Conflicts - TensionsFeaturesIntegrated Deterrence

Information Operations Key to Deterrence

Altering Competitors’ Perceptions of Risks, Costs

Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, delivered this speech October 18, 2022, at the 11th annual Indo-Pacific Information Operations & Electronic Warfare Symposium in Hawaii, hosted by the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. It has been edited to fit FORUM’s format.

Thanks to each and every one of you for being here. I see some old friends in the room also and some old shipmates. But most of all, I see a lot of allies and partners across all the military services. I see profound participation among the civilian community and industry, and it underscores a particular fact — a strength. And that strength takes all of us, and all of us are here and engaged. 

The overall topic of our symposium is deterrence. 

And in deterrence, information operations are first, middle and last.

My definition of deterrence is that it is a combination of the capability and the will to exert, to impose costs that are intolerable compared to what one would achieve with malign behavior. 

And then, most importantly, is your adversary’s cognition that you, in fact, have the capability and the will to deter.

What exactly are we trying to achieve? 

The U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold operates in the Philippine Sea in June 2022.

First and foremost, our legitimacy is based on the fact that everybody in this room seeks to uphold the status quo and deter anyone from upending the status quo with the use of force.

You could change your borders; you could change your conditions. But it must be through negotiation, through the principles of human dignity and self-determination among all peoples. 

What we are seeking to preserve within the status quo in a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, and in fact, the world, are nations that:

  • Respect the rule of law and international norms.
  • Champion individual rights and liberties.
  • Promote good governance.
  • Adhere to shared values and freedoms.
  • Benefit from multilateral institutions.
  • Support and defend open access to seas, the skies and outer space.
  • Engage in fair and open commerce.

What we seek to deter, specifically:

  • The People’s Republic of China (PRC) from expansionism and seizure of land, seas, nutrients and mineral resources by coercion and/or military actions outside of international norms, no matter how much they try to craft a misleading narrative or justify their arguments with quasi-illegal, second-derivative legal actions, absurd as they are.
  • Continued aggression by Russia. And we’ve seen viscerally just what the flavor of that aggression is in Central Europe. 
  • North Korea from threatening its neighbors and the international community with nuclear weapons.

We are living in incredibly consequential times. And, in fact, that’s why I see the urgency in our shared mission.

Republic of Korea and U.S. forces prepare for a joint river-crossing drill in Yeoju, South Korea, in October 2022. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

This conference is about information operations to preserve the status quo of free and sovereign nations and deter countries and actions that would upend the current system — a system that has benefited all mankind. Since the end of World War II, it has lifted 60% of the world out of the throes of poverty.

Information operations — and, in support of information operations, electronic warfare — is designed to influence and affect the cognitive state and reinforce the perception and the belief that cost-imposition of aggressive expansionism, coercion and military actions will exceed any benefits that can be gained. 

We do this via strategic communications, the communications between senior leaders and even among adversaries in our key leader engagements.

We do so under information operations, surveillance and reconnaissance, and networks that assure our battlespace awareness and our ability to operate in the battlespace. 

And then, finally, is the operational security that each nation brings to bear in its defense.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has spoken about integrated deterrence maximizing effects across warfare domains and theaters and the spectrum of conflict through all instruments of military power, and especially with our unmatched capability and our network of alliances and partnerships, which is absolutely the asymmetric advantage. 

Marrying deterrence and information helps us to alter our competitors’ perceptions of risk, cost and benefits, and demonstrates our ability to control escalation. 

Consider where we are in time. As I speak, the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 20th Party Congress is ongoing, leading to an unprecedented third term of office [for General Secretary Xi Jinping]. The PRC is veering from its 30-year tradition of consensus and sensible foreign policy into something that looks much more autocratic.

Our own desire [is] to adhere to the international rules-based order rather than the creation of a new order as proposed by our potential adversaries through innocuous-sounding phrases like “common prosperity.” 

U.S. Coast Guard personnel prepare to board a vessel in the eastern Pacific Ocean while patrolling for illegal fishing in August 2022. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

This is the system where the PRC is the center and “all affairs under heaven” are determined through its autocracy. The rule of law is not what we see in the PRC; it is the rule by law. That is, taking some second-derivative interpretation of an international law or custom, declaring it the law of the universe and then acting as if it were so.

Let’s be clear about what rejuvenation means. National rejuvenation means the party control of economies. It means military modernization to support that. And it means the changing of international borders by force. That is the true meaning of national rejuvenation.

As allies and partners, we cannot normalize this intentional malign behavior by the PRC and the CCP, which we see in the form of:

  • Military expansionism in the South China Sea.
  • Coercion and pressure in the waters and skies surrounding Taiwan.
  • Military coercion and pressure in the waters and skies surrounding the Senkaku Islands. 
  • Military actions along the Line of Actual Control [separating India and China]. 
  • Repression of freedoms and liberties in Hong Kong. 
  • Predatory economic behavior, ranging from illegal fishing to theft of intellectual property to debt entrapment worldwide, including the PRC’s handling of disagreements with Australia, Canada and Lithuania.

So, this is not about containing the PRC’s economic and military growth. It’s about ensuring that we as free and sovereign nations ensure its actions and behaviors do not disrupt the peace and stability of the region or the international rules-based order.  

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