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Strategic Communications: Discredited Tool or User Failure

December 13, 2013

The Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College have just put out a paper with an awesome subtitle US Governmental Information and Strategic Communications: A Discredited Tool or User Failure? Implications for Future Conflict. This is part of a series of publications stemming from a joint Army-Marine-Special Operations Command project on Strategic Landpower, which I presume is trying to figure out what to do after Afghanistan.

Given that the author is Steve Tatham Britain’s leading military expert on strategic communications and IO it’s probably not surprising that his answer is user failure – there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with SC it’s just that the way that it was implemented by the US military was wrong. Most of the argument will be familiar if you’ve read his earlier publications.

There’s too much reliance on attempts to influence the attitudes of poorly understood audiences by contractors who are primarily motivated by maximizing their income. What’s the alternative? A focus on influencing behaviour, rooted in a primarily qualitative target audience analysis.

Looking to the future he points to the need to do more with less (compared with past decade where he comments that “the US has achieved less with more”) and to the possible significance of Chinese and Russian approaches to influence operations.

There’s a lot here to agree with implementing more ‘behavioural’ interventions might have been more effective in tactical or even operational terms but the problems with SC in Afghanistan grow out of the fundamental failures of policy, strategy and organization. In looking at the realities of US SC efforts in Afghanistan it’s possible to be overly impressed with Chinese and Russian concepts – if you look at western conceptual discussions they look pretty cool too.

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