Strategic communications is now a primary weapon of war. That is a new reality that needs to be accepted and understood by anyone who is a decision maker of any enterprise of any size, anywhere in the world, with any mission. They also must recognize a major difference between weapons of communications warfare and what we normally think of as weapons of wars. Unlike all other weapons of war, which require money to acquire and training to use, strategic communications is a weapon accessible to all regardless of an enterprise’s size, mission, or financial or technological resources.
Additionally, in a communications war, asymmetrical resources are largely irrelevant: a small group with limited financial or technological assets can be more successful than even the mightiest communications forces. Virtually any individual or any group regardless of resources can wage a powerful campaign against any target, making all enterprises vulnerable to attack at any time, without warning, from an antagonist, perhaps totally unknown, anywhere in the world. Plus, that antagonist will not play by any rules — they set their own rules as regards the truth of what they communicate, how they communicate and to whom they communicate.
Antagonists in a communications war may be motivated by anything: a difference in political or religious philosophy, a competitive business reason, because they dislike a show their target’s TV advertising supports, or because they disagree with a charity to which their target has donated. What does it matter? After the war is launched, the cause is irrelevant and the reality of the situation is of paramount importance: There has been an attack that is likely to continue, and the larger enterprise’s risks of defeat or, at the very least, significant long-lasting damage, are very real.
This new reality will eventually be integrated into every well-run organization’s Standard Operating Procedure. All leaders, whether they head a government, a business or a non-profit, will have to share an attitude similar to what Antulio J. Echevarria II wrote in a 2008 benchmark report of the Strategic Studies Institute of the US War College:
Wars of ideas, he wrote, are “genuine wars, even though the physical violence might be minimal, because they serve a political, socio-cultural, or economic purpose, and they involve hostile intentions or hostile acts. [They are] essentially about power and influence, just as with wars over territory and material resources, and their stakes, can run very high indeed.”
Accordingly, every organization will need to develop capabilities to be constantly ready to respond to the unknown antagonist that launches an attack on their reputation and core beliefs – with no notice, very few resources, and the potential to cause irreparable harm. Every enterprise will come to see strategic communications as a critical weapon that, in addition to being available to maintain their reputation when attacked by an antagonist, must be used in an ongoing campaign to assert their critical messages even before they are attacked under the logic that “you buy a toilet plunger before you need it.”