Wednesday, 20 February 2013


What are our DND Public Relations officers for? According to the Department of National Defence,” Their function is a vital element of the operational success of Canadian Forces (CF) missions and everyday work”

It is a pity they do not approach it in this manner. Not according to Sharon Hobson writing in Canadian Naval Review where she points out the failure of the RCN to articulate its message. (1)

 Oddly enough the DND believes that, The public affairs approach to communications at DND is the most open and developed of all federal government departments because it empowers 100,000-plus potential spokespersons.”(2)

Sadly this may be true. Given the current governments micro-managerial approach to “messaging” it is not a great achievement to be the best among the worst. The difference is that Public Relations are far more important to the DND then to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, for example.

More and more, managing the public perception has become a part of war.  Military campaigns now include PR campaigns. The fight for “Hearts and Minds” has become an important part of modern warfare. Not the hearts and minds of ones opponents, that’s an entirely different but not unrelated activity, but the wider opinion that an interconnected world has forged.

Contemporary generals like to talk about”the three block war” but in fact there is at least one more block, and that, for lack of better words, is public relations. When Israel fought Hamas in the Gaza strip in November of 2012 social media and public perception played an important role

According to Wikipedia: (3)

The IDF made widespread use of Twitter and a live blog to give an up-to-date account of its operations. The military wing of Hamas also made use of Twitter, publicizing its rocket and mortar attacks and tweeting when Israeli casualties were reported. Foreign Policy magazine labeled this effort a "milestone in military communications." The IDF's Twitter account gained more than 50,000 new followers in 24 hours.

An app was developed, the idea provided by a 13-year-old, that supplied up-to-date reports of imminent missile attacks and sent information of the location and timing of the public "Color Red" alerts, allowing users extra time to run to bomb shelters.

Among other activities Hamas produced a video that threatened the lives of Israeli citizens and warned "Wait soon for us in the bus stops and cafes" which became a popular parody because of its technical problems and the broken Hebrew, both written and spoken.

Third party activities are becoming more common in these internet “offensives”. Anonymous attacked many Israeli websites in response to the IDF offensive in Gaza in #OpIsrael and claims to have taken down at least 700 sites as of the 18th of November. In turn the Israeli Defense Forces claim they deflected 44 million attacks. Many of the websites were replaced with messages condemning the Israeli campaign and expressing support for the citizens of Gaza. Hackers from Kuwait disrupted the website of Likud MK Danny Danon, who had posted an online petition urging the government of Israel to cease providing the Gaza Strip with electricity. Israeli Vice Prime Minister and Likud MK Silvan Shalom's Facebook and Twitter accounts were hacked by a pro-Palestinian group called ZCompanyHackingCrew.

None of this is new. For example, twitter had previously been used to present information regarding military engagements by both the Kenya Defence Forces and Al Shabaab during the KDF's operation against Al Shabaab in Somalia in 2011.

The planning for modern military campaign has to include social media and “Public Relations”. It is not impossible. Public relations are not unlike other military activities, it can be approached in a military fashion.

-Set a goal: the desired outcome. What you want your communications to achieve.

-Establish strategies: The broad approaches you are going to take in order to achieve the goal.

-Define objectives for each strategy: Objectives are the measurable tasks that will be undertaken in order to realize the strategies.

-Develop tactics: The tools that will be used in order to achieve the objectives.

Not impossible but not easy either.  The DND says that
 The primary responsibilities of a Public Affairs Officer are to:
·        Analyze and evaluate attitudes in the national and international media
·        Contribute to policy development
·        Gather and provide information internally & externally
·        Communicate with journalists, special interest groups and individuals regarding Defence”

A military that can’t even find the tools to enter into a dialogue with its own citizenry on the necessity for military defence will be hard pressed to develop a communications plan that involves defensive and offensive PR measures against an enemy organization. While these weapons are not as distinct and measurable as tanks and jet fighters it is still true that without these abilities Canada and its armed forces will be at a severe disadvantage in future conflicts.

(1) Canadian Naval Review

 (2) DND, Public affairs officer

 (3)Wikipedia, Operation Pillar of Defense, Social media