In the fight against terrorism, the United States has relied heavily on military solutions. Considering the ideological basis of most violent extremists, strategic communications and public diplomacy seem to be more effective deterrents. The Honorable Adam Smith (D-WA) and The Honorable Mac Thornberry (R-TX), both members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, recently addressed the need for a deliberate outreach campaign in order to discourage extremists from joining terrorist groups.
Strategic communication, as explained by Representative Thornberry, “unifies and focuses the right message to the right audience with the intent to shape their perceptions”. In order to combat terrorism, the United States must craft culturally sensitive messages designed to decrease animosity toward the Western world. Furthermore, the United States must recognize opportune moments for strategic communications campaigns. Representative Thornberry explained that many violent extremists are now starting to question their ideological beliefs, creating an invaluable opportunity for the United States to use strategic communications to promote pro-Western, democratic values.
In order to create an effective strategic communications strategy, Smith and Thornberry emphasized the need for comprehensive cooperation between all the government agencies involved in counter-terrorism work. To address this, Smith and Thornberry have introduced a strategic communications amendment to the 2009 Defense Authorization Bill. The amendment first outlines the need for a more concrete communications and diplomacy strategy. It also stipulates that both the State Department and Department of Defense must meet to clearly define their individual counter-terrorism responsibilities. Additionally, the bill calls for further investigation into creating a new agency to coordinate counter-terrorism strategic communications. The Representatives pointed out that creating a new agency would be a faster way to organize public diplomacy than restructuring within existing organizations or appointing one person to coordinate the activities of the different departments.
In addition to improving the communications strategy, providing development assistance is a major element to Thornberry and Smith’s view of public diplomacy. Efforts such as building schools, digging wells, and providing medical help will create positive sentiment toward Western society, and demonstrate that the United States supports the international community. While the military’s responsibility for these projects should not diminish, the United States needs to focus on increasing its overall international development efforts. These changes, coupled with a well-coordinated communications and public diplomacy strategy, will make the United States a much more effective force in the war on terror.
Sponsor: Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Date: July 17, 2008
Time: 9:30 – 11:00 am
Representative Attending: Kate Lonergan