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COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH (4/5) ... Consensus, Coordination and Communication

This is a publication of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR).


The Comprehensive Approach is the biggest issue in NATO today. For that reason the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) organized a Symposium, highlighting this subject during its 2010 Summer Congress in August in Stavanger, Norway. The intention was to educate reserve officers on this topic, one of the objectives of CIOR, as they can bring these messages home to their respective stakeholders in the 36 countries that are member of CIOR. The role of the Reservists as they relate to the Comprehensive Approach was seen as critical to creating key in forward valuable insights for a successful end state in current operations.

The CIOR Symposium was held under the Chatham House Rules, meaning that no information or discussion could be subsequently attributed to an individual speaker. Accordingly, the opinions as stated in this article are not specifically referenced to their source.

This will be a series of articles where the Comprehensive Approach will be addressed and elements of this new approach will be explored. 

Comprehensive Approach…… Consensus, Co-operation and Communication

By embracing the Comprehensive Approach (CA) the military commander – in some way - is loosing his control over the situation. One could argue if the military commander was ever in full control before CA, but now he isn’t, that’s for sure.
All players in the field have their agenda and want to achieve goals. The military commander wants to do so, but he has to recognize that others are there to achieve their own goals. That isn’t bad per se, but it is something to recognize.

What is left for the military commander in the field is negotiation and co-operation, but not with all players. In the CIOR Symposium in Stavanger it was clear that Humanitarian Organizations don’t want to negotiate or co-operate. They have their impartial agenda and especially don’t want to speak with the military at all if there is no special reason for that.
All others will, but how can the military cope with them when they are not in control. Maybe Consensus, Co-operation and Communication is the key.

First Consensus. Countering each other or working in opposite directions is counter productive. If consensus can be reached to work towards a defined end state, that would help. That is a matter of give and take, so negotiation is part of the game. Reaching consensus however is a time consuming endeavor which asks for a lot of (diplomatic) skills. And then still – if consensus is reached it doesn’t mean that the players in the field agree; they do not oppose! Of course agreement should be better, but that will take even more time, while time is scarce. Everyone who works or has worked in NATO, knows how long it takes and how much work is involved to reach consensus. So this task in itself will take a lot of staff effort from the military staff.
And in the end – some players are not convinced they have to reach consensus and will follow their own agenda anyway. That asks for another approach.

That brings us to Co-operation. That term can be interpreted broader than you might think. I will try to explain. Co-operation in the small sense means that more parties are working in the same field and they try to adjust their activities towards each other. They try to build together or anyway not to obstruct each others work. But in a broader sense you can co-operate in another way. Let’s look for instance at CIMIC.
If you know what needs to be done in a certain area, you can make an overview of the necessary projects and activities that should be done. Then you can make an overview of the projects and activities performed by actors in the region. Some of them will fit in your plan and others won’t. And suppose the parties do not want to meet with you to co-operate in the smaller sense.
The question then is, do you know what is driving them. If you look at NGO’s, you should realize that most of them are driven by two factors: Money and Publicity.
So there you find the two point where you can make contact with them to co-operate on a different level, or you might say to let them do what you need them to do.

Money: most NGO’s have an organization that is raising funds. But they also have their own organization they have to pay. Most of the time they need to find a way to spend enough money in the field, because otherwise they will lose support if they spend to high a percentage of their funds on their own organization.
In real life that means most of the time: their field managers also have a tasking to raise funds in the field. And that’s the point you can connect with them.
If you are the owner of funds, for instance because the funding of your department for development runs through you, you can offer them projects with funding. It is a win-win situation where they raise funds and at the same time they do the projects you want them to do. The third winner in the game is your department of development because you can control the project and by doing so, you can control the spent – and that is what most governments and IO’s want.

Publicity. In the field most military organizations have encountered the situation where they run a project and if the work is almost or just done, an NGO passes by and asks you if they pay for the project, they may call it their own. What they really are asking you is to get quick publicity in exchange for cash. They gain something but you don’t. So take the opportunity again to create a win-win situation. If they want something from you, you can ask something in return. So if they put the question to you, start negotiating – find out where they are working and what they can do for you, more then giving you money. They give you an opportunity to guide them in their activities in exchange for publicity. It is not sure that this is going to be a success, but it is worth the try. So what you really ask in return for the publicity is the coordination with you in your area, to have them to run other projects in coordination with you towards your defined end-state.

And then Communication is there on several levels. First of all the strategic level: What is your “master message”, what is the message you want to get across to the public. And then again: which public. In nowadays operations you have to communicate with at least two publics: the one in the operation area, the other back home. Different cultures and that is where the problem starts.
Not only is communication a two-way street; the message can be interpreted very different in another culture. So what you say to your public back home can be interpreted totally different in the operation area and also the other way around.

Even more difficult it gets when we look at the new social media. Facebook, Twitter and Hyves are all around. We all now the examples of officials who have to step down because they put a tweet out to the public with a wrong content or a content that easily could be interpreted in a wrong way. People seem to write too fast, without a second thought, and then put their text on the social media. That should be a lesson learned.
Some armies already use Facebook and Hyves to get a message across to the (younger) public. But it will only work if the message fits into “the bigger picture”.  The master message behind it should always be the same and all communication should be related to it and must be consistent.

And then there is the independent press. They will be the first ones who will relate what you say to what they see. You can get your message across to them and through them to the public (mostly back home) but their job is not only to publish what you say but also what they see of it in the field. So what you say and what you do will have to fit together into that one picture you want to get across. Every soldier in nowadays world is a source of information to the press. And what he or she is saying will have the same impact as what the general or his PA will say. So we will have to train every soldier to be a strategic communicator.

If partners want to work together – at least not work in different directions – they will also have to coordinate communication. That means not only UN and NATO, but also the local government in the area of operations and your own government back home. Sometimes they all want you to communicate within their “master message” and you just cannot bring that together in one communiqué. The reason for that is that all politicians have their own agenda.
Maybe one of the best examples is the operation in Libya at this moment. All agree to operate, but they all disagree about end state, operations, mandate etc etc. It will mean a lot of coordination to get messages across to the public. Coordination in the area of operations and coordination back home.

So maybe co-operation and communication are the key to get result from the Comprehensive Approach; in any way they are very important and military commanders need more and more to be aware of that and use expertise – maybe reservist expertise – to maximized their results in those fields.

This is the fourth of a series of 5 articles from CIOR on the Comprehensive Approach, derived from the CIOR Symposium on “NATO’s Comprehensive Approach and the Role of Reservists” held on the 11th of August 2010 in Stavanger (NO).

© 2012 Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers