Sunday 01 February 2015

Strategic leaders need an in-depth understanding of the tools of national power and the ways they may be used to implement policies. Implementation at the national level typically involves diplomacy, economics, military and information power. Of these four instruments, information is the least well understood, but is also perhaps the most useful for nations such as the UAE. National information power is the use of language, images, data and technology as a strategic tool to shape perceptions within a foreign or domestic public to achieve national interests; the information instrument can both inform and influence.

The effort of a government to inform people focuses on providing messages to global audiences that describe its objectives or plans. Providing credible and accurate information can be the best means of countering false or misleading information disseminated by others. Maintaining transparency and credibility is paramount in such efforts. When governments influence they seek to guide selected audiences’ behaviors to support their national objectives. By influencing, governments can dissuade, strengthen relationships and encourage cooperation among foreign partner institutions and key leaders. Although intelligence collection is not traditionally thought of as an information activity, information from intelligence can inform and influence in very powerful ways.

Media relations (working with media for the purpose of informing the public), public relations (managing the spread of information between an organization and the public), and public diplomacy (overt international public information activities by governments) are all designed to promote foreign policy objectives by seeking to inform and influence foreign audiences. They are used to engage such audiences to create, strengthen, or preserve conditions favorable for the advancement of government interests through the use of coordinated messaging, ideally synchronized with the use of other instruments of national power. Information superiority, the advantage derived from the ability to process and disseminate information while exploiting or denying another’s ability to do so – or just doing it quicker - can be decisive during crisis. Disinformation and propaganda may also be used by some nations.

There are challenges to using information effectively. Today, the ability to access, collect, and transmit information is vastly decentralized, down to every individual with a phone, and technology is increasingly smaller, faster, and cheaper. Consequently, the ability for nations to manage and verify information is fraught with difficulty, and it will not get any easier. The shear amount of information available today increasingly complicates government efforts. Nations that attempt to control information may find themselves overwhelmed, since using information is so common and the capacity to communicate continues to increase exponentially. So, smart information strategies focus on essential themes and critical issues.

Still, national identity, communicated effectively, can generate significant national information power, thus influence. The UAE has a strong international identity even in these globalized times and the UAE’s cultural influence plays an important role in exerting its power. The UAE is distinguished by qualities (such as Unity, Independence, Charity and Faithfulness), which inspire and reassure many people and other nations. For a nation that is not likely to use military force unilaterally, which has great wealth but relatively limited economic leverage, and which primarily acts diplomatically through multilaterals, information power is a tremendously useful tool. There is no doubt that the UAE can inspire other nations by setting the example or by taking a stance aligned with its high cultural values. Because of its superb reputation and entities such as Abu Dhabi’s TwoFour54, national information power by the UAE can influence and even enhance the impact of other instruments; thus information power may be the most valuable of all methods for this nation to achieve its national goals.