Weaponized Narrative is The New Battlespace

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet, Media and Content and Privacy and Security

Article Snapshot


Braden Allenby and Joel Garreau


Defense One, January 3, 2017


Weaponized narrative, the use of disinformation to undermine opponents, is increasingly important to national security. The United States lags behind Russia, China, and other powers in using weaponized narrative.

Policy Relevance

Conventional military dominance is no longer enough to protect United States security.

Main Points

  • “Weaponized narrative” uses disinformation to undermine an opponent by causing confusion, or by widening political and social schisms; disinformation and fake news are used as part of a military conflict, or as part of a larger strategy to undermine opponents’ morale, civilization, state, or institutions.
  • The recent use of weaponized narrative to manipulate the American presidency, the Baltic states, Brexit, and events in the Ukraine raises three key questions:
    • How widespread is the use of weaponized narrative around the world?
    • What drives the rise of weaponized narrative?
    • How can the military in the United States adapt and respond?
  • The rise of weaponized narrative is driven by a systemic factor, the accelerating volume and speed at which information is delivered.
  • Humans are story-telling animals; individuals, institutions, and cultures become overwhelmed and retreat into simplistic narratives to avoid inconvenient facts; weaponized narrative gains power by emphasizing the differences between “us” and “them.”
  • Weaponized narrative weakens democratic governance and strengthens a new “soft” form of authoritarianism; old forms of authoritarianism relied on police force and absolute control of information, but the new authoritarianism relies on false narrative.
  • The Enlightenment, that is, the age of the individual, is ending; as individual rationality is overwhelmed, and power shifts to large institutions, the United States must learn to put weaponized narrative to its own uses.

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