NATO has added to the traditional domains of warfare – land, sea, air, space and cyberspace – a new one: “the cognitive domain.” This is not just about imposing certain ideas or behaviors, as in traditional propaganda and psy-ops, but about modifying cognition – influencing the process by which we ourselves arrive at ideas, insights, beliefs, choices and behaviors. The target is not primarily an enemy army, but the citizen. Winning the war is no longer determined by moving a border on a map, but by ideological conversion of the target.
“Cognitive warfare is one of the most debated topics within Nato,” researcher François du Cluzel told a panel discussion on Oct. 5, 2021. He wrote a foundational paper “Cognitive Warfare” for the Nato-affiliated think tank Innovation Hub in 2020. Although cognitive warfare overlaps with information warfare, classical propaganda and psychological operations, du Cluzel points out that cognitive warfare goes much further. In information warfare, one “only” tries to control the supply of information. Psychological operations involve influencing perceptions, beliefs and behavior. The goal of cognitive warfare is “to turn everyone into a weapon,” and “the goal is not to attack what individuals think, but how they think.” Du Cluzel: “It is a war against our cognition – the way our brains process information and turn it into knowledge. It directly targets the brain”. Cognitive warfare is about “hacking the individual,” allowing the brain to be “programmed.”
To achieve this, almost every domain of knowledge imaginable is applied: psychology, linguistics, neurobiology, logic, sociology, anthropology, behavioral sciences, “and more.” “Social engineering always begins with an understanding of the environment and the target; the goal is to understand the psychology of the target population,” du Cluzel writes. The basis remains traditional propaganda and disinformation techniques, enhanced by current technology and advances in knowledge. “Behavior, meanwhile, can be predicted and calculated to such an extent,” according to du Cluzel, “that AI-driven behavioral science ‘behavioral economics’ should be classified as a hard science rather than soft science.”