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The Art of Narrative Warfare

In the 21st century, the world will be controlled by those who control data and information. Data controls narrative, i.e., the perceived truth. Simply put, a narrative is a chain of information, whether true or otherwise, cleverly put together to convince people what you ought them to believe. A narrative campaign, which is always sophistically orchestrated, gives meaning to the actions and messages employed.

An Illustration on The Art of Narrative Warfare

Illustration by The Geostrata

The primary constructs of narrative are; meaning- it births meaning to a succession of events or happenings, identity- someone or some group to convince, content- the piece of information or data to spread, and structure- the way content is fed to the mass. It is, however, noteworthy to keep in mind that most often a narrative campaign doesn’t gift its audience the liberty to derive their own meaning, rather it is the narrator’s prerogative, otherwise, the concept of building a particular idea about a particular instance would go void. 

As humans evolved, their weapons and methods of warfare evolved too; from stones and sticks to missiles and tanks, the only constant in human history has been war; one of its kinds is ‘information or narrative war’.

It has existed for quite some time now. After all, it is essentially storytelling. Nevertheless, various countries across the globe deploy narrative warfare as a technique to deter their adversaries and gain the support of their public and the international community.

Dr. Ajit Maan, in her book Counter-Terrorism: Narrative Strategies, defines narrative as “Narratives are never neutral. Their very nature is strategic. There is no narrative devoid of strategy. Narrative is a rendering of events, actions, and characters in a certain way for a certain purpose. The purpose is persuasion. The method is identification”. It tells us that the narrator country wants a specific set of people or entities to believe the propounded narrative.

In our very own case, we are a victim of China’s aggressive narrative warfare. For decades Beijing has asserted that Arunachal Pradesh, a state in north-east India, is a part of South Tibet, which the dragon refers to as ‘Zangnan’. Beijing’s endeavour to provoke New Delhi further includes its infamous renaming-of--places tactic.

In April 2024, China, for the fourth time, released an unsolicited map of Arunachal Pradesh and renamed about 30 of its territories in Mandarin. Such actions are well orchestrated and are meant to influence the perception of people and the international community with regards to Arunachal Pradesh.

India, however, is not unique to such attacks; narrative wars are more common than we think they are. Take, for instance, Russia and the United States. The prototypical Russian narrative against the US or the West in general is that Russia is strong, honourable, and determined whereas the West is divided, hypocritical, and a threat to Russia and its territorial integrity. Hence, any piece of data or information that could possibly back their (Russia’s) argument would be weaponized.

The information, whether true or not, shall be served in a manner supportive of Russia’s intent. On the other hand, the United States of America, given its hegemony over the world and both its soft power and military muscles, perhaps has an upper hand when it comes to building narratives; The world keeps mum over the US’s invasion of Iraq and the direct causality of hundreds of civilians as a consequence of the war, but protests adamantly against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is narrative building at its best.

One aspect of narrative building is also disseminating false information. As previously mentioned, a narrative is a narrative regardless of whether it contains any truthful substance.

As long as people believe a particular narrative, the narrator has succeeded in his task.  The ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict stands witness to this. Hamas is adept at information warfare.

Since the time Hamas commenced its attack on Israel on October 7th, another well-coordinated operation unfolded on social media simultaneously: edited videos of events from other places or purely fabricated images surfaced on the internet, footage of missiles and rockets from the Syrian civil war, and as bizarre as it may sound, video games were used; furthermore, fake White House press release and deep fakes of celebrities sympathising with Palestine appeared online in support of Hamas’s propaganda operation.

It is just a matter of time before narrative warfare ceases to act just as a complementary warfare technique. Given the speedy rise of Artificial Intelligence, internet connectivity, and social media integration it will soon be a part of active warfare. Anticipating the same, various countries have already made efforts to be at least conscious of the prospective danger it can cause and find out ways of shielding themselves.

The UK for instance, now has one specific military unit named the 77th Brigade, tasked to observe information warfare and combating strategic misinformation on social media.

What governments across the globe can also do is bring in jurisdiction compelling social media platforms to disclose bot-backed advertisements and hold these platforms accountable for any misinformation campaign by unauthentic coordinated accounts.

Some narrative campaigns are also tackled with counter-narrative campaigns. Reports suggest that is precisely what the Government of India plans to do. Months after China renamed about 30 territories in Arunachal Pradesh, New Delhi plans to retaliate for such Chinese propaganda by renaming 30 Tibetan sites across the LAC-Line of Actual Control.

What impact it would create among the Chinese population is hard to tell, given that the great firewall deprives the Chinese population of free use of the internet, but it indeed signals a strong message. This means Narratives are not only capable of being weaponized but could also be the cause of geopolitical frictions. It is hence pivotal to build strong defence against such manipulative endeavours.

In today’s world, information or narrative warfare has become a significant tool for nations to influence the perceptions of people and achieve their strategic goals. With the advent of new AI technology, information manipulation is anticipated to grow even more in the future. To counter such an offensive, it is pivotal for countries to grow resilience against misinformation and rather develop their own capability to master the art of opinion shaping in their favour to overcome geopolitical instability, interference and complexities.




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A great read!


A different perception on war comprehensively explained.

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