New UK Primer on Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

The Advanced Research and Assessment Group of the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom has just released a new primer on Strategic Communication.  The executive summary says:

This paper attempts to address a perceived gap in UK defence thinking which currently has little documentation, on the emerging and cross governmental art of Strategic Communication. After defining the term this paper attempts to locate its utility within the defence community, considering its relationship with Media and Information Operations. The paper notes that at its core, Strategic Communication can only be successful when three processes are clearly understood: the role of strategic communication in campaigning, the actual cognitive process of communication and the empirical analysis of target audiences. The dangers of over-reliance upon polling are considered concurrently. The paper concludes with the place of Strategic Communication within UK military operations, the need for robust measurements of effectiveness and a short assessment of the challenges of emerging and new media.

ARAG Strategic Communication ConceptThe text of the report has many things that will be of interest to COMOPS Journal readers, including a recognition that in some scenarios that “military instrument” (which I take to be the “kinetic” part) will take a back seat to the exercise of soft power via strategic communication.

Speaking of strategic communication, the report wades into the troubled waters of defining that term:

In the US, strategic communication is often regarded as being 80% actions and 20% words. A presumption exists that Strategic Communication is aimed at external audiences. This is incorrect; Strategic Communication is as important to internal audiences as it is to external ones. Strategic Communication is a cross governmental, strategic activity in which the military is but one participant. It should however be an intrinsic part of the overall campaign plan. It typically over-arches traditional civilian public diplomacy activities6 and traditional military effects.

Thus the UK primer finds itself in disagreement with US thinking about the extent to which strategic communication is about verbal messages and whether strategic communication encompass public diplomacy or vice versa.

In other highlights, the report

  • Makes insightful use of some principles from our soapbox in arguing for a more realistic, complex systems view of the communication process.
  • Argues that “narratives are the foundation of all strategy.”
  • Explores key asymmetries in the message landscape.
  • Places strategic communication at the “heart of operations.”

If there is one drawback to the report, it is that the “target audience analysis” section seems to fall back from the complex systems view advocated earlier in the report to a more traditional OODA-loop concept of how communication campaigns should be executed.  As we have argued elsewhere, a more evolutionary approach would be more befitting of the rugged landscape described in the earlier parts of the primer.