British Army Social Media on a Mobile Phone

Meet the Weaponized Narrative Initiative

Weaponized Narrative is the New Battlespace

“Weaponized Narrative is the New Battlespace” ran the headline on the Defense One website, Tuesday, 3 January 2017. But was it news? Weaponized narrative is the latest term for information warfare, focusing specifically on the role of new media in shaping opinion. We have seen social engineering in the media for a long time now, but in response to the perceived Russian cyber threat, Western powers are now taking military concepts and aims into cyberspace. The realisation that many people have outsourced their minds to the internet has opened a new avenue for manoeuvre.

Center on the Future of War

Although cyber warfare has been dominating the headlines in the wake of US allegations of Russian hacking and disinformation, there was little new to report in this story by Brad Allenby, 66, and Joel Garreau, 69. Instead, the article was a lengthy and important discussion of the whys and wherefors of weaponized narrative. It turns out that Allenby and Garreau are the directors of The Weaponized Narrative Initiative of the Center on the Future of War, a partnership between Arizona State University (ASU) and New America, a Washington think tank.

According to their website:

The Center on the Future of War explores the social, political, economic, and cultural implications of the changing nature of war and conflict. The Center connects ASU faculty with policymakers and national media, organizes collaborative research projects, produces reports and publications, and designs and implements innovative educational programming.

There was no information about The Weaponized Narrative Initiative on the Center’s website, but Allenby and Garreau are both listed as ASU affiliated faculty at the Center on the Future of War. They both have an impressive list of credentials.

Allenby is President’s Professor and Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment; Founding Director, Center for Earth Systems Engineering and Management; Founding Chair, Consortium for Emerging Technologies, Military Operations, and National Security; Distinguished Sustainability Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability. On the ASU website, his stated expertise is “Earth Systems Engineering and Management Industrial Ecology Science and Technology Policy”.

Garreau is Lincoln Professor of Law, Culture and Values, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law; Director, The Prevail Project: Wise Governance for Challenging Futures; Co-Director, Emerge: Artists + Scientists Redesign the Future.

What is Weaponized Narrative?

According to Allenby and Garreau, weaponized narrative:

Seeks to undermine an opponent’s civilization, identity, and will by generating complexity, confusion, and political and social schisms. It can be used tactically, as part of explicit military or geopolitical conflict; or strategically, as a way to reduce, neutralize, and defeat a civilization, state, or organization. Done well, it limits or even eliminates the need for armed force to achieve political and military aims.

Narrative has never been neutral, so in a sense ‘weaponized narrative’ is a false flag. When Allenby and Garreau identify the current information climate as ‘post-factual’, it is only to acknowledge that bias in reporting has been trying to influence our beliefs and opinions since Homer wrote the Iliad. But it does highlight what British politicians would call a ‘sea change’ in military strategy.

For years, every Western armed force has had its website, now they have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and this move necessarily required them to narrativize their presence, turning the press releases and official statements of the past into status updates and tweets. Doing so has inevitably brought the armed forces into contact with the seething internet underworld of trolls, flamers and hackers. It is not just about responding to perceptions of Russian cyber aggression, but seeing that projection of force also begins the moment trigger fingers hit the keyboard.

With the US Government planning to spend $160 million on countering the fake news epidemic, there is much to be gained by controling the narrative of the ‘weaponized narrative’.

Sources: Weaponized Narrative is the New Battlespace

Photo: A serviceman accesses social media channels using a smart phone, outside MOD Main Building in London, by Harland Quarrington (Crown Copyright, 2013).

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