From Information Warfare to Cognitive Warfare

(To Alessandro Rugolo)

Those who follow the evolution of the military field will not have missed it until later Cyber ​​Warfare, Information Warfare e Hybrid warfare, it is increasingly common to read about cognitive warfare, so I thought it might be useful to do some clarity, as far as possible.

First you need to bring to mind the meaning of the terms and the basic definitions. 

If we look at Treccani, we read what "Cognitive" means: "Which concerns knowing; in psychology, processes c., the processes involved in knowledge (perception, imagination, memory, all forms of reasoning), intended functionally as a guide in behavior; psychology c., the same as cognitivism; science c., interdisciplinary field of study (consisting of artificial intelligence, psychology, linguistics, neuroscience and philosophy of mind) which has as its object human cognitive processes, from perception to learning, from inferential strategies to information processing.

Having said that, let's now look together for a reliable definition for "Cognitive Warfare" in the military institutional sites of the main countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China and the main international organizations such as NATO, and precisely from the latter let's begin. 

On the Innovation Hub website it is possible to find various references to ongoing studies relating to the "Cognitive Warfare Project", among these it is interesting to read "The Cognitive Warfare Concept" by Bernard Claverie and François du Cluzel who clearly speak of a "sixth domain" and give following definition of Cognitive Warfare:

"Cognitive warfare is the art of using technological tools to alter the cognition of human targets, who are often unaware of any such attempt - as are those entrusted with countering, minimizing, or managing its consequences, whose institutional and bureaucratic reactions are too slow or inadequate."

In the same study it is said that the term cognitive warfare was used with this meaning for the first time in the United States, in 2017. In that year, the American general Vincent R. Stewart (USMC, director, Defense Intelligence Agency), during a conference spoke about how modern wars are of cognitive wars in which the control of information serves to manipulate the enemy. To put it in simple words: " is to know what to do and when to do it... and if you don't control information or your decision-making cycle is disrupted, or your cognitive ability is degraded, then you are not able to win or fight effectively.”

For the study authors, cognitive warfare is possible by making the most of the intersection of two areas: "...PSYOPS and influence operations (soft power)" e "Cyber ​​operations" (cyber defence) intended to degrade or destroy physical information assets on the other."

In this mirror, taken from the study, we understand what are the differences between the domain of PSYOPS and that of cognitive warfare.

As can be seen the cognitive warfare it is in some way an evolution of PSYOPS, thanks to the possibilities offered by the use of new technologies and new knowledge on human cognitive processes.
Of course, the studies on cognitive warfare they are only at the beginning, so we will have the opportunity to deepen.

At this point I think it is clear the importance of studying this new domain if only to be able to better understand what is happening around us and what could happen with the introduction of some new technologies, one for all, brain implants recently announced among others by Elon Musk.

To learn more:

cognitive in Vocabulary - Treccani

CW documents | Innovation Hub (

Cognitive Warfare Will Be Deciding Factor in Battle | AFCEA International

China using 'cognitive warfare' to intimidate Taiwan, says president Tsai | Taiwan | The Guardian

The Future of China's Cognitive Warfare: Lessons from the War in Ukraine - War on the Rocks

Elon Musk's company aims to test brain implant in people (