Weaponization of benign activities

Chinese tourists take a ‘selfie’ at the Golden Temple in Amritsar on November 14, 2016, as Sikh devotees mark the 547th birth anniversary of Sri Guru Nanak Dev. Guru Nanak was the founder of the Sikh religion and the first of ten Sikh gurus. / AFP / NARINDER NANU Getty Images

Late last year, the Marine Corps released MCDP 1-4 ‘Competing.’ It’s a great pamphlet that captures the nature of the global competition we find ourselves in today. I would recommend it as a primer for anyone who wants to know more about what ‘great power competition’ looks like. It’s well-researched and well-written.

Over the summer, I plan on lifting a few things from Competing to explore a little further. The first of these is mentioned on page 4-10 as a part of the ‘common characteristics of our rivals approach to competition.’

‘Weaponization of benign activities.’

While a definition isn’t offered, if you have been paying attention, the concept is almost immediately apparent.

Competing provides a short vignette two pages later which discusses the idea in the context of tourism.

Weaponization of Benign Activities: Tourism in Targeted Countries

Palau is an island nation strategically located east of the Philippines, has only 20,000 citizens, and maintains diplomatic relations with Taiwan. About 2014, China put Palau on its approved list for overseas tourism.

By 2015, Chinese tourists flooded Palau, created a Chinese- funded hotel construction boom, and bought up buildings and apartments. Chinese-owned restaurants and small businesses also started, displacing local enterprises. Chinese tour groups were typically self-contained, staying in Chinese-owned hotels and bringing their own tour guides, which froze out locally owned tourism businesses. The influx of Chinese tourism created divisions between Paulauans benefiting from the tourism and those threatened by the displaced businesses, increased living costs, and damage to the local environment brought by the tourism flood.

In late 2017, Beijing placed Palau off-limits for package tours, dramatically affecting Palau’s economy. The off-limits order was reportedly an effort to put pressure on Taiwan via their relationship with Palau. China used tourism to create an economic dependency and then manipulated it to help them achieve their aims.

MCDP 1-4 Competing p. 4-12

If you follow the footnotes, you’ll land on a 2019 assessment from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments titled ‘Winning Without Fighting: Chinese and Russian Political Warfare Campaigns and How the West Can Prevail.’ This is what they have to say about the subject:

Weaponization of benign activities. In conducting their political warfare operations, Russia and China have weaponized many normally benign activities. These include but are not limited to diplomatic discussions; conventional and unconventional media operations; tourism into targeted countries; flows of students; visit diplomacy; the establishment of “friendship societies” and similar front organizations; the purchase of well-located pieces of land, key infrastructure, and strategically important companies; accessing, often by stealing, protected intellectual property; managing trade and investment flows; exploiting education systems, and manipulating immigration arrangements.

Ross Babbage, ‘Winning Without Fighting: Chinese and Russian Political Warfare Campaigns and How the West Can Prevail

The weaponization of benign activities will serve as the constant, slow-burn tactic of great power competition. These are events and processes that unfold over years and will be a nuisnance to military, diplomatic, and political leaders who will feel compelled to “do something” in response.

There is a related tactic that we already see every day – and that’s the weaponization of benign information. If you spend any amount of time on social media, you see this when someone includes a screenshot that provides ‘evidence’ of some transgression, however slight or implied. This is a tactic employed by provacateurs and trolls alike. Irrelevant personal details might be tossed on the fire to smear someone. Those details may not add anything useful, but they work as an accelerant with the target audience, carrying unseen weight.

You also see this tactic when headlines are contorted by different organizations to feed a certain narrative.

And of course, you see this when conspiracy theorists posit that some trite piece of information contains hidden meaning.

Words are already loaded with history and stories behind them. Arranged in the right way, they can convey the meaning you want to the right audience and they won’t even have to read the article. Important here, is that this technique is not likely to shift global opinion or ‘win the war.’ Rather, it might nudge the dial just a little bit over time.

More consequently, the weaponization of benign activities/informtation could result in an overreaction, which is why I argue we all need to be a little more patient and let the dust settle when there are bombastic information flare-ups.

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Women at USMC School of Infantry

Female Marine Infantry

Week ending October 12, 2014

It was a good week for the blog. My post 7 Underrated Military Blogs that Can’t Get No Respect got a lot of attention, which in turn pushed a lot of people to those blogs that don’t get enough love. Hopefully with the influx of new readers, they’ll start posting more.

For whatever reason, though, the top search term was ‘women at usmc school infantry.’  In the world of ‘women in the infantry,’ the recent news that would have people looking for stuff is the recent story of the three women who passed the first day of the Marine Corps Infantry School – the much vaunted Endurance Test.

Last year, when this story was hot, I posted an image gallery titled the Faceless Women of the United States Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course. I’ve always found it interesting – and a little weird – that the the images that accompany the stories always have faceless women. It’s done for privacy, and there is an agreement between the USMC and the media to not show their faces. It creates an odd effect though, of a faceless, personality-stripped female trainee. The pictures in that gallery often features a female Marine alone, or with another female, in a gloomy, cold physical trial. It’s especially weird when viewed in contrast with the Marines’ “Infantrywomen of Instagram,” having just finished the enlisted infantry course, with big bright smiles.

The picture accompanying the Washington Post article also features faceless women infantry trainees, in contrast to the exposed faces of the male trainees.

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The “Infidel” knife – dipped in pig’s blood during the forging process

Infidel Knife

A friend who knows about my interest in the whole ‘infidel’ phenomenon sent me this article from the Marine Corps Times last week (Marine vet’s ‘infidel’ knives a pointed jab at the enemy). The article is a profile of a USMC veteran who has started a small business making combat knives for a mostly military audience. A good thing, in and of itself. Check out his webpage or his Facebook page – the knives look gorgeous.

However, these knives are special. From his website:

Bates Tactical Knives are not for the politically correct. Every blade is stamped with the word “Infidel” in Arabic. During the hardening process the red-hot blade is pulled from the forge and immediately quenched in liquid with pig’s blood added to it, completing the “Infidel” touch.

Click here for a picture from the company’s Facebook page of Mr. Bates smelling a fresh batch of pig’s blood.

I’ve beaten the infidel subject to death, and I’ve made an argument that to champion the whole ‘infidel’ thing might put you in the extremist category, so I’ll let this stand here as is and let you be the judge. 

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The Ethics of the Marine Corps Urination Case

aristotle1

A couple of weeks ago two really interesting things emerged in military writing. One is this story on the Marine Corps urination case in the Marine Corps Times (“Exclusive: Marine scout sniper in urination video controversy speaks out“). The other was a article from Military Review that was featured on Tom Rick’s Best Defense (“The Myths We Soldiers Tell Ourselves“). One an article based on an interview with one of the Marines being punished for the urination video, the other a scholarly article by two active and one retired Army Lieutenant Colonels that taught Ethics at West Point.

I read both of these articles within a day of each other and couldn’t help but notice how they unintentionally bleed into one another. I encourage you to read both articles in their entirety and make your own judgements. While you’re at it, you should also read this – “Warriors, the Army Ethos, and the Sacred Trust of Soldiers.”

I pulled these paragraphs from the articles, because they appear to be talking to each other:

From the Marine Corps Times:

What really led up to it is they desecrated one of our Marines,” Richards said of the video. “When you’re under that much stress and in that environment, your whole mental being changes. You’re no longer Joe the Family Man. You’re a warrior, and if you read back to biblical wars and wars since the dawn of time, men have been doing this to men for millennia.

From “Myths”:

The authors argued in a previous essay, “War is a Moral Force,” that the most critical considerations of human conflict are the moral ones. These considerations were as important to the Romans as they are now to us, not something new to modern war. However, the information age has amplified the effects. There may have been a time when mythologizing served a useful purpose in war, but only ignorance could make it work. Today, in an age in which information flies around the world at the speed of light, immediately bringing a great coherency and power to moral opinion, we can no longer assume such ignorance will last. We cannot long hope to be allowed to say we are one thing while actually being something else. Our spoken words (and values) must be indicative of our actions.

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The Faceless Women of the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course

Fighting to Join the Ranks - Slide Show - NYTimes.com-1 Another two women recently failed the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course, joining the other two who failed late last year. I’m proud of them for trying. I’m fascinated by the photos that accompany the stories. There are always photos of the women, but their faces are never shown. I’m guessing there is probably some rule There is a Pentagon rule that protects the women from being identified, so the photographers cannot publish pictures showing their faces.

 

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