Information is altering the character of international conflict in an era of strategic competition, and the U.S. military will not successfully grapple with this changing landscape by happenstance. In the words of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the “advent of the internet, the expansion of information technology, the widespread availability of wireless communications, and the far-reaching impact of social media have dramatically impacted operations and changed the character of modern warfare.”1
As the cadre of National Security Law practitioners prepare to play a key role in operations in the information environment in the coming years, we hear repeatedly that America’s status as the foremost global military, economic, and diplomatic power is not guaranteed. According to the unclassified summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), we are “emerging from a period of strategic atrophy, aware that our competitive military advantage has been eroding.”2 Examples abound of adversaries using technology and an understanding of the power of information to “diminish the physical overmatch of a broad range of U.S. lethal capabilities.”3 The bad news is that our lack of a coherent, doctrinally supported concept of Information Warfare (IW) leaves us ill-equipped to dominate in this evolving security environment. The good news is that the Joint Staff and elements within the Services have taken the first steps to lay a foundation for operations in the information environment. We must build on that progress.
Inter-state strategic competition with nations, rather than terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.4 This long-term strategic competition, principally with Russia and China, must take into account that competitors and adversaries seek to “optimize their targeting of our battle networks and operational concepts, while also using other areas of competition short of open warfare to achieve their ends (e.g., information warfare, ambiguous or denied proxy operations, and subversion).”5 Winning in long-term strategic competition requires seamless integration of multiple elements of national power, including diplomacy, information, economics, finance, intelligence, law enforcement, and military.6
The 2018 Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (JCIC) provides a framework for an expanded view of the operating environment by proposing a notion of a competition continuum that replaces the obsolete peace/war binary with a new model of cooperation, competition below armed conflict, and conflict.7 With a focus on better alignment of military and non-military activities, the JCIC acknowledges that “war and international competition remain a clash of wills in which each actor attempts to impose its will, an endeavor that is inherently human, political, and uncertain.”8 This integration requires a rational information strategy at the national level, and the Department of Defense (DoD) and Army must bring more than leftovers to the interagency table in the form of a thoughtful IW strategy.
Our competitors have determined that dominating the information environment requires a whole-of-society approach. The Russian concept of IW “describes preemptive operations to achieve political goals and to control the information space, deploying all elements of Society to include patriotic hacker groups and private citizens.”9 Russia describes its activities in doctrine as IW. One Russian strategy document defines IW as “a conflict between two or more states in the information space with the goal of inflicting damage to information systems as well as carrying out mass psychological campaigns against the population of a State in order to destabilize society and the government; as well as forcing a State to make decisions in the interests of their opponents.”10 Russia’s IW goals include achieving political aims without the use of military force and shaping a favorable international response in its military actions and those of its allies and proxies.11 As many have noted, “Russia seized Crimea without firing a shot due in part to a successful information campaign.”12 Information warfare tactics include breaches and exfiltration of useful data, release of manipulated and/or sensitive information to influence electoral systems, and the use of cyber tools and information to create psychological effects within foreign populations.13 Admiral Michael Rogers, then Commander of U.S. Cyber Command and Director of the National Security Agency, testified before the Senate Committee on Armed Forces on 27 February 2018 that Russia’s leaders see few consequences for their efforts to undermine U.S. institutions.14 Some experts argue that the success of previous operations and the relatively modest consequences will contribute to continued operations in this space.15
The Chinese strategy of IW seeks to methodically build and maintain information superiority. The concept of “Unrestricted Warfare” combines “information operations, cyberspace operations, irregular warfare, lawfare, and foreign relations, carried out in peacetime as well as in conflict.”16 Lawfare has been described as “a form of asymmetric warfare consisting of the use of the legal system against a foe, by damaging and delegitimizing them, or winning a public relations victory.17 Chinese efforts include cyberspace-enabled reconnaissance and espionage to conduct network intrusions to steal military and industrial data in order to gain a competitive edge. Defensively, the Chinese use internal censorship and surveillance to form the “Great Firewall of China” to block its adversaries from IW effects against its domestic population and to ensure Communist Party control.18 China has also used financial incentives and other means to pressure foreign academic institutions and think tanks, including in the U.S., to portray it in a positive light, and has been “propagating an image of itself as a peaceful, nonthreatening nation focused on international development rather than the pursuit of international power.”19
Our principal adversaries are adept at leveraging the informational element of national power, in part, because they continuously use the power of information against their own domestic populations. It isn’t much of a stretch for these adversaries to apply those well-honed skills to foreign populations, including the American populace. Beyond our near-peer competitors, there are examples of coordinated IW strategies by North Korea, Iran, and violent extremist organizations such as the Islamic State, and the success of previous efforts leaves no reason to expect an abatement of this threat in the future.
While the U.S. investment in weapons modernization and cyber-related capabilities is laudable, an imbalanced focus on technical solutions misses the larger picture. We may be very proud of our status as the reigning world champions in a very expensive game of checkers while our adversaries are seizing the opportunity to master their skills at chess. As the best resourced military in the world, one could argue the U.S. military has grown complacent in its largesse. While the U.S. has been content to rely on its overwhelming conventional military overmatch, our adversaries’ relative indigence has necessitated innovation, improvisation, and the savvy use of information to dilute our conventional advantage. In order for the U.S. to preserve its security and produce enduring strategic outcomes, it must develop a comprehensive, multi-domain strategy distinct from the ineffective strategies of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. In addition to modernization efforts focused on materiel solutions, an established and accepted IW strategy should be considered a vital weapon system in a modern U.S. arsenal.
A Foundation to Build Upon
While we currently lack an official definition of IW in U.S. government policy and DoD doctrine, and there have been months of debate about such a definition and whether the term should be used at all, it is generally understood as “the use and management of information to pursue a competitive advantage, including offensive and defensive efforts.”20 Despite the lack of a firm definition, the DoD has been slowly waking up to the need for vision and action in this area. If the first step to recovery is recognizing that we have a problem, select leaders within the DoD are working to lead us down the right path.
The 2016 DoD Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment (SOIE)—developed, in part, as a response to the requirement for an information operations strategy in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014—seeks to align DoD actions and ensure effective integration of DoD efforts in a dynamic information environment.21 In 2017, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recognizing the increasing impact activities in the information environment, felt the role of information was so critical that he issued an out-of-cycle change to Joint Publication (JP) 1, Doctrine of the Armed Forces, introducing “information” as the seventh joint function.22 The most recent National Security Strategy recognizes that America’s competitors “weaponize information to attack the values and institutions that underpin free societies, while shielding themselves from outside information.”23 The 2018 National Defense Strategy recognizes the imperative to maintain information superiority in the face of adversary capabilities.24 Finally, the 2018 Joint Concept for Operations in the Information Environment (JCOIE) provides a crucial roadmap for the Joint Force to “develop the necessary mindset—individually, as a whole, and as part of the interagency—to leverage information and the inherent informational aspects of military activities to gain and maintain an information advantage.”25
Adding information as a seventh joint function, alongside command and control, intelligence, fires, movement and maneuver, protection, and sustainment, is no small step. As Secretary Mattis stated in his memorandum endorsing the change, it “signals a fundamental appreciation for the military role of information at the strategic, operational and tactical levels within today’s complex operating environment.”26 The information function encompasses the management and application of information and its deliberate integration with other joint functions to influence relevant-actor perceptions, behavior, action or inaction, and support human and automated decision making.27 It helps commanders and staffs to leverage the pervasive nature of information, its military uses, and its application during all military operations.28
The JCOIE is a pivotal document in the progression of this effort. It describes how the Joint Force will “build information into operational art to design operations that deliberately leverage information and informational aspects of military activities to achieve enduring strategic outcomes.”29 It seeks to institutionalize and operationalize the Joint Force’s approach to competition in the information environment, which requires an understanding of information, the informational aspects of military activities, and informational power.30 It describes a security environment of contested norms and persistent disorder, and it recognizes that the Joint Force must “shift how it thinks about information from an afterthought and the sole purview of information professionals to a foundational consideration for all military activities.”31 Instead of relying primarily on physical power as a form of destructive and disruptive force, the JCOIE advocates normalizing the “integration of physical and informational power to capitalize on the constructive and informational aspects of military power.”32 Because perceptions and attitudes shape behavior, the Joint Force must treat them as “key terrain.”
The JCOIE describes a failure on the part of the Joint Force to integrate the full range of capabilities to maintain freedom of action in and through the information environment.33 While adversaries have been more agile in changing their approach, the Joint Force has been “hampered by its policies, conventions, cultural mindsets, and approaches to information, [and] has built barriers fostering a disconnected approach to conducting activities in and through a pervasive [information environment].”34
It also describes a Joint Force that has lacked emphasis, policy, resources, training, and education to address the full power of information. Some of the contributing factors to this failure include 1) lack of effective inter-organizational coordination; 2) ineffective organization of information capabilities; 3) ambiguity of doctrine and terminology; 4) limited ability to understand narratives; 5) insufficient authorities at the appropriate level; and 6) the reluctance to acknowledge that physical capabilities create informational effects. By contrast, through our adversaries’ bolder and less risk-averse approach they have created political, social, and military advantages that exceed their traditional military power.35 While not a specific focus of the JCOIE, the lack of certain statutory authorities should be taken into account. Development of a compelling IW strategy that addresses distinctive U.S. constitutional and moral limitations would assist the DoD in making a case to Congress and the American people that winning in a changing environment will require new approaches to warfare. It will also inform a whole-of-government approach that respects our national values while addressing growing threats to our national security.
The Next Steps
Maintaining U.S. superiority amidst the changing nature of modern conflict requires a strong foundation in updated Joint Doctrine, which constitutes the “fundamental principles that guide the employment of United States military forces in coordinated action toward a common objective . . . .”36 Fortunately, the Joint Staff is building on the momentum of recent years to further develop a doctrinal underpinning for information as a joint function. Currently under development, Joint Publication “3-XX” will further establish and illuminate the role of information in joint operations.37 It is expected to provide an approved construct and doctrinal paradigm for information as a joint function and to reconcile what some have deemed “stray terms” such as “Information Warfare” and “Informational power.”
The Army and broader DoD community must embrace this critical next step and undertake the hard work of updating the doctrine of each Service and ensuring appropriate changes in organizational structure to meet the evolving needs of the Joint Force. The Army must embrace the necessary changes to ensure that the forward-thinking efforts of the Joint Staff are not squandered, as doctrine is of little utility if the Army and other Services are not postured to man, train, and equip the Joint Force in this changing security environment. A holistic and effective approach to IW will cross all functional areas, with a likely emphasis on Cyberspace Operations, Information Operations (including Military Deception (MILDEC) and Military Information Support Operations (MISO)), Electronic Warfare, Public Affairs Operations, and Civil Affairs. In addition, the informational power of kinetic effects should be acknowledged and incorporated more fully into military planning. The Joint Force and Services, including the Army, often treat these functional areas as separately operated, compartmentalized capabilities with distinct doctrine and training pipelines. Instead they should be “inseparable with regard to achieving desired, coordinated effects.”38
The emerging Army doctrine of Multi-Domain Operations (MDO), if enhanced and implemented boldly, presents a key opportunity to accomplish these goals. The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028, released as Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Pamphlet 525-3-1 on 6 December 2018, represents a sweeping new approach to Army operations. It updates the Multi-Domain Battle concept, and a key addition is a description of how Army forces fight across all domains, the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS), and the information environment.39 It defines MDO as “operations conducted across multiple domains and contested spaces to overcome an adversary’s (or enemy’s) strengths by presenting them with several operational and/or tactical dilemmas through the combined application of calibrated force posture; employment of multi-domain formations; and convergence of capabilities across all domains, environments, and functions in time and space to achieve operational and tactical objectives.”40 Convergence, in this context, is “rapid and continuous integration of capabilities in all domains, the EMS, and information environment that optimizes effects to overmatch the enemy through cross-domain synergy and multiple forms of attack all enabled by mission command and disciplined initiative.”41
The MDO 2028 is clear-eyed in its appraisal of both the threat of near-peer adversaries leveraging the power of information and in the urgent need for evolution in the American way of war. While it limits its application of the term “Information Warfare” to adversary activities, it introduces the supporting idea of “Information Environment Operations (IEO),” which it defines as the “integrated employment of [IRC] in concert with other lines of operation to influence, deceive, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of enemies and adversaries while protecting our own; to influence enemy formations and populations to reduce their will to fight; and influence friendly and neutral populations to enable friendly operations.”42 General Milley, in his foreword to the MDO 2028, describes the document as one step in a doctrinal evolution that will be updated after feedback from the force and lessons-learned from wargames and exercises.43
One relatively straight-forward enhancement to the MDO concept would be to specifically reference and incorporate the roadmap provided by the JCOIE, which it currently fails to do, to ensure that the failures identified by the Joint Staff are taken into account. Stakeholders from across the Army and Joint Force should work together to ensure that appropriate terms and definitions are reconciled and that IW (or IEO, should that be settled upon as the final term) is more thoroughly developed and occupies an even more central role in the concept. This effort also requires a sense of urgency outside TRADOC that would facilitate changes in force structure and resourcing decisions far earlier than 2028. Army Cyber Command (ARCYBER), for instance, is given the responsibility in Army Regulation 10-87, Army Commands, Army Service Component Commands, and Direct Reporting Units, to coordinate, synchronize, direct, and conduct “integrated [cyberspace operations], information operations (IO), and electronic warfare (EW) to ensure freedom of action in and through cyberspace and the information environment and to deny the same to our adversaries.”44 Finally, it requires leaders at all levels who are empowered to experiment, assume risk, fail early, and adapt.
The Role of Judge Advocates
The Army JAG Corps, for its part, is uniquely postured to help meet the challenges of this transformation with the recent establishment of a National Security Law functional area that more adequately captures the breadth of what will be expected of judge advocates in the coming years. This recognition of the need for versatility and a broader view of the complex security environment is exactly the type of thinking that will allow judge advocates to support commanders as they begin to implement innovative and potentially novel capabilities into operations. In addition to operations in a deployed environment, judge advocates will be expected to advise on transregional, multi-domain operations that will often fall below the traditional threshold of the use of force.45 As recognized in the enclosure to TJAG and DJAG Special Announcement 40-04, the “current operational environment stretches from peacetime garrison activities to kinetic operations and encompasses everything in between.”46
Advising commanders in the coming years will require versatile expertise in areas including constitutional law, international law, the law of armed conflict (and hostilities below the threshold of armed conflict), cyberspace operations, IO, and a grasp of nuances in policy and evolving command responsibilities. As commanders require further integration of information into planning efforts at every level, judge advocates will be natural assets as trained communicators who understand the importance of language and narrative. Judge advocates will be expected to think and write to ensure that U.S. interests are represented in the face of our adversaries’ deliberate lawfare campaigns.
Information warfare and the military’s role in influence operations is fraught with complicated legal issues, and judge advocates will be expected to help commanders find an appropriate balance in an increasingly connected age. Judge advocates understand that we must not only win the contest of wills with adversaries, but we must also abide by constitutional and policy limitations and maintain the trust and confidence of the American people and allied populations.
Forward-looking elements within the Joint Staff and Services have recognized the changing face of warfare and have begun to lay a promising groundwork for a comprehensive approach to IW. Leaders and thinkers within the Army and broader DoD community must seize this momentum to fully integrate the power if information into every level of military operations, and the JAG Corps in particular is well-positioned to build on its more robust approach to the practice of National Security Law to contribute to this effort. We have urgent work to do to catch up with and maintain overmatch against our adversaries in the information environment, and with the appropriate attention and innovation there is little doubt that the Army and Joint Force will rise to the challenges of modern conflict. TAL
1. Memorandum from Sec’y of Defense, subject: Information as a Joint Function (15 Sept. 2017), https://www.rmda.army.mil/records-management/docs/SECDEF-Endorsement_Information_Joint%20Function_Clean.pdf [hereinafter Information as a Joint Function Memo].
2. U.S. Dep’t of Def., Summary of the 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/2018-National-Defense-Strategy-Summary.pdf [hereinafter 2018 NDS Summary].
3. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Operating in the Information Environment, (25 July 2018), http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joint_concepts_jcoie.pdf?ver=2018-08-01-142119-830 [hereinafter JCOIE].
4. 2018 NDS Summary, supra note 2, at 1.
5. Id. at 3.
6. Id. at 4.
7. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Concept for Integrated Campaigning (16 Mar. 2018), http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joint_concept_integrated_campaign.pdf?ver=2018-03-28-102833-257 [hereinafter JCIC].
8. Id. at 3.
9. Catherine A. Theohary, Cong. Research Serv., R45142, Information Warfare: Issues for Congress (2018).
10. Id. at 9.
12. Nick Brunetti-Lihach, Information Warfare Past, Present, and Future, Strategy Bridge (Nov. 14, 2018), https://thestrategybridge.org/the-bridge/2018/11/14/information-warfare-past-present-and-future.
13. Theohary, supra note 9, at 9, 10.
14. Id. at 10.
16. Id. at 11.
18. Id. at 12.
20. Id. Summary.
21. U.S. Dep’t of Def., Strategy for Operations in the Information Environment (June 2016), https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/Documents/pubs/DoD-Strategy-for-Operations-in-the-IE-Signed-20160613.pdf.
22. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joint Pub. 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States (25 Mar. 2013) (C1, 12 July 2017), http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/pubs/jp1_ch1.pdf [hereinafter JP 1]
23. President of the U.S., National Security Strategy of the United States of America 34 (2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905-2.pdf.
24. 2018 NDS Summary, supra note 2, at 6.
25. JCOIE, supra note 3, at iii. Note that when the JCOIE uses “Joint Force,” it is referring “to a formal combination of the Joint Staff, Combatants Commands, subordinate joint forces, and supporting joint organizations.” Id. at vii n. 1. This article uses the term “Joint Force” in the same manner.
26. Information as a Joint Function Memo, supra note 1.
27. JP 1 at I-19.
29. JCOIE, supra note 3, at vii.
31. Id. at viii.
32. Id. at ix.
33. Id. at 6.
35. Id. at 8.
36. Joint Chiefs of Staff, DoD Dictionary of Joint and Associated Terms (Jan. 2018).
37. CDR Keith Adkins & Mr. Tom Evans, Information as a Joint Function: A Doctrinal Perspective (May 4, 2018) (PowerPoint Presentation), http://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/jdpc/12_Info_Joint_Function04May18v2_1.pptx?ver=2018-05-29-122024-197.
38. Isaac R. Porche et al., Redefining Information Warfare Boundaries for an Army in a Wireless World 11–18 (2013).
39. U.S. Dep’t of Army, TRADOC Pam. 525-3-1, The U.S. Army in Multi-Domain Operations 2028 (6 Dec. 2018).
40. Id. at GL-7.
41. Id. at vii.
42. Id. at GL-5.
43. Id. Foreword.
44. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 10-87, Army Commands, Army Service Component Commands, and Direct Reporting Units (11 Mar. 2017).
45. TJAG and DJAG Special Announcement 40-04: Announcement of Decisions on Strategic Initiatives, JAGCNet (20 Apr. 2018), https://www.jagcnet2.army.mil/Sites/jagc.nsf/homeDisplay.xsp?tag=TJAG+and+DJAG+Special+Announcements.