Jun 4, 2007


As Canada deepens its commitment to a counterinsurgency campaign in southern Afghanistan, the public is witnessing the consequences of concentrated media power. Canadian foreign policy in Afghanistan is generally supported by the media: the debate is restricted and rarely strays beyond questions of what mix of "security" and "development" is the best recipe for victory.

This article will look at some general aspects of the transformation of Canadian foreign policy, while highlighting the centrality of the battle for Canadian hearts and minds in this transformation. The counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan represents the culmination of Canada's new foreign policy, but it is worth bearing in mind that Afghanistan, in the words of Chief of Defence Staff Rick Hillier, offers only a "glimpse of the future" of Canadian military operations. Given free reign, this aggressive new foreign policy will be readily applied elsewhere — unless Canadians can effectively challenge the blatant propaganda and blind patriotism being deployed to justify it.

Public support is crucial to this shift. Canadian planners are aware of the challenges faced as they attempt to maintain the legitimacy necessary at home to support their expensive foreign adventures. ...

Numerous policy documents indicate that the Canadian military began its transformation in the mid to late 1990s. However, it wasn’t until the official release of the Martin government’s International Policy Statement (IPS) in April 2005 that the desired shift moved from the obscurity of policy papers, parliamentary committee meetings, and military journals to the public domain. Martin’s IPS named the new policy approach the “3D” approach to foreign affairs: diplomacy, development, and defence.

According to the IPS, globalization is identified as the key driver of the world’s recent "period of change and uncertainty." This "new reality" is typified by "fragile, failed and failing states" (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Haiti among the most prominent, where Canada is concerned), and "global terrorism." Of course, the desirability of continuing to pursue the policies that lead to "failed states" and "global terrorism" is not discussed.

The IPS describes today’s operational environment in terms of a three-block war scenario:
"Increasingly, there is overlap in the tasks our personnel are asked to carry out at any one time. Our military could be engaged in combat against well-armed militia in one city block, stabilization operations in the next block, and humanitarian relief and reconstruction two blocks over."

Although the IPS does not credit it, the three-block war is a U.S. concept. U.S. Marines commander Charles C. Krulak first articulated the idea during an October 1997 speech to the National Press Club, where he described three-block war as "the landscape in which the 21st century battle will be fought." It didn't take long for Canada to begin incorporating three-block war principles into its training methods and doctrines. An article in the Spring 2006 issue of the Canadian Army Journal said the ability to operate simultaneously in all parts of three-block war must be the Army's guiding vision. ...

"The idea of the three-block war now encapsulates that which we have done in Afghanistan, and what we will do elsewhere," Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie told a January 2006 conference titled "Beyond the Three-Block War," organized by the Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies. The CISS subsequently published a short book by the same name based on the proceedings. The publication reveals much about the hearts-and-minds campaign being waged against the Canadian public. "Beyond the Three-Block War" reproduces an essay written by students at Royal Military College who attempt to broaden the concept of the three-block war by introducing a fourth block, which "involves the government's communications strategy on the home front." Among other things, it "entails proactively conveying Canada's international intentions to the Canadian citizen." The activities carried out by the government and the military-industrial complex are intended to foster "a strong national consensus behind [Canada’s] foreign policy." Elsewhere, Canadian military strategists have defined this fourth block as the perception war for Canadian hearts and minds.

Canadian editorial support for the Afghan adventure has been near unanimous, even though public opinion is deeply divided. ...

The Royal Military College's Robert Adinall further highlights the importance of public perception and the media in counterinsurgency warfare. In a paper presented at the Ottawa-based Conference of Defence Association's eighth annual symposium, Adinall suggests that "the ubiquity of interactive media makes it part of the strategic environment. . . [Interactive media] is the technological and cultural transformation that makes the 21st century an era of true Perception War."

Canadian Forces Second Lieutenant Jessica M. Davis also sees the media as central to the perception war. Writing in August 2005 in the Canadian Military Journal, she states: "Indeed, influencing public opinion, both at home and abroad, is one of the most important aspects of modern warfare. . . . The media reaches not only the homes of citizens, but also their minds." In short, "The media is difficult to control, but it can be key in winning (or losing) an information war."

Again, such concepts are hardly new. In the 1960s, British counterinsurgency expert Sir Robert Thompson wrote in his classic study, Defeating Communist Insurgency, "The chief role of the foreign press [in a counterinsurgency campaign] will be to condition its own people."

In the U.S. Army counterinsurgency manual of 2006 — one of the models for the Canadian version currently under development — the question of the perception war is dealt with bluntly: "The media directly influence the attitude of key audiences toward counterinsurgents, their operations, and the opposing insurgency. This situation creates a war of perception between insurgents and counterinsurgents conducted continuously using the news media."

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