UK govt ‘weak on propaganda’

By Alex Stevenson

Ministers and officials need to recognise the importance of strategic communications, a thinktank has urged.

Research by Chatham House concluded that the government should place more emphasis on getting its message across in critical situations like the early stages of military stabilisation operations, crisis responses or contingency operations.

"Although the UK government clearly has a good understanding of the importance of strategic communications, this understanding is relatively limited in its sophistication and imagination, and policy in turn becomes difficult to coordinate and implement," the report's authors note.

"The potential of strategic communications remains underexploited."

Paul Cornish, Julian Lindley-French and Claire Yorke argue against the establishment of a central 'Office for Strategic Communication', preferring a new "mindset" to be adopted across government departments.

They pointed out that recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya had demonstrated the limitations of foreign policy being carried out through military means alone.

"The common refrain that allied forces should also seek to win 'hearts and minds' as a means to deliver enduring peace and stability speaks to the importance of non-military means and 'soft' power in connecting with populations both at home and abroad," the report added.

"Strategic communications, correctly understood, are an integral part of this approach."

The report recommends that government officials planning strategies and the delivery of policy should decide which activities to undertake based as much on their "communicative value" as their physical impact.