This is part two 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 the use, or misuse, that each element has had against the backdrop of the Ukranian conflict.
Clausewitz argued that ‘the moral elements are among the most important in war. They constitute the spirit that permeates war as a whole … One might say that the physical [components] seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade’. Current events are highlighting this maxim in High Definition and Surround Sound. Russia’s ‘special military operation,’ better characterised as an invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, almost eight years to the day since its military forces annexed the Crimean Peninsula, has again brought the sheer brutality of conventional conflict in cities to light. Informed observers are currently in a deep introspection phase, struggling to reconcile the Russian Army they thought they knew with the one that has been marked by burning vehicle hulks on every avenue of advance. The Ukraine invasion is a manifestation of the changing character of war.
While it is still far too early to draw significant force-structure determining lessons from the fighting, the first weeks of conflict have provided an opportunity to observe the wielding of Military Power as an instrument of National Power. The Military Power Quartet [proposed in Part 1 of this series] has been on display and careful analysis leads to a useful understanding of how they are integrated for best effect. As Clausewitz argues, ‘they are inseparable’.
Perhaps the easiest to understand in the first weeks of conflict is the employment of Intellectual Power. Put simply, Russia did not fight in the way its doctrine, training and experiences would suggest that it should. Conversely, Ukrainian forces, with the assistance of allies and partners, showed immense Intellectual Power in learning a new way to fight in the weeks and days leading up to the invasion. This agility in rapidly adopting and perfecting new ideas, systems, and tactics to shape how Ukraine fought is the mark of high Intellectual Power and has proven a significant determinant of Ukraine’s Military Power.
High Intellectual Power = increased understanding and adaption = reinforcement of will. Conversely, low Intellectual Power = limited understanding and poor adaption = undermining of will.
Similarly, the employment and misemployment of Physical Power across the Land, Maritime and Air Domains has been a focus since well before the invasion commenced. While much emphasis has been on the value of tanks in modern high-threat environments, in each domain, existing, new and relatively experimental capabilities have made a mark. Some have been spectacularly successful while others are notable for all the wrong reasons. There will be much to analyse from this fight and most will not be truly understood for many months, possibly years. What is clear is that Physical Power is much more than numerical superiority of highly complex fighting equipment. The time-honoured battle between capabilities and counter-capabilities continues. The ‘when, with what, and where’ of Physical Power is core to Military Power.
Strong Physical Power = defeating adversary capability = fracturing of adversary will. Conversely, weak Physical Power = high susceptibility to adversary capability = undermining of our will.
The element of Military Power that has been most prominent in the fight to date is the skilful wielding of Moral Power by Ukraine. The Ukrainians are at a significant advantage as defenders of sovereign land. The vast majority of actions and products dominating social networking sites are efforts to generate and sustain international legitimacy for the fight. Building support, cohesion and morale to generate greatest freedom of action is the true value of Moral Power, and it has been on display since day one in a carefully orchestrated campaign. For the most part, it has been targeted at Western, particularly NATO-nation, audiences. It is also not just social media; President Zelensky’s appearances in media interviews and through live-crosses to parliaments around the world are the active management of Moral Power. This barrage of memes, videos, images, audio files and news stories is focused on highlighting Ukraine as the ethical, lawful and moral actor in the fight against a brutal aggressor.
Ukraine’s Moral Power fight has embraced technology and its effectiveness has been enhanced by enabling troops and citizens to become active participants, rather than seeking centralised control of communication. Importantly, the Ukrainians have done this with a relatively effective national approach to Operations Security that appears to have limited Russian deliberate targeting. Ukraine is also embracing the highly participative online environment with individuals all over world now trying their hands at intelligence work to uncover atrocities, developing products traditionally the realm of psychological operations or fundraising for refugees. Russia has done the complete opposite. It has sought to control the information environment and prevent bad news from reaching its citizens.
Moral Power is easy to lose. Evidence of unethical, unlawful or immoral acts by Ukrainians—a real risk with the rapid adoption of ‘citizen soldiers’ to the ranks—will have a disproportionately negative impact when compared to actions of the aggressor. Similarly, transgressions towards blatant propaganda rather than a focus on facts will create unease and distrust in the veracity of information, undermining the effort. Moral Power, the ‘why’ a nation is fighting, is, and always has been, critical to Military Power, particularly in democratic nations. It is one of the key ways the Military instrument supports the Information instrument of National Power.
Strong Moral Power = high understanding and legitimacy = reinforcement of will. Conversely, weak or corrupted Moral Power = limited understanding and poor legitimacy = undermining of will.
Finally, and new in the proposed Military Power Quartet, is Informational Power—those efforts directed at the adversary, predominantly through the Information and Cyber Domain. In the weeks and days leading up to Russia’s invasion, a coordinated effort to reduce freedom of action was undertaken by the US and UK governments. The sustained public release of sensitive intelligence was instrumental in undermining Russia’s Moral Power. Russia’s pretext for the invasion was usurped. Russia’s complex plans to create and set conditions were exposed. Its justification for the war was significantly degraded, if not neutralised. Less obvious, but increasingly coming to light, is the range of complex, coordinated actions through the Information and Cyber Domain to disrupt, degrade, deny, deceive, mislead, undermine or usurp Russian planning and execution. Informational Power, like Physical Power, is focused on an enemy or an adversary. It affects understanding to influence will. Text messages direct to Russian pilots offering rewards for desertion with their aircraft, messages to the mothers of Russian soldiers via social media advertising, jamming of Russian military command and control networks, exploitation of POW interviews fed directly back to soldiers in the field, transmission of atrocities direct to enemy commanders holding them accountable for crimes, nationwide direction to citizens to obscure road signs, are but a few that have become prominent weeks into the fighting. As time moves on many more efforts, particularly strategic actions focused on Russian military and political targets will undoubtedly come to light. Russia is also actively wielding Informational Power. Operating from a very low Moral Power base, Russian capabilities have been used to set or establish conditions, sow increasing doubt about events occurring in the Operational Environment or to impose cost on the international community supporting Ukraine, possibly with support. In the changing character of war, wielding Informational Power alongside Physical Power is the true combined arms fight.
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.
The spirited defence of Ukraine is being closely watched by democratic and totalitarian states alike. Employment of Military Power as an instrument of National Power is inherently aligned to the system of government of the nation involved. After weeks of fighting there is already much to consider and assess, particularly how Moral and Informational Power have become core to wielding Military Power. A review of Australian Military Power to consider the applicability of the proposed Military Power Quartet, and how the ADF considers and employs an ill-defined Information Warfare capability, is a recommended immediate step.
1 Clausewitz, Carl von, edited and translated by Howard, Michael and Paret, Peter (1976) On War, Princeton University Press, New Jersey. p 184-185.
2 Australian Broadcasting Corporation (2022). ‘Russian President Vladimir Putin launches invasion of Ukraine, NATO agrees to increase troops in eastern flank,’ https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-24/vladimir-putin-launches-invasion-of-ukraine/100857650
3 The Washington Post (2014). ‘Kremlin says Crimea is now officially part of Russia after treaty signing, Putin speech,’ https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/russias-putin-prepares-to-annex-crimea/2014/03/18/933183b2-654e-45ce-920e-4d18c0ffec73_story.html
4 Clausewitz, Carl von (1976). p 97.
5 Chotiner, Isaac (2022). ‘The Russian Military’s Debacle in Ukraine,’ The New Yorker, March 11, https://www.newyorker.com/news/q-and-a/the-russian-militarys-debacle-in-ukraine
6 Curtis, John and Mills, Claire (2022). Research Briefing: Military assistance to Ukraine since the Russian invasion, House of Commons Library, UK Government, 23 March, https://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-9477/CBP-9477.pdf
7 Feeney, David (2022). ‘The Russo-Ukrainian war’s lessons for the Australian Army,’ The Strategist, ASPI, 31 March, https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-russo-ukrainian-wars-lessons-for-the-australian-army/
8 Parker, Charlie and Brown, Larissa (2022). ‘UK missile shoots down first Russian helicopter in Ukraine war,’ The Times, 01 April, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/uk-missile-shoots-down-first-russian-helicopter-in-ukraine-war-tztnmxqr2
9 Atlamazoglou, Stavros (2022). ‘Russia's failures in Ukraine have dented the “elite” status of its paratrooper force,’ Insider, 4 April, https://www.businessinsider.com/russian-failures-in-ukraine-dent-airborne-paratroopers-elite-status-2022-4
10 Brumfiel, Geoff (2022). ‘4 reasons why social media can give a skewed account of the war in Ukraine,’ Ukraine Invasion – Explained, NPR, 19 March, https://www.npr.org/2022/03/19/1087265230/4-reasons-why-social-media-can-give-a-skewed-account-of-the-war-in-ukraine
11 Sakzewski, Emily (2022). ‘How Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's speeches to parliaments tap into key sensitivities,’ ABC News, 1 April, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-04-01/volodymyr-zelensky-speech-to-australian-parliament-meaning/100913466
12 Kharpal, Arjun (2022). ‘Russia may aspire to a China-style internet, but it’s a long way off,’ CNBC, 16 Mar, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/17/russia-ukraine-war-internet-censorship-china-great-firewall.html
13 Zegart, Amy (2022). ‘The Weapon the West Used Against Putin,’ The Atlantic, 5 March, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/03/russia-ukraine-invasion-classified-intelligence/626557/
14 Mizokami, Kyle (2022). ‘Ukraine Will Pay Russian Pilots $1 Million Bounty to Defect,’ Popular Mechanics, 16 March, https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/aviation/a39432683/ukraine-defense-contractor-will-pay-russian-pilots-to-defect/
15 Beer, Jeff (2022). ‘This Ukrainian anti-war ad is a plea to Russian military mothers,’ Fast Company, 11 March, https://www.fastcompany.com/90730211/this-ukrainian-anti-war-ad-is-a-plea-to-russian-military-mothers
16 Lister, Tim and Shukla, Sebastian (2022). ‘“We all will be judged.” Russian prisoners of war voice disquiet, shame over war in Ukraine,’ CNN, 16 March, https://edition.cnn.com/2022/03/15/europe/ukraine-russian-prisoners-of-war-intl/index.html
17 Bella, Timothy (2022). ‘Ukrainian agency, urging removal of road signs, posts fake photo with a colorful message for Russia,’ The Washington Post, 26 February, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2022/02/26/ukraine-russia-roads-signs-facebook/
18 Zurier, Steve (2022). ‘Ukraine claims phishing attempts targeting military personnel by cyber espionage group,’ SC Media, 25 February, https://www.scmagazine.com/news/cyberespionage/ukraine-claims-phishing-attempts-targeting-military-personnel-by-cyber-espionage-espionage-group
20 Check Point Research (2022). ‘Cyber Attacks on NATO Countries Surge by 116%,’ Check Point Blog, Check Point Software Technologies Ltd, 21 March, https://blog.checkpoint.com/2022/03/21/cyber-attacks-from-chinese-ips-on-nato-countries-surge-by-116/
21 Australian Defence Force (2021). ADF-C-0 Australian Military Power, Edn 1, Lessons and Doctrine Directorate.