The Battle for the Mind

Talal Abu-Ghazaleh
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Modern warfare has become much more sophisticated than ever before, with militaries all over the world pumping billions of dollars to develop the latest technological weapons in a bid to win their wars. Novel strategies that militaries have tested and implemented over recent years include economic, cyber, information and psychological warfare.
Today however, a completely new form of combat is being developed under the name of ‘cognitive warfare’ that controls the way humans act and think. This may sound like science fiction, but recently NATO has been actively engaged in weaponizing the brain and hacking individuals in a completely new form of warfare to control human behavior. They are even thinking of expanding their traditional domains of warfare; land, air, space, sea and cyber, to include a 6th potentially much more lethal military area under the title of the ‘human domain’.
NATO is heavily investing in research in this domain; the cognitive warfare which aims to make everyone a potential weapon, and strives to develop a 5th column within target nations in a manner that would be unknown to them. The brain is now the new battlefield and it is likely that conflicts of the future will target the minds before engaging in physical combat.
A report sponsored by NATO in 2020, regarding cognitive warfare, states that capabilities in this area must be built and that militaries must work with academia and the private sector to weaponize social sciences to develop sophisticated cognitive warfare capabilities.
It seems that such warfare has already been tested out on populations under our noses with ‘The Ottawa Citizen’ reporting that Canada’s Joint Operation Command used the COVID pandemic to test cognitive war strategies and tactics against its own people. This style of warfare puts the mind at the center stage of the battle with the objective of influencing opinion, sow dissonance, mentally decimate and build specific narratives in minds, which can aid in disrupting society before a single bullet is fired. NATO, US DARPA and other western military agencies are heavily investing in this domain to develop this new breed of military weapon which is aimed at debilitating human minds.
This has huge implications as attacks under this new breed of military campaigns can potentially take place at any time and without the intervention of military powers. Ubiquitous access to the internet, smart phones and the availability of social media big data and AI technology means that sophisticated attacks against the minds of any nation can be developed and launched without any forewarning and without targets knowing that they are literally being hacked to think and act in a particular way. All of this is incumbent on having access to information, which we are now producing in abundance everywhere through the plethora of online applications and platforms we engage with on a daily basis.
This can be easily leveraged by militaries to understand their target audience better and develop novel ways to affect their thoughts and actions. It goes without saying that if one can mentally disable his foe, the battle will have been won before it even started. This becomes a very powerful weapon in the hands of those who wield it.
Just as marketing advertising has become the mainstay of social media companies, with them generating billions from marketing revenue, I can see these same players working closely with militaries to provide them with this big data and become even more powerful than they already are, going on to generate trillions as military budgets increase year after year. The battleground will become the internet with no beginning or end to such campaigns that can be conducted 24 hours a day without respite.
We must start to build our own capabilities in this area so that we can detect and defend ourselves from this trojan horse. Whether we like it or not, this technology is already here and will find its way to us, subconsciously influencing the thoughts of our nations and the ways we act.
I strongly urge our governments and military agencies to double their efforts to research and develop capacity in this area, particularly in specializations such as nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and neuro sciences.
If we do not do anything, we will become lime lambs lead to their slaughter and pawns with no control. It seems that winning future wars will be based on ones superiority in cognitive weapons and the extent to which minds can be manipulated.


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