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The Myth of the Narrative Fighting Vehicle

Jack Watling and Adam Maisel
Article, 30 May 2019
Martial Power Programme, Military Sciences, Information
Adversaries currently outmatch the British Army in information warfare. While it is encouraging that officers with a background in combat arms are calling for the development of this capability however, it is important not to expect too much.

The furore over Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election has brought information warfare to the forefront of political and military discourse. The ubiquity of social media has spawned a cottage industry of theorists, many of whom have made it fashionable to argue not just that information is a critical field of warfare, but that it is the most important. It is regularly suggested that prioritising the cognitive domain can enable small armies to dominate larger forces, sapping their will to fight, and turning the surrounding population hostile. The seizure of Mosul by Daesh (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS) is seen as the defining case study.

While much is made of the #AllEyesOnISIS social media campaign employed by Daesh in the lead up to the capture of Mosul, it is vital to recognise that the terror Daesh inspired in the Iraqi army was the result of real and widespread atrocities. While small in number, Daesh fighters were well motivated, heavily armed, and highly aggressive. The hostility of Mosul’s population to the Iraqi army was the result of extensive corruption and heavy-handed treatment by the security forces. Nor was Daesh’s capture of Mosul something new in the annals of warfare. The Taliban’s seizure of Kandahar in 1994 was comparably fast and decisive, despite unpromising force ratios. The Battle of Santa Clara during the Cuban Revolution is another example of small but well-motivated and aggressive forces seizing urban centres.

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Dr Jack Watling
Research Fellow, Land Warfare

Dr Jack Watling is Research Fellow for Land Warfare. Jack has recently conducted studies of deterrence against Russia, force... read more

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