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American Society for Cybernetics
ASC 2001 Conference
May 27-29, Vancouver 


  Information Warfare, Languaging, and Second-Order Cybernetics

Randall Whitaker, Ph.D.

Adjunct Researcher
Department of Informatics
Umeå Universitet, Sweden

Whitaker, Randall (2001). Information Warfare, Languaging, and Second-Order Cybernetics.
Online Proceedings of the American Society for Cybernetics 2001 Conference, Vancouver, May 2001.




Information warfare (IW) is the pursuit of one's own interests via leverage of 'information', prosecuted by influencing the state(s) of data, data assets, and the people engaging them. This mode of warfare (as opposed to outright war) is penetrating many domains of human activity. The praxis of IW research requires a coherent vantage on IW's operational context not achieved by simply addressing systems of 'language' (e.g., symbols). Invoking the observer via second-order cybernetics reveals languaging is the fundament for IW descriptions and explanations. Because languaging is the essence of being human we must confront the notion IW is the most intrinsically 'human' war form, not merely the latest gloss on historical warfighting. Because IW concerns observing (as contrasted with 'observed') systems, it represents an emergent global issue which second-order cybernetics is uniquely qualified to address.


information warfare, IW, second-order cybernetics, languaging

Cybernetics, as the study of "communication and control in the animal and the machine" (Wiener, 1948), has long been associated with information and artifacts of information processing, especially the computer. Among other things, this association was the basis for Gibson's (1984) christening the virtual realm of data and communications 'cyberspace'. As popular conceptions of cybernetics became associated more with the machine than with the animal, the field came to be considered an interesting gloss on Western science's essentially objectivistic approach to the world 'as it is'. When combined with an idealistic impulse, the holism associated with this 'first-order cybernetics' gravitated toward issues of a 'world system as it is' such as ecological and international peace concerns. Turning its principles upon itself in the 1960's, cybernetics spawned a 'second-order cybernetics' emphasizing systems as observed and hence systems that observe (cf. Glanville, 2001). This renewed the orphaned interest in 'the animal', particularly with regard to human cognition, behavior, and social interactivity.

There is now emerging a phenomenon with implications as global and as troubling as those of environmental threats. This phenomenon derives from the information technologies long associated with cybernetics and the cyberspace realm for which its name was appropriated. It is most commonly labeled information warfare (IW) . Though prosecuted via computers and networks, information warfare is not about these artifacts (i.e., 'systems observed'), but rather about people (i.e., 'observing systems') pursuing their interests and goals in the virtual space these artifacts manifest. The label's allusion to 'information' recommends an understanding of human cognitive and communicative capacities, and the allusion to 'warfare' recommends an understanding of human interactivity. Though cybernetics generally has much to offer in addressing information warfare, it is specifically second-order cybernetics that offers the most pertinent and penetrating insights. As such, IW recommends itself as a context for demonstrating second-order cybernetics' unique value.


Information Technologies and a Revolution in Military Affairs

Military history has long been analyzed as a series of evolutionary phases characterized by specific technologies, ranging from chariots to nuclear weapons (cf. Keegan, 1993; Krepinevich, 1994). Soviet military theorists in the 1970's defined a military technical revolution (MTR) as the occasion when "...extreme transformations in warfare occurred as a result of the exploitation of technology" to achieve "...operational and organizational innovations" (Krepinevich, 1992, p. 3). There are numerous historical analyses of such revolutions. The broadest of these analyses claim general technical innovations in the society at large have produced revolutionary transformations in warfighting as both a specific activity and a component of socio-political enterprise. For the sake of brevity, I shall follow many American writers in contextualizing the latest MTR with Alvin and Heidi Toffler's (1970; 1980; 1990) popular (if simplistic) analyses of historical social transformations. The Tofflers categorize history into three major "waves" (1: agrarian; 2: industrial; 3: informational), each associated with emergence and evolution of a particular economic form (1980; 1990). More recently, they claim each wave has generated one or more "war forms" in which military ends and means have transformed in conformance with the dominant economic form (1991).

The Tofflers claim we are in the midst of a transition between the second and third waves. They date the beginning of the second wave to the 17th century. The seminal events were Newtonian science's rise and the proliferation of several key ideas: "...the idea of progress; the odd doctrine of individual rights; the Rousseauian notion of a social contract; secularism; the separation of church and state; and the novel idea that leaders should be chosen by popular will, not divine right." (Toffler & Toffler, 1991, p. 20) Second-wave warfare has emphasized warfighters drawn from the general citizenry, professional officers, hierarchical authority structures, forces gauged by mass (e.g., manpower, firepower), and strategies applying mass action toward decisive outcomes. Clausewitz is second-wave warfare's canonical theorist, and the World Wars are canonical examples of second-wave war.

The Tofflers' envision an emerging third-wave economy emphasizing 'knowledge work' and services. Such activity addresses ever more finely delineated niches, involves constantly-shifting alliances, and exploits increasingly sophisticated information networks (Toffler & Toffler, 1990). The existence of a flexible and ubiquitous medium for communication and commerce (e.g., the "Net") is presumed to facilitate activities which (a) reflect the medium's flexibility in terms of scale, connectivity, duration, aims, and processes and (b) reflect the medium's ubiquity in terms of accessibility, scope, and functionalities. Prospective third-wave economies and war forms are predicted to entail unending novelties and complexities in the number and character of players, distributed authority, forces gauged by their precise effects, and strategies geared to fine-grained actions in pursuit of general outcomes contributing to ongoing developments (Toffler & Toffler, 1993).


Information Warfare (IW): The Amorphous New War Form

All the above themes are claimed to delineate an MTR motivated by proliferation of advanced information technologies (IT). In American circles, the most common label for this transformation is the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). The most widespread label for the associated war form is information warfare (IW). Unfortunately, there is no definition for information warfare which is both precise and universally accepted (Whitaker, forthcoming). Authors often disagree on topical focus or scope, and adopting a particular definition often owes more to current interests than analytical rigor. This circumstantial approach has resulted in operating definitions shifting along with changes in needs and issues. As a result, it is fair to claim that specificity in IW definitions can only be obtained conditionally. In addition, a bewildering array of labels has arisen for these diverse interpretations. The reader interested in further exploring this terminological and conceptual tangle can obtain a good overview of the themes and issues in Waltz (1998).

Table 1: IW Interpretations and Terminology



warfare conducted via computers in cyberspace

computer warfare, cyberwar, datawar, hackerwar, information age warfare, information systems warfare, information war, infowar, netwar, network warfare, silicon warfare.

warfare empowered by information and knowledge

command and control warfare, information-based warfare, infowar, intelligence-based warfare, knowledge war, knowledge-based warfare, third-wave warfare.

new evolutionary phase of military operations

cyberwar, hyperwar, postmodern warfare, postindustrial warfare, third-wave warfare.

a new mode of low-intensity societal conflict

cybercrime, cyberterrorism, information war, infowar, netwar, postmodern warfare.

Table 1 summarizes the four common interpretations of what IW is and representative label associated with each. Redundancies illustrate one term is sometimes used to connote two or more 'spins' on the subject. For the purposes of this paper, IW will be taken to connote actions undertaken in a competitive context to leverage data, information, or information systems in pursuit of objectives defined relative to an adversary or set of adversaries. This general definition subsumes the specialized attributions of Table 1 and is consistent with the most widely-accepted such general definitions to be found in the literature.

In contrast to the 'top-down' definitions summarized in Table 1, some have attempted to delineate IW in terms of particular activities or tactics. The IW literature contains innumerable categorizations for what IW encompasses and how its subsidiary elements interrelate. Though terminologically overlapping, these categorizations vary in scope, constituent elements, and organization. Such categorizations are best illustrated by the early IW taxonomies of Libicki (Libicki: 1994, 1995; Institute for National Strategic Studies, 1996). These employed distinctions among targets with respect to two dimensions (military / civilian; human / system). Whitaker and Kuperman (1996) reworked Libicki's schema in terms of tactics sorted along offense / defense and 'vehicle' / 'content' distinctions, as illustrated in Table 2.

Table 2: An IW Tactical Taxonomy

(Adapted from Whitaker and Kuperman, 1996)


(Focus on artifacts and functions)



(Focus on data / information)

  • Attack command support systems
  • Attack command communications systems
  • Jam transmissions
  • Crash computer systems
  • Isolate / blockade networks and platforms
  • Physical disruption of networks or platforms
  • Physical destruction


  • Codebreaking
  • Psychological warfare
  • Intimidation / terror via information
  • Corruption of extant data
  • Insertion of bad data
  • Block data flows
  • Deception
  • Propaganda (offensive 'spin')
  • Target recognition and tracking
  • Maintain technological edge
  • Intrusion prevention measures
  • Maintain network integrity (anti-disruption measures)
  • Anti-virus protection
  • Physical protection of platforms and networks
  • Stealth (minimizing platform, network, and traffic 'visibility')


  • Encryption
  • Maintain data integrity
  • Morale maintenance / boosting
  • Camouflage message traffic
  • Media management (defensive 'spin')
  • Hiding information from adversary reconnaissance / surveillance

Even with the clarifications illustrated in the two tables above, information warfare remains an amorphous subject to which different authors and organizations attribute divergent connotations. During the late 1990's attention shifted from resolving these conceptual issues toward development and deployment of IW capabilities. In the course of doing this, military institutions glossed over conceptual problems by expanding and diluting operational IW definitions. For example, the U.S. military subsumed information warfare within the more general concept of information operations (IO) , which is doctrinally defined as "actions undertaken to influence an adversary's information and information systems while maintaining the integrity of one's own information and information systems." (Joint Chiefs of Staff, 1999) This can be taken to connote almost anything involving information done to the advantage of one's own enterprise and/or to the detriment of an adversary's.

Nonetheless, it is possible to discern a key distinction dividing the overall subject matter into more tractable subareas for analysis. This key distinction concerns the primary objects of reference addressed as operators and targets for manipulation. On the one hand are artifacts (computers, data files, etc.) whose states, apprehended as data, are taken to be 'informative'. On the other hand there are humans (singly and collectively) for whom such 'information' impels or guides action. The key distinction therefore cleaves the complex of IT-mediated organizations and activities into its technological and cognitive constituents. This provides a basis for differentiating IW via techno-centric and cogno-centric foci, respectively. Table 3 is a summary comparison of these foci.

Table 3: Techno-Centric vs. Cogno-Centric Foci





  • Artifacts (e.g., computers)
  • Datafacts (e.g., files)
  • Machine logic
  • Data (state of a medium or symbol set)
  • Humans
  • Situation awareness
  • Embodied knowledge
  • Information (data ascribed 'meaning')

    • Platform / network functions
    • Data flows
    • Automated inference
  • Perception
  • Cognition
  • Decision making

    • Hardware
    • Software
    • Datafacts
    • Inferential / procedural logic
  • Perceptions
  • Beliefs
  • Conclusions
  • Actionable decisions
  • This introduction will suffice for the present purpose. In the following sections I shall attend to IW's criticality, its novelty, the approach best suited to addressing it, and the relevance of cybernetics - particularly second-order cybernetics - in understanding this emergent phenomenon.


    Cause for Concern: The Prospective Ubiquity of IW in Human Affairs

    The presence of the word 'warfare' leads many to consider IW a topic of purely or primarily military significance. This is not so. In military parlance 'warfare' is not necessarily synonymous with all-out 'war'. A critical distinction between the two is drawn in some military literature (e.g., Szafranski, 1995). Warfare can be construed generally as any set of activities through which one pursues objectives affording advantage over another (e.g., a competitor or adversary). In this broad sense, warfare may be constrained in scope, conducted as an ordinary or surreptitious activity, and prosecuted without lethal means. In contrast, war is construed as the unlimited, explicit pursuit of warfare through any and all means (including the lethal).

    As such, the allusion to IW as 'warfare' illustrates some important connotations. First, IW can be pursued by all types of organizations and even individuals. Second, IW can be conducted outside the scope of overt conflicts, typically framed with respect to political issues, we associate with military operations. Finally, competitive information-oriented actions reasonably qualifying as information warfare may be conducted in the course of everyday activities such as business. As a result, information warfare is not relegated to the military alone. As a result, the scope of IW effects is disturbingly global. Data and communications services are clearly 'converging' toward an integrated medium. This opens up the prospect of manipulating all manner of communications services via actions conducted in the one or few digital venue(s) within which they intersect. This affords force magnification in terms of the ability to impact diverse media / channels in a manner previously requiring numerous actions against multiple targets.

    This force magnification coincides with ever more widespread access to the tools and techniques for digital mischief. Industrial Age warfare, characterized by scale, required a level of investment reserved to national entities. This scale-dependent cost profile is essentially nullified in cyberspace. The most damaging recent attacks (e.g., the 2000 Love Bug virus) were launched by individuals operating with single computers. Mandatory IW investments are further reduced by the fact that enabling software and procedural knowledge can be obtained freely on the Internet. The capacity for warfare in cyberspace is therefore accessible, affordable, and feasible in a way conventional physical warfare is not. As a result, IW is an option for parties who could not afford to pursue their objectives through traditional physical means. This in turn means the range of parties constituting potential threats is vastly expanded.


    IW as Adversarial Interactivity within a Novel Medium

    The transition from second to third wave is arguably more radical than any prior shift in human social structures and praxis. Historically, everyday praxis has been grounded in the same three-dimensional physical space as our biological embodiment. Based on our experience of physical space, we developed constructs such as 'extent' and 'proximity' to 'territorialize' space and our activities therein. The character of cyberspace effectively negates our traditional territorialization and renders even metaphorically-applied territorial concepts nonsensical. This means long-established military (and other) theories of praxis are becoming obsolete.

    This can be illustrated with respect to the theory of maneuver warfare - the style of mobile surface warfare exemplified by the German blitzkrieg tactics of World War II. Leonhard (1994) enumerates three essential arrangements (i.e., territorializations) of forces in maneuver warfare: the file, the front, and the 'box' (enclosure). The file is employed for efficient movement (e.g., a truck convoy). The front deploys forces for maximum force projection (e.g., a line of trenches). The 'box' is any enclosed arrangement typically employed in defense. These arrangements' merits are predicated on the character of physical space, the finite nature of deployed units, and the finite time required to move these units among locations. In cyberspace, the ability to rapidly replicate and instantaneously 'move' units negates the affordances and constraints contextualizing these canonical arrangements in the physical space.

    If form and arrangement of units is insufficient for modeling cyberspace phenomena, what would be a better approach? Essler and Whitaker (2001), after an examination of such problems with specific regard to business and management models, argue that cyberspace enterprises are most constructively approached in terms of interactivity. They introduced the term agitecture to connote a configuration of actions and operations analogous to the configuration of constitutive elements denoted by the ubiquitous term 'infrastructure'. Such an agitectural perspective, prioritizing dynamic interactivity over static constitution, is similarly the most effective way to approach information warfare.

    In the remaining sections the implications of this claim for IW research generally and cybernetics in particular will be discussed. First I shall briefly comment on the necessity of a systemic perspective in approaching IW as interactivity and illustrate how second-order cybernetics recommends itself as the field best suited for addressing the phenomenon. Later, I shall briefly discuss the communicative interactivity central to the phenomenon, comment on its relationship to second-order cybernetics' central themes, and demonstrate how second-order cybernetics illuminates the significance of IW as an essentially human war form.


    IW in Terms of Systems and Cybernetics

    The requisite shift toward a focus on interactivity entails fundamental units of reference addressable in terms of their dynamics. This suggests a systems perspective, which in turn suggests cybernetics as a field suited to the task at hand. The most obvious intersection between cybernetics and IW concerns the invocation of systemic constructs in military analyses. Such invocation goes beyond any conventional characterization of IT platforms and networks as 'systems' to address the organizational or social entities competitively engaged. Much recent attention has been given to treating own and adversarial entities as systems (functional wholes integrating subsidiary components). The scope of such analyses ranges from particular forces deployed in a theater of operations up to the entirety of the nation state deploying such forces. The ubiquity of this orientation is evidenced by the fact that it has become common practice to call any such complex of technical and organizational components a systems of systems (cf. Owens, 1995). Such an approach has led to models such as Warden's (1995) five-ring strategic model of an adversary nation state. Such models allow analysts to address the adversary at the national level, recursively delineate submodels at ever-finer levels of detail, and identify key relations and interconnections between system components. This sets the stage for identifying critical centers of gravity (COG's) - those elements of the modeled system whose manipulation would induce essential disruption of the whole system's operations and viability.

    Such approaches provide a basis for delineating the skeletal network of interrelated components comprising an operational system. So far, these models only afford a foundation for representing the basic static relationships among such components. They can depict neither dynamic changes among these relationships within the adversary system nor such changes in that system's status with respect to the operational environment and/or other such systems. Phrased another way, this approach treats the adversary as an 'observed system', objectively specifiable and available for unambiguous inspection. This vantage is obviously consistent with that of classic or first-order cybernetics (cf. Glanville, 2001). Such a vantage is best suited to modeling and analyzing composite unities for which behavioral trajectories of the whole and the components are deterministically predictable. This limits the viability of a first-order cybernetics approach to those elements or dimensions for which the techno-centric vantage is reasonably applicable.

    However, such a perspective is insufficient for grasping the full scope of the emerging war form's novelty and implications. IW is not solely a matter of computer platforms and data packets. The intended effects of IW tactics extend beyond system crashes and data file corruption to encompass impacts on the activity (and interactivity) of the people employing those artifacts. This suggests IW is as much about the data and information as about the data and information 'systems'. Unfortunately, such a focus on data and information still fails to fully encompass IW's ramifications. Data and information are of military relevance to the extent they influence instrumental actions contributing to decisive outcomes. The critical juncture at which informational performance affects instrumental performance is decision - the process through which circumstantial data and extant knowledge guide subsequent action.

    Decision making in large organizations (military or otherwise) remains a task for which humans are ultimately responsible. It is therefore most to the point to claim IW " about the way humans think and, more importantly, the way humans make decisions." (Stein, 1995, p. 32) Ultimately, IW is a "... set of activities aimed at the mind and will of the enemy." (Szafranski, 1995, p. 65) Although IW's tactical goals may be pursued through manipulating the technical systems to which first-order cybernetics analyses are suited, those goals are ultimately framed with respect to the human cognitive capacities and processes historically resistant to analysis in terms of 'systems observed'. Advantage is obtained by manipulating the adversary's perceptions, interpretations, and decision making capacities. In other words, grasping IW requires considerable attention to the cogno-centric vantage outlined earlier. This means information warfare is essentially about observing (as opposed to observed) systems. As a result, it is second-order cybernetics (as the study of observing systems) which recommends itself as the discipline best qualified to address and analyze the essence of the emergent war form.


    Illuminating the IW Phenomenon via Second-Order Cybernetics

    In this section, certain hitherto problematical issues regarding IW will be discussed in light of themes or principles fron second-order cybernetics. The intention is to illustrate how second-order cybernetics clarifies troublesome ambiguities in defining and categorizing IW. Two more significant conceptual clarifications will be the subjects of the subsequent two sections.

    The first illustrative example concerns the murky nature of IW and the adversarial enterprises conducting it. The introduction to IW above indicated the phenomenon remains imprecisely defined and its constituent elements only vaguely delineated. To the extent any referential precision has been obtained, it has been solely with respect to the techno-centric vantage and technological infrastructures (i.e., the 'observed systems') discerned therefrom. A comprehension of IW's ramifications requires attention to the manner in which adversarial systems-of-systems operate as 'observing systems'. A viable approach to IW research and analysis also entails attention to the manner in which we as researchers may observe and engage these observing systems.

    Much of the ambiguity in delineating IW systems of interest derives from the simple fact that the objectivistic epistemological stance presumed in addressing 'systems observed as they are' brings forth the studied systems as unary composites manifest (and hence addressable) within a single referential context. This unary referentiality results in a bias toward treating constituent elements and composite wholes as equivalent in terms of causality, relevant dynamics, and modes of interaction. The classic example of this orientation is a view of the enterprise and its constituent units as similarly defined by and deterministically responsive to a single focal phenomenon (e.g., 'information').

    Second-order cybernetics' historical focus on the observer has engendered a sensitivity to the manner in which phenomena must be qualified with respect to distinguishable referential and/or operational contexts. For von Foerster (1981b), an observing system's eigenbehaviors are contextualized with respect to its situated experience and its intrinsic affordances for operational circularity. For Pask (1976) 'knowledge' is qualified with respect to the context of the conversation(s) through which effective behaviors could be shared. For Spencer Brown (1969), quite literally any thing (as something indicated) has to be qualified with respect to the distinction(s) underlying that indication. For Maturana and Varela (1980), all reference must be qualified with respect to an observer, and all observation must be qualified with respect to an observer's cognitive domain.

    Such qualifications are essential to disentangling the complexities of the systems of systems that modern military praxis emphasizes. For the sake of illustration, let us apply Maturana and Varela's key construct of 'domain' to clarify what constitutes an enterprise involved in IW. This gives us a view of enterprises as composite unities comprised of intertwined and interoperating technical and human components operating within distinguishable domains of operation (cf. Maturana and Varela, 1980). Adversarial enterprises can then be usefully treated as composite unities comprised of composite unities whose summary behaviors are the observable outcomes of events and processes manifested in these distinct domains. A simplified sketch of such multi-domain interdependence is offered in Figure 1.


    Figure 1: Simple Summary of Interdomain Interdependence

    Figure 1 is a derivative variant on the venue framework introduced by Whitaker (1992) in analyzing meetings. It employs domain-specific differentiation and contextualization, inspired by the work of Maturana and Varela, to clarify the dimensions within which IW is pursued. In this case, five specific domains of reference are invoked. The physical domain subsumes the tangible components of the adversarial system of systems (e.g., hardware). The data domain is the referential context for addressing specific states of the physically-realized media (e.g., signals, bytes). Each human participant has an associated cognitive domain (as that term is used by Maturana and Varela). In the course of reciprocally coupling with each other, these humans effect a consensual domain of interactions within which their languaging occurs (cf. Maturana, 1978). Finally, these participants' consensual domain may be a component of a larger such consensual domain of interactions spanning their team, enterprise, culture, and/or society. Such a broader domain of interactions is simply labeled a 'social domain' for present purposes. Insofar as a given dyad of human interactors may be construed as participating in multiple supra-dyad networks or contexts of interactivity, it is commonly constructive to approach enterprises in terms of multiple such social domains emerging from interactivity manifested in the other domains.

    Figure 1 can be employed to illustrate the division between the techno-centric and cogno-centric regions of the composite enterprise. The physical and data domains are subsumed within the techno-centric vantage. The cognitive and consensual domains are subsumed within the cogno-centric vantage. The intersection between the two is typically discernible at the point where the (techno-centric) 'vehicles' for interpersonal engagement are involved with the (cogno-centric) 'content' of that interactivity. It is with respect to this juncture that the military criticality of information technologies is most commonly framed. It is an unfortunate tendency to simplistically blur this juncture among distinct domains into one object of reference (e.g., subsuming both 'information' and 'information systems') that has led to such correspondingly simplistic and blurred conceptualizations as the U. S. doctrinal term 'information operations' cited earlier.

    It has been noted that first- and second-order cybernetics and the techno- and cogno-centric vantages, respectively, are correlated in terms of the former's applicability to the latter. Using Figure 1 this correlation can now be employed to identify the general domains of operations, and hence classes of enterprise phenomena, to which the tools of first- and second-order cybernetics are relatively better suited. First-order cybernetics' correlation with the techno-centric vantage recommends it with respect to the physical and data domains. Second-order cybernetics' correlation with the cogno-centric vantage recommends it with respect to the cognitive and consensual domains.

    In summary, this simplified invocation of Maturana and Varela's domanial qualification affords us a more coherent and discriminating perspective on adversarial systems of systems. To date, IW tactical taxonomies are no more organized than the sort of laundry list offered in Table 2. Using Figure 1, this set can be sorted out and more usefully categorized by mapping them onto the particular domains within which their effectuation is undertaken and their impacts are realized. Just as important is the prospect for improved IW research management resulting from the ability to correlate specific components, the vantage best suited to their analysis, and the cybernetics tradition best suited for employment in such analyses. Ultimately, such a more discriminating perspective sets the stage for more effective IW tactical planning and evaluation.

    A second illustrative application of second-order cybernetics concerns the differentiation between a system's internal workings and its outward behaviors within an operational environment. The currently fashionable term 'information operations' lumps together two distinct domains of activity. The first subsumes actions taken to affect an adversary's system of systems, and this domain is universally attributed the more specific label 'information warfare'. The second covers actions taken to optimize performance and maximize protection for one's own system of systems so as to ensure operational capabilities and achieve 'information superiority' relative to an adversary. This latter aspect is commonly (but not universally) called 'information-in-warfare' (IIW), 'information exploitation', or 'information-based warfare'. Although it is the former aspect which is most often associated with the notion of IW as popularly portrayed (e.g., Schwartau, 1994), it is this latter aspect which is the context for the most substantive discussions of military IT to date (e.g., Waltz, 1998).

    With reference to longstanding themes in the work of Maturana and Varela, the former can be seen as pertaining to the system seen as a simple unity, whereas the latter pertains to the system seen as a composite unity. These two views are necessarily distinct, and their observation can only be accomplished through different domains of interaction and reference enacted by the observer engaging either the unary whole or the componential set, respectively. The most specific terminology for clarifying such dichotomies comes from the work of Varela, who distinguishes between two observational (and hence referential) vantages on a system and its operation(s). The behavioral view "...reduces a system to its input-output performance or behavior..." within its environment. In contrast, the recursive view "...emphasizes the mutual interconnectedness of its components..." and "... arises when emphasis is placed on the system's internal structure." (Goguen & Varela, 1978, p. 34; Varela, 1979, p. 86)

    Employing Varela's behavioral / recursive distinction provides a basis for sorting out own / internal versus adversarial / external issues in an orderly manner as yet lacking in mainstream IW analyses. At the most general level, application of this distinction provides a basis for clearly discriminating between the domains of reference and operations entailed in the currently foggy dichotomy between IW and IIW. This also provides a foundation for delineating a coherent topography of a system of systems as the first step in delineating the particulars of the operant domains as sketched in Figure 1 above.


    IW as Tactical Languaging

    The most illuminating insight afforded us by second-order cybernetics is the realization that information warfare is ultimately a matter of tactical languaging. The allusion to languaging derives from that term's usage by Maturana (1978) to denote reciprocal coupling among organisms in a consensual domain. Although to an observer such coupling may be described as 'communicative', the intertwined behavioral trajectories of the consensually coupled interactors are determined by their respective structures. This view negates the conventional characterization of language as a symbolic toolkit for literally transferring meaningful 'content' between interactors. Instead, it is seen as a venue for action -- a coupling among interactors within a '...domain of descriptions [which serves] as a metadomain that exists only in a consensual domain in reference to another domain.' (Maturana, 1978, p. 48) Maturana reinterprets language as the archetypal illustration of a human consensual domain, and he labels all such interactional domains as 'linguistic'. This permits him (1975; 1978) to subsume types of 'communication' other than those exhibiting the finite lexical, syntactical, and semantic elements representative of symbolic systems. This also provides a conceptual base for addressing a broad range of structurally-determined interactors, including the behavioral coupling typical of human-machine interactions (Whitaker, 1993).

    The relationship between information warfare and languaging can be illustrated by tracing a series of points from languaging to military theory and back again. The complex of humans and machines constituting an adversarial enterprise (military or otherwise) can be addressed in terms of languaging and linguistic behaviors enacted within consensual domains circumscribed by the affordances of the mediating information technologies. Adversarial engagement between two such enterprises can be reinterpreted as reciprocal coupling in which each party attempts to achieve the inverse of Heinz von Foerster's Ethical Imperative "Act always so as to increase the number of choices." (Foerster, 1981a). This is pursued by manipulating the other's situated domain of interactions so as to restrict the viable choices for his / her subsequent action to those which contribute or lead to a decisive outcome judged positive for oneself. In other words, consensuality is leveraged toward the imposition of control.

    To be fair, one may ask if this invocation of 'control' implies that it is first-, and not second-order, cybernetics that is most relevant to this perspective. To the extent that in the end state the 'winning' system of systems can be construed as 'controlling' the other, such an implication is understandable. However, this is outweighed by the fact that in information warfare tactical manipulations leading to such an end state are framed with respect to exploiting adversaries as observing systems - i.e., systems exhibiting capacity for epistemological as well as functional operations. Observing systems not only 'do', but they 'know' as well. The relevance of observing systems to military theory dates back to Sun Tzu's prescription: "Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril." (1963, p. 84)

    Adversarial engagement goes beyond simply 'knowing' in the sense that adversaries 'do unto each other' based on their knowledge. To the extent action is guided by such knowledge, competitive advantage accrues from achieving a state of battlespace knowledge superior to the adversary's. This can be pursued in two ways. The first is to maximize or optimize one's own relevant knowledge. The second is to deny, degrade, or otherwise diminish the adversary's knowledge capacities. It is this second approach which Sun Tzu emphasizes in his dictum: "All warfare is based on deception." (1963, p. 66) Framed in terms of second-order cybernetics, deception is achieved through injecting artifice into an adversary's cognitive domain (i.e., by fostering the other's orientation to a contrived state of affairs).

    Such contrivance is the essence of linguistic interactivity, insofar as the orienting behaviors effected in a consensual domain induce (i.e., 'contrive') novel descriptions in the interactors' cognitive domains. This is reflected in the most elegant definition for semiotics. Eco (1976, p. 7) claims that because a "... sign is everything which can be taken as significantly substituting for something else ... semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie." In other words, because a sign effects signification with respect to something other than itself, the purest illustration of a sign is as something whose signification is unqualified by demonstrable association with any particular other. Such an illustration therefore involves reference to something that is not - i.e., a 'lie' in Eco's parlance and a 'contrivance' in mine. This point remains relevant even though Maturana's delineation of languaging dismisses any determinative role for the signs and symbols that were Eco's focus. It is determinative denotation which Maturana eliminates from the conventional view of communicative activities and not contrivance per se. This is summarily illustrated by his claim that "(t)ruth and falsity exist only in a referential domain defined by an observer" (1978b, p. 42).

    If, then, all languaging entails contrivance, what distinguishes that particular subset of languaging which effects the deception Sun Tzu identifies as the key element in warfare? The answer lies not within the consensual domain of interactions between the adversaries, but within the meta-domain of interactions providing the operational context referred to in the course of their consensual interactions. Earlier, I pointed out that data and information are militarily relevant to the extent they influence instrumental actions - i.e., the extent to which they influence decisions leading to decisive outcomes. It is not an adversary's belief in a deceptive 'contrivance' that is of interest, but rather the implications of his / her actions motivated or constrained by that belief. It is therefore insufficient to invoke languaging in and of itself to explain the IW phenomenon. IW is a matter of languaging as it pertains to praxis in a particular situated context - i.e., tactics. This is the basis for my claim that IW is best construed as tactical languaging.


    IW as the Most Essentially 'Human' War Form

    The most unsettling insight afforded us by second-order cybernetics is the realization that information warfare is the most 'essentially human' war form. This should not be taken as a claim that IW is an essentially 'humane' war form. As the global community continues to rely ever more on information technologies, it will become increasingly possible to wreak woe and chaos in cyberspace on a scale previously reserved for weapons of mass destruction in the physical space. The ubiquity of access to IW tools and methods suggests that an increasing number of potential aggressors will proceed unconstrained by the mechanisms of checks and balances currently pertaining within and among nation states. To be humane is to be not just biologically human but also 'human in the best sense' - i.e., accepting and mindful of others' legitimacy in the sense to which Maturana applies the label 'love'. This latter aspect of being humane is neither guaranteed, necessarily promoted, nor evident to date in humans' usage of cyberspace.

    Instead, when I claim IW is 'essentially human', I mean it is the war form which most intrinsically entails, involves, and exploits the feature distinguishing human beings from other organisms in terms of their identity and their praxis of living. This feature is the very languaging whose linkage to IW was discussed in the last section. Maturana states "...human beings happen in language, and we happen in language as the kind of living systems we are." (1988a, p. 43) Language circumscribes our being human, because "all that there is in the human domain are descriptions in the happening of living in language which, as happenings of living in language, become objects of descriptions in language." (Maturana, 1988b, section 9.v.) It is by making distinctions in language that each of us can operate as an observer - "... in general, any being operating in language, or, in particular, any human being, in the understanding that language defines humanity." (Maturana, 1988b, section 6.i.) We as humans are observers, and it is on the basis of our being observers that we are definitively human. Because IW is all about manipulating this definitively human capacity, it must be construed as the war form most intrinsic to our being human.



    The emergent war form therefore confronts us with two troubling prospects. The first is all-out 'war' being waged in a manner which cuts to the core of 'being human'. The second is continuous 'warfare' waged against and through our praxis of conversation. Unfortunately, there is no basis for believing we can contain or inhibit either of these prospects to even the limited extent we've done so with conventional warfare. The progressive interconnectivity and convergence of data and communications media make for a global IW battlespace. The progressive penetration of data / communications services into daily life make for an inescapable IW battlespace. IW therefore represents an issue of demonstrable currency, global implication, and grave potential.

    This brings us back to my initial claim concerning IW and second-order cybernetics. Second-order cybernetics remains an amorphous and underappreciated field despite the substantive contributions of (e.g.) von Foerster, Maturana, Varela, and Pask. One reason for this is that second-order cybernetics has yet to identify a global issue around which to demonstrate its unique insights and utility. To date, adherents have tended to maintain cybernetics' historical attention to global environmental and peace issues. There is, of course, nothing wrong with this. However, the strength of second-order cybernetics lies in its insights into cognition, understanding, and interactivity - all matters pertaining to the human observing system. When these insights are directed toward issues of the 'world system as it is', they can go only so far as to illuminate human understanding of a problem (as opposed to the problem itself). For second-order cybernetics to demonstrate unique value, it will have to be with respect to an issue concerning human understanding per se. The emergent IW phenomenon is such an issue.



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