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Part Three

This is part three of Information - the Missing Member of the Military Power Quartet. In this part the author examines each member of the Military Power Quartet and the effects each one has had through the lens of the first weeks of the Gaza conflict.

The violent Hamas terrorist attack into southern Israel on 7 October 2023, Operation AL-AQSA FLOOD[1], and the Israeli Government’s military response, Operation SWORDS OF IRON[2], have offered another insight into the use, and misuse, of the information environment in the application of Military Power. Part Two of this series considered Ukrainian and Russian use of Military Power, primarily Moral and Informational Power aspects, a few weeks into Russia’s 2022 attack. Part Three provides a similar initial assessment of the fight in Gaza. While some information environment aspects of the fighting in Ukraine are reflected in the Israeli Defense Forces’ (IDF) counterattack into Gaza, on the whole it is more reminiscent of the 20-year Global War on Terror. In this fight a long ideologically driven history, the almost permanent state of conflict, and concentration of the physical area of operations have significantly enriched the narrative. However, like Ukraine, expectations—particularly of the IDF’s storied cognitive warfare capabilities—and reality in the harsh environment of international politics have not aligned. Gaza provides another look at how information advantage enhances Military Power through the continuous, adaptive, decisive and resilient integration and employment of Moral and Informational power in concert with other factors.

Intellectual Power. The knowledge to fight and win. 3rd order effects on friendly understanding to safeguard our will.

Hamas appears to have fully embraced Intellectual Power in the preparations for its successful, surprise, terrorist attack. Several observers assess the terrorist group was likely aided with support from other actors, possibly state actors, seeking to disrupt Israel’s recent efforts at forging a security relationship with Saudi Arabia[3]—‘a tectonic shift in Middle East geopolitics’[4]. While terrorists nearly always have significant advantage in launching one-off attacks, responses are usually swift and deadly. If confirmed, covertly employing Hamas as a proxy force in a geostrategic battle was likely a coldly calculated act borne of years of experience across the Middle East and the Levant. It allowed a significant strategic effect with limited actual cost to the orchestrating protagonist.

Core to Intellectual Power underpinning the strategic effectiveness of the Hamas attack was a degree of integration, coordination and synchronisation of activities to breach Israel’s significant border security systems. This multi-domain, synchronised effort, reliant on surprise and designed to generate significant shock, required detailed reconnaissance, planning, and coordination in execution that, in individual terrorist attack terms, has not been seen since the 2008 Mumbai attacks by Lashkar-e-Tayyiba[5]. Luck also played its part with some reporting now indicating that indicators and warnings of increased threat activity were disregarded by Israeli decision makers[6]. Since the 7 October 2023 attack, Hamas has fallen back on tried and tested defensive approaches inside Gaza.

Arguments for or against the IDF’s embrace of Intellectual Power in the current Gaza fight are more contested. While clearly the IDF has learnt from decades of counterattacks into the West Bank, Lebanon and Gaza, the limited nature of those experiences and the intractable strategic situation has possibly skewed all intellectual developments towards tactical dominance in complex terrain. This has been driven by introspection from the inconclusive 34-day, 2006 Second Lebanon War[7]. The adaption led to changes deemed core to tactical success in 2008’s Operation CAST LEAD[8] in Gaza. While it is fraught to judge the actions of those in a fight from afar, the IDF’s tactical focus over years of defending and counterattacking may have led to stagnation. An increased reliance on firepower has become the singular answer to complicated, and recurring, problems.

The equally strong ideological foundation of the two combatants in some ways ameliorates a lack of rapid adaption through Intellectual Power—both sides appear willing to cause and accept casualties and destruction that is likely foreign to most professional military personnel. Also, judging the application of Intellectual Power in this single operation is limited. Assessing developments over the history of military operations in Gaza, and surrounds, provides a more holistic view of continuous adaption—primarily the tactical application of observations and lessons. 

High Intellectual Power = increased understanding and adaption = reinforcement of will. Conversely, low Intellectual Power = limited understanding and poor adaption = undermining of will. Caveat: Strong ideological underpinning may offset limited application of Intellectual Power, particularly in the face of intractable strategic solutions.

Physical Power. A means to fight and win. !st and 2nd order effects against adversary capabilities to negatively affect their will.

Similarly, the employment of Physical Power across the Land, Maritime and Air Domains in the Middle East has been a focus since well before the latest battle commenced. Terrorist and insurgent groups are nearly always at the forefront of exploiting non-military equipment for asymmetric advantage. The employment of paragliders[9] and motorcycles for insertion and rapid mobility of Hamas terrorists on 7 October is a clear example. The prominence of the subterranean fight, long a feature of conflict in Gaza, is another example of an asymmetric response to the overwhelming Physical Power wielded by the IDF [10]. The ground assault into Gaza reflects a land force optimised for a complex urban fight against a fleeting irregular enemy.  The IDF’s main battle tanks and armoured fighting vehicles have been modified repeatedly, to the limit of their weight tolerances, to prioritise threat reduction, observation, communication and protected firepower in complex terrain. Similarly, the IDF operates world-leading combat aviation capabilities, linked to an extensive reconnaissance and surveillance system that focus on integration with ground forces and kinetically striking with precision.

However, like Ukraine, the Gaza operation makes it clear that Physical Power is much more than numerical superiority of fighting equipment. A well-equipped, motivated and manoeuvrable irregular force can hold its own against a technically superior enemy if it concentrates on fleeting tactical engagements, and limits its adherence to the laws, morals, and ethics of conventional conflict. The lessons of ISIS have not been lost on Hamas fighters. It is also apparent that just having lethal fighting equipment may not be enough to win more than tactical engagements in a complex environment, even with a liberal interpretation of the laws of armed conflict. This is particularly evident in Gaza with its saturation of non-combatants.

Strong Physical Power = defeating adversary capability = fracturing of adversary will. Conversely, weak Physical Power = high susceptibility to adversary capability = undermining of our will. Caveat: Weak Physical Power can be offset through asymmetric approaches, particularly those that discard adherence to International law. Conversely, having strong Physical Power optimised for overwhelming lethal force can prove problematic in complex environments home to non-combatants, and limit strategy.

Moral Power. Legitimacy for teh decision to fight and win. 3rd order effects on the friendly/non-adversary understanding to safeguard our will.

As highlighted in Part Two, Moral Power is easy to lose, particularly if protagonists transgress towards blatant propaganda rather than a focus on facts. Of most interest in the Gaza operation is the loss of (perceived) control of the Moral Power fight by Israel. The tactical success of Operation CAST LEAD in 2008 led to a revitalised Moral Power approach by the IDF seeking to generate operational and strategic success. Operation PILLAR OF DEFENSE in 2012 provided the testbed for a ‘new-media’ strategy that proved dominant in the eight-day military action.[11] Driving adoption of the new approach was a belief among Israeli officials that mainstream media undermined the severity of the threat and misreported on antiterrorist operations. This approach was embraced by the Israeli Government and a policy of direct communication[12] has underpinned all efforts. The result is a strategy focused on content creation to provide an alternate source of news and information rather than the traditional approach of informing media agencies to act as a conduit. But what worked well in 2012 seems to have had the opposite effect in 2023.

The reasons for this are likely varied. On first review there appear to be three core issues facing the IDF in what logically should be globally conceived as a legitimate fight. Firstly, the popularised truism that ‘all politics is local’[13] has a less well-known corollary that ‘all government communication is political’. It has meant IDF efforts are contextualised against almost a fortnight’s highly charged political messaging from Israeli officials focused on political survival following the 7 October attacks—calls for revenge, the employment of nuclear weapons[14] and accusations that all Palestinians are Hamas[15] and therefore there are no non-combatants in Gaza. It is against this framing that military operations in the complex physical and human terrain of Gaza are understood—a manifestation of Clausewitz’s dictum that ‘war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means’.[16] Instantaneous connectivity has enabled the rapid spill of the ‘local’ to the ‘global’, creating intense friction and undermining what former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak described as his country’s fundamental source of power—international legitimacy[17].

It is this instantaneous connectivity of the information environment that has allowed for the second issue to arise. While the participatory nature of social networking allowed global involvement in the Ukraine/Russia fight, NAFO[18] being a good example, Gaza has turned this contribution up to 11. Such is the intensity of the online fight being waged by supporters, the actual protagonists in the physical fight have little influence over its ebbs and flows. It is the most intense manifestation of John Robb’s 2022 ‘War for the Future’[19] seen to date. Robb theorised that the all-enveloping nature of the networked technosphere in which we live would coalesce people into two broad camps:

The Swarm seeks coercive alignment by operating as a cohesive network to eliminate everything it sees as a threat. The Swarm fights with morality seeking the elimination of power differentials and a focus on safety—no damage or injury is morally permissible.

The Horde spontaneously forms in response to encroachment and creates disruptive dissent. The Horde seeks autonomy to think, speak and act differently, a desire for control over the local physical environment and reverence for difference in human beings—innate characteristics, status-seeking behaviours and choices.

In the information environment contest that rapidly emerged as soon as the IDF reacted to the 7 October attacks, pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas supporters have coalesced as the Swarm, while Israel’s champions are slugging it out as the Horde. The breadth and intensity of this engagement is unrivalled—amplified by deep-seated ideological divisions. The Horde is focused on exposing inconsistency, duplicity and deception in any coverage with a concentrated effort to expose, real or imagined, disinformation and propaganda under the ‘Pallywood’[20] banner while actively refuting claims of similar tactics by Israel. The Swarm is adapting its approach daily. The underlying pro-Palestinian cause has retained a range of supporter groups promoting lifestyles that would be all but extinguished under Hamas rule in this latest conflict—evidence of the morality focus of the Swarm overcoming logic (the absence of physical threat to those engaged online amplifies the approach). Robb[21] argues the Swarm’s key narrative has morphed from pro-Palestine through anti-Zionist and arrived at anti-Israel because it generates the greatest mobilisation in a decentralised, non-hierarchal network reliant on the participation of many. This shift in narrative has allowed for significant expansion, bringing those who have little care for the plight of Palestinians but a deep-seated hatred of Jews—anti-Semitism—into the cause. The Swarm, and to a lesser extent the Horde, are ripe for crowd-sourced subversion, and its very nature limits opportunity to contain the spread. Recent decisions by key social networking entities to focus on ‘free speech’ over accuracy have greatly enabled the phenomenon.

Finally, the IDF’s failure to generate and sustain Moral Power is in part likely due to hubris. The IDF now operating an alternate information arm has generated a significant antibody in the global media ecosystem for all agencies beyond those already ideologically aligned to the Jewish cause. Haaretz journalist Omer Benjakob highlights the IDF is operating as though it hired a public relations company to spruik the war. He argues a focus on message-heavy, polished products has lost them relevance in the stream of material, whether factual or not, about the Gaza conflict.[22] The antibody has likely exacerbated the very issue the IDF sought to overcome—media undermining the extant of the threat and misreporting military actions. Direct allegations about the complicity of some media agencies in the Hamas 7 October attack, rapidly exploited by the Horde, further deteriorated the relationship[23].

Hamas, like ISIS before it, has taken a completely different approach to Moral Power—usurping it with ideological hatred. It, to date, has had limited effectiveness with no mass mobilisation of supporters flocking to the region to fight and die on its behalf. Hamas has, however, embraced jihadi strategist Abu Musab al-Suri’s ‘covert incitement detachments’[24] with combat camera elements attached to all elements of the 7 October attacks to rapidly disseminate imagery in the latest case study of ‘propaganda of the deed’.[25] The raw footage of Hamas has proven far more believable to audiences (and sharable) than the polished compiles released after the action of IDF elements. Interestingly, the Israeli Government’s decision to selectively screen captured Hamas footage, and intensely control media access and coverage of its own forces, in an effort to justify and legitimise operations in Gaza has likely furthered Hamas’ propaganda aims.

Strong Moral Power = high understanding and legitimacy = reinforcement of will. Conversely, weak or corrupted Moral Power = limited understanding and poor legitimacy = undermining of will. Caveat: in a conflict that degenerates to its opposing ideological roots, Moral Power efforts to build and sustain the legitimacy to fight and win are not ‘controllable’ by participants and often adapt in ways contrary to the original aims of the fight. In frustration, and dominated by domestic political concern, participants may take actions in the Information Environment that inadvertently negatively impact legitimacy or further the aims of the enemy.

Informational Power. A means to fight and win. 1st and 2nd order effects against adversary understanding to negatively affect their will.

Lastly, and new in the proposed Military Power Quartet, is Informational Power—those efforts directed at the adversary predominantly through the Information and Cyber Domain. Like Moral Power, evidence from the first weeks of the Gaza fight highlights Robb’s Swarm and Horde taking the fight to their selected adversary through the Cyber Domain. Hacktivist groups either aligning to the cause, or identifying opportunity, have targeted critical infrastructure, government agencies, and organisations in both Israel and Palestine. These have included Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, defacement attacks and data breaches. The IDF and national agencies are focused on cyber defence under the weight of the attacks in a similar way to those defending against the barrages of rocket attacks. Importantly, as other nations respond to the conflict these cyber attacks have spread beyond the region. There is also strong evidence of groups closely aligned to nation states seeking to disrupt Israel’s response.[26] Within Gaza, the IDF has liberally employed Informational Power, particularly in the electro-magnetic spectrum, to degrade Hamas’ command and control by disrupting communications. Focused efforts to disrupt Hamas’ use of drones by jamming GPS signals is also commonplace.[27] Tactical psychological operations – leaflets and SMS messages – synchronised with strategic information releases, focused on clearing sectors of non-combatants to better identify and target Hamas fighters immediately before ground elements advance are also commonplace.[28] The effectiveness of these efforts given the density of population, closed borders and underlying message that those who stay could be considered terrorists, seem limited if they were designed to do anything other than enhance Moral Power.

Strong Informational Power = corrupting adversary understanding = fracturing of adversary will. Conversely, weak or corrupted Informational Power = enhanced adversary understanding = reinforcement or enhancement of adversary will. Caveat: Informational Power by states remains focused on defence, particularly with the additional weight of hacktivists joining the fray. In a joint combat phase, offensive use of Informational Power is bespoke and time-limited to support and enhance Physical Power.

Like the spirited defence of Ukraine, military operations in Gaza are being closely watched by democratic and totalitarian states alike. After weeks of fighting it has reinforced the view that Moral and Informational Power are as important in wielding Military Power as our more traditional focus on Physical Power. Generating strategic information advantage, in the case of Gaza enough noise, confusion, freedom and time to achieve hard-edged and globally unpalatable political objectives, is core to the protagonists and their willing supporters, on both sides. Tactically however the IDF likely holds the information advantage – they understand, decide and act more effectively than their opponent within the freedom of action granted to them by their Government. Despite focussed efforts, it has yet to translate as strategic success.  A review of Australian Military Power[29]to consider the applicability of the proposed Military Power Quartet, and how the ADF considers and employs an ill-defined Information and Cognitive Warfare capability, remains an imperative.

Footnotes

1Deif, Mohammed (2023). ‘Statement by Hamas’s Al-Qassam Brigades top military commander’, Middle East Monitor, 7 October, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20231007-statement-by-hamass-al-qassam-brigades-top-military-commander/

2 Israeli Defense Forces (2023). ‘HAMAS-Israel War 2023 – Real-time Updates,’ Timestamp: 10:23, 7 October 2023,https://www.idf.il/en/mini-sites/hamas-israel-war-23/real-time-updates/

3 Reuters (2023). ‘Hamas attack aimed to disrupt Saudi-Israel normalization, Biden says’, 21 October,https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/hamas-attack-aimed-disrupt-saudi-israel-normalization-biden-2023-10-20/

4 Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, Lucy; Youssef, Ambassador Hesham; Barron, Robert; Gallagher, Adam (2023). ‘Is a Saudi-Israel Normalization Agreement on the Horizon?’, United States Institute for Peace, 28 September,https://www.usip.org/publications/2023/09/saudi-israel-normalization-agreement-horizon

5 Riedel, Bruce (2012). ‘Mumbai Attacks: Four Years Later’, Commentary, Brookings, 26 November,https://www.brookings.edu/articles/mumbai-attacks-four-years-later/

6 Dettmer, Jamie (2023). ‘Our warnings on Hamas were ignored, Israel’s women border troops say’, Politico, 21 November, https://www.politico.eu/article/israel-border-troops-women-hamas-warnings-war-october-7-benjamin-netanyahu/

7 Creveld, Martin van (2011). ‘The Second Lebanon War: A Re-assessment’, Infinity Journal, Issue No. 3, Summer,https://www.militarystrategymagazine.com/article/the-second-lebanon-war-a-re-assessment/

8 Heshel, David (2009). ‘New Tactics Yield Solid Victory in Gaza’, Aviation Week, Defense Technology International, 11 May,https://aviationweek.com/new-tactics-yield-solid-victory-israel-gaza

9 Jennings, Gareth (2023). ‘Hamas uses paragliders to breach Israeli border’, Janes, 9 October,https://www.janes.com/defence-news/news-detail/hamas-uses-paragliders-to-breach-israeli-border

10 Pietromarchi, Virginia (2023). ‘Israel faces months-long campaign against Hamas Gaza tunnels’, Al Jazeera, 13 November,https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/11/13/very-risky-israel-faces-months-long-campaign-against-hamas-gaza-tunnels

11 Leong, Tai Liang (2015). ‘Battlefront New Media – Lessons For The SAF Based On A Study Of The Information Campaign During Operation Pillar Of Defence’, Pointer, Journal of the Singaporean Armed Forces, Vol 41, No 4,https://www.mindef.gov.sg/oms/safti/pointer/documents/pdf/V41N4_battelfrontnewmedia.pdf

12 Haaretz (2023). ‘This Holocaust Survivor Is Used to Fighting Deniers on TikTok. Hamas Apologists Broke Him’, Haaretz Weekly, 21 November, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/podcasts/2023-11-21/ty-article-podcast/this-holocaust-survivor-is-used-to-fighting-deniers-on-tiktok-hamas-apologists-broke-him/0000018b-f1ff-d117-abcf-f7fffd9e0000

13 Pierce, Charles P (2015). ‘Tip O'Neill's Idea That All Politics Is Local Is How Government Dies’, Esquire, 17 Jul,https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a36522/how-all-government-is-local-and-thats-how-it-dies/

14 Mecklin, John (2023). ‘Israel’s Netanyahu suspends minister for suggesting a nuclear weapons option in Gaza’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 5 November,https://thebulletin.org/2023/11/israels-netanyahu-suspends-minister-for-suggesting-a-nuclear-weapons-option-in-gaza/

15 Zogby, Dr James (2023). ‘Debunking “All Palestinians are Hamas”’, Arab American Institute, 23 October,https://www.aaiusa.org/library/debunking-all-palestinians-are-hamas

16 Clausewitz, Carl von, edited and translated by Howard, Michael and Paret, Peter (1976) On War, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. p 87.

17 Keinon, Herb (2015). ‘Ehud Barak: Let us not wallow in victimhood’, The Jerusalem Post, 10 June,https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/ehud-barak-let-us-not-wallow-in-victimhood-405577

18 NAFO-OFAN (2023).https://nafo-ofan.org/

19 Robb, J (2022). ‘The War for the Future’, Global Guerillas, 1 June,https://johnrobb.substack.com/p/the-war-for-the-future

20 McCann Ramirez, Nikki (2023). ‘No, Palestinians Are Not Faking the Devastation in Gaza’, Rolling Stone, 3 November,https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/what-is-pallywood-palestinians-falsely-accused-faking-devastation-1234869765/

21 Robb, J (2023). ‘The Anti-Israel Swarm’, Global Guerillas, 15 November,https://johnrobb.substack.com/p/the-anti-israel-swarm

22 Haaretz (2023). Op Cit.

23 Mastrangelo, Dominick (2023). ‘Watchdog says it was just ‘raising questions’ about journalists regarding Hamas attack on Israel’, The Hill, 10 November,https://thehill.com/homenews/media/4304054-watchdog-raising-questions-israel-hamas-attack/

24 Burke, Jason (2016). ‘The Age of Selfie Jihad: How Evolving Media Technology is Changing Terrorism’, CTC Sentinel, November / December 2016, Volume 9, Issue 11,https://ctc.westpoint.edu/the-age-of-selfie-jihad-how-evolving-media-technology-is-changing-terrorism/ Editor's note: This link is testing very slow, but does eventually work in most cases.

25 Bolt, Neville, Betz, David & Azari, Jaz (2008). ‘Propaganda of the Deed 2008: Understanding the Phenomenon’, Whitehall Report 3-08, Royal United Services Institute,https://static.rusi.org/200809_whr_propaganda_of_the_deed_0.pdf

26 CYFIRMA (2023). Israel Gaza Conflict: The Cyber Perspective, 18 October,https://www.cyfirma.com/outofband/israel-gaza-conflict-the-cyber-perspective/

27 Seiger, Julia (2023). ‘Electronic warfare: Israel ramps up GPS jamming to counter Hamas drone attacks’, France 24, 17 October,https://www.france24.com/en/tv-shows/science/20231017-electronic-warfare-israel-ramps-up-gps-jamming-to-counter-hamas-drone-attacks

28 al-Mughrabi, Nidal and Williams, Dan (2023). ‘Israel tells Gazans to move south or risk being seen as 'terrorist' partner’, Reuters, 22 October,https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-tells-gazans-move-south-or-risk-being-seen-terrorist-partner-2023-10-22/

29 Australian Defence Force (2021). ADF-C-0 Australian Military Power, Edn 1, Lessons and Doctrine Directorate.

33
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(Logue, 2024)
Logue, J. 2024. 'Information – the Missing Member of the Military Power Quartet'. Available at: https://theforge.defence.gov.au/article/information-missing-member-military-power-quartet (Accessed: 25 July 2024).
(Logue, 2024)
Logue, J. 2024. 'Information – the Missing Member of the Military Power Quartet'. Available at: https://theforge.defence.gov.au/article/information-missing-member-military-power-quartet (Accessed: 25 July 2024).
Jason Logue, "Information – the Missing Member of the Military Power Quartet", The Forge, Published: February 06, 2024, https://theforge.defence.gov.au/article/information-missing-member-military-power-quartet. (accessed July 25, 2024).
Download a RIS file to use in your citation management tools.
Defence Technical Social

Defence Mastery

Military Power Joint Mastery defence-poa-level4
Integrated National Power defence-poa-level5

Social Mastery

Ethical Philosophies social-ethics-level2
Moral Leadership social-ethics-level3
Stewarding the Profession social-ethics-level5
Generate Climates of Trust social-character-level4

Comments

Submitted by: Critical Thinker

What follows is a scholarly provocation (Pangrazio 2017).

The author’s concept of moral power is conceptually confused, not least because moral power is not defined.[1] Unwittingly, the author reveals the confusion by referring to Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s acknowledgment, that the nation-state of Israel’s “fundamental source of power [is its] international legitimacy [emphasis added]”. 

“The dangers of conceptual confusion in thinking about military affairs…include… defeat and the loss of all that a society or group may hold dear” (Gates 1998).

THE LIMITATIONS OF MORAL POWER AND THE RELEVANCE OF LEGITIMACY IN THE NATION-STATE

Introduction

The concept of moral power, defined as the ability of an actor[2] to influence others based on ethical principles and values, has long been a subject of debate (Mehta & Winship 2010; Stewart 1870). While it can be attributed to individuals and non-state actors, its application to the nation-state is fraught with complexities. Legitimacy, rather than moral power, is a more useful and applicable concept for understanding the influence and authority of the nation-state. Legitimacy is defined as the recognition and acceptance of authority based on a perceived rightful or just basis. It encompasses legal legitimacy (derived from adherence to established laws and procedures) and morality.

The nature of state sovereignty

One of the fundamental challenges in applying the concept of moral power to the nation-state is the inherent nature of state sovereignty. Sovereignty is a key principle of the international system, granting states the authority to govern their territory and population without external interference. This principle often conflicts with the notion of moral power, which necessitates a commitment to ethical principles that may transcend national boundaries (Krasner 1999).

States are primarily concerned with their survival and security, which can lead to actions that prioritise their sovereignty over moral considerations. The realist school of international relations emphasises this point, arguing that the anarchic nature of the international system compels states to prioritise their own security and interests, often at the expense of moral principles (Morgenthau 1948; Waltz 1979).

Pluralism of moral values

Another challenge in applying moral power to the nation-state is the pluralism of moral values. Different cultures and societies have diverse ethical systems, making it difficult for states to claim moral authority on a global scale. In contrast, the concept of legitimacy allows for a more nuanced understanding of state authority that accommodates moral pluralism. Legitimacy is not absolute but is contingent on the perceptions and values of those recognising the authority. A state may be considered to be acting legitimately by some actors based on its adherence to certain moral principles, while others may grant legitimacy based on legal or procedural grounds.

Primacy of national interests

The primacy of national interests in state behaviour further complicates the application of moral power to the nation-state. Those interests can include economic prosperity, security, political stability, and social cohesion. In contrast to moral power, legitimacy provides a framework for understanding how states balance their interests with the need for recognition and acceptance by other actors. A state may engage in actions that are not strictly moral but are deemed necessary for its interests and are accepted by other states as legitimate within the context of international norms and laws (Kissinger 1994).

Non-state actors

The limitations of applying moral power to the nation-state become more apparent when contrasted with non-state actors. Non-governmental organisations, international organisations, and individuals can often wield moral power more effectively than states. These actors are not bound by the same constraints of sovereignty and national interests, allowing them to advocate for ethical principles more freely e.g. Amnesty International’s strident criticism of the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) present actions in Gaza.[3] In contrast, states must navigate a complex landscape of legal, procedural, and moral considerations to establish and maintain their legitimacy.

Legitimacy is a more useful concept for the nation-state

As Ehud Barak inferred, legitimacy is a more useful concept for understanding the influence and authority of the nation-state because it encompasses both legal and moral dimensions. It recognises that state authority is not solely based on coercive power or moral superiority but on a broader acceptance by domestic and international actors. Legitimacy allows for a more comprehensive analysis of state behaviour that considers the legal frameworks, international norms, and ethical principles that shape state actions and their reception by other actors.

Conclusion

While the concept of moral power has its place in political theory, its application to the nation-state is limited by the inherent nature of state sovereignty, the pluralism of moral values, and the primacy of national interests. Legitimacy, with its dual focus on legal and moral dimensions, provides a more useful and applicable framework for understanding the authority and influence of the nation-state. It allows for a nuanced analysis of state behaviour that considers the complex interplay of legal norms, ethical principles, and national interests.

Important postscript

Although not addressed here for lack of space, there is a flaw in the author’s understanding of the recent history of the IDF’s media strategy for military operations. For an accurate reading of its history, see Shavit (2016) Media Strategy and Military Operations in the 21st Century. Arguably, Shavit is the authority. Foster (2021) also provides an excellent account of the IDF’s use of social media.

Footnotes
[1] Nor is moral power defined in Information – the Missing Member of the Military Power Quartet – Parts One and Two. Rather, only brief descriptions of what the author thinks it does are provided. https://theforge.defence.gov.au/article/information-missing-member-military-power-quartet-part-one

[2] “An actor could be an individual, organization, or corporate actors more generally” (Mehta & Winship 2010, p.4).

References

Foster, K. (2021). Anti-social Media: Conventional Militaries in the Digital Battlespace. Melbourne University Publishing.

Gates, J.M. (1998). ‘The Continuing Problem of Conceptual Confusion’ in The US Army and irregular warfare. The College of Wooster. https://discover.wooster.edu/jgates/the-us-army-and-irregular-warfare/ 

Kissinger, H. (1994). Diplomacy. Simon & Schuster.

Krasner, S. D. (2001). Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy. Princeton University Press.

Mehta, J. and Winship, C. (2010). Moral power. Handbook of the Sociology of Morality, pp.425-438.

Morgenthau, H. J., and Thompson, K.W. (Kenneth W. (eds) (1985) Politics among nations: the struggle for power and peace. 6th ed.

Pangrazio, L. (2017). Exploring provocation as a research method in the social sciences. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 20(2), pp.225-236.

Shavit, M. (2016). Media Strategy and Military Operations in the 21st Century, Milton: Taylor and Francis.

Stewart, D. (1870). The philosophy of the active and moral powers of man. EH Butler.

Waltz, K. N. (1979). Theory of International Politics. Addison-Wesley.

Submitted by: Jason Logue

Thanks Critical Thinker for considering the broader implications of this piece (and its predecessors). 
I note, within the ADF’s current capstone doctrine, ADF-C-0 – Australia’s Military Power, Edn 1, the ‘moral’ aspect of military power (and its subordinate ‘fighting power’) is already established alongside 'intellectual' and 'physical' elements. It was the publication of this doctrine, and the application of its defined military power approach in current conflict that prompted my reflection. In the three articles kindly published by The Forge,  I proposed a fourth element/component/power to the existing mix -- Informational power.  I also applied that new four-part construct to the application of military power in Ukraine and Gaza.
ADF-C-0 – Australia’s Military Power Edn 1, clearly states: 

  • “The moral component provides the will to fight. The moral component embodies those intangible individual and organisational characteristics that are fundamental to success—such as morale, integrity, values and legitimacy.” 

My core issue with the way it is framed in the current doctrine is that the links for further detail to assist application are focused solely on military ethics and Laws of Armed Conflict. My belief is that it needs to be more than that if we are to fight and win in the modern complex operational and information environments. Focusing the moral element/component/power towards generating the advantage needed by establishing, sustaining and enhancing legitimacy is core to that requirement – something that military operations in Gaza appear to be less successful in. The title ‘moral’, a clear playback the Clausewitz, is somewhat inconsequential if the meaning of the approach, the authorities to act on that approach and the systems required to achieve it are built into the way the ADF fights.
Finally I note the current published doctrine approach does not diverge from where I headed in those articles. If anything I sought to apply more emphasis towards this area of communicating the truth and actively working to establish and sustain legitimacy as a core element of the ADF’s warfighting approach. 

Current conflicts are showing just how important it is.

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