Future War Will Increasingly Target Beliefs, Perceptions, and Minds

Total war in the future will involve influence across media and social media

Kevin Ann
7 min readOct 20, 2019


The Indo-Pacific area will be America’s priority focus in the “pivot to Asia” as US forces wind down costly wars and entanglements in the Middle East. Although the Indo-Pacific area is defined as the expansive area emanating from the West Coast of the USA, across the entire Pacific Ocean, and to the western borders of India, it’s effectively the future battlespace against China.

The Indo-Pacific Command is one of America’s unified commands comprised of 375,000 members and will start to ascend in prominence as Central Command focusing on the Middle East diminishes in relative influence.

Due to fast developments in information technology and their impact on the nature of warfare, these unified commands are no longer split into traditional and siloed Land, Sea, and Air components to address their respective battlespaces since forces must be so tightly integrated and work seamlessly together.

Future warfare will also exist in two relatively new battlespaces, Space and Cyberspace, which will be tightly integrated with the other battlespaces for a much more complex unified battlespace.

I don’t believe the conflict between the existing superpower America and the rising superpower China risks degenerating into a nuclear exchange and mutually-assured destruction like the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union, and we should not even expect low-grade proxy wars as we saw in Vietnam and Korea.

However, there will be total war between America and a joint China-Russia alliance in the Cyberwarfare domain as they compete for dominance in the much broader and more consequential battlespace of the human mind concerning the correctness of views of the world and role of the State.

This conflict will pit America’s tradition of Civil Liberties and limited government featuring checks and balances versus the authoritarianism and central role of the State in China. This war will extend far beyond the uniformed combatants in the physical battlefield and cannot be fought with rifles, planes, tanks, and ships.

This Cyberwarfare will be far more comprehensive and permeate all aspects of life, since it will be war to influence the minds, beliefs, and perceptions of citizens who may not even know they are being influenced.

I will consider the ultimate objective of this cyber warfare, and what we can do to counteract it.

Objective of Future Cyberwarfare

Not the popular conception of Cyberwarfare

When I speak of Cyberwarfare here, I do not mean state-backed hackers on both sides of the Pacific trying to hack into each others systems to conduct espionage and steal State secrets, or to take over military systems ranging nuclear missiles to remotely-piloted reconnaissance drones, although these aspects of Cyberwarfare certainly are extremely important.

However damaging and potent these forms of Cyberwarfare, they are more limited to state-level assets, and equally important, those of large businesses as well.

Although Cyberwarfare in this domain poses dangers, it is not as dangerous across broader society and involves what goes on in the private thoughts of citizens domestically.

The objective of Cyberwarfare is to change opinions, beliefs, and perceptions of the population

In order to achieve these aims of changing thoughts, it would mean that media and social media is weaponized and used as a distribution channels to get out ideas in a concerted and engineered way to influence.

This would mean such things as posts, videos, memes on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and online message forums trying to influence public opinion.

What would it mean if citizens’ minds are changed?

In America, it would involve two specific things:

  1. Americans no longer believe in US government institutions
    — The very legitimacy of the American government institutions will be questioned, such as the outcome of the 2016 election since one side is accusing the other side as winning only from the help and influence of Russia.
    — Regardless of what your political affiliation is, the roles of each side will be reversed in terms of the accuser and accused in the future, so it’s an issue we must all address.
  2. Americans may believe other Americans are the enemy
    — The idea that you can disagree with someone politically yet remain respectful, civil, and friends is starting to fade away, and Americans are polarized into two opposing sides that view the other side as evil.
    — It has degenerated to a state where not only is the other side wrong on a particular policy or ideological point, but their entire world is wrong. Not only is the other side in disagreement, but they are also evil with malicious intent.

The unifying theme is division

With outsiders influencing media and social media, it will sow internal conflict due to distrust of government and hatred of each other.

It would mean that important democratic institutions, traditions, and processes such as the Voting will cease to hold the respect it once did.

China and Russia have better defenses

Mentioning the effects of outside concerted Cyberwarfare on the American population doesn’t necessarily mean America is a neutral actor, since it may and will attempt to do the same to the citizens in these other authoritarian regimes like China and Russia.

However, they have powerful defenses that America does not have, and that’s simply to seal off the internet or arbitrarily detain.

The Great Firewall of China permits counter-Cyberwarfare simply by blocking access while at the same time engaging inoffensive campaigns. It’s as if China has an impenetrable barrier around its fortifications, but are able to strike with impunity externally.

In both China and Russia, political dissidents may receive prison time or maybe outright assassinated.

How To Address

Awareness of Specific Issue

In order to fight or fix a problem, it’s first necessary that its very existence is known. Hopefully, this article serves towards that goal.

We are all living under concerted and continuous campaigns to affect our beliefs, engineer our perceptions, and affect our minds in all information we consume, most especially through Social Media in the convenience of a personal device.

This Cyberwarfare campaign is designed to appeal to our emotions and expose us to just that right amount of lies and even more perniciously, incomplete truths, to make us distrust each other and divide us.

Do Not Hate Each Other

Success for Cyberwarfare by Russia and China will mean that America is a divided nation. A divided nation is unable to mount a strong defense and becomes even easier to divide more. In many ways, they are succeeding wildly and we do not have a good defense or counter-offense.

How do we counter dividedness?

It would be in the tradition of an open society we’ve been striving for in the first place, to permit the difference of thought in those you interact with. Just because you do not agree on ideology or a policy issue does not mean the other person or other side is evil.

It’s 100% OK if others disagree. Either agree to disagree or when debating, try to stick to a point as specifically as possible, instead of taking a more expansive implicit judgment of the other people.

Hold Parties and Politicians To The Same Standards

Addressing the influence of Cyberwarfare that will cause us to distrust our government doesn’t necessarily mean “trusting” our government either, especially since the country was founded on a fundamental distrust of government.

Rather, it’s to hold all parties and all politicians to the same standards and don’t ostracize those from a different ideological standpoint if they criticize elected officials we support.

Two specific cases involve the following:

  • The implied ideological beliefs of ex-Marine Corps General James Mattis causing his resignation as Secretary of Defense
  • The explicit objections to Trump’s character by Admiral Bill McRaven in opinion pieces in the Washington Post and New York Times

Their opinions of Trump’s policy and character have led some to question their competence, intentions, and loyalty to America, due to differences in strategic or geopolitical aims in Mattis’ case and due to the high standards of personal conduct in McRaven’s case.

China Must Interact The Rest of the World

China with its very powerful authoritarian state cannot be strictly isolationist even though their own internet cut off from the rest of the world behind the Great Firewall.

China must continue to interact and do business with the rest of the world. It knows that a unified and concerted effort by free citizens in America and the rest of the world standing up to authoritarianism may cause economic problems in China, leading to harsh consequences for the Chinese political leadership.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the people it rules over have made a deal that so long as the CCP can deliver economically, the people may not mind paying the price in the form of restricted rights and increased authoritarianism.

However, if the CCP cannot deliver economically, they face internal unrest that may threaten its very viability.

Affecting China economically will have greater potential impact if done with

  • A unified population
    Who may disagree on specific policy or ideology, but trust each other as fellow citizens.
  • A unified representative government
    Backed by that unified population

These suggestions aren’t comprehensive or any guarantees, but may serve to address the problem through first being aware of it, and then by proposing tangible actions.



Kevin Ann

AI/full-stack software engineer | trader/investor/entrepreneur | physics phd