tag archive: U.S. strategic communication

Let’s Celebrate the 2nd Anniversary of “A National Strategic Narrative”

This has been a tough spring for national cohesion in the United States. Automatic federal spending cuts called sequestration kicked in after Congress failed to agree on how to manage the federal budget. The Senate voted down a bill that would expand background checks for gun purchasers, despite strong support around the country.  And bombings at the Boston Marathon committed by young men hovering between foreign identity and American citizenship confused any clear idea of American identity.

This makes it a good time to mark the two year anniversary of A National Strategic Narrative, published in April 2011 by aNational Strategic Narrativeuthors Captain Wayne Porter, USN and Col Mark Mykleby, USMC under the pseudonym Mr. Y.

The document grabbed the attention of politicians and pundits here in the United States, and foreign ministers in Europe and the Middle East. Perhaps most important, it garnered attention from everyday citizens for proposing a reinvigorated American identity and role in the world. Continue reading

Posted in: Books & Films, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, National Security, Politics and Policy, Strategic Communication, Strategic Leadership Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Post-Boston: A More Effective Battle of Ideas (Part II)

Boston MarathonReprinted from The Globalist,  April 24, 2013

 Instead of getting sucked into heat-of-the-moment reactions to Boston, let’s base our responses on a more stable paradigm of contemporary global terrorism. To fight a battle of ideas successfully, one must first show what one is going up against. Amy Zalman makes the case that there are three distinct trends in terrorism — Hybrid, Multi-motivational and Narrative Terrorism.

This paradigm is evolving, but several trends are coming into view and are likely to deepen in the future:

  •    Hybrid terrorism:

In traditional categorization of terrorists, there are “lone wolves” who are unconnected to any organized group and those who are members of organizations.

Today, a hybrid type appears to be evolving: someone who works without full organizational support or direction, but who is not working in total isolation from others. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, News and Journalism, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

How Power Works in the 21st Century

We live in stories.  That is, we are always in the process of trying to make sense of what is happening to us and around us.  That process drives us – to vote, to go into the street and fight for a nation, to make changes in how we consume, or to do none of the above.

Political leadership that understands that stories, perceptions, values, ideas, culture are present wherever there is human activity have a powerful tool for understanding what drives both change and apathy.

There is no name more firmly associated with linking political power and values and ideas than that of Joseph Nye. He coined the term soft power, which is power that stems from the intangible sources such as “institutions, ideas, values, culture …” as he explains in The Future of Power. 

Earlier this week, The Globalist published my article, How Power Really Works in the 21st Century: Beyond Soft, Hard and Smart. In it, I explain how, in a networked, information driven age, the power of symbols and ideas is always an important part of the strategic landscape. Nye’s insight that culture, ideas, perceptions, stories has been deeply assimilated into strategic thinking—a great tribute to him. But the insight has outgrown the categories that once described them. Continue reading

Posted in: Crisis Management, Decision making, International Politics, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Definition of Strategic Narrative: an Evolving Concept in International Affairs

In an earlier post, I outlined ways in which the term strategic narrative is used in current practice,  in public relations—as an element of marketing—and in the academic field of international relations.  This post returns to the evolution of the term as an applied concept in foreign affairs.

According to International Relations professor Alister Miskimmon (who I asked by email), the first published use of the term “strategic narrative”  was by Lawrence Freedman, a professor of War Studies at King’s College, London.  In 2006, Freedman wrote a paper called The Transformation of Strategic Affairs.   Many of the insights in Freedman’s work stem from the Western experience of war in the post-9/11 years, and the discovery—the hard way, through experience—that the era of large scale land warfare may be decisively over. In its place, the future promises smaller wars, waged by insurgents as well as governments, in which human factors such as behavior, culture and communication play meaningful roles.

In this context, Freedman identifies “strategic narratives” as a kind of secret weapon of networked combatants fighting irregular wars.  In Freedman’s view, a story that connects people emotionally to an identity and a mission “helps dispersed groups to cohere and guides its strategy.  Individuals know the sort of action expected of them and the message to be conveyed.”

Thus, in Freedman’s definition, narrative is a function of strategy in the most traditional sense related to the science of war.  In that vein, he argues that: Continue reading

Posted in: International Politics, Middle East, Narrative Research, National Security, Politics and Policy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Behavioral Economics Go to War

Review of Behavioural Conflict, Why Understanding People and their Motivations Will Prove Decisive in Future Conflict, by Andrew Mackey and Steve Tatham

I cannot think of any books about warfare’s future that come across as hard-hitting, full of actionable pragmatism, and deeply humane all at the same time.  But Behavioral Conflict: Why Understanding People and their Motivations will Prove Decisive in Future Conflict is all three.  The authors, both career members of the British military, Major General Andres Mackey (Ret) and Royal Navy Commander Steve Tatham (who I count as a friend, having met him in Ankara a few years ago), make their case by drawing on a combination of their own experience, case studies and close analysis of how communication actually factors in war.

Hard-hitting and pragmatic:  Mackey and Tatham are precise and lucid about what they mean by “behavior” and how to make use of it to gain advantage in conflict. They, and behavioral psychologist Lee Rowland, who adds a chapter on the science of influence, are not putting forth any of the following: A call for greater “cultural awareness,” a mushy program about how to change others’ attitudes, or a repeat of the last decade’s focus on consumer marketing as the key to public diplomacy.   They offer instead this thesis based on a simple chain of claims:

  • The world of human motivation and perception is inevitably complex.
  • It is more important to try to shape behavior than it is to change people’s attitudes.
  • Behavior shaping begins with a discrete grasp of the circumstances under which people already behave in ways that are desirable, and extends to efforts to replicate those or similar circumstances. Continue reading

Posted in: Books & Films, Decision making, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Narrative Research, National Security, Politics and Policy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Announcement: U.S. State Department Strategic Narratives Public Meeting

At the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, CA, November 29

From the State Department Announcement:

The U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy will hold a public meeting on the topic of strategic narratives November 29, 2011, in Santa Monica, CA, in partnership with the RAND Corporation. The meeting will take place at the RAND offices at 1776 Main Street in Santa Monica, CA, in the Forum Auditorium. It will begin at 9:00 am and end at 3:00 p.m. with doors open for registration and continental breakfast at 8:30 a.m. The event will be webcast live and will emphasize open-forum question and response periods with the audience.

To attend, contact the RAND Corporation no later than November 21 by phone at (412)683-2300 ext 4906 or email to maria_falvo@rand.org and provide your full name, citizenship (U.S. citizenship is not required to attend), and institutional/organizational affiliation. Continue reading

Posted in: Conferences, Narrative Research, National Security, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Afghanistan Narrative, Still Wrong, but Reparable

Earlier this month, Benjamin Hopkins and Magnus Marsden, authors of the forthcoming Fragments of the Afghan Frontier, argued strenuously in a New York Times Op Ed that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is as culturally inept as it was when we went to war a decade ago. The American obsession with viewing Afghanistan though the lens of tribal tradition is borrowed from 19th century Brits, whose understanding tribal mores was in large part composed of fanciful inventions of their own. Above all:

Afghanistan is not a country of primitive tribes cut off from the modern world. The singular focus on tribes, the Taliban, and ethnicity as the keys to understanding and resolving the conflict misses the nuances of the region’s past and present. Rather than fanatical tribesmen or poor victims in need of aid, many of these people are active and capable participants in a globalized economy.

http://navylive.dodlive.mil/index.php/2010/10/19/issues-of-the-veil/#disqus_thread

The U.S. military addresses cultural issues, even in how to dress**

Why does this profound institutional failure persist? I read it and hear versions of the premise that Afghans don’t live in the same globalized world as Americans all the time in defense contexts. The fact that it does persist  should give us deep pause about how resources have been expended to create a more ‘culturally aware’ national security community. Continue reading

Posted in: Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Middle East, Narrative and Cognition, Narrative Research, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Narrative in Complex Decision Making: an Interview with Mary Crannell

Mary Crannell is one of those people whose broad intelligence and enthusiasm are hard to contain, as I learned when we met recently through a shared acquaintance.  As the president of Idea Sciences, a decision-making support consultancy based in Alexandria, VA, Mary spends much of her  time thinking about what technologies and processes will help her customers—such as the IMF, NATO, QinetiQ, the US Army, the UK Army, Verizon and Herman Miller, to name a few—arrive at good decisions.  She is a frequent traveler to sites of conflict, as in a recent visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, where decision-making is an urgent, complex and ongoing task.

I was gratified when Mary agreed to share some of her thoughts on the role of narrative in decision-making generally, and in directing the American role in the world in productive directions, which is a concern many of her clients share.

Mary Crannell, President, Idea Sciences

AZ: How do you use narrative frameworks to help people make decisions?

MC: It is important to give people a way to define the vision of what they are trying to accomplish whether they are leading a state, a nation or an international organization. Is the system you are leading “on purpose?”  We start with a vision.  Continue reading

Posted in: Decision making, Information Systems, Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Middle East, Narrative Research, National Security, Public Diplomacy, Strategic Leadership, War and Violent Conflict Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

U.S. Should Stop Asking if “They Like Us”

The September 11 attacks spawned a public mania in the United States for uncovering whether people in other parts of the world “like us,” and if not, understand why they “hate us.” Ten years later, the U.S. State Department and, more broadly, national security community is still using this uninformative metric.

It is time to break down what the question “do you like the United States” actually means to those who we ask —whether directly through polling, or through the interpretation of symbolic actions (signs, flag burning) or the aggregation of media statements, or in any other fashion.

Most people in the world, especially those of greatest strategic interest to the U.S., cannot answer whether they like the United States based on personal information or knowledge. Despite rising international travel to the United States, most of the 60 million foreign visitors last year came from just five countries: Canada, Mexico, the UK, Japan and Germany.

The number of those who can answer based on a sense of intellectual or cultural proximity is equally small. The common wisdom since World War II is that American popular culture—movies, television shows, McDonald’s—is loved abroad, even when American policies are not. Globalization encourages competition and hybridization of cultural forms. Economics professor Tyler Cowan has argued that the “21st century will bring a broad mélange of influences, with no clear world cultural leader.” Continue reading

Posted in: Intercultural Communication, International Politics, Middle East, National Security, Politics and Policy, Public Diplomacy Tags: , , , , ,

NY Times tells the Story of the Story of Obama’s Mideast Speech

Official_portrait_of_Barack_Obama

The degree to which communication’s globalization has changed the way we think and talk about the news is evident in today’s reporting on Obama’s Middle East speech.  Once upon a time, communication-via newspaper, radio, what have you—was considered a transparent vehicle conveying to readers and listeners what was happening on the ground.

Not so any longer. Now we are in full postmodern swing and “the news” highlights not only things that happen in the world (like presidential speeches), but how they are worded, and who these words are supposed to impact, and how different audiences may interpret what is said.  The fact is that these elements of communication always mattered, but the speed and visibility of our interactions with those elements has helped press into relief the degree to which they play a part in how events themselves (like peace talks, political decisions, elections, wars) unfold.  All of this made the concept of narrative more important—narrative is the elements of communication in action, all working together on a jointly constructed story of events unfolding in real time, and it also the interplay of that construction with events themselves. Continue reading

Posted in: International Politics, Middle East, National Security, Political Analysis, Politics and Policy Tags: , , , ,