Now is the one of the most critical points arriving in recent global history, where the ability to be a subject and not an object of events is not only desirable, but an act that can determine the difference between life and death of nations and civilisations. The global geopolitical order is undergoing a massive and all-encompassing transformation, at an increasing pace it is moving away from the Western-Centric United States-led Unipolar Order towards a Non-Western-Centric Multipolar Order. In its decline, the Unipolar Order is losing its ability to coerce and force the international community to do what it says, not that it has stopped trying to do so. New ways are being sought to try and regulate and manipulate geopolitics to their relative advantage, less costly and more indirect means of influencing the operational environment of international relations. This requires a careful choice of resources and strategy used to leverage apparent strengths over actual weaknesses.
Tangible and Intangible Resources
There are different classes of resources available to actors in international relations, which can be used to accumulate and project power and influence other actors within the zone of interests and operations. Tangible and intangible elements are essential and complementary resources of influence and power. On the one hand are so-called tangible resources, these can be touched and seen and can include: population size, size of economy, military power, industrial capability and capacity, climate, land area and terrain. These elements can be seen and experienced by audiences. Intangible elements are those resources that cannot be seen or touched, yet they exert an influence on the level of efficiency or inefficiency of the tangible assets and include: belief in the political and military leadership, level of sense of belonging and patriotism in the group and its purpose, brand and reputation of a country or entity (its politics, culture, people, military, people). Tangible assets and resources are located and operate in the physical world, whereas intangible assets and resources are located and operate in the information and cognitive worlds.
Fifth Dimension of Strategy and International Relations
In terms of an actor’s ability to accumulate and project power in international relations, there are five dimensions of strategy available to them. Four of these dimensions of strategy are tangible in nature and one is intangible in nature. The first four tangible dimensions of strategy include: 1) land, 2) water, 3) air and 4) space. The intangible dimension is the fifth, which is information and knowledge. As described in the section above this one, the intangible 5th dimension of strategy can and will influence the effectiveness or lack thereof, of the four preceding dimensions when they are employed in an operational setting. People, including policymakers and practitioners, act upon what they think they know and understand (and a common consensus) of the operational environment that is communicated to them, even when this information and knowledge is misleading, false or deceptive. The fifth dimension of strategy is a form of non-kinetic power projection that is relatively easy to employ, less costly and risky (in case of retaliation) to use against a target than kinetic (physical) military power projection.
The Geopolitical Value of Information and Knowledge
Moving away from the theoretical world of pure academia, geopolitics in its practical sense, seeks to regulate and manage the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats present in the operational environment of international relations to the best possible advantage for oneself whilst simultaneously seeking to impose costs and risks for the opponent/competitor. It is a form of cardstacking endeavour to create an uneven playing field that benefits the creator. This is done by arranging a perception of reality that benefits the interests and agenda of the communicator. In the current context of a transforming global geopolitical order, use of the fifth dimension of strategy is an attempt to try and engineer consensus that leads to conformity (orthodoxy of knowledge) on events, trends and processes underway in 21st century international relations.
As a result of technological innovation and development, there are two different parts that are interconnected and interrelated to the fifth dimension of strategy: human (cognitive) and technological (information). Both have disruptive effects on the target audience, the human aspects are non-kinetic and subversive (to the cognitive realm) whereas the technological tends to also be non-kinetic and destructive (to plant and equipment). For example, RAND has been recently pondering on the role of Artificial Intelligence in geopolitics. The focus of this piece, however, is on the human target and cognitive effects through the use of open communications via mass media assets employing at times an indirect and covert form of grey-black propaganda.
Front and Proxy Media
The concepts of front and proxy require some clarification through definition as an initial step. Front media is derived from the term front group, which is a form of lobby that hides its true aims and purpose, often under an innocent façade as being ‘independent’ and with ‘good’ intentions.
Those aspects are deliberately obscure or hidden in order to present the façade of ‘objective news’ without any conflict of interest is more likely to be trusted and believed by the target audience. Examples of front media historically include Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe, which were CIA assets during the Cold War.
The concept of proxy media is derived from the idea and practice of proxy war as they are a key component of contemporary information wars, which is related to the indirect and covert use of mass media outlets to further the (geo)political objectives and aims of the sponsor. Although there is no direct ownership of media assets, other connections exist through the use of financial incentives or ideological kinship, for example. Operation Mockingbird was a historical example, where the US planted stories in mass media that favoured their interests and agenda.
The mission and intent of front and proxy media are loosely speaking information operations that intend to influence audiences to engineer their perception and consent to accepting a certain subjective representation of people, places, events, trends and processes in international relations that cognitively favour the US-led Western geopolitical agenda. Their function is the communication of information to audiences to influence their thinking and behaviour. Other information and knowledge assets exist in the arsenal of information warfare too, with different functions and outcomes. These can be said to be intended to act in the capacity of a gatekeeper to regulate the flow and acceptance of information and knowledge. Such assets include ‘fact-checkers’ whose role is to increase the communication efficiency and effect of their side’s messaging while simultaneously denying that of opposing and dissenting points of view. This can be done by either attacking the nature of the message (‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’ etc.) and/or attacking the messenger to destroy their reputation and therefore credibility.
What is the Process and End game?
The US unipolar order has found itself caught increasingly in a state of relative decline, where its tangible resources used for power and influence projection are losing their capacity and capability. This situation has necessitated turning to intangible resources as a means for finding solutions to the erosion of their global power and hegemony. It seems to involve the attempt to obstruct the global, regional and local rise of other actors and blocks of actors (friend and foe) and to also try and project a façade of Western power that seeks to intimidate rivals from pursuing their own self-interests.
One of the factors that is pushing the increased use and reliance on front and proxy media is the rapidly declining level of trust and belief in Western mainstream media and establishment politics. What was once an asset in times of high trust has now evolved into a (geo)political liability, therefore the attempts to influence and manipulate via overt means of communicational influence, the urgency of which is increasing owing to the Western decline. Of course, this is nothing brand new historically. In periods of greater and more intense geopolitical competition and conflict there is a need to dominate the physical and informational battlefield. A lot of what has been described above in terms of proxy and front media has occurred in the First World War through the US Committee for Public Information under the very capable propagandist George Creel. Where the US intends to increase troop activity, they begin by increasing media activity to pave the way informationally and cognitively for the coming new physical ‘reality.’
In the current context, the Western policymakers and practitioners have taken a self-destructive and deeply delusional ideological path, lacking the professional capability and capacity of the past. The contradictions and dissonance in the information war campaign against the rising Non-Western multipolar order is likely to fail ultimately, but has the potential to create disruption and chaos along the path to the West’s eventual self-destruction.