Active or Passive Strategic Communication: What’s the Role of Government?

By Jamie Gayton

Army War CollegeIf we ascribe to the United States Army War College interpretation of U.S. national interests, we accept, 1) Defense of the Homeland, 2) Economic Prosperity, 3) Promotion of Values, and 4) Favorable World Order, as the categories that represent those national interests. The United States Government generally accepts responsibility for developing and refining these national interests and as such should initially take responsibility for developing a road map consisting of actions and communication that would foster movement toward their attainment. This is commendable – it is clearly responsible action by the developer of the goals and objectives supporting our interests, but must the government remain the lead executor in any specific category? Could it be possible that other organizations or entities might better support the achievement of national interests in certain areas for example, Economic Prosperity or Favorable World Order?

The Washington Post recently reported in an article entitled, Dear Leader Appears To Be Losing N. Koreans’ Hearts and Minds, that the Kim Jong Il government may be losing its propaganda war within the country. It summarizes by stating, “This mix of deadly food shortages, bureaucratic bumbling and rising cynicism presents a potentially destabilizing threat to Kim’s government.” Additional facts from the article highlighted that over 50% of recent refugees stated that through illicit consumer electronics from China, they were able to listen to foreign radio and TV stations that are forbidden and illegal in the country. Finally, quoting from a report on a survey of North Korean Refugees by Marcus Noland and Stephen Haggard within the article, titled, Political Attitudes Under Repression, “Not only is foreign media becoming more widely available, inhibitions on its consumption are declining as well,” and “The availability of alternative sources of information undermines the heroic image of workers’ paradise and threatens to unleash the information cascade that can be so destabilizing to authoritarian rule.” These quotes drive to the heart of the earlier hypothesis and indirectly beckon that market forces that influence each individual person’s life may provide more impetus for change than any strategic communication (direction from above or policy by governmental agencies) could achieve. This concept is not new. Tom Friedman, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, calls this Globalution – where he argues that external market forces, especially in business, can put pressures on organizations including countries to modify their behavior to be accepted into the global market place. In our Korea example, the underlying theme is that the forces in motion are so strong that Kim Jong Il or his son Kim Jong Eun may be influenced to modify their behavior or they risk losing control of their country.

After years of somewhat fruitless direct U.S. Government actions to try and influence governmental outcomes in Korea, is it possible that the availability of information and market forces may affect the changes sought after for so long? This author thinks the U.S. Government should review the costs and probabilities of success for managing the direct role of U.S. Government action against the indirect role of market forces and private multinational corporations when determining and balancing its weighting of each. Influencing behavior to achieve U.S. national interests may be better achieved through market forces than U.S. Government strategic communication in achieving some specific U.S. national interests.

COL S. Jamie Gayton commanded a battalion in the 3rd Infantry Division from June 2004 – June 2006. COL Gayton earned a bachelor’s degree from the United States Military Academy, a Master’s in Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a Ph.D. from the PARDEE RAND Graduate School. He is currently a student at the U.S. Army War College.

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5 Replies to “Active or Passive Strategic Communication: What’s the Role of Government?”

  1. Dennis Murphy’s comment – to exploit the success of the market forces in “cracking [tense changed] the door open a bit” with the use of strategic communication (SC) options is a logical, and relatively risk averse, response to the current opportunity. However, I think it is the wrong strategy at the wrong time. USG Strategic Communication (words and actions) have been relatively unsuccessful in the past in rallying support from external parties or the local population in nK to influence behavior change within the nK government. It seems to me that putting a US strategic communication name on this sliver of success risks a reversal of momentum and rejection by nK citizens who may retain strong anti-American feelings through years of internal propaganda. It may be that our most powerful SC involvement may be to let market forces – for which the nK citizens appear to ascribe some credibility – continue to gain popular support. Providing the nK government the USG face to “blame” (by use of SC now) may undermine the potential success that the market forces could achieve. I think the “market’s initial success” has earned it “the next move” – we should wait and watch before the USG employs a directly attributable strategic communication initiative.

  2. While COL Gayton’s perspective bears merit, I see this as a unique opportunity to exploit strategic communication. Perhaps market forces, and access to international media has cracked the door open a bit, albeit providing only a sliver of light. But given that, the real question is how can that thin opening be exploited by strategic communication efforts now. The USG should be ready to pounce on this opportunity. While active diplomacy, sanction and the constant threat of military action has played a minimal role in a groundswell of nK popular uprising, amazingly, access to information and what it portends, bears close scrutiny.

  3. Having worked overseas in several closed society, I believe that COL Grayton is over-emphasizing the degree to which citizens of these countries have access to international media. Yes, internet, facebook, tweeting, etc. have opened up the media landscape, but these outlets are available primarily to an educated, urban elite. The majority of these populations still rely on propaganda available on state controlled TV, radio and newspaper for “news”. Moreover, authoritarian regimes and radical groups are themselves expert at manipulating new media. A USG strategic communication role is to support free media — new and old — as well as to provide content to counter anti-US propaganda. We might not have had much success in rallying an opposition with our own SC, but we can help others who present different views to be heard.

  4. Fortunately, all the opinions reflected here are correct and they must work together. There is no panacea, no one single solution, there must be an integrated multiple solution approach.I understand neither COL Gayton nor Dennis Murphy are advocating a single approach, to do so would be naïve to the extreme, and I assure you, both gentlemen are educated, thoughtful and worldly. What is missing, in my opinion, is one strong voice at the highest level of the US Government, calling for an integrated solution. If this call is ever made, there is no agency with adequate resources to coordinate such a campaign. There is no single body that can coordinate all the different parts of the entire executive branch, ensure the highest quality or adjust the actions accordingly. There is also no plan, no methodology and no objectives.

  5. As Joel stated, the SC policy is not complete. There remains confusion between IO, PSYOP and SC. To exploit strategic communication is not proposing the use of PSYOP or US face on the message. We need to use SC as the umbrella to PA, PSYOP, Inter-Agency, State Department, etc to shape and direct the message in whatever means necessary in support of USG. We do this now (not well) but not coordinated. I believe we are headed in the right direction.

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