“Stratcom is my primary manoeuvre force,” declared General John Allen in his keynote address to NATO’s assembled communicators at the fifth annual SHAPE Stratcom Conference in Izmir last week. After years languishing in the shadow of sexier, more kinetic military disciplines was this the moment NATO finally started to take stratcom seriously? Well, no, not really. It’s encouraging that such a prominent commander professes to see the value of stratcom but it’s hard to see how four-star support has improved NATO’s approach to influence operations.
Mark Laity suggested in his introductory lecture that stratcom within NATO is too small, too low ranked and lacking in expertise, while doctrine remains complex and contradictory. These were common themes that were revisited by several other speakers. A concerted effort has been made to redress some of these problems with the issue of ACO Directive 95-2 to provide planning and guidance on stratcom throughout NATO. It’s a useful document which will hopefully go some way to producing a more unified approach although just how much the directive influences commanders on operations remains to be seen.
Much of the conference passed by in a blur of brightly coloured wiring diagrams and org charts as a succession of representatives from different commands and national defence ministries showcased their own internal organisational structures. Clearly these are important issues but there seemed to be a lot of discussion about how we get organised to say things and much less about what we actually say. Inevitably, when the conversation did turn to narratives and strategy, Afghanistan dominated but as Prof Steve Corman from the Centre of Strategic Communication highlighted, NATO will face significant communications challenges when ISAF winds down and the public once more asks, “Why do we need NATO at all?” Perhaps when faced with a problem that has no kinetic solution, the alliance will truly understand the value of good stratcom.
Andrew Sharples, Albany Associates