Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

The Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication has released its latest report.  The full text of the report is available here.  They note that this is the third DSB report on strategic communication in a decade, and wonder if it is possible to “break the pattern of America’s episodic commitment to strategic communication.”

Some highlights of the report are as follows:

  •  It endorses a theme that’s been popping up in public statements of military leaders and commentators:  It is critical the we align actions with words.
  • The report says there has been positive progress at the department level, especially at State.  This may be true from an internal organization point of view, but if so it’s not coming through in outcomes.
  • They repeat their call from the 2004 report for an independent, non-profit organization that would “institutionalize” relationships between government and non-government entities to support U.S. strategic communication.  This version has something more of a global focus.  It’s not clear whether this is the same kind of agency that has been debated recently in the public-diplomasphere.
  • They (rightly) flag the quadrennial changes at the White House as a major factor limiting consistent and sustainable communication strategy.  It’s hard to avoid connecting this point with the first bullet above to discern a within-administration problem.  Though DSB recommends creation of a permanent strategic communication structure within the White House, it will be no more “permanent” than the White House occupants, so there is still a between-administrations consistency problem that this structure won’t address.

Overall, the report devotes a lot of space to issues of coordination.  I have yet to study the complete report in detail, so I am unclear whether this is just a desire for more coordinated strategy, or a wish for better control of the message and activities related to it.  If it’s the latter, then there is still reason for concern.  As we have argued in two recent white papers, here (this one actually cited in the DSB report) and here, we need to get away from the idea that control is the solution to our problems–or is even something that is possible or desirable in the current context of U.S. strategic communication.