Military History Information Warfare
Robert R. Mackey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 March 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0024


Information warfare is a generally Western, late-20th century military term that encompasses a wide range of non-kinetic forms of human conflict. Before the emergence of modern communications technology in the early 20th century, information warfare included only fields such as misinformation, propaganda, and deception. The invention of radio added the new field of electronic warfare, as adversaries attempted to jam, fool, and monitor each other’s military efforts in this new domain. The invention of the microchip, which in turn led to the practical use of computers on the battlefield, ultimately joined the ranks as cyber warfare. Together, these seemingly disparate topics were joined together under information warfare.

General Overviews

Information warfare, while a relatively new doctrinal term in the military lexicon, is as old as warfare itself. The Trojan horse of Homer’s The Iliad is one the most well known examples of classical information warfare in literature, but military history is filled with non-fictional examples. According to Sun Tzu 1971, the ancient Chinese military theorist and philosopher, Sun Tzu believed that “all warfare is deception,” in essence stating that warfare itself is based on the use or misuse of information, as well as military prowess. In the 20th and 21st centuries, the nature of information warfare further evolved, especially in the areas involved with mass communications, radio and electronic communications technology, and the application of marketing techniques to influence specific and general audiences. David and McKeldlin 2009 notes how the spread of global news and reporting has created an environment in which both battlefield commanders and political leaders are held accountable for actions that only a few generations before would have been ignored or suppressed. The melding of fields that had been distinctly separate in World War II, such as propaganda, deception, and electronic warfare (such as jamming enemy radio signals) has become more unified in both doctrine and practice, at least as seen in MacDonald 2007. Luckily for scholars and students in the field, several fine works exist, such as Armistead 2007 and Paul 2008, that greatly aid in the understanding of the nature of 21st century information warfare.

  • Armistead, Edwin Leigh. Information Warfare: Separating Hype from Reality. Washington, DC: Potomac, 2007.

    Armistead’s collection of essays on the role of information operations and warfare as a distinct and critical part of national power is a solid basis for understanding the nature of information age conflict and conduct. Written primarily for practitioners, the work attempts to remove many of the myths that have evolved around information warfare.

  • David, G. J., and T. R. McKeldlin, eds. Ideas as Weapons: Influence and Perception in Modern Warfare. Washington, DC: Potomac, 2009.

    An anthology of essays from practitioners of modern information warfare, Ideas as Weapons is an excellent introduction to the subject. From the grand strategic view, to tactical applications of information, the work encompasses a variety of topics. The work itself is a product of its era; most essays focus on US/Western operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the mid- to late-2000s, with little focus outside of that experience.

  • Macdonald, Scot. Propaganda and Information Warfare in the Twenty-First Century. New York: Routledge, 2007.

    Macdonald’s short book bridges the gap between Cold War-focused studies of the 1980s and the challenges of information post-2000. His focus is primarily on the modification and presentation of altered images in modern warfare, given the 24-hour news cycle, analyst information overload, and continued proliferation of the media culture in Western nations.

  • Paul, Christopher. Information Operations: Doctrine and Practice: A Reference Handbook. New York: Praeger, 2008.

    The best single volume introduction to modern Western information operations (IO), Paul’s work examines all the elements (deception, psychological operations, cyber and electronic warfare) of modern IO. This work is often used by Western militaries as a basic textbook on the subject; clearly written and based on solid post-9/11 battlefield experience.

  • Sun Tzu. The Art of War. Translated by Samuel B. Griffith. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.

    Nearly all modern concepts of information warfare trace their roots back to The Art of War. Sun Tzu’s famous quote, “All warfare is deception,” has been repeated by war colleges across the globe as a basic truism of military doctrine. However, a modern reader should be aware that much of the work addresses the times in which it was written and has only limited application to an information-saturated modern world. Numerous editions, translations, and versions.

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