In modern warfare, the media and social networks have acquired a strategic position. Through these networks, the enemy mind can be controlled. Soft power made it easier to reach a wider audience.
In the evolving political theater, where economic integration, regional connectivity and trans-regionalism are rapidly emerging as global trends, the phenomenon of war has also expanded into multiple domains. The battlefield is no longer confined to mountain ranges or deserts. Similarly, conventional strength is not the only criterion determining a country’s military prowess. Security capabilities have gone beyond the physical realm. The armed forces do not rely (entirely) on physical maneuvers, but the technologically powerful tools of war are high-speed data processing, robotics, quantum computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and activities of cyberspace. The growing impact of a cyberattack can be devastating, cause industrial collapse and can also cripple the state apparatus. These developments are the result of technological advances.
In modern warfare, media and social networking sites have acquired a strategic position. Through these networks, the enemy mind can be controlled. Soft power made it easier to reach a wider audience. Technological access is another area that has equipped countries and disgruntled elements to advance their earned/negative agendas. Often the deprivation of people, based on their ethnic, religious or economic lines, is targeted to cause resentment. This disturbs the inner peace and sometimes becomes detrimental to the economic growth of a country. Such enemy tactics do not require the physical presence of troops. It is the technological prowess that allows the actor to reach the audience of the target country. The economic damage it causes is no less than a physical attack carried out by troops. In extreme cases, society’s resilience is shattered and people begin to see themselves as oppressed.
Seeing the dynamics of warfare in the past, there have been instances where strategic maneuvering has led to victory. For example, the series of German attacks on Spain (1936), Poland (1939), Belgium, the Netherlands and France (1940) involved a “mobile strategy”. Tanks and planes aimed at enemy lines. The war strategy was coined as “Blitzkrieg”, a lightning attack. In all matches, Germany was the winner. The blitz focused on “quick combat” and the short duration of the war. Thanks to this strategic foresight, the German economy did not suffer. These military encounters proved that the strength of economic stability is not only essential to fight a war but also to win it. Comparing past warfare strategy with digital warfare tactics, a lot has changed due to technological prowess. However, the basic idea behind the act of war is the same, i.e. “a knockout blow”. Germany, by employing the tactic of the Blitzkrieg, took the enemy states by surprise. Enemy states were simultaneously confronted by land and air fronts.
Applying the same principle in today’s era of globalization and digitalization, states are competing on many fronts. New battlefields are opened; open and covert operations are launched to outsmart the adversary. Psychological impairment as a whole is realized through documentaries, dramas and films, while specific social groups are targeted through subversion and other covert means. All of this is done in an organized manner and the playing field is a vacuum in the target country created by its weaknesses and unfair practices. This inner weakness is exploited by outside forces to widen the gap within society.
Due to internal discord, the state is unable to fight contradictory interference from outside. In such a situation, the target country is defeated without physical attack. Another tactic is to target the enemy’s fragile economic situation. With a weak economy, the country would face political isolation which, in turn, would sow internal discord. In such a scenario, the enemy is disarmed by political isolation and economic sanctions. To counter antagonistic tendencies, military preparation alone is not enough; economic strength and diplomatic positioning are equally important. The absence of all of this will weaken a country’s defense and political position.
Amna Ejaz Rafi is a research associate at the Policy Research Institute, Islamabad.