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Political warfare is the use of political means to compel an opponent to do one's will, based on hostile intent. The term political describes the calculated interaction between a government and a target audience to include another state's government, military, and/or general population. Governments use a variety of techniques to coerce certain actions, thereby gaining relative advantage over an opponent. The techniques include propaganda and psychological operations (PSYOP), which service national and military objectives respectively. Propaganda has many aspects and a hostile and coercive political purpose. Psychological operations are for strategic and tactical military objectives and may be intended for hostile military and civilian populations.
Political warfare's coercive nature leads to weakening or destroying an opponent's political, social, or societal will, and forcing a course of action favorable to a state's interest. Political war may be combined with violence, economic pressure, subversion, and diplomacy, but its chief aspect is "the use of words, images and ideas".The creation, deployment, and continuation of these coercive methods are a function of statecraft for nations and serve as a potential substitute for more direct military action. For instance, methods like economic sanctions or embargoes are intended to inflict the necessary economic damage to force political change. The utilized methods and techniques in political war depend on the state's political vision and composition. Conduct will differ according to whether the state is totalitarian, authoritative, or democratic.
The ultimate goal of political warfare is to alter an opponent's opinions and actions in favour of one state's interests without utilizing military power. This type of organized persuasion or coercion also has the practical purpose of saving lives through eschewing the use of violence in order to further political goals. Thus, political warfare also involves "the art of heartening friends and disheartening enemies, of gaining help for one's cause and causing the abandonment of the enemies'".Generally, political warfare is distinguished by its hostile intent and through potential escalation; but the loss of life is an accepted consequence.
Political warfare utilizes all instruments short of war available to a nation to achieve its national objectives. The best tool of political warfare is "effective policy forcefully explained",or more directly, "overt policy forcefully backed". But political warfare is used, as one leading thinker on the topic has explained, "when public relations statements and gentle, public diplomacy-style persuasion – the policies of 'soft power' – fail to win the needed sentiments and actions" around the world. The major way political warfare is waged is through propaganda. The essence of these operations can be either overt or covert. "White" or overt propaganda comes from a known source. "Gray" propaganda, on the other hand, is the "semiofficial amplification of a government's voice". Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are examples of "gray" propaganda during the Cold War. "Black" propaganda, however, is propaganda which originates from an unknown source. The key to black propaganda is the fact that it most often "appears to come from a disinterested source when in fact it does not".
There are channels which can be used to transmit propaganda. Sophisticated use of technology allows to disseminate information to a vast number of people. The most basic channel is the spoken word. This can include live speeches or radio and television broadcasts. Overt or covert radio broadcasting can be an especially useful tool.[ clarification needed ] The printed word is also very powerful, including pamphlets, leaflets, books, magazines, political cartoons, and planted newspaper articles (clandestine or otherwise). Subversion, agents of influence, spies, journalists, and "useful idiots" can all be used as powerful tools in political warfare.
Political warfare also includes aggressive activities by one actor to offensively gain relative advantage or control over another. Between nation states, it can end in the seizure of power or in the open assimilation of the victimized state into the political system or power complex of the aggressor. This aggressor-victim relationship has also been seen between rivals within a state and may involve tactics like assassination, paramilitary activity, sabotage, coup d'état, insurgency, revolution, guerrilla warfare, and civil war.
A coup utilizes political resources to gain support within the existing state and neutralize or immobilize those who are capable of rallying against the coup. A successful coup occurs rapidly and after taking over the government, stabilizes the situation by controlling communications and mobility. Furthermore, a new government must gain acceptance from the public and military and administrative structures, by reducing the sense of insecurity. Ultimately, the new government will seek legitimacy in the eyes of its own people as well as seek foreign recognition.The coup d'état can be led by national forces or involve foreign influence, similar to foreign liberation or infiltration.
The history of political warfare can be traced to antiquity. The Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzu captures its essence in the ancient Chinese military strategy book, The Art of War : "So to win a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; the highest excellence is to subdue the enemy's army without fighting at all...The expert in using the military subdues the enemy's forces without going to battle, takes the enemy's walled cities without launching an attack, and crushes the enemy's state without protracted war."
There are abundant examples of political warfare in antiquity. In ancient Greece, a famous example is that of the Trojan Horse, which used deception for tactical military objectives. Propaganda was commonly utilized, including Greek rhetoric and theatre which used words and images to influence populations throughout the Hellenic world. This practice has left a lasting legacy of speech as a mechanism of political power, greater than force in solving disputes and inducing submission.During this same period, Alexander the Great used coinage imprinted with his own image, indirectly forcing conquered nations to accept his legitimacy as national ruler and to unite disparate nations together under his dominion.
Ancient Rome utilized similar political warfare as the Greeks including rhetoric, as displayed by Cicero; and art, as seen in coinage, statues, architecture, engineering, and mosaics. All of these elements were intended to portray Rome's imperial dominance over its subject nations and the superior nature of Roman society.Following a religious vision, the emperor Constantine I in AD 330 bound the Roman state to the universal Christian Church. In doing so, he linked "religious commitment with imperial ambition" that proved to be quite successful and powerful. One long-lasting symbol of this is the Chi Rho, which forms the first two letters of the Greeks' name for Christ. This symbol was used for over one thousand years by Constantine's successors as a symbol of "imperial majesty and divine authority" and still is a powerful symbol within Christianity.
American foreign policy demonstrates a tendency to move towards political warfare in times of tension and perceived threat, and toward public diplomacy in times of improved relations and peace. American use of political warfare depends on its central political vision of the world and its subsequent foreign policy objectives.After World War II, the threat of Soviet expansion brought two new aims for American political warfare:
President Harry S. Truman established a government political warfare capability in the National Security Act of 1947. The act created the U.S. National Security Council, which became the infrastructure necessary to apply military power to political purposes.Additionally, the United States crafted the Marshall Plan, which provided funding to rebuild, from 1947 to 1951, the European countries devastated by war. President Truman voiced the United States' national, universalist vision for political warfare against the Soviet Union in an address before Congress on March 12, 1947, thereby establishing the Truman Doctrine:
The peoples of a number of countries of the world have recently had totalitarian regimes forced upon them against their will. The Government of the United States has made frequent protests against coercion and intimidation, in violation of the Yalta agreement, in Poland, Rumania, and Bulgaria. I must also state that in a number of other countries there have been similar developments.
One way of life is based upon the will of the majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression.
The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed elections, and the suppression of personal freedoms.
I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.
I believe that we must assist free peoples to work out their own destinies in their own way.
I believe that our help should be primarily through economic and financial aid which is essential to economic stability and orderly political processes.
The seeds of totalitarian regimes are nurtured by misery and want. They spread and grow in the evil soil of poverty and strife. They reach their full growth when the hope of a people for a better life has died. We must keep that hope alive.
The free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.
If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world – and we shall surely endanger the welfare of our own nation.
The Truman Doctrine was the post-WWII basis for American political warfare operations on which the United States government went further to formulate an active, defensive strategy to contain the Soviet threat.
The memo further defined four projects that were activated by the Board to combat growing Communist influence abroad, including:
The United States used gray and black propaganda research, broadcasting, and print media operations during the Cold War to achieve its political warfare goals. These operations were conducted against Eastern European targets from Western Europe by two public-private organizations supported partly by the Central Intelligence Agency and the NSC, and partly by private corporations. These organizations were Free Europe, which was launched in 1941 and targeted Eastern Europe, and the American Committee for Liberation (AmComLib) created in 1951 to broadcast information into Soviet Russia. Both were renamed shortly thereafter and combined as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).Many RFE/RL recruits came either from European emigrants families who were strongly anti-Communist or from US government agencies, most notably from CIA. Officially, "the US government denied any responsibility for the radios and took care to conceal the channels of funding, personnel recruitment, and policy influence. Obviously, the major support was American, but it was plausibly not official American and it could be excluded from diplomatic intercourse and international legal complication." RFE/RL was considered to be a gray operation until its existence was publicly acknowledged by "activists" in the United States during the late 1960s. The goal of the radios was to present the truth to suppressed peoples behind the Iron Curtain "to aid in rebuilding a lively and diversified intellectual life in Europe which could...defeat Soviet...incursions on their freedom".
In addition, Voice of America (VOA) started broadcasting to the Soviet citizens in 1947 under the pretext of countering "more harmful instances of Soviet propaganda directed against American leaders and policies" on the part of the internal Soviet Russian-language media.The Soviet Union responded by initiating electronic jamming of VOA broadcasts on April 24, 1949.
In the fall of 1950 a group of scholars including physicists, historians and psychologists from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and RAND Corporation undertook a research study of psychological warfare for the Department of State.The Project Troy Report to the Secretary of State, presented to Secretary of State on 1 February 1951, made various proposals for political warfare, including possible methods of minimizing the effects of Soviet jamming on the Voice of America broadcasts. It can be assumed that the Truman administration tried to implement plans established by the Project Troy in the project Overload and Delay. The purpose of the latter was to break the Stalinist system by increasing the number of input points in the system and by creating complex and unpredictable situations requiring action.
An overt, non-governmental form of political warfare during the Cold War emerged after President Ronald Reagan's 8 June 1982 speech to the British Parliament. In his speech, Reagan appealed for a "global crusade for democracy"and as a result, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was created in December 1983. The NED was a non-governmental organization (NGO) based on four fundamental foundations:
The NED "funded programs in support of candidates acceptable to the US in elections in Grenada, Panama, El Salvador, and Guatemala throughout 1984 and 1985 in order to prevent communist victories, and create stable pro-US governments".It was also active in Europe, funding groups to carry promote pro-North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) propaganda in Britain, as well as a "right wing French student organisation...linked to fascist paramilitaries". Other notable efforts included anti-Sandinista propaganda and opposition efforts in Nicaragua as well as anti-Communist propaganda and opposition efforts in support of the Solidarity movement in Poland between 1984 and 1990. According to a 1991 interview in the Washington Post with one of the creators of the NED, Allen Weinstein, "a lot of what we (NED) do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA".
Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union was committed to political warfare on classic totalitarian lines and continued to utilize propaganda towards internal and external audiences."Active measures" (Russian: Активные мероприятия) was a Russian term to describe its political warfare activities both at home and abroad in support of Soviet domestic and foreign policy. Soviet efforts took many forms, ranging from propaganda, forgeries, and general disinformation to assassinations. The measures aimed to damage the enemy's image, create confusion, mould public opinion, and to exploit existing strains in international relations. The Soviet Union dedicated vast resources and attention to these active measures, believing that "mass production of active measures would have a significant cumulative effect over a period of several decades". Soviet active measures were notorious for targeting intended audience's public attitudes, to include prejudices, beliefs, and suspicions deeply rooted in the local history. Soviet campaigns fed disinformation that was psychologically consistent with the audience. Examples of Soviet active measures include:
Communist strategy and tactics continually focused on revolutionary objectives, "for them the real war is the political warfare waged daily under the guise of peace".the purpose of which is to "disorient and disarm the opposition...to induce the desire to surrender in opposing peoples...to corrode the entire moral, political, and economic infrastructure of a nation". Lenin's mastery of "politics and struggle", remained objectives for the Soviet Union and other global communist regimes, such as the People's Republic of China.
The Soviet Union remains a comprehensive example of an aggressive nation which expanded its empire through covert infiltration and direct military involvement.Following World War II, the Soviet Union believed European economies would disintegrate, leaving social and economic chaos and allowing for Soviet expansion into new territories. The Soviets quickly deployed organizational weapons such as non-political front groups, sponsored 'spontaneous' mass appeals, and puppet politicians. While many of these countries' political and social structures were in post-war disarray, the Soviet Union's proxy communist parties were well-organized and able to take control of these weak, newly formed Eastern European governments. Moreover, the clandestine operations of the Soviet intelligence services and the occupying forces of the Soviet military further infiltrated the political and social spheres of the new satellites. Conversely, in 1979, the Soviet Union was unable to successfully penetrate the Afghan society after supporting a coup which brought a new Marxist government to power. While Soviet units were already in Kabul, Afghanistan at the time of the coup, additional Soviet troops arrived to reinforce the units and seize important provincial cities, bringing the total of Soviet troops inside Afghanistan to 125,000–140,000. The Soviets were unprepared for the Afghan resistance which included classic guerrilla tactics with foreign support. In 1989, Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan, having been unable to infiltrate the Afghan society or immobilize the resistance.
China's political leaders during this century have had to first create a nation before they could proceed to contend with other national actors in the international arena. Consequently, insofar as both the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang subscribed to a political warfare concept during their formative years of struggle, the concept was as much concerned with creating national identity and defeating domestic adversaries as it was with China's ability to compete in the world.Since the founding of the PRC in 1949 they have centered much of their political warfare efforts within the United Front Work Department. The Chinese conception of political warfare includes the “three warfares” of public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare.
As of 2019 Taiwan (Republic of China) was still the primary target of PRC political warfare efforts. China’s political warfare campaign aims to isolate Taiwan from the international community and interfere in Taiwan’s democratic system and institutions.
The Republic of China government in Taiwan recognized that its Communist adversary astutely employed political warfare to capitalize upon Kuomintang weaknesses over the years since Sun Yat-sen first mounted his revolution in the 1920s, and Chiang Kai-shek's regime had come to embrace a political warfare philosophy as both a defensive necessity and as the best foundation for consolidating its power in hope of their optimistic goal of "retaking the mainland". Both the Nationalist and Communist Chinese political warfare doctrines stem from the same historical antecedents at the Whampoa Military Academy in 1924 under Soviet tutelage.
The Nationalist Chinese experience with political warfare can be treated in a much more tangible way than merely tracing doctrinal development. In Taiwan today, the concept is virtually synonymous with the General Political Warfare Department of the Ministry of National Defense, which has authored political doctrine and is the culmination of a series of organizational manifestations of its application.
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare in which small groups of combatants, such as paramilitary personnel, armed civilians, or irregulars, use military tactics including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, hit-and-run tactics, and mobility, to fight a larger and less-mobile traditional military. Guerrilla groups are a type of violent non-state actor.
Psychological warfare (PSYWAR), or the basic aspects of modern psychological operations (PSYOP), have been known by many other names or terms, including MISO, Psy Ops, political warfare, "Hearts and Minds", and propaganda. The term is used "to denote any action which is practiced mainly by psychological methods with the aim of evoking a planned psychological reaction in other people".
Black propaganda is a form of propaganda intended to create the impression that it was created by those it is supposed to discredit. Black propaganda contrasts with grey propaganda, which does not identify its source, and white propaganda, which does not disguise its origins at all. It is typically used to vilify, embarrass, or misrepresent the enemy.
A low-intensity conflict (LIC) is a military conflict, usually localised, between two or more state or non-state groups which is below the intensity of conventional war. It involves the state's use of military forces applied selectively and with restraint to enforce compliance with its policies or objectives.
Unconventional warfare (UW) is the support of a foreign insurgency or resistance movement against its government or an occupying power. Whereas conventional warfare is used to reduce the opponent's military capability directly through attacks and maneuvers, unconventional warfare is an attempt to achieve victory indirectly through a proxy force. UW contrasts with conventional warfare in that forces are often covert or not well-defined and it relies heavily on subversion and guerrilla warfare.
A false flag operation is an act committed with the intent of disguising the actual source of responsibility and pinning blame on a second party. The term is popular amongst conspiracy theory promoters in referring to covert operations of various governments and cabals.
A counter-insurgency or counterinsurgency (COIN) is defined by the United States Department of State as "comprehensive civilian and military efforts taken to simultaneously defeat and contain insurgency and address its root causes".
Interventionism is a policy of non-defensive (proactive) activity undertaken by a nation-state, or other geo-political jurisdiction of a lesser or greater nature, to manipulate an economy and/or society. The most common applications of the term are for economic interventionism, and foreign interventionism.
Subversion refers to a process by which the values and principles of a system in place are contradicted or reversed, in an attempt to transform the established social order and its structures of power, authority, hierarchy, and social norms. Subversion can be described as an attack on the public morale and, "the will to resist intervention are the products of combined political and social or class loyalties which are usually attached to national symbols. Following penetration, and parallel with the forced disintegration of political and social institutions of the state, these loyalties may be detached and transferred to the political or ideological cause of the aggressor". Subversion is used as a tool to achieve political goals because it generally carries less risk, cost, and difficulty as opposed to open belligerency. Furthermore, it is a relatively cheap form of warfare that does not require large amounts of training. A subversive is something or someone carrying the potential for some degree of subversion. In this context, a "subversive" is sometimes called a "traitor" with respect to the government in power.
The Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) was the covert operation wing of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Created as a department of the CIA in 1948, it actually operated independently until October 1950. OPC existed until 1 August 1952, when it was merged with the Office of Special Operations (OSO) to form the Directorate of Plans (DDP).
An agent of influence is an agent of some stature who uses his or her position to influence public opinion or decision making to produce results beneficial to the country whose intelligence service operates the agent. Agents of influence are often the most difficult agents to detect, as there is seldom material evidence that connects them with a foreign power, but they can be among the most effective means of influencing foreign opinion and actions as they hold considerable credibility among the target audience. Most commonly they serve the interests of a foreign power in one of three ways: either as a controlled agent directly recruited and controlled by a foreign power; as a "trusted contact" that consciously collaborates to advance foreign interests but is not directly recruited or controlled by a foreign power; or as a "useful idiot" that is completely unaware of how their actions further the interests of a foreign power.
The Directorate of Operations (DO), less formally called the Clandestine Service, is one of the smallest components of the US Central Intelligence Agency. It was known as the Directorate of Plans from 1951 to 1973; as the Directorate of Operations from 1973 to 2005; and as the National Clandestine Service (NCS) from 2005 to 2015.
Psychological operations (PSYOP) are operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.
A clandestine cell system is a method for organizing a group of people such as resistance fighters, sleeper agents, or terrorists so that such people can more effectively resist penetration by an opposing organization.
The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has a rich history of intervention over many decades in Guatemala, a country in Central America that the US government has generally viewed as "its backyard." Guatemala is bordered by the North Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Honduras. The four bordering countries are Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize. Due to the proximity of Guatemala to the United States, the fear of the Soviet Union creating a beachhead in Guatemala created panic in the United States government during the Cold War. The panic was later avoided after operation PBSUCCESS which was completed in 1954 as a means to overthrow democratically-elected Árbenz. With what has been released by the CIA we know that due to the 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état and the installation of militarized leadership, more than 100,000 Guatemalan citizens have been killed. The U.S. utilized forms of physical and psychological torture to break down Guatemalans into submission.
In United States military doctrine, unconventional warfare is one of the core activities of irregular warfare. Unconventional warfare is essentially support provided by the military to a foreign insurgency or resistance. The legal definition of UW is:
Unconventional Warfare consists of activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt or overthrow an occupying power or government by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary or guerrilla force in a denied area.
With Europe stabilizing along the Iron Curtain, the CIA tried to limit the spread of Soviet influence elsewhere around the world. Much of the basic model came from George Kennan's "containment" strategy from 1947, a foundation of US policy for decades.
The 1959 to 1963 phase of the Vietnam War started after the North Vietnamese had made a firm decision to commit to a military intervention in the guerrilla war in the South Vietnam, a buildup phase began, between the 1959 North Vietnamese decision and the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to a major US escalation of its involvement. Vietnamese communists saw this as a second phase of their revolution, the US now substituting for the French.
Music and political warfare have been used together in many different political contexts and cultures as a way to reach a targeted audience in order to deliver a specific political message. Political warfare as defined by Paul A. Smith is the "use of political means to compel an opponent to do one's will... commonly through the use of words, images and ideas." Music is useful because it creates an easily recognizable and memorable method of delivery for the desired message. Music is particularly useful medium for the delivery of propaganda. Jacques Ellul stated that for propaganda to be effective it must "fill the citizen's whole day and every day". Since music is often viewed to be a leisure activity, it is often not considered to be as threatening as other propaganda techniques, and as a result messages can often be surreptitiously communicated without being conspicuously noticed.
The Report on the Covert Activities of the Central Intelligence Agency is a 69-page formerly classified comprehensive study on the personnel, security, adequacy, and efficacy of the Central Intelligence Agency written by Lieutenant General James H. Doolittle. United States President Dwight Eisenhower requested the report in July 1954 at the height of the Cold War and following coups in Iran and Guatemala. The report compares with other contemporary Cold War documents such as George Kennan's "X" article in Foreign Affairs, which recommended a policy of "containment" rather than direct confrontation with the Soviet Union, and NSC 68, the secret policy document produced in 1950, which recommended a similarly restrained policy of “gradual coercion.” Doolittle wrote with an abandon-all-principles approach that conveyed the national fear that the United States faced the prospect of annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union: “It is now clear that we are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed objective is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost,” Doolittle wrote. “There are no rules in such a game… If the United States is to survive, long standing concepts of ‘fair play’ must be reconsidered.” Doolittle’s forceful policy and language reflected the fear that motivated American citizens and policymakers in the wake of Soviet communism.
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