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Institute for National

StrategicStudies


WHAT IS INFORMATION WARFARE?

MARTIN LIBICKI

Preface

Preface

In recent years, a concept known as "information warfare" has become popular within certain circles of the U.S. defense establishment. The concept is rooted in the undisputable fact that information and information technologies are increasingly important to national security in general and to warfare specifically. According to this concept, advanced conflict will increasingly be characterized by the struggle over information systems. All forms of struggle over control and dominance of information are considered essentially one struggle, and the techniques of information warfare are seen as aspects of a single discipline. Those who master the techniques of information warfare will therefore find themselves at an advantage over those who have not; indeed, information warfare will, in and of itself, relegate other, more traditional and conventional forms of warfare to the sidelines. If it takes information warfare seriously enough, the United States, as the world's preeminent information society, could increase its lead over any opponent. If it fails to do so, proponents argue, it may be at considerable disadvantage, regardless of strengths in other military dimensions.

This essay examines that line of thinking and indicates several fundamental flaws while arguing the following points:

  • Information warfare, as a separate technique of waging war, does not exist. There are, instead, several distinct forms of information warfare, each laying claim to the larger concept. Seven forms of information warfare -- conflicts that involve the protection, manipulation, degradation, and denial of information -- can be distinguished: (i) command-and-control warfare (which strikes against the enemy's head and neck), (ii) intelligence-based warfare (which consists of the design, protection, and denial of systems that seek sufficient knowledge to dominate the battlespace), (iii) electronic warfare (radio- electronic or cryptographic techniques), (iv) psychological warfare (in which information is used to change the minds of friends, neutrals, and foes), (v) "hacker" warfare (in which computer systems are attacked), (vi) economic information warfare (blocking information or channelling it to pursue economic dominance), and (vii) cyberwarfare (a grab bag of futuristic scenarios). All these forms are weakly related. The concept of information warfare has as much analytic coherence as the concept, for instance, of an information worker.

  • The several forms range in maturity from the historic (that information technology influences but does not control) to the fantastic (which involves assumptions about societies and organizations that are not necessarily true).

  • Although information systems are becoming important, it does not follow that attacks on information systems are therefore more worthwhile. On the contrary, as monolithic computer, communications, and media architectures give way to distributed systems, the returns from many forms of information warfare diminish.

  • Information is not in and of itself a medium of warfare, except in certain narrow aspects (such as electronic jamming). Information superiority may make sense, but information supremacy (where one side can keep the other from entering the battlefield) makes little more sense than logistics supremacy.

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