Public Diplomacy and Political Warfare Part 4: Communication and Organization

February 12, 2012

I started this series of posts with a memo from the Political Warfare Executive.   The PWE had a particular take on political warfare because of its organizational history.  It’s previous incarnation had been as half of the Special Operations Executive, the organization created by Churchill in July 1940 to wage unconventional warfare in occupied Europe.  Because of the tensions between white and black propaganda activities,  the propaganda arm of the organization, SOE1, was split off to become the PWE.  The result was that the PWE definition of political warfare had a particular focus on propaganda and as a result underplayed the idea of political warfare as competitive organization that runs through Marxist-Leninist versions of the idea.

Soviet (and Maoist) political techniques placed a great weight on building organizations (eg Barghoorn 1964, Schurmann 1966).  This reaches an apotheosis  in Chinese and Vietnamese theories of people’s war.  Western theories of strategy assume the existence of armed forces and focus on how to use them.  Mao and Giap assume that you have to build the army from scratch (eg Pike 1986).  This converts strategy into an exercise in competitive  organization.  We attempt to organize while trying to disorganize the other side.  We try to undermine their social bases of their power while constructing our own (Atkinson 1981).  Communication is an instrument that legitimates our activity while undermining their side.   An important part is about creating a vision of the future where our side is going to be victorious.  However, this isn’t just an exercise in technique; if it’s going to work it has to draw on the realities of the situation.

This connection between communication and organization pops up in  Cold War thinking on writings on ‘public diplomacy’ notably in W. Philips Davison’s (1965) International Political Communication. Davison argues that the key role of communication should be to support the organization of pro-US political forces rather than attacking the communists.

There’s a  connection  with more recent arguments about public diplomacy as collaboration (eg Cowan and Arsenault 2008, Fisher 2008), while collaboration is seen as a way of breaking down conflicts it’s important to keep in mind that historically conflict is the most powerful generator of collaboration.  Political Warfare stands for the conflict strand of public diplomacy.  Any comprehensive approach has got to keep both the conflictual and collaborative strands in focus.

Atkinson, A. (1981) Social Order and the General Theory of Strategy. London ;;Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Barghoorn, F.C. (1964.) Soviet Foreign Propaganda. Princeton, N.J: Princeton U.P.

Cowan, G., and A. Arsenault (2008) ‘Moving from Monologue to Dialogue to Collaboration: The Three Layers of Public Diplomacy’, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 616: 10-30

Davison, W.P. (1965) International Political Communication. New York: Praeger.

Fisher, A. (2008) ‘Music for the Jilted Generation: Open-Source Public Diplomacy’, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 3: 129-152.

Pike, D. (1986) PAVN: Peoples Army of Vietnam. Novato, CA: Presidio Press.

Schurmann, F. (1966) Ideology and Organization in Communist China. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.


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