Information as a Tool of Statecraft

Information as a Tool of Statecraft

Howard Gambrill Clark

Assistant Professor of Countering Violent Extremism and Counterterrorism, UAE National Defense College, UAE General Headquarters

Сourse Description & Goals:

Information is a central instrument of national power.

Information can be used as a grand strategy, continuous supporting action for other strategies, or a central effort for other strategies.  Some scholars and strategists maintain that power may include the 1) potential effects of mobilized hard power and 2) ability to master the information realm and influence—sometimes considered métis, zhi, virtù, guile, or narrative savvy.

Although the character of war may very well be different than past eras with new information platforms, many scholars maintain that the nature remains unchanged.  And at the heart of wartime and peacetime strategy is information.  As Sun Tzu stated, “War is deception.  Best of all is to vanquish a foreign army without a fight.”  As Kautilya imagined, “The arrow shot by an archer may or may not kill a single man; but skillful intrigue devised by wise men can kill even those who are in the womb.”  As scholars of Genghis Khan analyze, “Winning by clever deception or cruel trickery was still winning and carried no stain on the bravery of the warriors…Increasingly, paper was the most potent weapon in Genghis Khan’s arsenal.”  And as contemporary scholar Lawrence Freedman states, “…the realm of strategy is one of bargaining and persuasion as well as threats and pressure, psychological as well as physical effects, and words as well as deeds…[Odysseus, Sun Tzu, Liddell Hart, Jomini] would seek victory at a reasonable cost by means of deceits, ruses, feints, maneuvers, speed, and a quicker wit.”

At the heart of any information strategy is strategic narrative.

Narrative has multiple differing definitions.  Very often analysts and strategists consider four themes: 1) a story or set of stories, 2) an expression of identity, 3) storytelling that holds meaning for a people especially in a time of crisis, 4) and storytelling that has a purpose normally to persuade.

Narratives reflect the identity of a community, nation, and people.  So if communities are unique, then so are their narratives’ substance, style, and means of transmission.  Each narrative is grounded in history, expressing a group’s identity, accomplishments, challenges, ambitions, and desires.  And through such narratives, communities can recognize their identity amidst outsiders and neighboring communities.  During developing events—such as regional warfare, foreign incursion, and environmental disasters for example—narratives allow a community to gauge meaning and understanding.  Narratives emerge without necessarily conscious design as communities continue to develop and preserve identity, sometimes inoculating societies from outside perhaps negative ideas and ideologies.

Narratives comprise deep-seated ideologies, belief systems, history, and language.  Through trust, recognized monuments and temples, visual motifs, and repetition will master narratives naturally travel and strengthen. Instead of relying on theory, this lesson will immediately immerse participants in what is arguably the contemporary world’s most successful narrative and messaging strategy: those of contemporary violent extremist groups.  Lessons learned from perhaps one of the most effective and resilient grand-narrative-grounded organization today may inform our ability to communicate a national narrative that will then build immunity from threats and challenges to include Iranian influence and (ironically) violent extremism.

Also important, is the idea of strategic influence, which includes the coordinated, integrated, and synchronized application of national diplomatic, informational, military, economic, and other capabilities in peacetime, crisis, conflict, and post-conflict to foster attitudes, behaviors, or decisions by foreign target audiences that further [state] interests and objectives (RAND, 2009).

More holistically, strategic communications may refer to the transmission and/or reception of words and/or actions in pursuit of strategic objectives.  Strategic communication is the alignment of multiple lines of operation (e.g., policy implementation, public affairs, force movement, information operations, etc.) that together generate effects to support national objectives. Strategic communication essentially means sharing meaning (communicating) in support of national objectives (strategically). This involves listening as much as transmitting, and applies not only to information, but also to physical communication – action that conveys meaning (US SC JOC, 2009).

Strategic communications may include the following pillars: information operations, psychological operations (a part of information operations), public diplomacy, and public affairs (Paul Cornish, Julian Lindley-French, Claire Yorke, “Strategic Communications and National Strategy,” Chatham House Report, 2011).  Elements across these disciplines may include:

  • Inform, influence (attitudes and/or behavior), and/or persuade audiences at home and/or abroad.
  • Manage information coordination across government(s) or organization(s).
  • Ensure that actions are themselves communicable.
  • Ensure target audiences receive, understand, and/or are moved by communications.

And finally, information operations focuses on the integration of numerous capabilities and aligning them with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the ability of enemy decisions, strategies, and operations.  Information operations also protect friendly information and friendly forces.  Information operations’ core capabilities may include electronic warfare, computer network operations, psychological operations, military deception, operations security, public affairs, and combat camera.

This course will focus on 1) information as a central effort of national power, to include the above features; 2) crafting a strategic narrative; and 3) information in full-spectrum operations, specifically stabilization.

Goals include:

  • Understand strategic narrative and its centrality to governance.
  • Evaluate effective and ineffective grand strategic narratives.
  • Apply lessons learned towards developing a recommended resilient and impactful national master narrative.
  • Assess the role that messaging can play in the implementation of strategy.
  • Analyze key elements of successful and unsuccessful messaging.
  • Apply analyses of failed information campaigns to inform successful grand strategies for the future.


Three continuously interactive, andragogic, Socratic, and innovative teaching sessions along with three group exercises to reinforce creative learning—given over the course of five days.

Course Structure:

  • Three interactive “lectures.”
  • Three group exercises.
  • Five sets of short readings, to include the lecturers’ primers on information, intelligence, and narrative.  To be sent before the end of November (reflecting the most up-to-date events for Ukraine).

Course Language:



Lecture 1. Information as a Central Instrument of National Power
Lecture 2. HCrafting a Strategic Narrative
Lecture 3. Information and Strategic Stabilization
Lecture 4. Narrative Workshop and Introduction to Stabilization Exercise
Lecture 5. Narrative National Information Strategy—Address the Nation

Short Q&A session

Howard Gambrill Clark about his CAPS course "American Foreign Policy and Political Ambitions"

What will be the focus of your course?

  • The course will focus on information as a central effort of national power, crafting a strategic narrative and information in full-spectrum operations, specifically stabilization.

What is the strategic narrative and why it is so important?

  • Narratives reflect the identity of a community, nation, and people, comprise deep-seated ideologies, belief systems, history, and language. We learn the importance through investigation of the contemporary world’s most successful narrative and messaging strategy: those of contemporary violent extremist groups.

Any implication to Ukraine?

  • Participants will craft a national information strategy, as well as will be engaged in other simulations and group exercises. 

Please name the most important concepts participants would learn and apply? 

  • In general, but not limited to, Information, narrative, intelligence, and influence.

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