Academic journal article Parameters

Enhancing Us Efforts to Inform, Influence, and Persuade

Academic journal article Parameters

Enhancing Us Efforts to Inform, Influence, and Persuade

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Capabilities to inform, influence, and persuade are necessary both for national security success and as a cost-effective toolset relative to physical military power. This article discusses shortfalls and deficiencies in this area, and concludes with recommendations to increase resources for manning and tools for informing, influencing, and persuading, as well as efforts to inculcate "communication mindedness" in commanders and senior leaders.


Asking for a second helping when everyone else is tightening their belts is awkward. Unfortunately, proponents for US government capabilities to inform, influence, and persuade are in just that position, as such capabilities have not yet fully matured nor are demands for their use fully satisfied. While a time of "belt-tightening" is undeniably upon us, we must find a way to support continued growth, development, and improvement in this area.

Informing, Influencing, and Persuading

How US government representatives present and describe themselves to and engage and communicate with foreign audiences matters. The success of many policies is contingent on the support received from various populations whose perceptions are influenced by both what we do and what we say, which is particularly relevant for national security policy--for example, one of the greatest national security threats of our time is transnational terrorism and other forms of violent extremism. Efforts to combat violent extremism must consider the beliefs, motives, perceptions, and grievances that predicate extremism as well as those that lead to support for violence. (1) National security objectives are not necessarily well served when US forces kill or capture the members of a terrorist network if the perceptions and beliefs that motivated the terrorists and their supporters remain to generate a similar network in its place. (2)

Similarly, US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have starkly exposed the truth that some military objectives depend in large part on the behavior and attitudes of relevant civilian populations and cannot be achieved solely through the application of force. (3) As the Department of Defense Strategic Communication Science and Technology Plan noted: "a compelling argument can be made today that the public perceptions and implications of military operations might increasingly outweigh the tangible benefits actually achieved from real combat on the battlefield." (4)

Informing, influencing, and persuading go beyond traditional messaging to include a much wider range of capabilities that need to be coordinated because actions communicate. (5) Whether you think of it as minimizing the "say-do gap," or wish to discuss the "diplomacy of deeds," what we do matters at least as much if not more than what we say, which is especially important for deployed military forces. (6) Every action, utterance, message, image, and movement of a nation's military forces influences the perceptions and opinions of the populations who witness them--both first hand in the area of operations and second or third hand elsewhere in the world. The White House National Framework for Strategic Communication got it exactly right: "Every action that the United States Government takes sends a message." (8)

If informing, influencing, and persuading are important, the United States needs not only the capabilities dedicated to communication and messaging, but also the means to coordinate policies, actions, and other sources of messages and signals to achieve desired objectives. (9)

Informing, Influencing, and Persuading Are Cost Effective

Compared with other elements of national power, efforts to inform, influence, and persuade are relatively inexpensive and generally low-cost synergistic multipliers for applying other forms of power. There are two arguments to be made here: the preventative argument where informing, influencing, and persuading efforts help avoid the need for deploying more expensive capabilities because an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and the enabling argument where the combined arms application of information power along with other forms of power makes it easier, and thus less expensive, to accomplish missions. …

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