The Importance of Understanding How Strategic Communications Plays A Major Role In “Power Is The Ability To Influence”
I am very pleased to present my first guest blog on a critical issue of the use of strategic communications by our nation, especially by our Defense Department. This article is by Dennis Murphy, Professor of Information Operations and Information in Warfare at U.S. Army War College, who has previously served as Director, Faculty Member at the U.S. Army War College, and a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Department of State. This article was originally posted at the blog of the U.S. Army War College, where there are several more important articles about the use of strategic communications. I first saw it at a LinkedIn group discussion that I believe is very interesting — you might want to click the link to that discussion. I want to thank Prof. Murphy for giving me permission to post this. I think it is not only well-done, but also very important reading.
President Obama and Defense Secretary Panetta recently announced a new direction for the Defense Department. Along with significant cuts in funding, manpower and weapon systems programs, the President reemphasized our status as “a Pacific nation.” He repeated this refrain during his State of the Union address on January 24, 2012.
The implications of this policy shift are far-ranging. But it appears fairly certain that we will not be placing any large land forces into the Middle East anytime soon, as former Secretary Bill Gates cautioned against before leaving office. Militarily, our Pacific focus will certainly rely heavily on naval and air forces to maintain stability and deter aggression. But effective strategy relies on the integrated application of all the elements of national power, generally recognized as diplomacy, information, military and economic (DIME). In the case of a Pacific looking strategy the preeminent element employed should be information.
Joseph Nye, former Defense Department official and Harvard dean defines power as the ability to influence. He further argues that influence can be wielded through hard or soft power, where hard power coerces and soft power co-opts. The current status of the Pacific region combined with an era of economic austerity that drives our future military and diplomatic structure seems to point to a soft power approach in the years to come.
Interestingly, using information as power to influence fits nicely into both the geo-strategic constraints and opportunities of the Pacific region. First, employing the information element of power is relatively cheap. Kristen Lord points out that the State Department’s use of public diplomacy to wield information as power is but a minute fraction of the budget of the Defense Department. And while it may seem counterintuitive to the uninformed to consider the U.S. military as a source of information as power, in fact their influence by co-opting can be significant. Each combatant commander develops a long-term strategy and campaign plan (with its imbedded theater security cooperation plan) for that very purpose. These strategies spawn military-to-military relationships and military-sponsored activities that send significant and loud messages to the populations of the region.
The primary influence processes of information operations (IO) and strategic communication (SC) arguably work best in an environment where the U.S. hopes to shape the environment to support their interests while deterring aggression by potential adversaries (known as phase 0 and phase 1 operations in military terms). This best describes the current Pacific environment. Again, these are relatively cheap ways to influence compared to the enormous economic costs of hard power reflected by traditional military hardware and force structure.
Certainly there are real and present threats to U.S. interests in the Pacific region. China’s long-term intentions are unknown, but their policies toward Taiwan, economic expansion in Africa and posturing in the Spratly Islands reflect an expanding regional hegemony. An uncertain future of North Korea remains a significant concern, especially with a new leader, massive army, nuclear threat and economic disarray. These two examples alone call for a strong hard power presence in the Pacific. But at this point in America’s history for the reasons described above, the prudent approach harkens back to Teddy Roosevelt’s advice to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”
You can be certain that the force managers in the Pentagon and throughout the executive branch are busy looking for “low hanging fruit” to cut from the budget. These cuts will be necessarily painful. Using our dwindling resources to enhance information as the preeminent element of power in a Pacific-focused national strategy in this period of austerity seems to make sense. But early signs show just the opposite. Congress recently eliminated the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. Information operations and strategic communication expertise is being eliminated in some military professional education institutions. The Army is the only military service that qualifies officers for a career of service in information operations. The other services see it as an additional duty or tour specific function that a generalist can do.
This forebodes a cautionary note: Beware the bean-counters. If we really want to succeed in the Pacific while doing more with less, the information element of power will be a key enabler of success. In an era of shrinking budgets this is where you’ll get the most bang for your buck.