Twitter can be a marvelous thing.
A few weeks ago there was an excellent thread by Mr Leonardo Carella (@leonardocarella), an MPhil candidate at Oxford University, about the crisis of liberal democracy and the role of information technology (sic) as a major source of destabilization. His thesis is:
- The internet allows:
- the organisation of political fringes
- the fragmentation of the public sphere
- the globalisation of nationalisms
- the globalisation of grievances
- Mainstream parties have lost control of the public agenda;
- Fringe political interests can now be organised and co-opted in coalitions that were unthinkable in spatially determined cleavage politics;
- The public sphere is increasingly global:
- populist forces support and learn from each other
- political debate is constantly targeted by foreign forces
- Counter-narratives can develop their own evidence, facts and belief systems shielded from scrutiny
- Traditional parties’ advantages – territorial presence, local elite networks, penetration of civil society “mezzo” (sic) structures have become undone, making them increasingly unable to act as gatekeepers between local and national level interests.
Mr Carellas then goes on to say that from his perspective, changes in the internet and social media are not ancillary to changes in politics, but fundamental to it; yet not enough is being done to understand the changes and address the issues. I found Mr Carella’s thesis the most concise explanation of the issues facing us that I have seen for some time.
This changing political landscape holds challenges. At the strategic level if we take a Clausewitzean view and regard war as the continuation of politics by other means, then the fact that the (national) public sphere has fragmented while issues and identities have globalized presents a significantly different operating environment. If the Main Effort becomes remains national cohesion and will to fight, followed by coalition cohesion and will to fight, then we may have to focus more on crafting a positive narrative of what we fight for, rather than rely on focusing on a positive narrative of what we fight against. If we look at the recent campaign against ISIL, crafting a narrative of what we are fighting against was much easier than crafting a narrative to support what we are fighting for. This problem becomes more acute when we start to inhabit the gray zone of polite men bearing cats, or straightforward inter-state conflict where the issue is national interests and cannot clearly be portrayed in stark moral terms such as the fight against ISIS.
My takeaways from this are:
- We need to be better at understanding our changing strategic information environment and its impacts on us. Our politics are changing, our political contextualisation of operations has not necessarily kept pace.
- As a state we need to be much better at Strategic Communications, recognising the nature of the threat we face.
- If we can identify opportunities to exploit (and there are many) in this new environment, we need to accept that our adversaries have already identified them and are exploiting them against us.
- Twitter can be a marvelous thing!
Lastly, for a good view on the impact of the changing information environment on the use of force, I recommend “War in 140 Characters: How Social Media is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century” by David Patrikarakos