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Professor says information warfare is the battle before the war

March 18, 2003

As tensions build over war with Iraq, an Austin Peay professor of history explains how information warfare is affecting the national image and agenda.

Dr. Dewey A. Browder, a former assistant political adviser to the commander-in-chief of the United States Army in Europe, says that while information is only one element of national power, it is a vitally important tool in winning a war even before it has begun.
March 18, 2003

As tensions build over war with Iraq, an Austin Peay professor of history explains how information warfare is affecting the national image and agenda.

Dr. Dewey A. Browder, a former assistant political adviser to the commander-in-chief of the United States Army in Europe, says that while information is only one element of national power, it is a vitally important tool in winning a war even before it has begun.

“Information supports the political, diplomatic, economic and military elements of national power,” said Browder. “We are talking of both gathering and using information about the other side and addressing our goals for purposes of influencing our own people and other nations. Information helps us to understand the economic effects war might have on surrounding countries and assists the military in making battle decisions.

“At the same time, we are interested in countering false, detrimental information. We're becoming better at it in every aspect due to advances in modern technology. This is especially noticeable on tactical operations. Today's sophisticated listening and observation devices can substitute for sending out scout platoons, risking contact with the enemy and loss of lives.”

While information warfare can be both proactive and reactive in its attempt to gain support and discredit the opposition, it is the proactive strategy of breaking communication barriers between the U.S. and the Iraqi people that is of vital importance in winning the war and eventually rebuilding the country.

“In psychological warfare, you are injecting beliefs and views into the adversary's territory for the purposes of changing or reinforcing attitudes that may help you,” said Browder. “To successfully wage psychological warfare, you need to get into the mind of the enemy and the population and destroy the credibility of their leadership.”

Such tactics as dropping leaflets that warned German civilians not to fire on advancing troops proved successful at the end of World War II. In many places, Germans heeded such warnings by hanging white flags outside their windows.

Today, in addition to leaflet dropping, dissention in the Iraqi ranks is encouraged through radio broadcasts from EC-130E “Commando Solo” Special Forces planes. The broadcasts mimic the program styles of local Iraqi radio stations and state that any war is not against the Iraqi people but only to disarm Saddam Hussein and end his regime.

Most recently, the U.S. demonstrated a new, super bomb, dubbed the MOAB (mother of all bombs). The devastating power was highly publicized to create fear in the heart of the Iraqis. Such a demonstration is one aspect of psychological warfare and is intended to convince an adversary to cooperate and, thus, avoid combat.

Psychological warfare appears to be Saddam Hussein's weapon of choice as well.

“Saddam Hussein is waging psychological warfare now on an international scale with his divide-and-conquer tactics,” said Browder. The rift within the United Nations over a pre-emptive war with Iraq has deepened with the Iraqi dictator's consent to destroy his short-range Al Samoud 2 missiles and his declaration that if America attacks now, it will not be because Iraq has not disarmed.

“He is dividing America from her allies. The French, Germans and Russians are playing right into his hands,” said Browder.

The “delay game” as Browder calls Hussein's teasing release of information and grudging access to inspectors, is one aspect of information warfare because it holds out false hope, according to Browder.

“Thus far, Saddam Hussein has been more successful than the Soviet Union ever was in dividing the NATO alliance,” said Browder. “By careful timing and false hope, he has been able to portray himself as a victim, partly due to his own planning and partly due to a serendipitous situation that he has manipulated to his own advantage.”

In Dan Rather's interview with Hussein, the dictator tried to portray himself as a reasonable individual. He attempted to advance this image by saying he wants to debate President Bush instead of going to war.

“We need to see through that veneer,” said Browder.

A way to counter such tactics is through another branch of information warfare termed “Public Affairs.”

“Public affairs can be proactive or reactive, depending upon whether you're countering an adversary's earlier ‘misinformation' or propaganda or trying to assure that your own argument gets out,” said Browder.

Such tactics, he explains, were pertinent during the Cold War era when America strived to counter Soviet propaganda that claimed America and NATO were planning an aggressive war with intermediate-range nuclear weapons that would lay waste to Europe.

The true story was that European leaders had written a letter to America asking its assistance by building Pershing II's and Ground-Launched Cruise Missiles to counter the Soviets' SS20 nuclear warheads, which had the ability to reach every country in Western Europe.

Browder feels the ongoing massive public information campaign to counter the argument that the United States is only after Iraq's oil could be a bit more aggressive.

“They could do a better job of explaining to the public that the oil argument is insufficient and doesn't hold up under scrutiny. The cost of war will almost certainly be far greater than any benefits we would derive from leaving Saddam in place with current oil policies, ” said Browder.

“Building a responsible government that you can dress up and take out in public is in the U.N.'s best interest. This conflict is, to a large extent, about the relevancy of the U.N. It condemned Iraq's production and possession of weapons of mass destruction, and now it needs to demonstrate it is not a toothless tiger.”

Having reporters on site with soldiers is another tactic of information warfare that has backfired in the past but can have powerful visual influences to promote a cause.

“The media is used to ensure that the American public receives truthful information that hopefully will minimize the effect of the enemy's propaganda,” said Browder. Images of tanks moving out at full throttle and Iraqi soldiers surrendering themselves to CNN cameramen made for a supportive public in the 1991 Gulf War.

No matter the tactic, dispelling misinformation must be backed up with another proactive tacticcivil affairs. This means getting the local population to accept your presence and your purpose there.

“In civil affairs, you have to realize your limitations when it comes to the local
population and be honest about the consequences,” said Browder. “In Vietnam, many people didn't care whether they were under a communist or democratic regime; they cared about putting rice on the table.” That is why, Browder says, it's important to first understand the needs of the people before trying to influence their will.

In Iraq's case, there may be resistance from the Iraqi people due to the conditions in which they live and the fear perpetuated by Hussein's regime, but from a historical standpoint, there does not appear to be any true loyalty to Hussein.

“It was evidenced in the Gulf War that the Iraqi people are not necessarily committed to Saddam Hussein,” said Browder. “The unanimous voting in his last election is a mockery of the democratic process, but it also reveals the degree of his lack of perception about how the democratic process works. To him it is just a symbol.

“By disseminating civil affairs information, we are able to minimize damage to the local populace and facilities. We can get civilians out of the way, away from military targets and areas of operations. Indeed, one major goal of information welfare is to decrease the amount of collateral damage to a region.

"Civil affairs efforts can go a long way in preparing the local populace to accept you. Post-WWII Germany, Japan and Austria all demonstrated this, as does Kosovo and Bosnia today. Civil affairs operations are intended to help stabilize the country in the aftermath of war.”

According to Browder, the more the U.S. can confuse, block or destroy an adversary's detrimental information efforts, the more easily it can influence the perceptions and morale of the people. The more the U.S. can convince those on the ground to “get out of the way,” the more it can minimize damage and casualties in the event of war. And the more success the U.S. has in building national will at home and convincing other nations of the rightness of American actions, the more likely the war will be over before it has even begun.

Browder has been on the faculty at Austin Peay since 1992. He has held assistant and associate professorships at the United States Military Academy at West Point and Louisiana State University and has published two books, “Americans in Post-WWII Germany: Teachers, Tinkers, Neighbors and Nuisances” and “Zweibruecken Yesterday and Today,” as well as numerous articles, book chapters and scholarly presentations. His main research focuses on the American influence in post-war Germany.

For further information, telephone Browder at 7924 or email browderd@apsu.edu.