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Friday, February 23, 2024

Why Force Protection Must Include Narrative Warfare Readiness

While the struggle to operationalize influence in competition with great powers and even non-state actors continues, we would like to address a subject which will make some cringe: influence in the homeland and upon security forces.

The cringe comes from the mistaken assumption that to discuss influence is to practice influence. The clear prohibition against practicing psyops in the homeland has left the military unable to protect our citizens and soldiers against weaponized narratives, while our adversaries are unrestrained by any such prohibition. They freely engage in cognitive manipulation of their own civilians and military and ours as well.

We need to orchestrate some sort of system for civil/military exchange for defense against, and offense against, weaponized narratives on the homeland.

The very notion will make some nervous and that nervousness is based on another basic and faulty assumption: that human beings are influence-free unless they are intentionally influenced by a motivated adversarial force with a strategy and goal. But this is not so.

The very fact that people are socialized means that they have been influenced before they were conscious of being influenced. There is no such thing as an influence-free zone anywhere on earth where there is human habitation. But most of us are not conscious of the details of our social conditioning. That fact limits our choices. The less you understand about how your very core assumptions are the result of foundational cultural narratives, the more stuck you are in those narratives. The result of foundational cultural narratives is Narrative Identity.

Part of personal growth, evolution, and transformation involves the process of learning how to narrate from the inside out, rather than the outside in. The cultural environment we were born into projected its values and norms onto us and into us. The cultural environment determined many things. Who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to behave has been determined by where and when we were born, the color of our skin, the order of our birth, the socio-economic status of our parents, and so forth.

We can simply submit and leave the process of identity construction to the cultural environment we were born into or we can take some measure of control and make some determinations for ourselves. If we are to do the latter, the stories we tell about ourselves and how we tell our stories are extremely important because in the process of telling we are co-creating the selves we are telling.

How we think about ourselves and how we tell our stories are linked. They are entwined. How we think about ourselves determines how we tell our stories but also how we tell our stories affects how we think about ourselves. This reciprocal relationship is the foundation of Narrative Identity.

What does Narrative Identity have to do with national security? Weaponized narratives attack our narrative identities. This is not an attack on the conscious cognitive domain. This is an attack on the very way we think about who we are and how we give meaning to our experiences. Much of that is less than conscious. Civilians and soldiers alike need to be aware of what our narrative identities are, what they are composed of, and how they got that way. With that conscious awareness we can take some measure of creative control and we can increase awareness of the nature of the attacks against us.

So far, we have failed to educate our homeland population about how influence works (what it sounds like, feels like, what is triggered) in their daily lives, so how can they possibly be expected to detect adversarial influence? Our adversaries are practicing unrestrained narrative warfare against our citizens and armed forces. What is our defense?

Why Force Protection Must Include Narrative Warfare Readiness Homeland Security TodayWithin DoD, force protection means “preventive measures taken to mitigate hostile actions against Department of Defense personnel (to include family members), resources, facilities, and critical information,” yet we are unprotected from assaults upon the narrative identities of U.S. and allied forces by malign actors.

All conflict has a narrative basis and requires a narrative strategy to reach the foundational narrative layers of our adversaries if we are to go on the offense. Those foundational levels are usually less than conscious unless the TA has been trained. Because they are less than conscious, weaponized narrative attacks go undetected. Defensively speaking, that is why we need to bring the nature of weaponized narrative into consciousness for our citizens, our servicemembers, and the entire national security infrastructure. Highlighting the nature of the threat is the first step to developing resiliency in the target audience.

Weaponized narrative is the threat and building resiliency in the targeted audience is a primary defense component of a full narrative strategy.

But we need an offense that works in tandem with the defense. The first part of a comprehensive narrative strategy is the Narrative Identity Analysis of every segment of the target audience. A multi-layered strategy will target each segment separately and yet cohesively (this part is particularly important in contemporary conflicts as the current information environment is something that strategists historically have not had to address).

Parts of the narrative strategy will communicate under the level of consciousness to adversarial targets. Other parts of the strategy will involve conscious communication that explains the meaning of our actions and our behavior to our citizens, soldiers, and allies. This occurs regardless of whether we’re focused on offensive or defensive narratives within the same strategy.

Once our narrative strategy is in place, the sustained choreography of words and actions is essential to modify or sustain behavior. Themes and messages are supporting elements to core narratives. Narrative is central; themes and messages are appendages.

Currently, the USG isn’t structured for the successful application of Narrative Warfare or even a successful influence campaign of any type. But we have tremendous development potential for full-spectrum influence.

If we are to remain viable as a global player, retooling and retraining to be as effective with Narrative Warfare as we are with planes, ships, tanks and troops ought to be a top priority. Influence is a sustained orchestration of multiple tools being employed expertly with selected audiences, often simultaneously. The U.S. government simply cannot execute such, with its current national security architecture grouped into independently acting entities.

We need to get out from under the fallacies of current thinking and re-hone our previous proficiencies at large and small influence campaigns. Cutting-edge thinking regarding influence in support of national security understands narrative as squarely at the center of any such effort. As it pertains to the current threat from adversaries influencing the U.S. and our allies, step one is building resiliency in the military and U.S. audiences.

Ajit Maan
Ajit Maan
Ajit Maan, Ph.D. writes the Narrative & National Security column for Homeland Security Today featuring her original work and work by guest experts in narrative strategy focused on identifying active narratives, who is behind them, and what strategies they are deploying to manipulate and muddy facts to the detriment of America. She is founder and CEO of the award-winning think-and-do-tank, Narrative Strategies LLC, Adjunct Professor at Joint Special Operations University, Professor of Politics and Global Security, Faculty at the Center for the Future of War, and member of the Brain Trust of the Weaponized Narrative Initiative at Arizona State University. She is also author of seven books including Internarrative Identity: Placing the Self, Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, Narrative Warfare, and Plato’s Fear. Maan's breakthrough theory of internarrative identity came in 1997; she published a book by the same name in 1999 which was released in its second edition in 2010 (with the addition of the subtitle Placing the Self). Internarrative identity deals with one’s sense of identity as expressed in personal narrative, connecting the formation of identity with one assigns meaning to one’s life experiences. Maan’s theories are influenced by Paul Ricoeur’s writings in narrative identity theory, and she cites several of his works in her book (Maan, Internarrative Identity: Placing the Self 90). The connection between the interpretation of personal narrative in relation to the larger social group seems to be a key factor in the work of both Maan and Ricoeur. She states that “Following Ricoeur, I’ve argued that who one is and what one will do will be determined by the story one sees oneself as a part of. Going further than Ricoeur, I have suggested that a genuinely imaginative theory of narrative identity would be inclusive of alternatively structured narratives” (Maan, Internarrative Identity: Placing the Self 71-72). This seems to indicate that Maan believes that identity influences behavior, but she also recognizes that one can be constrained by society to accept a self-narrative that fits within existing cultural norms. After establishing herself through her work on Internarrative Identity, Maan has now turned her attention to the analysis of narrative as a means of understanding (and combating) terrorist recruitment tactics. Her 2014 book, Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, examines the scripts perpetuated by a wide range of terrorist organizations while also making important interdisciplinary connections between studies in the humanities and current world events (a workbook companion to the text was published in 2018). She collaborated with the late Brigadier General Amar Cheema on the edited volume titled Soft Power on Hard Problems: Strategic Influence in Irregular Warfare, published in 2016. Maan's 2018 book, titled Narrative Warfare, is a collection of articles examining the topic of weaponized narrative; her 2020 book, Plato's Fear, examines the relationship between narrative and power. Her work was the focus of Representations of Internarrative Identity, a 2014 multi-authored scholarly monograph dedicated to the exploration of Internarrative Identity through diverse fields of study and from international perspectives. In addition to her contributions to academia, Maan has been active in sharing her knowledge with a wider audience thereby uniting military and academic experts in the cause of eradicating violent extremism around the world.

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