You can sway a thousand men by appealing to their prejudices quicker than you can convince one man by logic.Robert A. Heinlein
Welcome to the AssessRep. So far we have managed to deliberately dodge Brexit but this week we aim to take it on, along with the legal echoes of Bloody Sunday and the final destruction of Daesh. It looks as though Parliament has now taken control of the Brexit process, shifting power away from the Cabinet. Some of us will think this is good. Some of us will think this is bad. Either way we are going to get emails about Op Redfold. The AssessRep remains apolitical as ever, but is quietly pleased that the British system of government has been able to adapt to a divisive political challenge. Regardless of our political shades, we can all agree that the process has been painful – adaptation is often stimulated by pain and so we should not be ashamed of having gone through it as a nation. We may still be on track towards the geopolitical equivalent of emerging from DFS with a full price sofa, but at least Westminster has progressed beyond infighting.
Another emotive issue concerns the announced prosecution of Soldier F. Again, the social media battle-lines have been drawn. Yet this time it deals directly with us, the defence community, and the loyalty that we hold at the heart of our military ethos. The military deliberately creates a sense of comradeship that mimics family relationships: brotherhood; sisterhood; belonging. This loyalty is at times expected to overpower our own survival instincts in the protection of our comrades and achievement of our given missions. It cannot be unpicked by rational argument. In fact, it can be entrenched deeper by rational contradiction – the urge to prove our bonds no matter what. Regardless of where we individually stand on the issue of Soldier F’s prosecution, we can acknowledge the role of tribalism on both sides.
Now, the final defeat of Daesh, announced in Syria over the weekend. This was a slow, grinding demonstration of our current way of war outside of the near-peer environment. The use of partnered proxy forces combined with supreme air power. It took time, but it is done. In a different lifetime, the AssessRep spoke to dozens of members of the various fighting forces that took part in this conflict. From tribal fighters, to Shia paramilitaries, to former Daesh fighters. There was one glaring element that stood out: they all said the same thing. They started fighting to defend their land and their families, they developed unbreakable bonds of brotherhood with their comrades, some of whom they lost, and when they came home they were not sure if their sacrifices were understood by those they had fought for. It seems that we are all violently agreeing with each other.
Leaving aside Daesh fighters, and turning to our allies (or enemies of our enemies). There was one critical difference of opinion. That of whether America or Iran had created Daesh. The supporting arguments were exactly the same on each side, one could just take out ‘America’ and swap it with ‘Iran’ and that was it. What does it tell us? These are not rational arguments, they are emotional arguments. Just like Brexit. Just like Soldier F. The fact is that the vast majority of Iraqi society genuinely believes that Daesh was created, trained and supplied by America. We have just won the war, but so far seem to be losing the narrative.
So what links Brexit, Daesh and Bloody Sunday? The point is that all of these conflicts are now taking place in what is often called the information space. A lazy tag, which helps us avoid having to think about what it is we are talking about. A simple, kinetic example: a bomb that drops a bridge in Anbar province is the welcome cover of coalition air power to a Sunni tribal fighter, but it is an example of the coalition protecting Daesh’s retreat to a Shia militiaman. Information context is critical to the way that actions are received and interpreted. In our current model of warfare, information activities provide the main connection between our physical activity, and our desired influence outcome.
Right now, the British military is developing its concept of information manoeuvre. The lesson from these examples is that information manoeuvre, if that is what we are calling it, is actually very difficult to do directly. If we think about our own attitudes to Brexit and Soldier F – what are the sources that could alter our opinions? The rule is that for an emotional cause, the influence must come from those we perceive to be on our side of the information ecosystem. Compare this article in the Spectator to this in the Irish Times – similar enough in argument, if not in how we might perceive the outlet. So, in closing we have to ask ourselves, when we discuss ‘the information piece’ – are we really able to link into the local partners who can influence the audiences we are seeking to reach? If we cannot reach them, then what must we do differently?
The AssessRep team would love to hear your views – so do join the conversation. Every email will be read and answered by the AssessRep editor. Our question for you this week: how has your opinion been changed on any of the issues mentioned above, what does this mean for how we think about information as a lever of military influence? Let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wavell Room would love to get to know your thoughts. Please email us at this link with your comments, thoughts, or carefully crafted vitriol. Do include a brief outline of your background – all messages will be read personally by the Assessrep editor.