American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: Proposed Strategic Communication Management Board to advise the Secretary of Defense

The leadership of information and policy and implementation is once again to be merged.  The Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009, H.R. 5658 (as reported in House), would establish the Strategic Communication Management Board (SCMB) “to provide advice to the Secretary on strategic direction and to help establish priorities for strategic communication activities.”  While members of this advisory body may and are likely to come from all parts of the government, it consolidates the shaping and execution of government-wide strategic communication, our public diplomacy with the world, within the Defense Department.  

H.R. 5658 is sponsored by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and co-sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA).  The Senate version does not include the same language.  No word on whether Section 1031 (see below) will survive negotiations.

According to House Armed Services Committee report 110-652 the decision to create the body is fallout from the dissolution of the Strategic Communication Integration Group just a couple of months ago. 

The committee is concerned about the state of strategic communication and public diplomacy (SC/PD) efforts within the Department of Defense. The committee believes that the dissolution of the strategic communication integration group (SCIG) was a major setback to the coordination of SC/PD efforts. While the SCIG resources and authority may not have been adequate to completely manage the Department’s SC/PD effort, the Board remained a focal point within the Department and positively contributed to the effort to mitigate conflict and confusion.

The advisory board will provide the leadership that used to be come from and be vested in public diplomacy professionals.  This is, however, an increasingly rare breed with the passage of time, the personnel system in State, and overall a failure to understand what is necessary to effectively conduct a vigorous information and education campaign with the peoples of the world. 

Well intentioned, this Congressional recognition that leadership of U.S. Government-wide strategic leadership in public diplomacy is missing but this choice further militarizes America’s public diplomacy and foreign policy.  Instead of addressing the shortcomings of and strengthening civilian institutions, Congress chose a path of least resistance.  This places Defense policy at the head of communication, driving it, shaping it, and likely at the forefront of implementing it.  Communication is thus in support of Defense policy and subject to Defense priorities.  As the House Report notes,

The committee believes that the SCMB’s near-term priority should be the development of a comprehensive Department-wide strategy that can be used to effectively inform and guide the disparate and vast community involved in strategic communication activities. Such a product should simultaneously serve as a Department perspective for informing a more comprehensive government-wide strategic communication strategy.

While on its face the SCMB may not broaden the Defense Departments mandate and area of operation, it represents a further entrenchment of the Pentagon as the sole protectors of our national security.  We’ve seemingly forgotten the range of the tools of our national power

Perhaps the best contemporary example of the problem of putting DoD in front of strategic initiatives with foreign populations is AFRICOMDespite it’s noble (and necessary) aspirations, and despite its novel organizational plan that inserts the State Department at the co-deputy level, AFRICOM has been unable overcome its Pentagon-parentage. 

The SCMB should not be under the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (or his designee), but under an empowered Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy that drops the “and Public Affairs” distinction for reasons of bureaucracy and institutional cultural but combines the elements of domestic and international communication to focus on the global information environment.  This should be the first step toward separating and resurrecting a new and independent agency along the lines of the United States Information Agency, but updated, to provide a professional development path and separate policy and implementation to protect continuity, legitimacy, trust, all of which requires a substantial degree of independence to avoid the tactical pressures of White House politics.  This agency (or some other organizational unit) would not only be on the take-offs and crash-landings of policy, but sit at the National Security Committee table, rather than advise somebody who advises somebody else. 

In the meantime, Congress continues to place policy and information activities within the same organization, the very defect many say was the chief problem of moving the United States Information Agency into the State Department.  This is also a chief defect Congress sought to correct when it debated and passed the Information and Educational Exchange Act sixty years ago, the Act more commonly known as Smith-Mundt. 

It is time Congress stepped up to the plate and acknowledge a whole-of-government approach is required.  The current architecture of America’s information programs is broken and too often we speak with a voice that wears combat boots, using the wrong language, or not speaking at all. 

The language of SEC 1031 is misleading.  Today’s fight is not just a psychological fight of ideology with those the Defense Department is (properly or improperly) assigned to deal with, but one of relevance as the prestige and strength of our economy and diplomacy degrades

The text of Section 1031 is below the fold.  Thanks CS for the tip on H.R. 5658.

    (a) In General- The Secretary of Defense shall establish a Strategic Communication Management Board (in this section referred to as the `Board’) to provide advice to the Secretary on strategic direction and to help establish priorities for strategic communication activities.
    (b) Composition-
      (1) IN GENERAL- The Board shall be composed of members selected in accordance with this subsection.
      (2) MEMBERS- The Secretary of Defense shall appoint members within 30 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, selected from among organizations within the Department of Defense responsible for strategic communication , public diplomacy, and public affairs, including the following:
        (A) Civil affairs, strategic communication , or public affairs offices of the military departments.
        (B) The Joint Staff.
        (C) The combatant commands.
        (D) The Office of the Secretary of Defense.
      (3) ADVISORY MEMBERS- The Board shall appoint advisory members of the Board after the members have been selected under paragraph (2), upon petition from entities seeking advisory membership. Advisory members shall be selected from the broader interagency community, and may include representatives from the following;
        (A) The Department of State.
        (B) The Department of Justice.
        (C) The Department of Commerce.
        (D) The United States Agency for International Development.
        (E) The Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
        (F) The National Security Council.
        (G) The Broadcasting Board of Governors.
      (4) LEADERSHIP- The Under Secretary of Defense for Policy (or his designee) shall chair the Board.
    (c) Duties- The duties of the Board are as follows:
      (1) Provide strategic direction for efforts of the Department of Defense related to strategic communication and military support to public diplomacy.
      (2) Establish Department of Defense priorities in these areas.
      (3) Evaluate and select proposals for efforts that support the Department of Defense strategic communication mission.
      (4) Such other duties as the Secretary may assign.

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4 thoughts on “American Public Diplomacy Wears Combat Boots: Proposed Strategic Communication Management Board to advise the Secretary of Defense

  1. I did not know about the bill you describe above but I agree completely with your thoughtful analysis. There is absolutely no doubt that the post-9/11 public diplomacy efforts have been complete failures. Neither the Department of State and certainly not the Department of Defense should oversee strategic communications–rather, as you write, an independent agency with non-partisan experts a la the United States Information Agency during its best time, is needed to come up with new approaches.I am glad I came upon your blog.

  2. Post 9/11 answers were to move CIA to DoD NSA(languages and communications). Many diplomats are CIA or their wives or husabands. public Diplomacy has gotten dangerous. Many countries have coups and military governments, so US and UN have sanctioned them, making aid and diplomacy impossible without diplomats or military. There have been some exceptions to the US and UN sanctions like Peace corps; resulting in deaths.Countries we relied on for public diplomacy outside the State Department or military have changed. Perhaps if we stopped the coups in the caucus, Africa and other countries we could go back to normal public diplomacy outside of the State Department and military.

  3. my comment was eaten by your blog, so if you can find it, post it. Otherwise, I’ll pass. Email me if you want an explanation of what is happening.

  4. Not sure if the analogy with State is entirely accurate. Yes, USIA should not have been folded into State, but regarding DOD strategic communications, that ought to be an instrument of defense policy. There are four USDs now – personnel and readiness, acqusition, policy, and intel. To make the case that strat comm is important enough to warrant a fifth USD, that would be difficult. It will be hard enough to get Congress to authorize an ASD under policy for this mission. Hell, we can’t get an ASD for combating WMD, and the president tells us that’s the greatest threat to civilization! (okay a little sarcasm there)

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