Since the end of the Cold War, U.S. military interventions in the Gulf War, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq have left most observers without doubt that the U.S. and her allies would triumph against any plausible adversary in the event of a full-scale, conventional war. Whilst there are certainly no misgivings to the incredible military power of the United States, the contemporary characteristics of our mutual enemies and the types of warfare in which we are engaging are anything but conventional.

Objectively, the ousting of the Taliban government and the toppling of Saddam’s regime were never going to be a match for the superior military power of the U.S. One of the most challenging aspects of these conflicts in the years proceeding, however, has been the balancing of coercive diplomacy and this unquestionable firepower with the soft policies that are essential to the success of counterinsurgency warfare. Too much of either will negate the effectiveness of both, but both are essential to this contemporary conflict and must be implemented in order to achieve strategic success.

Strategic communication is an example of soft policy and has been defined as those “efforts to understand and engage key audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of [government] interests, policies, and objectives through the use of coordinated programs, plans, themes, messages, and products synchronized with the actions of all instruments of national power.” It is a “whole-of-government approach, driven by interagency processes and integration that are focused upon effectively communicating national strategy.” Strategic communication objectives must be transmitted to a key audience via a medium, and no other medium has ever existed with a greater targeting power than that of social media.

In today’s globalised and technologically advanced world, social media is a new battlespace that the military must confront and dominate for a number of critical reasons. When a developed and democratic nation commits its military resources to manage a problem there is undoubtedly a high level of accountability that must accompany any such force mobilisation. Whether it be war-like operational service or peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, the military needs to actively engage social media outlets to distribute its strategic messages and generate public support for its actions. An excellent example of this was the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) utilisation of Facebook to deliver its soft political objectives during Operation Protective Edge. The IDF and Israel are truly well-accustomed to Hamas’s manipulation of mainstream media for its own political objectives; failing to provide a counter-attack would have been detrimental to its own strategic endstate.