"Quotable: Dimitry Adamsky on Russian concepts of information war,"
Adamsky image from
Friday, August 12th 2016
Those studying Russian information warfare, the Gerasimov Doctrine, and the Russian use of disinformation will want to read a November, 2015, paper published by the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) in its Proliferation Papers series, “Cross-Domain Coercion: The Current Russian Art of Strategy.” The author is Dmitry (Dana) Adamsky, Associate Professor at the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.
The paper is dense in its analysis of Russian strategic thinking, and it may seem too distant in its concerns for Public Diplomacy officers who are already too busy with Fulbright selections, writing and clearing today’s tweet for the Ambassador, arranging for the media coverage of an administration envoy to post, tangling with the consular section on visas for exchange program participants, and planning a reception at the Residence. In my experience, moreover, Public Diplomacy officers don’t think in terms like “digital-technological,” “cognitive-psychological,” or “the campaign’s decisive battles on the informational front.”
At a time when Ukraine faces a Russia that covets border regions, however, and when NATO is deploying battalions to the Baltic States as a deterrent, understanding how Russian military and political leaders conceptualize information warfare is vital. Nations with plans and doctrines achieve their goals; nations with none yield.
It’s not primarily about ideology. Rather Russian information warfare designs to “manipulate the adversary’s picture of reality, misinform it, and eventually interfere with the decision-making process of individuals, organizations, governments, and societies to influence their consciousness.”
The first series of bullet points are from the paper’s section on “Russian New Generation War vs. Western Hybrid Warfare.” The next section of Adamsky’s paper -- on “informational struggle” -- is quoted in full.
- . . . in the ideal type NGW [New Generation Warfare] campaign, the “informational-psychological struggle” first takes a leading role, as the moral-psychological-cognitive-informational suppression of the adversary’s decision-makers and operators assures conditions for achieving victory.
- Second, asymmetrical and indirect actions of political, economic, informational, and technological nature neutralize the adversary’s military superiority. “Indirect strategy in its current technological look” is primarily about using informational struggle to neutralize the adversary without, or with a minimal, employment of military force, mainly through informational superiority (both digital-technological and cognitive-psychological).
- Third, the complex of non-military actions downgrades the adversary’s ability to compel or to employ force, and produces a negative image in the world public opinion that eventually dissuades the adversary from initiating aggression.
- Fourth, the side initiating NGW employs a massive deception and disinformation campaign (along the lines of the traditional strategic-operational maskirovka concept) to conceal the time, scope, scale, and the character of the attack.
- Two unique innovations stand out in this exposition offered by Russian military theoreticians: orchestration of the non-military and military measures ratio (4 to 1) aimed at minimizing kinetic engagements and the addition of the informational domain to the space-aerial, naval, and ground ones.
- Achievement of the NGW campaign’s strategic goals depends on establishing informational superiority over the adversary and then waging the campaign’s decisive battles on the informational front. Thus, the early (soft) phases of the NGW campaign are more decisive than the final (kinetic) ones.
- Cunning, indirectness, operational ingenuity, and addressing weaknesses and avoiding strengths are expressed in Russian professional terminology as military stratagem (voennaia khitrost’) and have been, in the Tsarist, Soviet, and Russian Federation traditions, one of the central components of military art that complement, multiply, or substitute the use of force to achieve strategic results in military operations.
- Moscow saw the United States waging a new type of (hybrid) warfare elsewhere, felt threatened, sought adequate countermeasures, and is now erecting a firewall against what it sees as a Western HW [hybrid warfare] campaign aimed at Russia and combining both soft and hard power elements. Since the boundaries between internal and external threats are blurred, the threat is perceived as a cohesive whole, and the military is expected to address it in a holistic manner.
Informational Struggle: Leitmotif of the New Generation Warfare
NGW is less about traditional military or economic destruction but targets the adversary’s perception and is more about affecting the opponent’s will and manipulating his strategic choices. Consequently, the role of informational struggle looms unprecedentedly large in current Russian military theory and practice.
Since, according to NGW, the main battlefield is consciousness, perception, and strategic calculus of the adversary, the main operational tool is informational struggle, aimed at imposing one’s strategic will on the other side. Perception, consequently, becomes a strategic center of gravity in the campaign. It is difficult to overemphasize the role that Russian official doctrine attributes to the defensive and offensive aspects of informational struggle in modern conflicts. In NGW, it is impossible to prevail without achieving informational superiority over the adversary.
“Strategic operation on the theater of informational struggle,” aimed at achieving this superiority, blurs war and peace, front and rear, levels of war (tactical, operational, and strategic), forms of warfare (offense and defense), and forms of coercion (deterrence and compellence).
Moscow assumes that this trend equally relates to everyone and perceives informational struggle as a way of striking back against what it sees as U.S. information warfare. These abuses of soft power that serve as instruments of interference in the internal affairs of sovereign countries intensified, according to Moscow, against the backdrop of the changing character of war. The emerging corpus of ideas on informational struggle aims to counteract what Russian experts see as the indirect approach, soft power, and technologies of “managed chaos,” one of the main tools of Western HW.
Informational struggle, in the Russian interpretation, comprises both technological and psychological components designed to manipulate the adversary’s picture of reality, misinform it, and eventually interfere with the decision-making process of individuals, organizations, governments, and societies to influence their consciousness. Sometimes referred to as “reflexive control,” it forces the adversary to act according to a false picture of reality in a predictable way, favorable to the initiator of the informational strike, and seemingly independent and benign to the target.
Moral-psychological suppression and manipulation of social consciousness aims to make the population cease resisting (otkaz ot soprotivleniia), even supporting the attacker, due to the disillusionment and discontent with the government and disorganization of the state and military command and control and management functions.
Despite the puzzlement of several intelligence communities with what they qualify Moscow’s innovative “cyber warfare,” the Russian approach demonstrates remarkable historical continuity. Russian conceptualization of informational (cyber) struggle, in NGW frames, is an outgrowth of three corpora of professional knowledge. The first source of influence is a Soviet MTR/RMA thesis from the 1980s that envisioned military organizations of the post-industrial era as reconnaissance-strike complexes. Accordingly, one can defeat the adversary not by kinetic destruction, but by disrupting decision-making processes within its system of systems, through an electronic warfare (EW) strike on Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. This became a source for the “digital-technological” impetus of the Russian approach. Second, since informational influence is aimed primarily at an adversary’s decision-making, the Russian approach is informed by the tradition of “active measures” and maskirovka – one of the main virtues of the Soviet-Russian intelligence and military art – a repertoire of denial, deception, disinformation, propaganda, camouflage, and concealment. It aims to manipulate the adversary’s picture of reality and to produce favorable operational conditions for promoting one’s strategic goals. This became a basis for the “cognitive-psychological” motive. Finally, a unique Soviet definition given to the science of cybernetics (kibernetika) left its imprint. Seen as a discipline in the intersection of exact, social, and natural sciences, Soviet scientific society defined cybernetics as science exploring the nature of creation, storage, transformation, utilization, and management of information and knowledge, in complex systems, machines, contiguous living organisms, or societies. In a nutshell, it is a discipline dealing with decision-making management of the highest order.
These three sources of inspiration shaped Russian informational (cyber) warfare conceptualization and account for the differences from Western HW. From the start, the Soviet-Russian definition of cybernetics included both digital-technological and cognitive-psychological spheres. Current Russian doctrines and policy perceive cyber space as an integral part of the broader informational space. Russian official terminology differentiates between: informational space – all spheres where societal perception takes shape; information – content shaping perception and decision-making; and informational infrastructure – technological media that gives digital and analog expression to the first two, essentially cognitive-perceptional, components. Russian national security theory and practice addresses these three as one integrated whole and emphasizes perception (soznanie) as the center of gravity of any type of activity in the informational theater of operations, be it offense, defense, or coercion.
Informational struggle/warfare (bor’ba/protivoborstvo, voina), reflecting the field’s dual nature, includes EW, computer network operations (CNO), psychological operations (PSYOPS), and maskirovka activities that enable an integrated informational strike (informatsionnyi udar) on the adversary’s decision-making. Digital-technological and cognitive-psychological components of this informational strike are synthetically interconnected and mutually complementing. Seeing informational struggle as tool of strategic coercion, Russia defines informational sovereignty as digital-cognitive independence and envisions international regulation of informational (cyber) space in a much broader sense than the West. Initially, the term “cyber” mainly referred to the adversarial, Western, digital attacks on Russian informational infrastructure. Incrementally, it acquired a broader meaning in Russian professional discourse, but it is still an integral subcomponent of informational struggle.
Informational struggle is not a codified concept of operations. However, the contours of this widely used tool are straightforwardly identifiable. Three main characteristics predominate. First, Russia’s approach to informational struggle is holistic (kompleksnyi podhod), that is, it merges digital-technological and cognitive-psychological attacks. While digital sabotage aims to disorganize, disrupt, and destroy a state’s managerial capacity, psychological subversion aims to deceive the victim, discredit the leadership, and disorient and demoralize the population and the armed forces. Second, it is unified (edinstvo usilii), in that it synchronizes informational struggle warfare with kinetic and non-kinetic military means and with effects from other sources of power; and it is unified in terms of co-opting and coordinating a spectrum of government and non-government actors – military, paramilitary, and non-military. Finally, the informational campaign is an uninterrupted (bezpriryvnost’) strategic effort. It is waged during “peacetime” and wartime, simultaneously in domestic, the adversary’s, and international media domains and in all spheres of new media. The on-line “troll” armies wage battles on several fronts: informational, psychological, and, probably, digital-technological. This enables the creation of managed stability-instability across all theaters of operations.
In addition to these unique, but largely known characteristics, the main novelty and distinctiveness of informational struggle is the role that it plays in current Russian operational art. Informational struggle warfare is a leitmotiv of the Russian version of “NGW” as it knits together all operational efforts, serving as a kind of DNA that choreographs coercion activities across non-military and military (nuclear and non-nuclear) domains. Its role of systemic integrator is expressed both verbally and graphically in Gerasimov’s programmatic speech. This unique role of informational struggle is a fundamental difference between the Russian approach and the Western HW model. First, in the Western HW theory, the notion of information struggle, even if mentioned, is not as central as in the Russian version. Second, as opposed to HW, Gerasimov’s doctrine emphasizes to a much lesser extent the use of kinetic force and aims to achieve campaign goals while minimizing the use of force. Against this backdrop of hard power de-emphasized to the minimum necessary, perception turns into center of gravity and informational struggle into the main tool of victory. Seizing territory or achieving the desired outcome with minimal or no fatalities, is different from the Western view of HW as a strategy that seeks victory through non-defeat.
Finally, the informational strike is about breaking the internal coherence of the enemy system – and not about its integral annihilation. Gerasimov’s doctrine indeed presumes the use of force, but it is, primarily, a strategy of influence, not of brute force. Consequently, the issue of cross-domain coercion dominates it.