Psychological Warfare and Doctrine in 21st Century

In the intricate landscape of modern conflict, battles are not solely waged on physical battlegrounds. Enter the realm of psychological warfare – a covert arena where minds are the primary target, and manipulation is the weapon of choice. Psychological warfare, often overlooked but profoundly influential, encompasses a spectrum of tactics aimed at shaping perceptions, beliefs, and behaviours to gain strategic advantage.

From propaganda and misinformation to fear-inducing tactics and cognitive manipulation, its impact extends far beyond the battlefield, permeating societies, politics, and even the digital realm.

In this article, we delve into the depths of psychological warfare, uncovering its nuances, historical significance, and contemporary relevance. As we navigate through the shadows of psychological manipulation, we unveil the importance of understanding these tactics in today’s world, where information is power, and perception is reality.

Join me on a journey to unravel the complexities of psychological warfare and discover its profound implications on individuals, societies, and global affairs.

Is there an individual in the twenty-first century who is unaware of at least one conflict occurring in some location?

Sadly, conflicts continue to have a substantial impact on our past and present.

Almost every nation and country was directly or indirectly involved in a conflict during the 20th Century.

Despite the fact that military conflict constitutes the fundamental component of war, there exist latent forms of conflict including but not limited to political, social-economic, psychological, and ethical disputes.

All of these conflict types intersect and contribute to the universal character of war.

The progression of modern armament and technologies has altered the overall perception of the significance of psychological warfare. However, this also presents prospects for the implementation and development of novel psychological warfare methodologies.

An unprecedented innovation emerged with the advent of social networks, which are notable for their exponential expansion, widespread availability, intuitive interfaces, and diverse formats.

Unavoidably, these developments have an effect on the social structure of nations, the geopolitical environment, the global economy, and the definition and perception of warfare terminology and strategies, in addition to the meaning of the term itself within military psychology.

Throughout my military school and academy education, I was consistently exposed to lessons and instruction that detailed the practical implementation of psychological warfare against the enemy’s military and economic establishment.

The Psychological War Doctrine

The initial rise in prominence of psychological warfare occurred in the East.

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War examines the psychological dimensions of war as a social phenomenon and proposes optimal psychological preparation strategies to achieve victory over the adversary in an ideal conflict.

Psychological warfare, which is conducted through the dissemination of disinformation rather than the use of physical weapons, analysing and bolstering the weaknesses of one’s opponent while concentrating on improving one’s own, avoiding direct conflict whenever possible, employing cunning, utilising spies, and so forth, are examples of such tactics.

When examining the concept of “Psychological War,” one may characterise it as a form of specialised warfare designed to generate psychological effects for the benefit of the individual.

It is a military and political strategy that aims to undermine the adversary’s strength, resistance, and determination to fight, while fortifying one’s own forces and amassing the support of a wide network of allies.

The Cold War, which raged between the United States and the Soviet Union, stands as the most widely recognised example of psychological warfare.

In contrast to armed conflict, psychological warfare can be conducted during times of peace by gradually dismantling societal structures or eroding their defences in preparation for an impending armed assault.

Culture and society

In times of armed conflict, psychological warfare functions in conjunction with military operations to achieve the cessation of hostilities.

Psychological warfare is distinguished by the utilisation of distinctive strategies by paramilitary or military special forces (trained, equipped, and formed for these purposes) to accomplish political, economic, military, or psychological goals during times of peace or conflict.

These objectives may be pursued independently or in conjunction with conventional military force, on one’s own, enemy, neutral, or rebel territory, and may even involve socially and politically sensitive issues.

These strategies may be implemented overtly or clandestinely, which necessitates the authorisation, consent, and oversight of specific power structures.

Consequently, the formidable capabilities of military technology are combined with the immense potential of modern “technology of manipulating people,” or distinctive warfare strategies that achieve the desired psychological effects.

What are the intended mental repercussions?

Initially, the leader of the psychological conflict endeavours to impose his or hers political system, philosophy, and way of thinking.

In order to accomplish this, he encourages the internal adversaries of the attacking system to sow discord, fear, and uncertainty, promote internal strife, and sow distrust and doubt among the defenders in an effort to undermine and demolish the attacked side’s defence.

It is employed in the dissemination of deceit, empty assurances, and illusions.

Due to the fact that conflicts and armies have always existed, psychological warfare also possesses its constituent elements.

Consequently, the objective of psychological warfare is to subjugate and control the actions of the targeted party’s members without their knowledge by manipulating their attitudes, values, beliefs, and behaviour.

A variety of psychological warfare techniques and pressures are employed to achieve the objective of imposing a specific value system, reliance, and dominance.

Psychological warfare targets more than just the adversary.
Additionally, they may encompass the following:

  • Domestic subjects (e.g., publicly defending the war)
  • Domestic armed forces (boosting morale during combat)
  • Neutral and allied nations (gaining international support and influence)
  • The inhabitants of temporarily occupied territories (pacification, subjugation, and “re-education” of the populace).

Aspects that define psychological warfare

In contrast to alternative modes of conflict, psychological warfare possesses several notable benefits.

Although collaborative and coordinated endeavours undoubtedly produce optimal outcomes, psychological warfare stands as the most pragmatic approach when it comes to extensive spatial and temporal implementation.

If its effects are recognised and comprehended, psychological warfare enables one to preserve cohesion, coherence, and a unified viewpoint among one’s own people through the direct action of both enemy and internal forces.

This increases the populace’s desire to struggle and resist during both times of peace and conflict.

For those unaware, I participated in direct combat operations during the war in Croatia from 1991 to 1996. One of my responsibilities was state security, and I worked with planners and experts to develop the most effective psychological warfare operation against the enemy as either a member of the team or a security detachment.

One of those operations involved the strategic use of daily newspapers and images portraying “fake” rocket launchers and MLRS launchers in large quantities, with the knowledge that the United Nations force would directly inform our adversary.

While the majority of those high-tech weapons were dummy constructs, the enemy calculated them to be real. It goes without saying that during the initial hours of operation “Flash” in May 1995, the enemy anticipated heavy artillery and rocket barrage due to their belief in the news articles, which proved to be unfounded.

This occurs both on the front lines and in the background, and it is a direct consequence of the adversary employing unanticipated new forces, assets, and resources.

This phenomenon not only leads to monetary, human, and material detriment, but also generates additional attention and ensures ongoing coverage throughout the crisis. envisioned and strategized matters in a “blitzkrieg” fashion.

This is especially evident in instances of annexation and after the conquest of regions inhabited by hostile peoples, as a territory is deemed vanquished solely when its inhabitants submit to the authority of the conqueror.

By utilising insights from the social sciences, psychological warfare strategies enable a systematic, organised, and scientific approach to the general public in an effort to manipulate, control, and oversee their psychological characteristics, states, and behaviours.

This, in conjunction with modern social networks and mass media, enables incredibly rapid and effortless access to psychological warfare.

Presently, there is a reduction in the magnitude of financial, infrastructure, economic, and population losses due to the pervasive and uncomplicated availability of communication tools and the regulation of psychological warfare strategies.

Money would be directly invested in the preservation of these resources should the adversary acquire control of the population and territory while they are still intact, which is an extremely unlikely occurrence.

Combat morale-wise, it is inherently advantageous for the opposing side to have a bewildered enemy soldier as opposed to a deceased one, given that the former inspires dread and retaliation is invariably required for the families of wounded, captured, and deceased soldiers.

Psychological warfare frequently enables the state engaged in hostile activities to evade legal repercussions, reputational damage, and risks associated with certain operations.

Additionally it:

  • Safeguards the invested capital of foreign corporations against destruction—as we all know, capital and money are the foundation of everything
  • Prevents potential harm to individuals and destruction of property
  • Enables a greater level of confidentiality to prevent internal repercussions, such as power loss and public opposition to the government or prominent individuals
  • In addition to external repercussions—including sanctions and other war-related repercussions that have an adverse impact on the nation and its inhabitants.

Financial risks, such as the profitability of the action’s implementation, are also facilitated, along with the sustainability and reputation of domestic businesses operating in the countries where the actions are conducted, and on a global scale.

Others believe that psychological warfare constitutes half the battle gained, whereas some believe that it is considerably less effective than the players would like.

What are your opinions regarding this?

This post was written by Mario Bekes