The Human Mind as “New Domain of War”: NATO’s Plan for Cognitive Warfare

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

On October 5, 2021, the NATO association of Canada (NAOC) held a panel discussion on its current interests and developments in “Cognitive Warfare.” According to an October 2021 report by The Grayzone, cognitive warfare involves the “weaponization of brain sciences” with the aim of “exploiting the vulnerabilities of the human brain” and “altering cognition.” During the discussion, it was announced that NATO plans to establish a closer relationship between Western military and academia, namely the human sciences and social sciences, to strengthen its capabilities.

Although NAOC is an independent NGO, its purpose is to promote the interests of NATO. The NAOC panel discussion included multiple NATO and military industrial complex-affiliated speakers and was intended to promote the Fall 2021 Innovation Challenge hosted in Canada, where NATO attempted to recruit private entrepreneurs and inventors into cognitive warfare research by promising them national and international exposure and cash prizes in exchange for showcasing their innovations.

Whereas NATO’s previous military developments focused on traditional military arenas, the current development into the cognitive realm prioritizes moving previous military research on information and cyber toward directly influencing human thought and behavior. As one contributor to the NAOC panel put it, “the human mind is now being considered as a new domain of war.” A 2020 NATO-sponsored study emphasizes the defensive purposes of researching strategies to combat cognitive warfare efforts by China and Russia. Disturbingly, the report also notes its objective to use cognitive warfare as a means to harm societies as a whole, rather than simply targeting the armed forces of enemies.

Author Ben Norton explains that events such as the Fall 2021 Innovation Challenge, where inventors showcase their technological developments, ultimately promotes “neoliberal ideology within NATO, as participants mobilize the free market, public-private partnerships and the promise of cash prizes to advance the agenda of the military-industrial complex.” The realm of cognitive warfare attempts to merge developments in higher education, Big Tech, Big Data, and mass surveillance into tools of human warfare. As François du Cluzel, a founder, and the current manager of NATO Innovation Hub (iHub) underscored during the October panel discussion, the potential of cognitive warfare goes beyond information warfare and psychological operations: “Cognitive warfare is not only a fight against what we think, but it’s rather a fight against the way we think.”

As of April 2022, hundreds of articles have been published on NATO related to the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Many of the articles include explanations and histories of NATO as an organization, or their role and responsibility during the invasion. However, corporate media has avoided any critical reporting on NATO’s more recent developments into building cognitive warfare capabilities.

Source: Ben Norton, “Behind NATO’s ‘Cognitive Warfare’: ‘Battle For Your Brain’ Waged by Western Militaries,” The Grayzone, October 8, 2021.

Student Researcher: Cem Ismail Addemir (Illinois State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)