Academic journal article Military Review

In Defense of Military Public Affairs Doctrine

Academic journal article Military Review

In Defense of Military Public Affairs Doctrine

Article excerpt

THE SIMULTANEOUS EXPANSION of information operations (IO) and the effects-based approach to operations is challenging traditional notions of military public affairs (PA). (1) Politicians looking for more support in waging an ideological war against extremism, and military commanders seeking more precise effects on the battlefield through the coherent application of all elements of alliance and national power, are blurring the boundaries between IO and PA. (2)

The Pentagon's short-lived Office of Strategic Influence (OSI) is an example of the move toward a more propagandistic information model. According to one news report, the aim of this Orwellian organization was to "influence public opinion abroad," a mandate that some U.S. generals felt would "undermine the Pentagon's credibility and America's attempts to portray herself as the beacon of liberty and democratic values." (3)

Although OSI was dismantled (at least in name), the U.S. military and many other armed forces are continuing to invest in IO capabilities. At the same time, commanders are pressing PA to contribute more tangibly to achieving effects or gaining influence on the battlefield and elsewhere. Public affairs doctrine, however, traditionally seeks to inform audiences, not influence them. NATO policy, for example, specifically states that while PA's "overall aim is ultimately to promote public understanding and support of the Alliance and its activities, information is provided in such a way that media representatives and the citizens of the countries concerned are able to make their own judgment as independently as possible." (4)

Similarly, U.S. doctrine, as cited in a Department of Defense (DOD) directive, states that "propaganda has no place in DOD public affairs programs." (5) Some might suggest that this statement only applies within America's borders, but the same directive says, "Open and independent reporting shall be the principle means of coverage of U.S. military operations." (6)

At a glance, these lofty principles seem to offer politicians and military commanders little hope that PA can bring any tangible capabilities to the battlefield or anywhere else. Where are its measurable effects? In contrast, the effects of enemy propaganda seem evident, from decreasing support for U.S. interventions to increasing numbers of suicide bombers.

It may be true that PA "effects" are not always immediately evident, but this is a consequence of Western political ideology, which calls for transparent government, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and other such principles that militate against shaping public opinion. Therefore, before discarding current doctrine because of a desire to see immediate effects, its origins in the democratic tradition should be carefully considered.

Modern democracies find their roots in the 17th-century Age of Reason and the 18th-century Age of Enlightenment. The philosophers of those ages nurtured the radical notion that all men and women are created equal. This belief began to erode the long-accepted view that kings, queens, and other nobles were somehow superior and better suited to rule. Early liberal democracies like France and the United States entrenched these notions in their constitutions.

The American Declaration of Independence, written in 1776, reflects this new political outlook: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." (7)

Central to the new outlook were the notions of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. One of the most influential arguments in favor of such rights can be attributed to the English poet John Milton, whose pamphlet "Areopagitica" assailed the British Government's licensing of books. …

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