"Any way the wind blows" - Queen, Bohemian Rhapsody
I recently finished read Andreas Krieg’s “Subversion: The Strategic Weaponization of Narratives”. A very interesting book that focuses on how actors (states and others) operate in the information space to gain political advantage. In addition to providing some theoretic and historical background to the concept and the importance of communication and propaganda in overall strategy, the book also looks at a range of current and past cases and examples. It specifically looks at Russia’s influence in the West and the UAE’s influence post Arab Spring (demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood and actors related to them).
The core argument of the book is that “Subversion is thus a twenty-first century activity that exploits vulnerabilities in the information environment to achieve strategic objectives below the threshold of war with plausible deniability and discretion. It makes use of weaponized narratives to achieve influence on the strategic level, allowing an external adversary or competitor to undermine the sociopolitical consensus and ultimately the sociopolitical status quo…. Subversion campaigns integrate a full spectrum of influence operations, releasing weaponized narratives across a variety of domains, and require tactical activities to be tied into a larger strategy. Only then can a tactical influence operation travel up the mobilization ladder, shaping attitudes and behaviors beyond the immediately targetd audience.” (pp.6-9.)
There were two main elements I found particular worthwhile to explore further. One is the concept the author develops of ‘information resilience’. In this context, he recommends the West needs to address key vulnerabilities that are both sociopsychological and infrastructural. The urgency of this is certainly clear – the COVID propaganda and disinformation is just one example. Nevertheless, it seems to me that government structures in the West are particularly badly set-up to deal with this threat and to support ‘information resilience’. The approach would mean reaching across silos of structures that deal with information technology, foreign policy, home affairs, espionage and education (to name but a few obvious ones) in addition to probably needing to be coordinated at a multi-country level.
The second element that seemed of specific interest to me would be to further explore the concept of subversion in the context of Francophone Africa. A very vocal anti-French narrative has been weaponized. The mixture of real grievances (e.g., French support for certain oppressive regimes) with subjective arguments (e.g., the desirability of the FCFA as currency), and conspiracy theory (e.g., seeing French machinations behind every negative event) is being amplified across media and in particular online (e.g., twitter / X). What is happening echo’s a statement in the author’s conclusions that, “… once a consensus builds, even if just in an echo chamber, narratives can be difficult to challenge, contest and remove, which leads to polarization…” (p. 204)
04.09.2023, Brussels, Belgium.
Online encampment of A. S. Barry. Disparate and not-so-disparate thoughts on international relations, development, writing, and life.