Academic journal article Military Review

Operation Atlantic Resolve: A Case Study in Effective Communication Strategy

Academic journal article Military Review

Operation Atlantic Resolve: A Case Study in Effective Communication Strategy

Article excerpt

When Lt. Gen. Donald Campbell, then commanding general of U.S. Army Europe (USAREUR), finished speaking at the Maritime Museum in Tallinn, Estonia on 22 April 2014, the reaction of those in attendance was one that neither he, nor anyone in the room, would likely forget. (1) The event, a charity dinner for the Carolin Illenzeer Foundation, brought together a mix of elites from Tallinn and the Estonian military to support the children of those killed or seriously injured while in service of the Estonian Defense Forces. (2) Campbell's presence came at the request of Maj. Gen. Riho Terras, the Estonian Defense Forces commander, and the president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, ahead of a deployment of U.S. paratroopers to Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. The operation was not yet announced publicly, so only a few in the room were privy to the ongoing work to implement the troop movement over the next 48 hours. Before Campbell got up to deliver his remarks, President Ilves pulled him aside and asked that he divulge to the audience the U.S. plans to send troops to Estonia. (3) As he addressed those in attendance, Campbell departed from his scripted remarks to confirm to the crowd that American forces were inbound to their country, to stay and train with their Estonian counterparts for an indefinite period. The audience expressed relief as they stood in applause of the general. (4) Some in the crowd openly wept. (5)

Assessing the Information Environment

When Russian forces seized control of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in late February, 2014, it was a reminder to the NATO nations on Russia's border of the benefits of the military alliance. (6) NATO responded in early March by exercising military options in the air and on the sea. (7) A U.S. deployment of F-16 fighter aircraft and Air Force personnel to Poland for training exercises, stepped-up air policing over the Baltic states, and enhanced maneuvers and joint-exercise participation by a U.S. guided-missile destroyer in the Black Sea were the first pieces put into play on the Western side of the chessboard. For U.S. Air Force Gen. Phillip Breedlove, commander, U.S. European Command (EUCOM) and NATO's supreme allied commander, Europe, the first few moves were relatively simple.

"The tougher piece is, how do we do the assurance piece on the land?" Breedlove told the Associated Press in early April as he was developing his recommendation to employ ground forces in Eastern Europe. (8) "Because these are measures which are more costly (and) if not done correctly, might appear provocative" The United States would have to proceed cautiously to shore up support for its NATO allies without escalating an exceedingly tense situation.

A few weeks later, roughly 600 U.S. paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Italy, were en route to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as part of what would later be dubbed Operation Atlantic Resolve. (9) According to Breedlove, a company-sized contingent of airborne infantry in each of the four countries would hardly be an obstacle against the "force of about 40,000" Russian troops massed on the Ukraine border at the time. (10)

However, that was not the point. Ground forces deployed in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve to achieve a tactical objective and, perhaps more importantly, a communication objective. USAREUR's coupling of the desired tactical and information end-states of the operation offers a model for applying communication strategy to future operations.

The presence of U.S. boots on the ground was the core tactical condition intended to signal U.S. commitment to NATO's Article 5 obligations and of itself would have no trouble generating headlines. (11) Lacking proper context though, the move could have resulted in disaster if it was "erroneously perceived as a precursor to violence, a unilateral U.S. effort, or provocative to the Russians," according to Col. …

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