Influence Operations are centric to every aspect of National Security
Ukraine is teaching the world how to win
Here’s a couple of administrative notes for this week at TAT.
First, Mrs. C and I, will be fully involved from tomorrow through Sunday, with the wedding of the eldest son of dear family friends. This means my offerings this week will be fairly light and the reason for yesterday’s, longer than normal post. Apologies for the break in service but I do promise to make it up to everyone.
Also, the last three days have been tied up in podcasts for shows dedicated to helping Americans understand the threat from extremism and its associated mis/ disinformation and conspiracy theories. I will gladly share them when available. Potentially, a couple even this week.
Today, in between pre-wedding chores and prepping for related events, I spotted a really good article from the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, titled, The Ukraine War Shows How the Nature of Power Is Changing.
While that it’s a very good bit of work, it also is somewhat a prisoner of the language long used in national security communities and think tanks on geo-political issues. The article is linked above, and I will offer some thoughts based on my experience and in plain language.
As mentioned in earlier posts, my core specialty in the national security world is deep expertise with influence, in support of our NSS, national security strategy. In simple terms, what this Carnegie work is describing is the criticality of influence on and around conflict and what the community calls, “Great Power Competition.” A couple of years ago I broke down this topic in a white paper found at the embedded link.
The word influence is seen in the US national security community as a dirty word and ignored out of fear. Hence, this community makes up a lot of language that no one understands to describe it. I am grateful to the author of this piece, Jennifer Kavanagh, PhD. for breaking away from this unsubstantiated fear within the greater community.
In regard to her fine work, I will respectfully add some additional insights.
· Conflict has always been and will always be centered on influence
· CYBER, though evolving ahead of other influence tools, is only one small piece of the influence puzzle
· Like Ukraine, influence operations require a full-spectrum and agile campaign
· Kinetic and non-kinetic are intrinsically linked, despite the community’s insistence that they are not.
· The only thing changing is that the NS community is beginning to finally acknowledge it… again. We understood this clearly during the Cold War and quickly abandoned it. This led to a successful Russian operation against the US, UK and much of NATO from 2014 on
· Influence, at the local or strategic level is complex and it’s all related to what happens in the focus area. My definition of influence:
“Influence, done well is achieved by a complex and intricate choreography of sustained actions, words and related activities wrapped around a core narrative that continually modifies behavior in a manner supportive of natsec objectives.”
· The US has made decent progress in a handful of isolated areas of influence but as a whole, entirely lack the capacity to organize and execute sustained campaigning
· To use an analogy, even if you have three great tools in your toolbox, you’ll never build a custom home without the dozens of the other required, a set of plans, a General Contractor, architect, engineer and dozens of well-trained and responsive craftsmen/ women
· As a practitioner, I ignored US doctrine and went about influence based on the same logic as described in my definition above. Why??? Because it works
· Every single thing that “touches” an audience or better yet, audiences become a tool in the toolbox.
Acknowledging the above truisms, Jennifer is on the right track by explaining her three primary points. Not one thing in our brand new NSS/ National Security Strategy can be achieved without sustained and ethical influence. The ball is now in the court of those who have firmly resisted progress. For a community that loves to quote Sun Tzu, no one in the community puts the advice into practice in a manner that will predictably achieve results. At this moment, there is a snowball’s chance in hell that they will and correct themselves in the near future. In the meantime, we are all at further and more severe risk.
Kudos to Ukraine for mostly ignoring doctrine and instinctively dominating Russia and her supporters with an aggressive, well-honed approach in real-time. On another level of critical importance that the Pentagon refuses to understand, their efforts, like all influence is effective due to narrative principles. Even, the Pentagon’s new doctrine fails entirely to understand narrative, despite multiple mentions. The point of influence is to predictably trigger a desired behavior. In order to do so, you must engage human beings in how they derive meaning. This is the purview of narrative. As colleague and founder of Narrative Strategies, Ajit Maan, PhD would say,
“We aren’t in conflict over information. We are in conflict over the meaning of information.”
Jennifer Kavanagh is spot on about the character of war changing. The problem is that the US NS community is changing at a glacial pace, while that our adversaries are sprinting. Military planning calls this a critical vulnerability.
Well done, Jennifer and