Those are the noises of a dormant, virtually abandoned engine being restarted. Once a prolific blogger, I gave it up six years ago. Since then, there were one or two well-intended if tepid efforts to return. This time will be different, and there is a lot to cover.
Looking back, I have covered some interesting topics on these digital pages. From the start of this blog in 2004, and for several years, I wrote about under-considered effects of unmanned ground warfare (versus airborne drones), the effect of using armed military contractors in support of national objectives (generally a net negative), and how despite allegation private military companies are outside the international law, it is the UN’s Blue Helmets who are, in fact, outside and untouchable by international law and norms (demonstrably, they are held to account only when the contributing nation decides to hold them to account).
I then shifted to the role of public opinion in international affairs. You may call it public diplomacy, strategic communication, even political warfare, or something else, but I won’t get into a fight over the lexicon in this post. And now this subject (or subjects) has gained a greater prominence in light of exploitation by adversaries (foreign and domestic) and opportunists alike.
In the meantime, various roles, including serving as a Governor on the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors proved to be enlightening. I witnesses, for example, the role of international news media on information flows beyond (or outside of) the practices of public diplomacy and strategic communication. (A useful and important distinction here is the former is about empowering locals with knowledge and not about creating bilateral relations, while the latter is focused on building a bilateral relationship, a process that includes empowering locals.)
The world of communication today is constantly evolving, as you well know. As much as it changes, so much remains the same. Tactics will hew similar lines as before even as techniques adapt to modern tools and requirements.
It was not that long ago when “I heard it on the Internet” was met with derision, but now it is used as a means to authenticate “information.” We once again have a rise in mercenaries, this time they are interesting individuals, bots, and cyborgs operating across mediums. Some are focused on political influence while others for financial gain. While there is substantial focus on the producers and disseminators of lies, distortions, and fake straw-man arguments, left out are the consumers who generate the demand.
So here we are, about to enter the last quarter of 2017 and I find the culmination of my experiences are useful today as the role of public opinion is more widely recognized than ever before while the techniques have matured and advanced significantly.
Left out too are the political decisions. What do we want tomorrow to look like? What are our policies and what are we willing to pay (or sacrifice) toward our objectives? Equally important, what cost are we willing to impose on our adversaries as (or if) we pursue these objectives? And, when will we shift from a tactical and reactive posture to a pro-active and pre-emptive posture where we set the terms and field of engagement, rather than letting the adversary do so?
It is a time that is interesting, fascinating, and scary at the same time. May we live in interesting times!