Information Warfare Is Warfare
Recent articles in Real Clear Defense have noted differences between intelligence and information warfare (IW)/information operations (IO). I would agree that the functions of intelligence and IW are different, and neither should be subordinate to the other. Language shapes the way we think, and while both intelligence and IO rely on language to inform or influence, the distinctions are significant.
Such arguments go astray when intelligence professionals deride IW as not being on par with the traditional warfare communities. Cyberwarfare alone might not force an adversary to submit if vital interests are at stake- but IW is not limited to cyberwarfare. A significant part of information power is that it can shape what an adversary considers to be a vital interest. For example, is Taiwan or the Ukraine a vital interest to the U.S.? An IO campaign could persuade Americans that neither is vital. If so, political leaders may instruct the military to leave defense plans for Taiwan, the Ukraine, or almost anywhere else on the shelf.
Sun Tzu noted that it is better to defeat an enemy’s strategy than its forces. The U.S. dominates traditional battlespaces, and challengers know it. In recent history, when the U.S. has lost a major conflict, how often has it been because an enemy defeated U.S. forces? On the other hand, how often has the U.S. lost because an enemy depleted public support for the conflict?
Information can yield results that are uniquely powerful, though rarely as quantifiable as kinetic operations. This inherently “fuzzy” nature unnerves traditionalists seeking a concrete, mechanistic world that is long gone. Destroying a ship ensures that it cannot fight while shutting down its networks might only disrupt, rather than destroy. Persuading the nation owning the ship not to send it into combat may be a temporary fix, or might last for years, with little warning of the latter changing to the former. However, if a mission to destroy the ship will cost millions of dollars and dozens of lives, but 40 man-hours of IO can render it combat ineffective, then perhaps the certainty of a kinetic kill comes at too high a price.
Perhaps some of the recent authors came to their cyber-centric conclusion by thinking of IW in the narrow sense of cyberwarfare, rather than in the broader context of the “I” in the DIME (Diplomacy, Information, Military, Economic) construct and its variants. If so, they would be far from the only thinkers to make that error. Indeed, it seems epidemic in some circles of defense leadership. There are those who think that information power is (or should be) separate from military power. The DIME concept itself may promote that misconception, given how language shapes thought. Even so, I must respectfully disagree with those authors on the power of information and IW/IO. I cannot say that winning the information war means winning the war. That said, if we look to U.S. conflicts (Vietnam, Somalia, etc.) ended by lack of public support, we must acknowledge that losing the information war means losing the war. Intelligence is not warfare- but information warfare is.