Warfare reductionism: schematic layers up to its core

Artistic illustration on the theme of cyber and psychological warfare

In this article, we will attempt to reduce the different warfare vectors into a simple and expressive schema — using a layer system — and expose its deep core. We will use the reductionism approach (like in the technological reductionism hypothesis), and use a departure postulat. The goal is to build an educational projection of the subject.


Reductionism: This is a philosophical approach which consist in describing associations between phenomena in smaller entities — in a more fundamental way.

Warfare vectors: We will use this term to define all kind of possible warfare, such as conventional, unconventional, asymmetrical, but also cyber-warfare, lawfare, economic and technological warfare, and everything related to information and psychological warfare (source links will be added in the following section).

Idea shot:

The postulate of departure that we will use to build our schema will be quite simple actually. This is the following statement:

War is done by humans. The universal and individual human core is the head (the brain), with its cognitives capacities, and its own psychological structure: the mind.

We will try to reveal that bringing war directly into the enemy's head — his biological core — could potentially be the ultimate form of warfare.

To develop our thoughts and illustrate the above statements we will use the following schema:

This schema attempts to express warfare dynamics regardless of the target's kind: state or non-state. The black arrow represents the different applied type of warfare. It exclusively depend on the target reachability, namely, the capacity to get closer and closer to its postulated core: the human and his brain. The arrow passes through several zones:

  • First zone (green): This is the enemy's exterior field outside of his personal zone (the home). A conflict finding its equilibrium point in this reachability zone could be called conventional. This is where maned and open conflict could stands.

  • Blue circle (inter layer): This is the limit of the first zone, constituting a mix between the first and second layers. We could put proxy war and asymmetrical war at this point of reachability (although the second seems debatable).

  • Second zone (blue — home): This is the enemy's internal field: its personal zone. A conflict moving toward this point of reachability involve everything that could damage its personal zone and its functioning: its internal infrastructure stability (the home). In particular: cyberwarfare, lawfare, technological warfare, economic warfare, intel and sabotages, but also on more hypotheticals and vicious ways, tools that could impact his homeland ressources dependency such as biological warfare on crops or cattle, or climate warfare (even if we must say that this is highly unstable and risky in term of potential back-fire).

  • Red circle (inter layer): This is the point of entry of the third and last layer. At this reachability step, the conflict is a mix between the second and third zone. That's what we could call shadow wars or according to the 2019 definition: unconventional warfare.

  • Third zone (red — persona): This is the enemy's most intimate zone: his own head. A conflict achieving this point of reachability — the inner core of the enemy — involve every types of tactics used to manipulate him, such as propaganda, memetics, soft power, information warfare (a well known example could be Cambridge Analytica scandal — click here for the Netflix documentary), or psychological warfare (formerly called PSYOPs). In more general terms, this is everything related to beliefs warfare: pushing the enemy to trust something for another belligerent benefits.

As you understood, the zone of conflict exclusively depend of the target's reachability, thus in some way, his dependency to technology — accessibility or connectivity — the more we want to get closer to his core. Even if the beliefs warfare seems to potentially be to ultimate form of war, as directly controlling the opponent brain would be the most advanced form of neutralization, it can't be applied to every conflicts configurations, because this could be extremely complex to practice on certain targets or areas.

To finish this section, we will add that this isn't a one-way schema, as considering the conflict dynamics between several belligerents imply both-way use of all reachable war vectors — sometime in various and impressive ways (such as the DARPA's MOSAIC program).

Open to thoughts:

We will now express some comments regarding new and hypotheticals actors in the warfare battlefield. Firstly, concerning the use of automated weapons such as robots and drone, they are quartered to the second zone (if we rely on the schema), as they are susceptibles to be hacked and neutralized (trough cyberwarfare and technological warfare).

The case of bots and AI seems to be a bit different, they merely depend on technology and its security too but can be used as propaganda, manipulation, informational and psychological warfare tools. Non-exclusives examples are social media troll-bots (that may take a new form with the recent introduction of the GPT2 neural network architecture), or deepfake spreading.

Regarding hypothetical biological warfare done exclusively on humans, it may have meet its obsolescence. Such weapons could effectively decimate populations, but are in opposition with the third layer requirement (where the persona stand), as having more psychological targets in the context of psychological and information warfare is unavoidable to spread and propagate propaganda and disinformation. Moreover, it would be really hard to manage and contain.

Finally, concerning the space warfare with the weaponization of space, we must say that this should be prohibited according to the international agreements on this subject. But they seems to be widely ignored or even violated. However, it could be a pivot point in the future in terms of ressources access and independency, as well for the belligerents softpower supremacy (currently illustrated by the new race for Mars and the Moon between by US and China).


As said in the introduction the primary goal is to build an educational and simplified view of the warfare landscape. This work have been produced with accessible and public data. It will also serve as a first stone for further ideas and reflexions on this topic.

License CC BY



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