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Strategic Communication for National Security

October 21, 2011

I mentioned that I was reading the Chatham House Report on Strategic Communication and National Security.  I don’t seem to be making progress with the big post I was writing so I’ve decided to split it up.

I’ve commented before that I think that the SC concept is expanding its reach in unhelpful ways. The Chatham House report argues that public diplomacy and domestic government communications organizations should be subordinated to a national strategic communication strategy.  OK I can see the logic of this within the terms of the report but I think that the report forgets that what it is really tallking about is national security strategic communication or strategic communication for national security and that this is only part of the UK communication effort.*

One of the first actions of the Coalition Government was to establish a UK National Security Council and documents like the Chatham House report grow out of this development with its emphasis on joining up government around an agenda of defence, security and counter-radicalization.   The rhetoric of security documents always has security as the nation’s number 1 priority and this tends to give SC talk an expansionary aspect.

But ….if we look at how the UK government as a whole talks its  number 1 priority is actually the management of the economy and reduction of the national deficit .  If this is the case the real external  strategic communications priorities are 1) communication of the government’s resolve to tackle the deficit in order to maintain market confidence 2) export promotion 3) promotion of foreign investment 4) tourism promotion.

Although the Cabinet Office is supposed to be working on a National Strategic Communication Strategy my view is that it would make more sense to have a National Communications Strategy that would encompass all national communications objectives and activities.  If there was a need for a separate National Security Strategic Communications Plan it would operate within the framework of the national plan.  This would ensure that National Security Communications didn’t undermine other national priorities.

* One of the reasons that I found this report so hard to digest it that it doesn’t acknowledge that the term strategic communication has a much broader application in PR or government communications than in defence or national security contexts.  There are many strategic communications units on Whitehall org charts that have nothing to do with national security.

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One comment

  1. I was kindly invited, some time ago, by the British Embassy in Washington to a dinner at a French restaurant (yes, a French restaurant, clearly evidence that the UK does intend to be “European”) in DC’s Georgetown in honor of the FCO’s “strategic communications” director. At the conclusion of this very pleasant occasion grateful guests were asked what they thought of “strategic communications.” I had only drunk one glass of red wine, but I uttered, as diplomatically as I could, the following: “Strategic communications is an offense against the English language.” I must confess that, today, it would be hard for me to amend this statement.



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