Strategic Communications in NATO Counterinsurgency Operations
Strategická komunikace v protipovstaleckých operacích NATO

Vendula Divišová
2014 Obrana a Strategie  
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2008 issue of "IO Sphere" and is reprinted here with the permission of the editor.) Recently the U.S. Southern Command's Admiral James Stavridis paraphrased World War II's great naval commander and strategist Ernest King: "I don't know what the hell this [strategic communication] is that Marshall is always talking about, but I want some of it." 1 This past summer over 200 strategic communication practitioners and academics met at the National War
more » ... llege for the first annual Worldwide Strategic Communication Seminar. Senior government officials urged attendees to get on with the business of strategic communication, noting that "we will be flying the plane while we're building it." 2 Both of these previous statements point to the urgency of integrating effective strategic communication into military operations while recognizing that we don't quite understand how to do it...or even understand what it is. So, if the intent is to fly the plane while building it, the pilot check-list becomes of paramount importance to ensure the aircraft not only gets off the ground but also avoids crashing and burning once it takes flight. In other words, we must educate leaders, particularly warfighters, about what strategic communication is...and what it isn't. The difficulty, of course, is that there is no military doctrine for strategic communication, leaving both its definition and the process associated with it open to interpretation. Strategic Communication...or Strategic Communications? The trouble with an emerging (and important) concept sans doctrine is that the terminology (i.e. the lexicon) can act to define that concept. Thus, military leaders loosely throw about the term strategic communications (with an "s") validating King's modified quote. Lacking any further understanding beyond the term itself, the default definition of strategic communication in the minds of many has to do with media interaction, which further devolves to establishing effective talking points for the next press briefing. 3 This is not only wrong, it is dangerous. It significantly limits the ability of the actual process of strategic communication (no "s") to synergistically support military operations. In that light it is important to examine what strategic communication is in order to better exploit its full capabilities. There is no overarching U.S. government definition of strategic communication. 4 There is, however, a Department of Defense definition as a result of the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) which produced a Strategic Communication Roadmap. Strategic communication is "focused USG (United States Government) processes and efforts to understand and engage key audiences in order to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable to advance national interests and objectives through the use of coordinated information, themes, plans, programs and actions synchronized with other elements of national power." 5 The Roadmap goes on to list the primary supporting capabilities of strategic communication as Public Affairs, aspects of Information Operations (principally psychological operations), Military Diplomacy, Defense Support to Public Diplomacy, and Visual Information. 6 Unfortunately this list limits the perceived means available to communications (emphasis intentionally added) based activities and so reinforces the lexicon of the term itself. And therein lies the rub with current interpretations of strategic communication by military leaders. Considering strategic communication as a menu of self-limiting communications capabilities will ensure the plane never takes off (to use the previous analogy). Instead, interpretation of the definition itself must serve as the basis of understanding by educators who teach strategic communication and by practitioners who plan and implement it. Professor Dennis M. Murphy is the Director of the Information in Warfare Group, part of the Science and Technology Divison of the Center for Strategic Leadership, U.S. Army War College.
doi:10.3849/1802-7199.14.2014.02.105-118 fatcat:ry6gbxqgfbgbvbmphoytsewh4i