Let us start with some definitions. What is this Information Environment (IE)? In simple terms, it is information itself, those (individuals and organizations) who receive, process and convey it as well as the space in which it occurs. Importantly, this environment is in fact yet another battlefield. And it is not a recent phenomenon. For ages, governmental and non-governmental entities have utilized information for their benefit. What has changed at the turn of the 20th and 21st century is the accessibility, spread and speed of information. Nowadays, people have the possibility to check what happened halfway around the world literally with a single mouse click. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that this power of information has an unimaginable impact on how the military acts and reacts.
The modern IE is brimming with propaganda that constantly tries to influences activities, perceptions and even behaviours of people. By this point, it becomes understandable why monitoring the IE is of such importance to NATO. After all, "the role of digital media and the accessibility of information systems have created a situation in which no Alliance decision or action should be taken without considering its potential impact on the IE and its audiences. The ubiquitous nature of information and the potential strategic ramifications of tactical actions add to the challenge faced by NATO Commanders."1
Information Monitoring itself is a multi-disciplinary effort conducted under the leadership of the STRATCOM (Strategic Communications) Division with input from all other divisions, but in particular from those responsible for intelligence, policy, targeting, and civil-military interaction. It is subjected to the so-called PMESII2
spectrum-analysis approach due to the simple reason that most crises and wars are in fact a tangled web of political, military, economic, social and information systems.
Here, it is worth paraphrasing a classic joke that circulates amongst the military in this regard: You read newspapers and browse social media all day long. That's what Information Monitoring is all about, right? The answer to this question is yes and no at the same time. As we have already established, the multidisciplinary character means that reading and browsing is just one aspect of the whole process.
Headquarters Multinational Corps Northeast stands for NATO land operations in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. This is why, for us, the information environment of the Baltic Sea Region is the centre of attention. We systematically monitor the IE on all issues pertinent to our mission, which is the safety and security of the north-eastern flank of the Alliance. This also means that we pay specific attention to the actions conducted in the IE by the Russian Federation. It is now widely recognized that Russia is aggressively involved in the information sphere, especially – but not exclusively – in the Baltic Sea Region. Pro-Russian, anti-NATO narratives of "a resurgence of fascism, rampant Russophobia, the ethnic cleansing of local Russian populations, drunk NATO soldiers (…) are not just a stream of buzzwords, invented by sensationalist journalists and bored political scientists. It is a strategically planned onslaught of disinformation and propaganda designed to manipulate public opinion. In the long run, its aim is to capture the hearts and minds of the Baltic peoples."3 And although NATO is not anti-Russian, it is absolutely committed to safeguarding every square foot of its territory. This is why monitoring the IE is of such importance and must be conducted continuously through all NATO activities.
In conclusion, one ought to recall the story of the so-called Gerasimov Doctrine. It is a great study for those monitoring the IE. Illusions of Gerasimov's genius and Russian-like uniqueness caused some to call it "Russia's new chaos theory of political warfare, probably being used on you."4
However, those loud and bold statements could not be further from the truth. The fact of the matter is that General Gerasimov did not create the doctrine; he merely quoted statements of prominent Russian military writers about future warfare. They said that "information warfare in the new conditions will be the starting point of every action now called the new-type of warfare (a hybrid war) in which a broad use is made of the mass media and global computer networks."5
And while we can certainly observe that what they have mentioned is being applied by Russia, we should not be gripped by fear because, as our Czech allies say, Pravda vítězí – Truth prevails.
2. PMESII stands for political, military, economic, social, infrastructure and information.