Having checked out cyberspace regarding the sacking of General McChrystal over the Rolling Stone Magazine coverage, it apears that there is chatter of conspiracy theories. Basically, they centre on the possibility that the good General (a man who certainly seemed to get communication within the counter-insurgency context) deliberately created/engineeered/concocted the circumstances which led to the article, in order to (a) get fired so he wouldn’t be responsible for the Afghan debacle or (b) as a test of resolve of the White House in a Pentagon willy-waving statement.
Now CB3 isn’t one for conspiracy theories but on balance can see why, in this case, they are getting some profile – and it’s because of the “what the xxxx were they thinking?” factor. The sheer absurdity of the events is mesmerising, especially to anyone who has ever worked in public affairs, public relations or media operations. In fact, I’m sure many journalists are also pretty dumbfounded as to how it all happened.
It appears McChrystal’s team had absolutely no idea of their objectives regarding the interviews. They hadn’t asked the WIIFM question (what’s in it for me (or rather, the General – or to be precise, the mission)). Then the team seemed to abandon any notion of this having a strategic effect, wandered off subject, spoke outside their responsibility, forgot about research, treated Michael Hastings as a beer-drinking buddy, gave ill-thought through access, and generally behaved totally unprofessionally. But these are experienced blokes – surely they know the game?
Well, it just goes to show that even the experienced can become complacent and hence make catastrophic mistakes, especially in a field as slippery, intangible, nebulous, unpredictable and downright tricky as dealing with the media. No conspiracy, just complacency – just Generals and media advisors forgetting that once engaged with the media, they no longer dominate the ‘battlespace’ (or for a corporate analogy, the marketplace).
And on complacency … for all those CEO’s and senior business leaders who think “no, we can handle the media … we’d never make mistakes like that”, it’s worthwhile remembering that McChrystal (just like BP’s Tony Hayward) was certainly no fool.
With recent claims from several quarters of the dangers of aid being mixed with military operations and the UK’s coalition government, currently putting DfID through a thorough review, dallying (or not) with bringing the two closer together, it is perhaps worthwhile spending a little time looking back at the short, but important, history of ‘military humanitarianism’.
The words neutrality, impartiality, independence and humanity pepper the pages of the manifestos, mandates and remits of humanitarian organizations and the volumes of academic and government discourse on humanitarianism. Yet, since the debacle of Rwanda in 1994, these classical core values have been under threat from a political ideal, that of ‘new humanitarianism’ which focuses upon a rights-based approach, as opposed to a needs-based one, is oriented towards long-term political goals of ‘liberal peace’, places humanitarianism within the ‘grey zone’ of a relief-development continuum, and is increasingly crowded with, supposedly integrated, political actors as it develops into a serious facet of international relations. The Kosovo crisis exemplified, both good and bad, the practical manifestation of ‘new humanitarianism’, but it remains a feature of contemporary humanitarian relief operations.
However, the post-9/11 environment has encouraged the militarization of ‘new humanitarianism’ towards political and security objectives, further straining the core tenets of humanitarianism.
Three major themes can be identified. Firstly, the public perception of the threat has changed, which has affected donorship; secondly, there came the ramifications of a new strand of political imperative, namely anti-terrorism and, thirdly, due to the nature of high profile conflicts, the conditions on the ground for humanitarian actors have been transformed, notably through the severe impact upon perceptions of neutrality and the hazards entailed.
Generated by a sudden sense of threat, donations to appeals for humanitarian crises were curtailed post 9/11, especially in the US, because of the notion that such funds were in effect aiding populations in which a threat resided. Further, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsored the idea that the work of the US administration and humanitarian NGOs together ‘is now perceived to affect the national survival of the US’. Donor security in the minds of the US administration and the public became enmeshed with humanitarianism, encouraging a degree of selectivity as to where or not such aid should be disbursed and consideration of conditionality if seen necessary to bolster that security. Development aid has suffered a similar conflation.
US foreign policy, being at the forefront of the counter-terrorist agenda, dominated the foreign policy concerns of the West in general and therefore, to varying degrees, the humanitarian stance of the leading global donors. Policy focused upon the threat of terrorism. Like Kosovo, the promoters of major conflicts in this war, both the US and Atlanticist Europeans, have not shied from employing a humanitarian raison d’etre, mixing a political crisis with a supposed humanitarian one, motivated by political necessity
But the ‘with us or against us’ approach of such policy has taken the politicization of humanitarian aid, and the overt acknowledgement of it, to new heights. Impartiality has long been under threat as the aid figures from the mid-to-late 1990s have demonstrated, indicating a strategic skew away from what might be termed ‘forgotten crises’, representing something of a dual-track composed of strategically important crises and those less so. The very basis of the political imperative, centred on direct threats, has maintained such a strategic skew although shifting policy focus to new zones. This has had further profound implications for humanitarianism, not least for the basic tenets of neutrality and independence.
Afghanistan had long been seen as a protracted humanitarian crisis and therefore the humanitarian imperative could be more easily dovetailed into the political and military response to 9/11. However, Iraq was much more contentious, with neutrality being compromised early on in the lead up to its invasion. Many major NGOs, especially European ones, stated their opposition to the forthcoming war, their spokespersons not only commenting upon possible humanitarian scenarios but also their stance towards military action. The historical tendency for US NGOs mostly to align themselves with the incumbent administration reduced such an anti-war tendency but was indicative of their already lower levels of neutrality. The Europeans had shown that they could support military intervention on humanitarian grounds (see page 23) but their stance over Iraq illustrated their resistance to the conforming of humanitarianism to a political agenda. However, the availability of massive aid funds and contracts after the war’s end resulted in a reverse swing in terms of effective, or perceived, allegiance. While many NGOs, including US ones, initially declared their unwillingness to receive Coalition funds for work in Iraq, many eventually agreed to accept such ‘partisan’ resources. As such, in Afghanistan and Iraq, many NGOs are no longer seen as independent agencies but rather as subcontractors or, as Colin Powell claimed, ‘force multipliers’, in the humanitarian field. This perception enhances the notion of the privatization and militarization of humanitarianism.
The counter-terrorism agenda has raised further some significant questions regarding humanitarian policy. Many decry the merging of humanitarian policy with international security policy, even though it has been largely recognized that development and security are intertwined, with the former suffering due to a lack of the latter. But the new post 9/11 security environment has led to a much wider interpretation, leading to accusations that the humanitarian motives of donor governments and institutions have been hijacked by the underlying needs of their political and security agendas.
The post 9/11 environment has further encouraged the drive, apparent since the late 1990s, towards an integrated approach to crises, exemplified by the UN’s Brahimi Report of 2000 which formalized a coherent approach to crisis management, endorsing the ‘integration agenda’ whereby diplomatic, military, political and humanitarian elements would work to meet the same objectives. Further, the use of force, or even a benign military involvement in crisis response, has raised the spectre of humanitarian agencies operating, or being perceived to operate, alongside belligerents, with obvious concerns arising over the security of those humanitarian agencies.
Western governments that are involved in the war on terror agenda are also the main financiers of humanitarian funds. In this they do have leverage over humanitarian agencies and NGOs, which, at bottom, are resource-driven and compelled to search for funds, and to a degree over humanitarian policy.
Whereas Kosovo exhibited ‘new humanitarianism’ employing extensive military means, the last decade’s counter-terror agenda has been claimed as the harbinger of true ‘military humanitarianism’, on the back of political and security concerns.
Of note is the fact that while discourse around the subject of military humanitarianism was energetic during the first few years of this millenium, sparked by Iraq and Afghanistan, that conversation has waned over the last few years. But a quick examination of ongoing conflicts involving both military and humanitarian activities reveals that ‘military humanitarianism’ continues, for good and bad.
 http://hwproject.tufts.edu/new/pdf/minear-arden.pfd , p. 4.
 Andrew Natsios, USAID administrator, cited in Stoddard, A. Humanitarian NGOs: Challenges and Trends London: Humanitarian Policy Group (Overseas Development Institute), July 2003, p. 5.
 Rieff, D. A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis London: Vintage, 2002, pp. 234-5.
 ‘And I want you to know that I have made it clear to my staff here and to all our ambassadors around the world that I am serious about making sure we have the best relationship with the NGOs who are such a force multiplier for us, such an important part of our combat team.’ US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, 26 October 2001.
 Nickolls, J. Limits to Neutrality in Iraq Humanitarian Exchange No 25, December 2003. (pp. 7-9)
 Duffield, M. Global Governance and the New Wars London: Zed Books, 2001.
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?
The Inaugural Media Operations and Public Affairs Symposium
9-10 June 2010
Venue: Defence Academy of United Kingdom
“Winning the communications war: new thinking and new practice ”
The battle for ideas, hearts and minds is back in centre stage in twenty first century military operations. Experience in engaging the local populace in Iraq and Afghanistan has shown that well-executed public communications are critical to shaping operational and strategic outcomes. As a result, ad-hoc approaches to military PR are giving way to deliberate strategies developed using innovative planning approaches and supported by analysis and effects monitoring techniques. New cross-disciplinary thinking is emerging from both academia and government, focused on coordinating and maximising the power of messaging in counter- insurgency, anti-terrorism and global security. A revolution in military communications is underway, transforming the way governments and militaries communicate. Against this backdrop the Defence Academy is presenting the inaugural Media Operations and Public Affairs Symposium. A networking forum for stakeholders from across the communications spectrum, this new symposium is designed to showcase cutting edge thinking alongside innovative tools and techniques.
Over two days, the tactical, operational and strategic aspects of communication will be explored: Identifying best practice in recent Media Operations; developing supporting theory for the emerging discipline of Strategic Communications; examining new approaches to both Media Operations and Strategic Communications and application to current conflicts. The current operational context in Afghanistan is of special interest and raises a number of questions which the symposium will explore, for example: How can strategic communication objectives be pursued whilst working in a media environment with shortened time horizons and intense tactical engagement? How can two way models of communication be adopted and accommodated within the new information environment? What are the relative strengths and weaknesses of competing media and information strategies in Afghanistan? What is the role of local media in Afghanistan?
For further details Contact Caroline Dawson on:
T: +44(0) 1793 785268
or visit the website http://www.symposiaatshrivenham.com
See below some wise words from Major Mehar Omar Khan (Pakistan Army) from his article “Afghanistan: Seven Fundamental Questions” found at Small Wars Journal (http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/319-khan.pdf)
Who should the coalition try to impress: Afghans or rest of the world?
While the pressure to present tangible results in terms that sound familiar to domestic and global audience is understandable, lives of young men should not be ‘wasted’ in pursuit of hollow ideals and empty slogans that mean woefully little to the people of Afghanistan. While there is essentially nothing bad about transparent ballot boxes, soap opera television, Afghan movies and a few dozen bold and beautiful women in the legislative assembly, the Afghan people look wearily at all these things. They are not impressed with these ‘achievements’, not just because they have an outdated mindset, but because it means so little to them in terms of alleviating some of their most basic concerns like hunger, malnutrition, disease, violence and fear. Coalition soldiers should not have to die for anything less noble than helping the people of Afghanistan forge a new future and a new destiny for themselves – a destiny that they will themselves determine in ways that they feel comfortable with.
Here are some ideas.
One, please understand the hearts and minds that you are trying to win. Most of these minds are illiterate, unschooled and locked in the last century. Most of these hearts are raw, romantic, sentimental and pure as a pearl. Help them start where they actually are and not where you want them to be. At their present level of socio-economic development, Afghans do not truly need a majestic parliament building, a palatial house for the president, five star hotels and nicely suited dummies as rulers in Kabul and Kandahar. They need small schools, clean drinking water, some pills for that headache which refuses to go away, some money to buy food for their kids and some assistance to kick-start their farming or that little shop in a mud-hut. People want their liberators to know that they need ‘electricity before they are asked to destroy their kerosene lantern’ and that they need to at least be able to read names before they are asked to choose one out of a long list of people vying to be their President.
Two, coalition must refuse to lock itself in a fight that tramples the people. This will involve some sacrifice in the short term but huge dividends in the long term.
Three, people need soldiers that respect their values and their traditions because, however outdated they may be, these are their values and their traditions. This land belongs to a ‘people’; it’s not the property of ‘a state’. In this context, is it not fair to ask how much of an effort, in terms of resources, has gone to ‘Afghanistan the state’ and how much to ‘Afghanistan the people’? How much of the money and resources and security has stayed and stagnated in Kabul guarding criminals and drug-lords; and how much of it has actually reached a far flung Helmand village caught in the center of the storm? How much of attention has gone to people most bitter about being ousted from power (Pashtuns) and how much of it has been lavished on communities that have generally always enjoyed a relative peace? Asking the right questions is the true test of honesty. Giving the right answers is a test of leadership. Questions carry their own correct answers as well as consequences for wrong answers.