HYBRID WAR: ‘Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)’, The Pandora’s Box Of Security Issues – By Abhishek Kumar

Source – moderndiplomacy.eu

Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)- The Pandora’s Box of Security Issues

By Abhishek Kumar

The world, functioning in its numerous forms and dimensions, is primarily perceived and misperceived by individuals through the faculty of the human Mind. A factor that creates a significant difference vis-a-vis human beings and other species is the complex cognitive ability possessed by humans. The mind is fundamentally an expression of thoughts circulated and imbibed through various means of communication. Deconstructing it further, thoughts portray the information consumed by an individual. In other words, this complex combination of the human mind, thoughts, and information shapes and reshapes our psychology.

Psychological war, in this context, can be perceived as a strategically orchestrated arrangement of information derived from variables like history, polity, religion, culture, literature, and philosophy broadly to channel propaganda with the prime objective of influencing and manipulating the behavior of the enemy to further one own interest. The term Psychological war is believed to be coined by a British Historian and military analyst, J.F.C Fuller, in 1920. One can observe that psychological war as an instrument of strategic importance is not of recent origin. Instead, the evolution of this tactic can be traced long back in history since the emergence of the State. It is considered one of the fundamental tools of statecraft and quite often has been put into the application as an instrument of state policy. Drawing a logical parallel, it can be advocated that psychological war has a close resemblance with the ancient notion of the allegory of the cave when applied in the present context.

Relevance of Psychological War

Napoleon Bonaparte once said “There are two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the mind.”  With the gradual progress of human intelligentsia, the world is and will be shaped and reshaped through the use of technology. The hyperconnected nature of a modern globalized world broadly portrays the image of a collective human consciousness deeply engrossed in the overwhelming nature of technology that reverberates with every emerging aspect of human life. When viewed from the prism of the State as a governing body in the international forum, technology will be the emerging axis of geopolitics since no state and its citizen can exist in silos devoid of the influence of other states. This is primarily due to the free flow of data. In this context, due to the free flow of data, the power of propaganda as a significant dimension of psychological war would prove to be an effective instrument used by the State to further its national interest.

In this contextual framework, the role of conscious manufacturing of narratives under the larger ambit of the idea of psychological war must be given due consideration. In his famous book,The Ultimate Goal: A Former R&AW Chief Deconstructs  How Nations and Intelligence Agency Construct Narratives, Vikram Sood unfolds the idea of how narratives are created, propagated, sustained, and refined in domestic countries and abroad to further the national interest. He emphasizes not only the power of information but also the power of disinformation to de-track and mislead the collective consciousness of the nation. Therefore, it is of critical significance for a nation to enhance its understanding of psychological war, considering it a major security issue.

The cost and the expense of war are also major concerns for the State. In this regard, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval establishes the viewpoint that wars are gradually becoming ineffective in achieving political and military objectives and that they are also highly expensive and are gradually becoming unaffordable. He further puts forward the idea of the 4th generation warfare where the operational target of the objective would be civil society. A fair understanding of the 4th generation warfare is of critical importance due to the fact that the modus operandi to target civil society would primarily be through the perpetual use of psychological war. The cost of psychological war, when compared with other forms of war, is abysmally low and also highly effective in manipulating the behaviour of the State. The cost-effectiveness helps it be more sustainable, which can be continued for an extended period of time.

Materialisation of Psychological War


Psychological war is applied by many States as an instrument of state policy. China, in this regard, can be considered a prominent player that has materialized this idea. In the strategic book on statecraft, The Art Of War, Sun Tzu states that “All warfare is based on deception.” China has consciously tried to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of psychological war. The Dhoklam issue in 2017 substantiates how the Chinese government used psychological war as an instrument of state policy to further its national interest.


The hostile approach of Pakistan towards India is not of recent origin. Instead, it is a phenomenon that can be traced back in history during the early germination of the idea of Pakistan when the Muslin League was formed in 1906. After the materialization of this idea by a painful partition of India in 1947, Kashmir became the bone of contention right after Pakistan’s inception as a nation-state. Pakistan, over the years, has become cognizant of the conventional asymmetry between the two nations. Therefore, it has operationalized the path of psychological war in the Kashmir region with a more pinpointed approach of using Twitter as an operational instrument to create misperceptions at a low cost to achieve its objectives.

Psychological War and the Indian Perspective

Taking a momentary glance at the historical evolution of India as a civilizational State, it can be rightly stated that understanding the nature of the mind has been a perpetual theme in the philosophical construct of India. The use of psychological war is not a new phenomenon. The references to it can be prominently found in Indian mythology. In this regard, the epic story of The Mahabharatha is a prominent example.

In one of the instances, Krishna applied this idea of psychological war by disclosing a fact to Karna, which hitherto was kept secret and hidden from him. Krishna, just before the war, unfolded the fact to Karna that he is the eldest son of Kunti, his father is the Sun God, and the Pandavas his brothers. This very fact and the timing of the disclosure of this fact put Karna in a deep psychological trauma that depletes his mental strength. It was at this moment that Krishna offered Karna to join the battle from the side of Pandavas. A similar instance of psychological war used by India was found during The Bangladesh liberation war.

In the context of psychological war, Arthashstra is also a relevant text. It mentions the art of Kutayuddha. In Sanskrit, the word Kuta implies the application of deception, the creation of misperception, and misleading the enemy state; Yudh means war. Kautilya is a staunch advocate of establishing a network of espionage to initiate intelligence and counterintelligence measures as a major security initiative for a state. Therefore, it can be rightly perceived that India has a history of psychological war, which it has implemented to maintain security and stability.


Taking an analogical perspective, if the mechanism of psychological war is like a gun, then information is the potential bullets that are fired from it to target the enemy. The flow of Information can be considered the most important factor that makes psychological war lethal, precise, and effective. Therefore, there exists an urgent need for the establishment of an ‘Information Operations Command’ to tackle the issue of psychological war that is rapidly maturing and enhancing in its nature and methodology, fusing with the 5th generation warfare. 

Another area of critical importance in this regard is the pressing need for a ‘National Security Doctrine.’ A national security doctrine is primarily a broad vision of a nation in the domain of its security from an inclusive perspective. Strong inter-agency coordination and refined analysis of security issues are needed.

Psychological war, as a rapidly evolving tool of statecraft in the security domain, acts as a linchpin vis-a-vis the 4th and 5th generation warfare where civil society and citizens are targeted with a perfect blend of technology and information. This makes it a war that doesn’t have a start or an end date. It is fought every minute, and progress can be achieved, even though at a minuscule level, but on a daily basis. Therefore, India as a major player in international politics with two hostile neighbors on its eastern and western border, must hold into perspective the scope, significance, and emerging dynamics of psychological war to keep herself abreast with other states at the international level on the security front.

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