“In the [information environment], we are being challenged every single day. Our competitors are contesting us daily, seeking to sow disinformation, probing cyber defenses, stealing intellectual property, conducting reconnaissance in places we wouldn’t even consider part of the battlefield – like our universities, industry and online applications like games. They’re challenging norms of behavior in every domain, hardening us to provocative and unsafe behavior, challenging our leadership and ability to influence our environment.” This was the assessment of Marine Corps Lieutenant General Loretta Reynolds, the Deputy Commandant for Information, in a March 12 speech.
The State Department’s practitioners in Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs will, I am confident, agree with another of General Reynolds’ insights: “We believe that strategic communications—how we message and how we use the truth—are a critical component of [Operations in the Information Environment]. Recent real world and global exercises have revealed that our mechanisms for messaging and telling the truth are too slow for the current operating environment.”
Or, as she said more pithily — “In the win/loss analysis of the Information Age, what matters is not the Big that eat the small, it’s the fast that eat the slow.”
Her speech, providing an overview of Marine Corps thinking, should be of interest throughout the Department of State and “the interagency.” The armed forces have more money and more people focused on disinformation, propaganda, “active measures,” and malign influence. The military schoolhouses that have been teaching “cyber” are beginning to integrate “information” into their thinking. And they want to collaborate with the Department of State.
Public Diplomacy officers at embassies and consulates often meet armed forces people in the Public Affairs and MISO (Military Information Support Operations) fields. In the Marine Corps Public Affairs is now “Communications Strategy” (COMMSTRAT). Along with MISO, it is now part of the Information Groups in the Marine Expeditionary Forces (MEFs) in California, North Carolina, and Okinawa.
Among the seven functions in the new MIGs, Public Diplomacy people will perhaps be most interested in “inform domestic and international audiences” and “influence foreign target audiences.” These are Public Diplomacy’s goals too, and General Reynolds spoke of “the basic need for information across our government’s departments, agencies, and the joint force . . . [to] make us more flexible in our response to threats from our competitors, more versatile in supporting policy, and better integrated with the joint force and interagency partners.”
Finally, Lieutenant General Reynolds gave reasons why Commstrat matters.
● You can’t win playing defense.
● We have to expose bad behavior quickly and repeatedly.
● Reinforce norms and safe and professional behavior.
● We need to build the coalition’s ability to be the force for good.
● We should advertise our strengths.
These are easy to list, but hard to do and implement. That’s why General Reynolds’ speech should help start a professional debate.
Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications in the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Creativity at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.