Active or Passive Strategic Communication: What's the Role of Government?

By Jamie Gayton

Army War CollegeIf we ascribe to the United States Army War College interpretation of U.S. national interests, we accept, 1) Defense of the Homeland, 2) Economic Prosperity, 3) Promotion of Values, and 4) Favorable World Order, as the categories that represent those national interests. The United States Government generally accepts responsibility for developing and refining these national interests and as such should initially take responsibility for developing a road map consisting of actions and communication that would foster movement toward their attainment. This is commendable - it is clearly responsible action by the developer of the goals and objectives supporting our interests, but must the government remain the lead executor in any specific category? Could it be possible that other organizations or entities might better support the achievement of national interests in certain areas for example, Economic Prosperity or Favorable World Order?

The Washington Post recently reported in an article entitled, Dear Leader Appears To Be Losing N. Koreans' Hearts and Minds, that the Kim Jong Il government may be losing its propaganda war within the country. It summarizes by stating, "This mix of deadly food shortages, bureaucratic bumbling and rising cynicism presents a potentially destabilizing threat to Kim's government." Additional facts from the article highlighted that over 50% of recent refugees stated that through illicit consumer electronics from China, they were able to listen to foreign radio and TV stations that are forbidden and illegal in the country. Finally, quoting from a report on a survey of North Korean Refugees by Marcus Noland and Stephen Haggard within the article, titled, Political Attitudes Under Repression, "Not only is foreign media becoming more widely available, inhibitions on its consumption are declining as well," and "The availability of alternative sources of information undermines the heroic image of workers' paradise and threatens to unleash the information cascade that can be so destabilizing to authoritarian rule." These quotes drive to the heart of the earlier hypothesis and indirectly beckon that market forces that influence each individual person's life may provide more impetus for change than any strategic communication (direction from above or policy by governmental agencies) could achieve. This concept is not new. Tom Friedman, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, calls this Globalution - where he argues that external market forces, especially in business, can put pressures on organizations including countries to modify their behavior to be accepted into the global market place. In our Korea example, the underlying theme is that the forces in motion are so strong that Kim Jong Il or his son Kim Jong Eun may be influenced to modify their behavior or they risk losing control of their country.

After years of somewhat fruitless direct U.S. Government actions to try and influence governmental outcomes in Korea, is it possible that the availability of information and market forces may affect the changes sought after for so long? This author thinks the U.S. Government should review the costs and probabilities of success for managing the direct role of U.S. Government action against the indirect role of market forces and private multinational corporations when determining and balancing its weighting of each. Influencing behavior to achieve U.S. national interests may be better achieved through market forces than U.S. Government strategic communication in achieving some specific U.S. national interests.

COL S. Jamie Gayton commanded a battalion in the 3rd Infantry Division from June 2004 - June 2006. COL Gayton earned a bachelor's degree from the United States Military Academy, a Master's in Business Administration from the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a Ph.D. from the PARDEE RAND Graduate School. He is currently a student at the U.S. Army War College.

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