Elevating public diplomacy and strategic communication as national security priorities

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy’s plans to create a team to improve coordination and collaboration within the Defense Department and across Government were announced. The team, led by Rosa Brooks, will also, according to Defense News, “will be tasked with reaching out to key members of Congress on specific issues.”

Flournoy is "establishing a small team with responsibility for global strategic engagement issues," said Army Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington, a Pentagon spokesman. "This team will assist policy offices and senior leaders with the development of outreach and engagement plans, and will help coordinate DoD-wide engagement efforts."

Withington said the team will be composed of about five existing policy shop employees, and will be headed by Rosa Brooks, a principal adviser to Flournoy and a former Los Angeles Times columnist.

The goal is to "improve overall coordination of DoD public diplomacy and strategic communication efforts," the spokesman said.

The Defense News article John T. Bennett also cites Douglas Macgregor saying the team will have little impact. I disagree with his comment that this is simply Karen Hughes-style public diplomacy revisited. Unless Macgregor changed his view of information from his two very influential books (Transformation Under Fire and Breaking the Phalanx), he is focused on organizational structure over desired effects in the real battleground. I found Phalanx to be interested but outdated with little utility, although I enjoyed the conflict scenario with Iran.  Transformation Under Fire, the last couple of chapters made for interesting reading but in both, I was distracted and surprised by two implied arguments he makes, both of which are fundamental to his NPR appearance a while back where he shared common ground with Gian Gentile.  First, host populations will not be significant in future conflicts.  Second, while "effects-based" is sprinkled in, like an afterthought, it is overwhelmed by the FCS-narrative of information dominance = situational awareness and not information activities, including public diplomacy & strategic communication. 

This team is clearly intended to fill the gap, both statutory and operational, left by the abolishment of Support to Public Diplomacy.

The article doesn’t ask the necessary follow up question, “What about State?” Unfortunately, this can be little more than rhetorical at this point wait to see how the interagency coordination will happen. Will a somewhat dormant group in State transform into an interagency secretariat to compliment Rosa Brooks’ DoD team?