NATO acks 21st Century info war, says time to copy Taliban’s PD strategy

Briefly, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer moves NATO into the struggle of minds and wills in the Information Age. During a conference titled "Public Diplomacy in NATO-led Operations" (thanks Henrik), SecGen Scheffer was almost out of the box considering NATO and out in front of the U.S. in many ways:

…three basic facts that I think are clear to us all:

First, that we need to speak clearly and effectively to our public and Parliaments, not just to explain what we do, but to succeed at what we do.

Second, that the information environment has changed profoundly from what it was just ten years ago – not just in terms of technology, but speed, access, audience and in fact who is generating news.

Unfortunately, the third fact is that we in NATO are not doing nearly well enough at communicating in this new information environment. And we are paying a price for it, not least over Afghanistan.

The whole speech is smart and should be required reading for those interested in the role of public diplomacy in national security and information operations in general. Video is here.

The Toronto Star has an article today on the speech if you want a summary.

Here’s the end of the speech:

When it comes to video, we are frankly in the stone age. NATO has no ability to gather video from the field, to show people what is happening. We are also barely on the field when it comes to the web. And on the military side, only 5 NATO Allies have public affairs as a military function, with training and a career path for officers. Which means artillery officers are suddenly stuck in front of a microphone.

As I said – one arm tied behind our back. And the other arm is pretty weak too.

The other challenge is what you might call the “straw syndrome”. Almost every troop contributing country in Afghanistan, for understandable reasons, runs a purely national media program. The Netherlands, for example, focuses on Uruzgan. Journalist speak to Dutch politicians; take Dutch planes straight to Uruzgan; embed with Dutch soldiers; and report in Dutch media. The same is true of Canadians, British, etc. Media programs are run through a straw.

The result? The population in Canada thinks Canadian soldiers are fighting alone. So do the British, and the Dutch that undermines solidarity, diminishes the multilateral nature of the operation, and as a result, makes it harder to sustain.

So what’s the solution? How can we do better – not just on Afghanistan, but to be more effective at public diplomacy in general?

That is what you are here to discuss today. Let me give you a few quick thoughts.

First: NATO needs to step up its game. We are finally moving forward with an Action Plan to give NATO the capability to be on the field when it comes to video and the web. It will also hopefully trigger within our militaries a program to create public affairs as a military function. All the nations represented here should support it.

Second: we need to show the public what we are doing, and what is being done by those who oppose our operations. I have seen video of a man walking in a crowd of women and children, carrying an AK-47, and just before firing on NATO troops, pulling a burkha over his head. That video is classified because it was filmed from a military platform. We need to declassify that video, show it to the people so they know what is happening.

Third: nations need to multilateralise their media campaigns. Canadians need to see Danish soldiers in the South, and Romanians, and Poles, as well as Dutch and British and Estonians and Americans. Which means that nations need to structure their media efforts, including their embed programs, to take that into account.

Fourth: we need to move much faster. We can never sacrifice truth for speed; our credibility is priceless. But we can do much better. We can investigate incidents much more quickly. We can offer an initial assessment of events, rather than waiting until each and every fact is confirmed. We could consider rapid reaction response teams for media operations, to hit back when falsehoods hit the press.

Fifth, and finally: we need to have the stamina to keep making the case. After three years plus as Secretary General, and innumerable interviews, I confess that at times, I wouldn’t mind a few more questions on subjects other than Afghanistan. But this is our priority number 1 operation and it is a worthy cause. It must be sustained. And a critical part of making that happen is making the case, as long and as loud as necessary.

Let me, therefore, thank Ministers Per Stig Møller and Søren Gade once again for hosting this conference. I think it is important. It is timely. And there is a lot of work to do. I look forward to hearing the results of your discussions over the next two days . For the sustainability of the NATO operation in Afghanistan it is crucial to have the sustained support of Parliament and public opinion.

Good stuff. Can’t wait to see the video.

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