“Cognitive Warfare”: an art to exploit and manipulate perceptions

“Know thyself” an ancient maxim, or as Thomas Hobbes in his “The Leviathan” puts it as “read thyself” referring to the idea that you can learn more by studying others than you can from reading books: particularly the feelings that influence our thoughts and motivate our actions. For Hobbes, “read thyself” can “teach us, that for the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man, to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself, and considereth what he doth, when does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds he shall thereby read and know, what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasions” (Leviathan, 1651). The ancient idea of know and read “thyself” more than better lays down the foundation for what has been called “cognitive warfare” in the 21st century. As Siman-Tov and Sternberg (2017) put it, “knowing yourself and knowing your enemy is a stronger dictum for success and this knowledge through intelligence resources, media, reports and first-hand accounts especially shape how cognitive warfare will impact public support, opinions, and decision-making.

According to Bernard Claverie and François du Cluzel (2022), “cognitive warfare is an unconventional form of warfare that uses cyber tools to alter enemy cognitive processes, exploit mental biases or reflexive thinking and provoke thought distortions, influence decision-making and hinder actions, with negative effects, both at the individual and collective levels”. Thus, the “cognitive warfare” goes beyond the information warfare in sense that it determines not only what people think, but how do they think and act. It is a combination of psychological and cyber operation with the military objectives.

For Bernard Claverie and François du Cluzel, the main objective of the “cognitive warfare” is to wage a war on what an enemy community thinks, loves or believes in, by altering perceptions. It is a war on how the enemy thinks, how its minds work, how it sees the world and develops its conceptual thinking. Changing the worldviews of the enemy would affect his psychological balance, capacity to compete and develop, would undermine enemy’s confidence, and, thus, weaken him. In general, objective is to attack, exploit, degrade or even destroy how someone builds their own reality and mental self-confidence.

For Rosner and Siman-Tov (2018), “cognitive warfare” is a “manipulation of public discourse by external elements seeking to undermine social unity or damage political trust in the political system”.

For Vlasimir Lepehin, “cognitive warfare” is the war of knowledge and perceptions. As Dr. Arash Sharghi puts it: the “cognitive warfare” alters human brain’s cognitive mapping, changes or completely destroys the cognitive “borders and walls”, thus, changing human’s perceptions and, in perspective, the actions; it deprives the possibility to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong and leads to miscalculations in the actions. One of the outcomes of “cognitive warfare” is the epistemological chaos, created in the human brain: the capacity to understand which knowledge is right or wrong is declining. In a shambolic pursuit to “catch” the right one, at the end, human brain is faced with an ontological collapse: it loses the object of its “rush”.

The “cognitive warfare” has three dimensions: first, the psychological operations; second, engaging neurosciences i.e. the weaponization of brain sciences; and third, implementing social engineering; it has the potential to fracture and fragment an entire society, so that it no longer has the collective will to resist an enemy (S D Pradhan, 2022).

The imprints of the “cognitive warfare” can be found in the doctrine of Russian General Gerasimov, who in his “The value of science is in the foresight” article (2013) laid out the new modern type of warfare, which more looks like hacking the enemy’s society. According to Gerasimov’s view, through the means of disinformation and misinformation on social media, with a range of actors and tools, like, hackers, media, businessmen, leaks and even fake news that will play roles of digital/virtual/artificial cluster munitions, an environment of permanent unrest and conflict within an enemy state can be achieved.

The concept of “cognitive warfare” has found its reflections in the NATO-sponsored studies. Until recent times, NATO had divided war into five different operational domains: air, land, sea, space, and cyber. But with its development of cognitive warfare strategies, the military alliance is discussing a new, sixth level: the “human domain”. According to the NATO “Cognitive Warfare” report in 2021, human brain will become the battlefield of the 21st century; the wars will firstly be done digitally and only then physically. The study described this phenomenon as “the militarization of brain science” and emphasized that the Western countries should work closely with academia to “weaponize” social sciences and human sciences in order to enhance the “cognitive warfare” capacities. Cognitive Warfare is a war of ideologies that strives to erode the trust that underpins every society; therefore the individual becomes the weapon.

“Cognitive warfare” can hide completely imperceptible in things we are accustomed to: movies, images, songs, journals, book, blogger’s webpages or social platform accounts. Being a war of perceptions, which are formed in deep corners of our consciousness and only occasionally manifest on the surface, but determine our mentality and our behavior, “cognitive warfare” has its unsurpassed power, outlined in aforementioned Gerasimov’s doctrine: “it’s hard to resist an enemy you can’t see or aren’t even sure is there”.


Claverie B, Cluzel F., “The Cognitive Warfare concept”, Innovation-Hub,

Cluzel F., “Cognitive Warfare”, Allied Command Transformation, 2020

Gerasimov V., “The value of science is in the foresight”, Voyenno-Promyshlennyy Kurier, 2013.

Hobbes T., “The Leviathan”, in Bertman, M. A., “Equality in Hobbes with Reference to Aristotle. The Review of Politics”, 38(04), 1976.

Lepehin V., “What is “cognitive warfare” and can we win it?”, RIA Novosti, 26.04.2016,

Pradhan S D, “Role of cognitive warfare in Russia-Ukraine conflict: Potential for achieving strategic victory bypassing traditional battlefield”, The times of India, 08.05.2022,

Rosner, Y., Siman-Tov, D. “Russian Intervention in the US Presidential Elections: The New Threat of Cognitive Subversion”, 08.03.2018,

Siman-Tov, D., Sternberg, D. “The Missing Effort”: Integrating the “Non-lethal” Dimension in the Israeli Military Lines of Operation”. 2017,


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