, economic and diplomatic influence using cognitive operations.
China has been accused of spreading false information to achieve its political objectives misusing the state-controlled media to spread disinformation and misleading or false narratives. The Chinese government exercises strict control over media outlets within the country. This control allows them to shape the narrative presented to the domestic audience and limit the influence of external viewpoints.
China is also believed to be manipulating social media to control or influence narratives, spread propaganda, and shape public opinion both domestically and internationally.
China has been accused of engaging in cyber espionage activities, including hacking into government and corporate networks to steal sensitive information. This can be used to gain a strategic advantage and influence decision-making processes.
China often employs a form of nationalism as part of its cognitive warfare tactics, fostering a sense of national pride and unity.
China often employs a form of nationalism as part of its cognitive warfare tactics, fostering a sense of national pride and unity. This can be used to deflect criticism, rally support, and strengthen the regime’s legitimacy.
Chinese Colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsuihave written a book on military strategy titled “Unrestricted Warfare” (warfare beyond bounds), way back in 1999,intricately mentioning several cognitive operations and strategies to win wars without fighting.
The history of cognitive warfare can be traced back to ancient times when leaders used propaganda, disinformation, and deception to influence the thoughts and emotions of their enemies.
One of the earliest instances of cognitive warfare or psychological operations can be found in the Mahabharata where Lord Krishna advised Arjuna to kill Guru Dronacharya by spreading false information of his son’s death.
Sun Tzu in his book “The Art of War” highlighted the importance of manipulating the enemy’s mind and also advised generals to attack the enemy’s thinking capabilities before attacking his cities and territories.
In his “Arthashastra”, Kautilya describes in great detail how to wage psychological and informational wars against enemies.
Cognitive warfare was also used in the Iraq War and the War on Terror.
However, the modern concept of cognitive warfare emerged in the mid-20th century, as scholars and military strategists began to study the intersection of psychology, neuroscience, and warfare.
Both World War I and World War II saw the extensive use of propaganda through posters, films, leaflets and radio broadcasts to shape public opinion, boost morale, and demonize the enemy. During the Cold War, both the United States and the Soviet Union extensively used psychological operations to influence the beliefs and behaviours of foreign populations, support friendly governments, and undermine the influence of the opposite superpower.
One of the modern-day examples of cognitive warfare was Operation Mockingbird in which the United States government and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) launched a massive propaganda campaign against the Soviet Union. As a part of this operation, the CIA spread disinformation and planted false stories in the media. Several top American journalists were specially roped in and paid lavishly to influence public opinion internationally. According to reports the CIA instructed its stations around the world to especially cultivate politicians and editors to answer and refute negative opinions. The CIA also leaked classified information to journalists to help them write articles promoting its cause.
Cognitive warfare was also used in the Iraq War and the War on Terror. In both cases, Western governments used all kinds of propaganda, psychological operations, misinformation and mind control gimmicks to twist facts in their favour.
The ongoing Ukraine war is another example of how Russia has lost the war in people’s minds – even before being knocked out on the ground in the war. NATO and its allies used a deadly combination of cognitive warfare tactics, propaganda, information warfare, and social media to discredit Russia in the eyes of people all over the world. It was able to isolate Russia because the US has the power set the narrative and to manipulate the global media.
AI can be used to analyze large datasets of social media data, identify and exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology, and create personalized propaganda and disinformation campaigns.
The US which has a monopoly over social media channels like Facebook, Twitter and others used them to strategically communicate and garner support for the US-led sanctions. Even the Ukrainians who were more social media and internet friendly as compared to the Russians, dominated the cognitive warfare and perception management campaign on the social media. Zelensky being a former TV actor knows how to project Russia in a poor light and make dramatic emotional appeals for help and assistance to the international community. The US-owned TV channels are screaming at the top of their voice and magnifying the Russian atrocities, while the Russian side of the story is hardly getting any coverage. The Russians are unable to tell their own story and no one in the world community is seems to be interested in helping them do so.
Current trends in cognitive warfare
The advent of the internet has provided a new and powerful means of reaching global audiences. Social media platforms have become battlegrounds for cognitive warfare. Nations and non-state actors began using these platforms to spread propaganda, manipulate public opinion, and even interfere in foreign elections. Nations today have started using online platforms for disinformation and propaganda to influence public opinion across borders and cultures.
Artificial intelligence (AI) has introduced a new trend in cognitive warfare. AI can be used to analyze large datasets of social media data, identify and exploit vulnerabilities in human psychology, and create personalized propaganda and disinformation campaigns.
Another trend is the increasing use of cognitive warfare by non-state actors. Cognitive warfare tactics have become more globalized, with nations and non-state actors targeting audiences beyond their borders. Groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda use social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members. They also use social media to wage information warfare against their enemies.
In a world where information is a powerful tool, cognitive warfare has emerged as a potent strategy for influencing individuals and shaping the course of conflicts.
As information and communication technologies continue to develop, the landscape of cognitive warfare will undergo further changes.
In the digital age, the battlefield is not confined to physical spaces but extends into the virtual realm. With the proliferation of social media and online platforms, the dissemination of information—whether true or false—has become instantaneous and widespread.
In a world where information is a powerful tool, cognitive warfare has emerged as a potent strategy for influencing individuals and shaping the course of conflicts. Understanding its historical context, contemporary manifestations, and future implications is crucial for developing effective countermeasures. As we navigate the complexities of the information age, safeguarding the integrity of the cognitive landscape is paramount to preserving the foundations of a free and informed society.