On October 9, 2015 the annual NATO Parliamentary Assembly will be held in Stavanger, Norway. This short series will cover some of the preliminary draft reports in order to give insight into what will be the subjects of this assembly. The assembly provides “a unique specialised forum for members of parliament from across the Atlantic Alliance to discuss and influence decisions on Alliance security.” Some of the major issues facing Canada and its NATO allies will be discussed, and interestingly, some other less glamorized concerns will be addressed as well including; climate change, terrorist financing and Afghan transitions.
One of the subcommittee drafts, under the Committee on the Civil Dimension of Security, looks at how NATO can counter Russian propaganda campaigns. The draft, titled “The Battle for the Hearts and Minds: Countering Russian Propaganda Attacks Against the Euro-Atlantic Community” describes the propaganda as a significant part of the Russian government’s power. The draft argues that, “The scale and intensity of Russia’s “soft power” projection towards its neighbourhood and beyond indicates that the Kremlin ranks information operations as one of its major foreign and security policy instruments.” This is not something new, Russia has always relied on soft power projection. This was evident in the Cold War, and more so in the 1990s when there began a consolidation of media to serve the government’s interests. Russian media’s negative and unified message adheres to its own ‘moral’ codes and regulations. This allows it to reach and influence a potentially larger audience and is potentially damaging to future NATO missions and policy goals. The list of tactics this program employs is long; online ‘troll’ activism, exploitation of compatriot communities, infiltrating NGOs, promotion of pro-Russian distorted history, dramatically increasing funding media funding and therefore increasing Russia’s media foot print.
NATO has instituted some programs to try to counteract this issue; however, thus far it seems as that a lot of the effort is rather scattered. Therefore, developing a more “coherent narrative and set of arguments refuting myths cultivated by Moscow” is a top priority. The draft notes that collective defense is as important in communications as it is in conflict. Developing standardized national responses across NATO members and partner states would be a good initiative to counter Russian influence. Continued relevance and importance should be placed on the NATO Press and Media office, which have been proactive and transparent about Alliance action. This is noted as a key requirement of being able to counter Russian power projection. Interestingly, one concept sees NATO promoting “international and national media initiatives in the Russian language, including launching commonly funded Russian-language TV channel.”
The Kremlin’s projection of power through its social media demonstrates the primacy of communications in modern conflict. Collective media messages are as essential in the information age as collective defence. The Russian government’s “information policies should not be confused with legitimate programmes conducted by most states to enhance their image,” it is deliberately malicious and dangerous to the Alliance. The draft claims that,
“Countering Russia’s information warfare should be elevated to the top of the Euro-Atlantic community’s agenda. These misinformation attacks have resulted in the loss of human life both in Ukraine and in Russia itself (the assassination of Boris Nemtsov is widely attributed to the atmosphere of hatred fuelled by state propaganda). These campaigns are designed to weaken, demoralise and divide the Alliance. They also aim to derail the European or Euro-Atlantic integration of Eastern European countries.”
Canada and its NATO allies need to seriously look at the role communications and propaganda will play in future conflict, and address it seriously. The Parliamentary Assembly offers an excellent opportunity to have all the political representatives of the Alliance in one place, and could deliver the necessary circumstance to outline a cohesive and collaborative communications effort against Russian propaganda that would be supported by the national governments of the members.
Click here for part two of this series.