A paper by Daniel Silverberg and COL Joseph Heimann in the current issue of the US Army War College’s superb quarterly Parameters discusses the legal authorities of the Defense Department’s activities in strategic communication, public affairs, and public diplomacy. In doing so, “An Ever-Expanding War: Legal Aspects of Online Strategic Communication” makes some startling statements on both the Defense Department’s and the State Department’s methods.
This paper is well-timed to coincide with current discussions in Congress on the role of DOD in engaging foreign audiences, particularly in the area of online communication. A key issue for the authors is whether interactive engagement of foreign audiences in the era of the social web by Combatant Commanders (eg. CENTCOM),
while critical to overall American strategic communication efforts, are properly characterized as “military missions,” that make use of DOD funding.
They do not blame the DOD for mission creep, with the understatement that DOD “is arguably filling a need where resource-strapped civilian agencies might be falling short.” (This statement assumes civilian agencies have the desire to fill the gap.)
Most troubling for me are the statements on which they base much of their analysis(emphasis is mine):
[O]nce the Department no longer labels its communication measures as PSYOP, it potentially subverts its own statutory authorities to conduct such programs. The Department has limited authorities to engage foreign audiences, and PSYOP are the principal authorized mechanism to do so. In legal terms, in order to justify the use of appropriated funds, DOD activities are required to support a DOD-specific mission and not conflict with the responsibility of another agency.8 Once DOD stops calling interactive communication activities PSYOP and undertakes functions similar to those of another department, the “military mission” becomes less defined.
Second, DOD may be encroaching upon the Department of State’s mission to engage foreign audiences. The two departments’ missions, while overlapping, are distinct. DOD’s mission is one of influence; the State Department’s mission is one of relationship-building and dialogue. The amalgamation of these tasks potentially undermines the State Department’s efforts. At a minimum, it forces one to ask exactly where does DOD’s mission end.
More on this from me later. What are you thoughts?