Elevating public diplomacy and strategic communication as national security priorities

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy’s plans to create a team to improve coordination and collaboration within the Defense Department and across Government were announced. The team, led by Rosa Brooks, will also, according to Defense News, “will be tasked with reaching out to key members of Congress on specific issues.”

Flournoy is "establishing a small team with responsibility for global strategic engagement issues," said Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman. "This team will assist policy offices and senior leaders with the development of outreach and engagement plans, and will help coordinate DoD-wide engagement efforts."

Withington said the team will be composed of about five existing policy shop employees, and will be headed by Rosa Brooks, a principal adviser to Flournoy and a former Los Angeles Times columnist.

The goal is to "improve overall coordination of DoD public diplomacy and strategic communication efforts," the spokesman said.

The Defense News article John T. Bennett also cites Douglas Macgregor saying the team will have little impact. I disagree with his comment that this is simply Karen Hughes-style public diplomacy revisited. Unless Macgregor changed his view of information from his two very influential books (Transformation Under Fire and Breaking the Phalanx), he is focused on organizational structure over desired effects in the real battleground. I found Phalanx to be interested but outdated with little utility, although I enjoyed the conflict scenario with Iran.  Transformation Under Fire, the last couple of chapters made for interesting reading but in both, I was distracted and surprised by two implied arguments he makes, both of which are fundamental to his NPR appearance a while back where he shared common ground with Gian Gentile.  First, host populations will not be significant in future conflicts.  Second, while "effects-based" is sprinkled in, like an afterthought, it is overwhelmed by the FCS-narrative of information dominance = situational awareness and not information activities, including public diplomacy & strategic communication. 

This team is clearly intended to fill the gap, both statutory and operational, left by the abolishment of Support to Public Diplomacy.

The article doesn’t ask the necessary follow up question, “What about State?” Unfortunately, this can be little more than rhetorical at this point wait to see how the interagency coordination will happen. Will a somewhat dormant group in State transform into an interagency secretariat to compliment Rosa Brooks’ DoD team?

One thought on “Elevating public diplomacy and strategic communication as national security priorities

  1. I liked the article, but it could have clarified that this is obviously a strategic communications team and not a “public policy” group. Key of course is that this needs to be more than putting lipstick on a pig. Communications are great, positive momentum is better (which I guess was MacGregor’s point, however obliquely made).Re: MacGregor, I think it’s unfair to criticize his “Phalanx” book – it is a little dated at 12 years old, but interestingly enough, the Army is creating these “Maneuver Enhancement Brigades” that include all the combat support companies – just like MacGregor suggested more than a decade ago. He accurately saw the future, although it didn’t exactly move as quickly or quite in the same form he thought. But the establishment didn’t like the fact that he was right, and now he’s shut out of the greybeard gravytrain and relegated to throwing rocks from CDI.

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