Disinformation and Active Measures in the Fight for Peace, Security, and Prosperity

Posted: July 13, 2022 in Geopolitics, Information Warfare, Media, Political Philosophy, Readiness & Strategy, War
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By Richard Martin

The West is engaged in an information war. Our youth are vulnerable to cynical and nihilistic ideas about the world. This erodes their resolve and resilience in the face of withering attacks that seek to undermine their ability to apply the cardinal virtues of judgment, justice, courage, and moderation.

However, we must ask how willing people are to stand up for their values and beliefs. Gallup conducted a worldwide poll in 2015, which found “that 61% of those polled across 64 countries would be willing to fight for their country, while 27% would not. However, there are significant differences by region. Willingness to fight is highest in the M.E.N.A. region (83%) while it is lowest in Western Europe (25%). A history of those countries in recent conflict provides an interesting comparison. The Japanese (11%) are the least likely of 64 countries polled to be willing to fight for their country. Results from Germany are similar – 18% willing to fight. By comparison these numbers more than double in the UK (27%) and France (29%).”[1]

Figure 1 – Source Gallup. The darker the shade of red, the higher the willingness to fight for one’s country.
Figure 3 – Source Gallup

The New York Times set up an online forum after the war in Ukraine (February 2022) started to garner comments from young people around the world. The following comment by a 15-year-old from B.C. is indicative: “When I first heard about the invasion, I thought it was a not going to be a big deal. Like what happened in 2020 with Iran shooting down a Ukrainian plane. I thought it was going to be talked about once then over with. But seeing the damage and tragedy that has taken place in Ukraine. I now know that this is extremely serious. My heart breaks for the people in Ukraine. This isn’t something you can just protest about or raise money for. This is real, and people are dying, I sincerely hope that the people in Ukraine are safe, I am 15 years old, and I don’t think my peers understand how terrifying it would be for someone to just take over your home and country by force.”[2]

Another high school student, this time from North Carolina: “There is so much uncertainty surrounding this. Before spiraling into anxious thoughts and endless worries, I had to think this through. As a Christian, I have hope. I know that worrying will not get me anywhere, and my beliefs help me to cope with this situation. There has been so much suffering in the world, but we have survived. This attack has put into perspective how lucky I am. It hurts to see people being so ungrateful to live in a country where we do not have to constantly worry about war, and death. I pray that we can do our part to help Ukraine, and I grieve with those who have lost their lives, family members, their homes, their security. My dad has brought up to me that my grandfather still has nightmares from hiding in bunkers during the Cold War, as a young child. The fact that more children are going through this hurts me. I stand with Ukraine.”[3]

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Ukrainian boys are leaving university and volunteering for military duty and are being deployed to the front lines with as little as 3 days of training.[4] Through the work of the International Forum for Peace, Security, and Prosperity (IFPSP), as well as personal experience, we know that there are young people willing to sign up for military service in NATO and EU countries. We also know that there are idealistic young people who volunteer for military academies to become the next generation of officers. However, even these motivated youths come to military college with preconceived notions about history, politics, economics, and society. Even in a military academy it can be an uphill struggle to convince officer cadets of the values of our nations and what we are trying to build, grow, and defend.[5]

How should we focus our efforts and resources to equip our youth against the nihilistic, cynical disinformation that seeks to undermine our society’s support for Peace, Security, and Prosperity?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the resistance of the Ukrainian people, government and armed forces have provided the world and especially NATO countries with the focus and resolve to assist Ukraine in defending its independence and security in alignment with the fundamental NATO values of freedom, democracy, law, and rights. 

Russia is seeking to undermine these values by dominating Ukraine and its people while attacking the same values in other countries, and specifically within NATO and the EU. Russia has been consistently employing “hybrid” warfare techniques to undermine the resolve and morale of the peoples and nations that oppose Russian ways and means of achieving its aggressive ends.

To this end, Russia has been conducting information warfare and psychological operations against NATO and EU nations. The main approach involves using disinformation and other hostile information activities. There are two main goals. The first is to present the Russian point of view, to convince citizens, decision-makers, and influencers in NATO and EU countries to either support Russia’s war aims in Ukraine, or to undermine their support for their own nations’ commitment to supporting Ukraine and countering Russia. The second goal is to sow chaos, confusion, discord, and conflict within and between NATO/EU countries.

The first of these goals is familiar and is traditionally called propaganda. Although it is not pleasant, it is relatively easy to counter with facts and rational argument. The second goal is less familiar and resembles in many ways classic disinformation, misdirection, and active measures adopted by the Soviet Union and other Communist powers during the Cold War. It is much more insidious, as it aims at nothing less than eroding the ability of free-thinking individuals and groups to act effectively and efficiently in the face of threats to peace, security, and prosperity. In a nutshell, disinformation and active measures are forms of epistemological warfare.

Young people are probably the most vulnerable to epistemological warfare, as their ideas and habits of mind are still in development. They are highly vulnerable to disinformation, ideologies, and nihilistic questioning of the values and structures that uphold the values of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights. Young people are idealistic, with many hopes and dreams about the future, both collective and personal, but these ideals are not tempered by the experience of living and the knowledge of history, values, and goals of our societies.

Epistemological warfare throws contradictory and inflammatory statements, observations, and opinions into the infosphere, especially social media, and sees what will stick. There is not necessarily an ideological standpoint that is upheld. The aim is not to say one side or opinion is better than another, but instead to sow doubt about what is real, and whether anyone in authority or with expertise is to be trusted. Disinformation about COVID-19, the actions of powerful and/or wealthy people, conspiracy theories, etc., are all grist for the mill.

© Richard Martin


[1] https://www.gallup-international.bg/en/33483/win-gallup-internationals-global-survey-shows-three-in-five-willing-to-fight-for-their-country/

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/03/learning/what-students-are-saying-about-russias-invasion-of-ukraine.html

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/03/learning/what-students-are-saying-about-russias-invasion-of-ukraine.html (emphasis added)

[4] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-60724560

[5] Conversation with Dr. Sean M. Maloney, Professor of History, RMC of Canada

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