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Information Warfare: Forging Communication Strategies for Twenty-first Century Operational Environments

Information Warfare: Forging Communication Strategies for Twenty-first Century Operational Environments by James P. Farwell. Marine Corps University Press, 2020, 178 pp.

Until recently, an uninformed Airman may have argued that a nation’s war-fighting success rested solely on supremacy of the air domain. Likewise, a misinformed Soldier would claim that ultimate victory relied on successful land-based operations. Information Warfare argues that, in today’s conflicts, success in the information domain is the main contributor to winning conflicts. In effect, kinetic operations support information operations and not the other way around. Information Warfare stresses that the military must plan a communication strategy that ranges from the tactical to strategic for a nation to achieve political objectives à la Clausewitz.

Author James Farwell contends that crafting and executing an effective communication strategy is as important as conducting successful kinetic operations when waging war. As an international expert in cyberspace operations and strategic communication, Farwell has consulted with a multitude of political campaigns and Department of Defense organizations. As a lawyer and author, he is well qualified to attest to the role of strategic communication in warfare. Replete with examples, Farwell’s Information Warfare examines the interactions of various aspects of the information environment, describes how to build a communication strategy that complements a military operation, and concludes with a workbook readers can use to produce their own communication strategies.

Strengths of this book include the wide range of topics, abounding examples of historical and recent conflicts used to illustrate points, and the myriad beneficial footnotes in each chapter. In about 125 pages (after excluding the helpful communication strategy workbook), this text covers nearly all topics pertinent to information warfare. While the book serves as a useful primer on social media, opinion polling limitations, and changes to the information environment, the range of topics is too much for appropriate analysis. To his credit, Farwell does a solid job of framing his arguments to limit his scope of discussion. While this framing provides guiderails for Farwell’s study of information warfare, he still includes a variety of tangential topics that sometimes proves distracting and even overwhelming.

As other authors have also successfully argued, Farwell contends that information warfare now is the primary factor in advancing a nation’s agenda. Winning a tactical battle may not matter if a military cannot control the strategic narrative before, during, and after the conflict. Recurring examples from the book are the first and second battles in Fallujah, Iraq. While the US-led coalition achieved combat success in both instances, the battles actually proved advantageous to the Islamic State terrorist group. In the first battle, ISIS controlled the narrative and forced the United States to abandon the battlefield. Though the United States won both the kinetic and information battle during the second battle in Fallujah, the coalition failed to understand how the tactical battle affected overall strategy in Iraq. In turn, this “win” inflamed issues in other parts of the country. Obviously, a successful communication strategy should support the overall campaign strategy.

Information Warfare argues that the ever important communication plan must be implemented on a strategic level well before kinetic operations commence. In the first half of the book, Farwell makes the case that a nation needs a deliberate strategic communication plan to control the information environment before and during military campaigns. This section is almost too short; these pages can be (and have been by others) expanded into a book or two on their own. He then walks readers through building their own communication strategies and messaging tactics. By providing additional examples of historical and contemporary conflicts, Farwell artfully supports his core message. Finally, he includes several chapters that, again, could be complete stand-alone works. The main text of Information Warfare surveys too many topics on its own—thankfully, the footnotes allow the opportunity for in-depth exploration by inquisitive readers.

This book cannot adequately detail the sheer breadth of topics covered or appropriately convey the broad arguments for a whole-of-government integrated communication strategy. Instead, Information Warfare serves more as a textbook that surveys these topics and includes helpful footnotes and a selected bibliography. The footnotes and bibliography are arguably the most valuable aspects of this book. While Farwell did not produce an exhaustive book on information warfare (nor did he intend to with this writing), he did succeed in presenting an overview of the topic and, more importantly, in providing a launching point for readers’ further study.

About a third of the publication is organized as a workbook for readers to develop their own communication strategies. Through a long list of questions, Farwell guides readers from vision to plan to outcome assessment. This exercise will prove worthwhile to readers in crafting a communication strategy and evaluating an existing campaign.

A quick read, Information Warfare, will jumpstart the conversation for many readers about strategic communication and its role in kinetic warfare. Encompassing such a broad array of topics does not allow the text to provide deep analysis on its own. Instead, the footnotes and bibliography will drive the readers’ future scholarship. This book should be read by those who desire a synopsis of strategic communication and a solid, well-informed reading list for continued study.

Maj Michael Knapp, USAF