Center for Strategic Communication

by Steven R. Corman

The new strategic communication leadership at the State Department is still a work in progress.  Nonetheless DoD is making plans for better corrdination with it.  So says the Quadrennial Roles and Missions Review (QRM) released last week.

This emphasis is an outgrowth of DoD’s evolving doctrine on Irregular Warfare (IW).  The QRM notes that

Irregular warfare emphasizes winning the support of relevant populations, promoting friendly political authority, and eroding adversarial control, incluence, and support.

But the most recent Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concept makes it clearer why coordination with State is so crucial for IW efforts (emphasis in original):

Influencing foreign governments and populations is a complex and inherently political activity.  This Joint Operating Concept (JOC) describes the military role in protracted IW campaigns; however, these campaigns will fail if waged by military means alone.  The nature of IW requires the US Government (USG) to achieve the level of unified action necessary to integrate all available instruments of national power to address irregular threats.  The USG will have to develop “Whole of Government” approaches to waging IW at the political, strategic, operational, and tactical levels.  Other government agencies must build their capacity to operate in unstable or hostile environments.

Irregular warfare is about people, not platforms.  IW depends not just on our military prowess, but also our understanding of such social dynamics as tribal politics, social networks, religious influences, and cultural mores.  People, not platforms and advanced technology, will be the key to IW success.  The joint force will need patient, persistent, and culturally savvy people to build the local relationships and partnerships essential to executing IW.

Waging protracted irregular warfare depends on building global capability and capacity.  IW will not be won by the United States alone, but rather through the combined efforts of our partners.  This will require the joint force to establish long-term sustained presence in numerous countries to build the necessary partner capability and capacity to extend US operational reach, multiply forces available, and increase options for defeating our adversaries.

This goes a long way toward explaining why Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has emerged as an unlikely champion for the State Department, which has traditionally competed with DoD for money and influence.  Over the last year or so he has called again and again for more funding for diplomatic efforts.

The QRM envisions better coordination with State (and other agencies) in its planning for the “war on terrorism” (Note to DoD:  The boss would probably prefer that you stop calling it that).   And it singles out Strategic Communication as a “future opportunity” that can only be realized through better alignment of actions with policy.  Accordingly it says:

  • The Department has significant capabilities and resources to support strategic communication priorities, particularly to counter ideological support to terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are committed to using our operational and informational activities and strategic communication processes in support of the Department of State’s broader public diplomacy efforts. This cooperation will better enable the U.S. Government to engage foreign audiences holistically and with unity of effort.
  • The Department of Defense and Department of State will expand our partnership to conduct strategic communication planning in support of the Global War on Terror, building partnership capacity, and regional issues. This partnership encompasses the full range of information and Theater Security Cooperation activities to synchronize efforts; improve regional and cultural expertise; develop and deliver information products; and train international partners to build their information networks.

In my view these are very positive statements to see coming out of DoD.  As long as they don’t fall into the trap of thinking it will produce control, the kind of coordination proposed here will do wonders for reducing the say-do gap in relations with foreign publics–especially if it reaches all the way to the policy formulation process.

Now all we have to do is get someone at State for them to coordinate with.