The New Rules of War

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      The New Rules of War

      As America has struggled through a string of seemingly unrelated crises, there are some who say they are not just random events. Lisa Fletcher talks about that with former soldier and national security strategist Sean McFate, author of The New Rules of War: How America Can Win Against Russia, China, and Other Threats.

      Lisa Fletcher: So, Sean, you said nobody fights conventionally anymore, except for us. What does a war between superpowers look like to you now?

      Sean McFate: So, the way people fight now is they fight by, uh, I say wars becoming more epistemological. It means telling truth from lies, determines winners and losers, the way that battlefield victory used to. And that's where seeing China and to some extent, Iran and Russia and others as well, engaging in information operations for lack of a better word. And that is how wars are being won and fought through strategic deception.

      Lisa: You talk about in the book, the Russian military prioritizing information confrontation, basically an empire of lies.

      McFate: That's right.

      Lisa: So, you say Russia is now a disinformation superpower. What does that mean?

      McFate: Well, disinformation is deliberately false information. Misinformation is passing on things that you are false, but you think that they're true, disinformation is manipulation. Think about the Russians trying to swing close elections, not just American presidential races, but across the EU, the Brexit vote. They'd use things like Twitter and Facebook. They use legal means, frankly, right? And they create so much chaos in the information space about people who give up. They don't know what to believe, and so they don't believe anything. And it's turning us into a nation of nihilists, right? That's a way to win. You don't need to, to, you know, take on invade Berlin like it’s 1945. You can reach into a democracy and subvert it from the inside out and let it collapse upon itself. And the strategic logic is this: who cares about the sword? If you can manipulate the mind that wields it.

      Lisa: So if we're spending, as you say for a war we're not fighting, where should we be spending?

      McFate: We should be spending on making Americans better consumers of information. The battlefield is and what people think, especially in a democracy. So how do you make Americans more resilient to false information to disinformation? You know, one way is maybe new types of technology. For example, we all have clothes that tell us where our clothes are made, made in Romania, made in India, made wherever. Look at the plumb of clickbait. Would people be less apt to click on clickbait if it said a label made in North Korea, made in Russia? We need to be thinking about how do we outsmart and out-communicate the strategic narrative of our adversaries. And I believe that a nation that created Hollywood that created Madison Avenue, we have the capacity to do this.

      Lisa: Let's talk a little bit about shadow wars. What are they, where are they happening?

      McFate: So shadow war is what I use to describe what modern war looks like these days. So, when people think about war, especially in United States of America, they think about Hollywood. They think about Tom Hanks and D-Day. They think of a conventional war. War does not look like that anymore. War is underground taking place in the shadows. And when things get really bad, it bubbles up to the surface where it makes headline news. And then it quickly goes back into the shadows. And the reason why war is doing that is because we live in an information age and nobody wants headline news or media attention. That is actually a weapon of war that you want to avoid. So, warfare is getting more sneaky. That's the future of war.

      Lisa: We see a lot of violence right now, a lot of unrest in the U.S. presumably sparked by events that have been occurring. But given the context of your work, is there any room here for some of this to not be organic and to be sparked externally?

      McFate: Yes, and this is a big concern. We don't know what war looks like today, and that's why I think we are struggling. So yes, we have a cultural war going on in our country today. Republicans vs. Democrats, Fox vs. CNN, et cetera, blue state red state, we know democracy is messy. And if we're having an organic family feud, that's okay, but we're not. We know Russia and China and others are reaching in finding the seams in the fabric of our society and pulling. They are literally flat fanning flames through disinformation, et cetera, is that war? That's what I believe that we are already at war with Russia and China, and do not even know it. They're not creating these seams. They're just exploiting them.