Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"The Trouble with Strategic Communication(s)"

"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"

Strategists use a model of “ends, ways and means” to describe all aspects of a national or military strategy. Strategy
is about how (the way) leaders will use the capabilities (means) available to achieve objectives (ends).7 Understanding
and engaging key audiences is meant to change perceptions, attitudes, beliefs and, ultimately behaviors to help
achieve military (and in turn national) objectives. Thus, parsing the QDR definition it is apparent that strategic
communication is a “way” to achieve an information effect on the cognitive dimension of the information environment
(the required “end”).8 Strategic communication employs multiple “means” and these means should be restricted only
by the requirement to achieve the desired information effect on the target audience.

Messages are certainly sent by verbal and visual communications means, but they are also sent by actions. (Note that
the QDR definition specifically includes “actions”). In fact, senior officials point out that strategic communication is
“80% actions and 20% words.”9 Specifically, how military operations are conducted affects the information environment
by impacting perceptions, attitudes and beliefs. Recent examples include use of U.S. Navy hospital ships in regional
engagement and Pakistani earthquake relief efforts10 in permissive environments. But hostile environments like the
Iraq and Afghanistan theaters also provide opportunities to positively shape the information environment. This
clarification and expanded understanding of the definition is critical if the military hopes to effectively educate leaders
on how to fully exploit strategic communication to support military operations. Key to success is an organizational
unit culture that values, understands, and thus considers strategic communication means as important capabilities to
be integrated within established planning processes.
Strategic communication is the more broadly overarching concept targeting key audiences and focusing on the
cognitive dimension of the information environment. IO as an integrating function, on the other hand, more
specifically targets an adversary’s decision making capability which may be in the cognitive, informational and/or
physical dimensions of the information environment.

Considering the targets and effects described above, it should be clear that both strategic communication and
IO can be employed at all levels of warfare (tactical, operational, theater strategic and national strategic). Tactical
commanders routinely employ strategic communication in Iraq today based on their interactions with key audiences
in their area of responsibility to a potential strategic end. On the other end of the scale, IO could certainly be
employed strategically as part of a shaping Phase 0 operation or a deterrent Phase 1 operation against a potential
adversary’s decision-making capability.
Remembering that strategic communication is a way to achieve cognitive information effects using any means
available takes the mystery out of the concept. Strategic communication simply employs capabilities (limited only to
the imagination) to support the achievement of a military objective. Just as a commander integrates air, land and sea
capabilities into military planning and execution, he can and should integrate strategic communication capabilities.
The planning process is not new. The focus on and understanding of this new concept and its capabilities, however,
may be.
Strategic Communication is simply a way to affect perceptions, attitudes and beliefs of key audiences in support
of objectives. Certainly communications means are very important in ultimately achieving those desired information
effects. But how military operations are conducted is also a key component of strategic communication, since actions
send very loud and clear messages. Effective strategic communication requires an organizational culture attuned
to the information environment and a recognition that strategic communication, as a way to achieve information
effects, consists of many capabilities (means) that are an integral part of the commander’s arsenal. Staff expertise may be available to support these efforts. Still, the trained staff section is less important than a unit culture where the
commander both recognizes what strategic communication is (and isn’t) and emphasizes strategic communication as
important to successful military operations.

1 comment:

Cannoneer No. 4 said...

There is military doctrine for psychological operations, but since we're not supposed to PSYOP the domestic TA we strategically communicate with them instead.