Friday, August 1, 2008

2008 National Defense Strategy (NDS) Implications For PSYOP

It’s pretty unusual for a short timer to take decisive action that will impact his successors for years to come, but that is exactly what the SecDef did with the most recent National Defense Strategy released 31 July ( .

While PSYOP is not mentioned in the document, reading between the lines reveals some profound implications for PSYOP. Let’s start with the Strategic Environment.

“For the foreseeable future, this environment will be defined by a global struggle against a violent extremist ideology that seeks to overturn the international state system. Beyond this transnational struggle, we face other threats, including a variety of irregular challenges, the quest by rogue states for nuclear weapons, and the rising military power of other states. These are long-term challenges. Success in dealing with them will require the orchestration of national and international power over years or decades to come.” (NDS; p 1, emphasis added by the author).

Struggles against ideology are won through influence; “irregular challenges” implies something besides force on force actions and conjures up visions of asymmetrical challenges especially those fostered by the global reach and instantaneous response of the Internet. Rogue states connote large, powerful nations with WMD, conventional and asymmetric capabilities. The notion “rogue” also implies a nation willing to take extraordinary risks and one that doesn’t ‘play by the rules’.

The document goes on to emphasis the need to monitor global trends in demographics, economics, energy and the critical need to use “soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system” (p6) Likely challenges will be PSYOP in urban environments and a pressing need to conduct influence operations in denied areas as well.

DoD has five key objectives:
1. Defend The Homeland
2. Win The Long War
3. Promote Security
4. Deter Conflict
5. Win Our Nation’s Wars

The Long war is “a war of ideas, and an assistance effort that will require patience and innovation” (p8). Perhaps the most telling paragraph is found on page 17:

“We also need capabilities to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Strategic communications within the Department and across government is a good example.
Although the United States invented modern public relations, we are unable to communicate to the world effectively who we are and what we stand for as a society and culture, about freedom and democracy, and about our goals and aspirations. This capability is and will be crucial not only for the Long War, but also for the consistency of our message on crucial security issues to our allies, adversaries, and the world.” (Emphasis added)

No mention is made of the “how” this will be accomplished or the “who” will accomplish this vital task. One thing is certain and that is PSYOP is already a force in this effort. However, the big picture is anything but clear. The notion of Strategic Communication has changed from exclusively a top down, generally large scale, trans-regional effort to leveraging local events instantly on the Internet.

SecDef has made some bold declarations and in my view – “gets it”.

But, what about the implementation of the strategy? How will PSYOP interact with PA within an IO context to accomplish USG goals? Will the stove pipes of IO functions such as EW and Military Deception embrace the need for synergistic cooperation? Can the vision of employing soft power evolve to a true core competency of DoD?

These are the kind of tough questions for PSYOP brought out from the National Defense Strategy. Reader comments are invited.

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