NATO Allied Joint Doctrine for Psychological Operations

The following is NATO’s standard doctrine for psychological operations. Though unclassified, NATO doctrine documents are not released to the public.


  • 106 pages
  • October 2007


The purpose of Allied Joint Publication (AJP)-3.10.1 Allied Joint Doctrine for Psychological Operations is to address the planning and conduct of military PSYOPS in support of NATO activities. PSYOPS, as one of the key contributors to most information operations (INFO OPS) activities, will achieve their greatest effect when coordinated within the larger INFO OPS plan and supporting a much broader information strategy. The new construct of INFO OPS is focused on affecting will, understanding, and capability through the three activities of influence, counter-command, and information protection. It must be noted that PSYOPS has influence activity as its mission; and by influencing target audiences (TA) directly, PSYOPS, in turn, has indirect effects on understanding and capability.

0104. The psychological dimension of conflict is as important as the physical. Conflict is a struggle of wills, that takes place in people’s minds as well as on the battlefield. The attitudes and behaviour of people (friend, foe and the undecided or uncommitted) may be central to determining the outcome of conflict and the nature of the post-conflict environment. Therefore it is necessary to understand the motivation of various target audiences — leaders, military forces, populations — in order to shape their perceptions, affect their will and to persuade them to accept the outcome desired by NATO. The employment of any element of power projection, particularly the military element, has always had a psychological dimension. PSYOPS, as a key element of most INFO OPS activity, are a vital part of the broad range of NATO diplomatic, military, economic, and informational activities.

0105. PSYOPS are enhanced by the expansion of mass communication capabilities. NATO may multiply the effects of its military capabilities by communicating directly to its intended targets. The effectiveness of this communication depends on the perception of the communicator’s credibility and capability to carry out promises or threatened actions in a manner that will be significant to the cultural norms and attitude of the individuals targeted. The employment of any NATO element has a psychological dimension. Perceptions of NATO capabilities are fundamental to strategic deterrence. The effectiveness of deterrence and other strategic concepts hinges on the ability to influence the perceptions of others. It is important not to confuse psychological impact of military operations with planned psychological operations, although the two can be mutually supporting and should be anticipated and coordinated.

0106. PSYOPS constitute a planned process of conveying messages to selected groups, known as target audiences, to promote particular themes that result in desired attitudes and behaviour that affect the achievement of political and military objectives. A target audience is defined by NATO as “an individual or group selected for influence or attack by means of psychological operations” (AAP-6). Given the potential benefit of PSYOPS as an effective force multiplier and combat reducer, commanders at all levels should always consider its use in support of their military aims and objectives. The three basic aims of PSYOPS are to:

a. Weaken the will of the adversary or potentially adversary target audiences.

b. Reinforce the commitment of friendly target audiences.

c. Gain the support and cooperation of uncommitted or undecided audiences.

B106. Principles of visual media design. Whilst the design of a visual product is heavily dependent upon the message content and the imagination and skill of the artist, it is nevertheless possible to identify basic components to develop effective PSYOPS products, based on the knowledge about human perception and the differences between discernment and insight. The human perception can be represented with six stages as a process. The following stages are based on each other:

a. Value orientation. The first task of a product is to gain and maintain the attention and interest of the target audience. The single way to activate somebody is to key in on his already existing needs and motives. Therefore, the PSYOPS product has to consider the current hierarchy of needs and level of need satisfaction of the selected target audience.

b. Activation. Activation is only possible if it triggers a response to existing needs. Needs of the target audience must be identified by PSYOPS, who then develop themes and messages which are aimed at meeting these established needs. The recipient must be able to recognise a personal benefit from action demanded from him. The product design should amplify and canalise already existing motives and needs.

The perception of a person can be affected by three kinds of stimuli:

(1) Emotional stimuli. They cause an immediate emotional response (Love, peace, little child image).

(2) Physical stimuli (size, colour and shapes of symbols). They cause no activation alone. However, they amplify the message.

(3) Intellectual stimuli (surprise, necessity or contradiction). They draw the observer into the product.

c. Reception. “A picture is worth a thousand words.” The PSYOPS statement should be understandable in a look and should be immediately credible. Long text passages and box sentences inhibit fast consumption of information. slogans, headings, headlines and/or other succinct, clear messages should be used wherever possible.

d. Comprehension. The messages of a product must not become misunderstood and should be easy to recognise. The message or picture should activate perception and motivate the recipient to act. Pictures and text must be quickly understandable by themselves and should provide common information. Therefore, passive voice, vague or confusing language, ideological or religious discussion, and abstract statements and symbols are to be avoided.

e. Memory. In addition to the initial impact of a visual PSYOPS product, the memory of that product by the target audience is an additional meaningful factor that requires attention. The level of memory increases through: Information emphasised in colour, concrete photos, positive statements, pictorial language and concise text. They may have to be modified considerably in the light of local communication style.

f. Impact. A significant precondition might be that the product appears as non-threatening and stimulates a positive feeling. The effect becomes amplified through a positive image of the sender, the plausibility of the message and if a way out of a personal conflict situation is offered to the recipient. The observer must be able to recognise a personal benefit from action demanded by it. The product design should amplify and canalise already existing motives and needs.

B112. Selection of announcers

a. An announcer should be chosen primarily on the basis of his or her clarity of voice and correct colloquial pronunciation of the language in use, although a foreign audience will not expect native speaker qualification from a NATO source. It is also desirable that his or her voice should carry conviction and suggest a personality appropriate to the material being transmitted. While not essential, much benefit will result if the announcer has sufficient local knowledge and creative insight to contribute to the drafting of his/her own scripts.

b. The use of indigenous personnel, possibly including defectors, is a simple and effective way of meeting the problem of language or dialect. However, if this method is employed, special attention must be paid to the question of security, including the physical security of locals working for NATO. In particular, all recorded material must be checked for accuracy of content by a trusted interpreter. Live transmissions should only be made by local nationals of proven loyalty. Every effort should be taken to provide at least one military interpreter for a PSYOPS unit for checking samples of translations and for interpreting in sensitive situation.

B119. Internet. The Internet differs from the other media described mainly on two accounts. First it is in principle unlimited in reach. Second it is a medium where the target audience has to actively seek information, and where PSYOPS messages will compete for attention with a lot of other information, including information provided by adversaries. This leads to a strong requirement for making the material published interesting. At present there are in general three ways of using the Internet in PSYOPS: Operating a home page, sending e-mails, addressed to specific and selected targets, and having a chat room. A home page will be generally available to a large audience, whereas targets for e-mail can be groups or individual persons. Chat rooms will normally be directed at groups.

a. Advantages

(1) Reach. Due to the virtually unlimited reach of the Internet it is possible to readily access target audiences worldwide.

(2) Speed. An important characteristic of the Internet is the virtual instantaneous availability of the messages worldwide. This makes it easy and quick to produce messages far away from the target audience. However, an adversary is likewise able to publish over long distances quickly.

(3) Cheap. As a means of dissemination the Internet is cheap. However, the editorial skills and facilities of the required quality may not be.

b. Limitations. When using websites NATO units has to take the relationship to Press & Information activities in to consideration, according to “Guidelines for PSYOPS websites”.

c. Disadvantages

(1) Reach. Due to the unlimited reach of the Internet it is virtually impossible to limit the availability of information published to selected audiences, unless it is sent directly to the target audience as e-mail. This increases the requirement to minimise the negative impact of messages on unintended target audiences.

(2) Computer availability and literacy. Since the target audience has to be able to access the Internet; computers, network access and the ability to exploit the technology have to be available, there are at present limits in the reach in less developed areas. However, target audiences in the NATO countries are easily accessible by adversaries.

(3) Anonymity. On the Internet it is easy to hide the true identity of the originator of a message.

(4) Competition. With a lot of very different information being readily available on the Internet, the PSYOPS messages have to appeal to the target audiences much more than in most other media.

(5) Manipulation. This electronic medium may be easily modified by adversaries and other parties.


Section I – The motivation of the individual

C101. General. Motivation, in general, represents a direct and dynamic component of behaviour, which is determined by a combination of biological, social, and learning factors. Motivation activates behaviour in pursuit of a goal. Current motivational needs influence perception, reasoning, learning and other psychological processes. Its main characteristics are:

a. Motivation is tied to inner conditions and processes, which can only be observed indirectly, through its behavioural outputs.

b. Motivation is not always equal to behaviour, as behaviour tends also to be determined by biological, social, and cultural factors along with perception, reasoning, learning and other psychological processes.

c. The result of motivation is almost always some kind of activity.

d. Motivated behaviour can be described by energy mobilization; persistent, intensive and effective behaviour; direction towards an objective; and change in behaviour dependant upon consequences.

e. Human behaviour is directed towards an objective. As soon as the objective is achieved, this need is satisfied.

f. As soon as one need is satisfied, others occur; therefore, motivation and the requirement to satisfy needs is a never-ending process.

C102. Hierarchy of needs/motives. From an individual’s point of view, the most important drive (which also determines behaviour) is the desire to satisfy his or her individual needs. These range from simple physical requirements of the body (hunger, thirst, etc.) to complex psychological demands such as the desire for recognition and self-esteem. These various needs can be represented as a hierarchy, with the most fundamental and primitive at the bottom of the scale, and the most complex and abstract at the top (see Figure C-1 below). The theory of motivation suggests that individual needs can be described by a scale of satisfaction. However, not all target audiences rate.

C127. PSYOPS and communication

a. Means. The means used for the transfer of PSYOPS messages encompass all the usual means of human communication like word-of-mouth, books, newspapers, loudspeakers, radio, TV, etc. They also include emerging technologies that allow messages to be transferred from senders to receivers (such as mobile phones, e-mail, etc.)

b. When conducting PSYOPS, planners should emphasize the use of key communicators as they are the ones who can transfer messages to the TA most effectively. Key elements when considering the use of key communicators are authority, group belonging, and the attraction of the source. For maximum effectiveness of PSYOPS, a credible source of information is necessary. In the minds of the TA, a key communicator should be “one of them”: a persuasive and powerful speaker.

c. Messages. The following should be taken into consideration when crafting PSYOPS messages: message visibility, accessibility, appeal, clarity, simplicity, persuasiveness, the principal of need (i.e., promising the TA you will fulfil their needs), and the principle of unpredictability (i.e., using “soft” methods of persuasion, which allow for adaptation to possible changes).

d. PSYOPS communication techniques. The following are examples of messaging techniques that have been shown to be successful:

(1) Emotional sandwich (emotions – message – emotions).

(2) Emotional transfer (e.g., a flyer with an emotional component like nice pictures, overwritten by the PSYOPS message).

(3) Use of emotionally loaded words.

(4) Use of stereotypes.


Section I – Analysis

D101. Aim of counter PSYOPS. The aim of counter PSYOPS is to counter or exploit the effects of adversary propaganda or psychological activities. Counter PSYOPS are directed at approved target audiences that are affected by the adversary propaganda, less our own forces and citizents, who are the responsibility of troop information and PI.

D102. Definition. Actions designed to detect and counteract adversary psychological activities.

D103. Analysis of adversary’s psychological activities. Analysis of an adversary’s psychological activity involves the detailed examination of the source, content, audience, media and effects (SCAME) of his messages to obtain intelligence that supplements the conventional forms of intelligence. The audience and the effects can be unintended as well as intended. The primary purpose of the analysis of an adversary’s psychological activity is to collect PSYOPS-related intelligence information. This is in order to evaluate its effect on own troops as well as on friendly and uncommitted civilian audiences within the AOR, in order to be able to eliminate or diminish the negative consequences, and to exploit any contradiction in that adversary psychological activity. The analysis also involves a systematic study of foreign mass communications intended for domestic and/or international audiences.

D104. Source analysis. Identifies the individual, organisation or government that sponsors and disseminates a particular item of an adversary psychological activity. The three components of source analysis are: actor, authority and author. Sources are further subdivided into:

a. White. An acknowledged source.

b. Grey. An unacknowledged source.

c. Black. Originates from a source other than the one that is claimed.

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