On 1 April, 2010, the UK military’s Defence Cultural Specialist Unit (DCSU), consisting of military specialists in Afghan culture and language, came into being, over eight years since military forces arrived in Afghanistan.
As part of ISAF, DCSU personnel will be a major part of General McChrystal’s renewed counter insurgency strategy – which places the people of Afghanistan at the centre of operations.
From an ISAF Press Release:
The DCSU – based at RAF Henlow in Bedfordshire – has been established in consultation with other government departments to ensure that its activities support the wider comprehensive approach and link into other government and Afghan initiatives.
Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations) Air Vice-Marshal Andy Pulford said that a focus on cultural issues is essential to success in the country.
He said: “Cultural awareness is at the heart of General McChrystals Counter Insurgancy Strategy. This unit will help improve the military understanding and appreciation of the region, its people and how to do business there.”
Commander John Garratt RN, the MoD team leader for implementing the unit explained:
“This has come about as a response to the operational demand to better understand the people we operate with so as to make smarter decisions and improve military effectiveness. The DCSU is the spearhead of a broader Defence Cultural Capability and will provide both the home for the specialists and the focus for wider capability development”.
The new unit’s Operational Commander, Colonel Nick Hubberstey, stressed the importance of having a dedicated unit.
“The DCSU represents a real opportunity to further improve our understanding of the current operational environment. By continuing to develop our understanding of the people we are working amongst, how they think, their culture, beliefs, hopes and fears, we can do much more to bring our mission in Afghanistan a speedy and satisfactory conclusion”.
This is, withoubt doubt a welcome move and commendable. As part of any Information Operations capability, a deep understanding of the host poulation’s culture is utterly crucial. In pure PR terms this is critical to what specialists call two-way asymmetrical communication – acquiring knowledge of a target public in order to establish the best appraoches to persuade and influence audiences to behave as an organization desires and then conducting such. Notably it does encourage research to find out how it publics feel about the organization.
However, theoretically (through organizational systems theory approach) the holy grail of modern communications, especially in the contemporary information age with the ubiquitous nature of information, is two-way symmetrical communication, whereby relationships demand the understanding of all publics of each other. This approach uses communication to negotiate with publics, resolve conflict, and promote mutual understanding and respect between the organization and its publics.
This begs the question – how far can NATO’s effective communication go when the military know a lot about the host population but makes little effort to allow them to fully understand the military and foreign entities in their countries? What’s more, when it comes to their own culture, ideals, motivations, how coherent are they to those military and foreign entities?
In any communication process there are always at least two cultures to consider and understand – oneself and ‘the other’. DCSU is a very welcome addition to understanding ‘the other’ – but in the wider communication ‘battle’ it’s only half way there.
And, as welcome as it is, with the public sector, including MoD soon due to be squeezed even hard for cash, will DCSU survive any cuts? Or will Hard power requirements take priority?