The brain will be the battlefield of the 21st century, NATO believes and has made a major strategic shift. Until now, the transatlantic organization defined five operational areas for its military activities, namely land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. But for the thinking heads of the alliance, the present and future conflicts will no longer be only “kinetic”, that is to say confined to movement and physical destruction, but will be located – and will be won – elsewhere.
According to Hervé Le Guyader, the “Five Brains Initiative” will be launched in 2024. Le Guyader is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at the Institute for Cognitive Science in Bordeaux and has studied “weapons of neuroscience”. The author concluded that “indeed, the human mind should be NATO’s closest area of operation”.
The goal of cognitive warfare is to make everyone a weapon. Based on this observation, François du Cluzel, a French officer who in 2013 participated in the creation of the NATO Innovation Hub (iHub), discussed at length his vision of the conflicts of tomorrow in a publication entitled “The cognitive war”.
It was published at the end of 2020, with an objective as ambitious as it is ethically questionable. While it is necessary to note that iHub specifies, as is required for legal reasons, that the opinions expressed on its platform do not constitute NATO’s point of view, it is equally necessary to point out that the think tank is sponsored by Allied Command Transformation, tasked to explore the subject of cognitive warfare.
Hacking the individual
François du Cluzel’s idea is to exploit the “vulnerabilities of the human brain” or to “hack the individual”, in order to implement in the targeted countries a thorough social engineering which will make it possible to defeat an adversary according to Sun Tzu’s founding principle: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.
Of course, this concept, which resembles information warfare, is not in itself revolutionary. It has always existed and has taken on a new dimension in recent decades under the impetus of the theories of Edward Bernays, father of the manipulation of public opinion. But the angle from which NATO sees it today is much broader, commensurate with the “opportunities” offered by technological advances.
Beyond the information war “the revolution in information technologies allows cognitive manipulations of a new kind, on an unprecedented and very elaborate scale”, underlined François du Cluzel. In a discussion between experts held on the subject on October 5, reported by The Gray Zone journalist Ben Norton, François du Cluzel defines cognitive warfare as “the art of using technologies to modify cognition in human targets”.
Cognitive warfare is not just another word for information warfare. It’s a war against our individual processor, the brain. This last reflection constitutes in fact the goal of this new strategy and represents a real quantum leap compared to the traditional approach of the question, since it targets the very way in which our brain processes and transforms information into knowledge, rather than to be satisfied with targeting information alone.
To carry out this strategy, “currently developed in Norfolk” in the United States, the French officer recommended in his publication relying on a particularly explosive cocktail, namely the use for military purposes of NBICs (nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, information technologies and cognitive sciences), which, integrated into the framework of cognitive warfare, may “constitute a sure means of military domination in the near future”.
François du Cluzel cited Russian and Chinese “adversaries” of the Atlantic Alliance. “The development of techniques that can harm the cognitive abilities of opponents will be a necessity. In other words, NATO will have to gain the capacity to safeguard its decision-making process and disrupt that of the adversary.”
Cognitive warfare is potentially endless since there can be no peace treaty or surrender for this type of conflict. Offensively the answer is therefore clear. Defensively, it is more convoluted. But a further element of the answer can be found a little later in the text: “Any user of modern information technologies is a potential target. It targets all of a nation’s human capital. […] The objective of cognitive warfare is to harm societies and not only the military, this type of war resembles ‘shadow wars'”, François du Cluzel insisted, while adding that “the modern concept of war is not about weapons but about influence”.
Victory will be defined “more by the conquest of the psycho-cultural ground than by that of the geographical ground”, he continued, quoting Robert H. Scales. The field of application of this strategy knows no limits: “Even if a cognitive war can be waged in addition to a military conflict, it can also be waged alone, without any link with an engagement of the armed forces.”
Cognitive warfare is currently being tested in Canada
This war against human beings, or the anthropological “battle for the brain”, is already visible as a current strategy. For example, it is particularly disturbing to see Facebook entrusting the Atlantic Council, a think tank close to NATO, with the task of spotting real-time information on “emerging threats and disinformation campaigns around the world” in order to “protect free and fair elections”.
According to a report released at the end of September, the Canadian Joint Operations Command (CJOC) saw in the Covid-19 epidemic a “unique opportunity” to deploy propaganda strategies aimed at its own citizens. The operation carried out by this NATO member consisted of “shaping” and “exploiting” information, with the stated aim of avoiding “civil disobedience”.
CJOC Chief of Staff Rear Admiral Brian Santarpia described the operation as “a learning opportunity for all of us and a chance to start making information operations part of our routine,” describing the response to the pandemic as an opportunity “to monitor and collect public information in order to improve awareness for better command decision-making”.
Coincidentally, Canada will host a NATO Congress at the end of November entitled “The Invisible Threat: Tools to Counter Cognitive Warfare”.
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