Social mobilisation in a contested environment

Cyber security Defence Information technology National security Australia

There’s a new problem emerging in Australian defence matters. Future governments trying to convince Australian society of the need to take actions offshore can now face interference from external parties operating domestically online. The proliferation globally of modern information technologies has opened up new opportunities for external state and non-state actors to meddle.

Social mobilisation in a contested environment involves not a clash of material as in traditional conceptions of armed conflict but instead a clash of ideas. The first part of the paper accordingly considers the role of ideas in mobilisation, some basic ideational concepts and the strategic importance of social mobilisation. The second part examines emerging challenges that may damage Australia’s ability to mobilise the people in time of crisis and finds three possible threat strategies: societal disruption, manipulating existing grievances and changing people’s minds. 

The third part discusses possible responses including the building of legitimacy and the place of strategic narratives. The final section discusses media and governmental concerns that arose in mobilising the Australian people during World War Two and have relevance in our time. Importantly, while this paper takes a particular interest in the Australian Department of Defence’s potential role in social mobilisation the issue is inherently a whole-of-government one. If Menzies argued defence was ‘everybody’s business’, so social mobilisation is a cross-governmental responsibility.

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ACSACS Occasional Papers Series No.9