The Influence of War; The War for Influence

17 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2018 Last revised: 14 Jun 2018

See all articles by Duncan B. Hollis

Duncan B. Hollis

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law

Date Written: April 3, 2018


As part of a symposium on Rosa Brooks’s How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything, this essay explores the concept of an influence operation (IO) from the perspective of international law. It examines common elements of an IO and proffers five criteria for differentiating among them, namely by assessing their (i) transparency; (ii) extent of deception; (iii) purpose; (iv) scale; and (v) effects. Using these criteria, I analyze whether and how international law might constrain the conduct of IOs, with particular attention to the duty of non-intervention, sovereignty, and self-determination. I find that, aside from a few cases like IOs that incentivize genocide, the cognitive quality of IOs raises serious questions about the capacity of international law to govern IOs. Furthermore, I highlight how the difficulty international lawyers face in regulating IOs is equally apparent in assigning responsive authority to militaries or technologists. I conclude with a call for further study of state-sponsored IOs and the potential of hybrid and pluralist responses to regulate this increasingly visible component of international relations.

Keywords: influence operations, information warfare, misinformation, disinformation, Russia, cybersecurity, cyberwar, fake news, elections, sovereignty, non-intervention, human rights, self-determination

JEL Classification: K10, K33, K42

Suggested Citation

Hollis, Duncan B., The Influence of War; The War for Influence (April 3, 2018). Temple International & Comparative Law Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, 2018, Temple University Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2018-19, Available at SSRN:

Duncan B. Hollis (Contact Author)

Temple University - James E. Beasley School of Law ( email )

1719 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19122
United States

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