Within the absolute requirements of operational security – and sometimes we may need to really push the boundaries of this out as far as we can – we must be as open and transparent as we can possibly be.
There are three lines of attack.
First, we must allow, encourage and facilitate the media to have every opportunity to report fairly and positively on us and on our activities. This requires positive and proactive, not defensive and reactive, engagement with the media.
The benefits are great. The insurgents – Hamas in particular – put a human face on war with spectacular success. We must do the same. We must let the field soldiers speak with sand on their boots and with a sweat- and dirt-covered human face.
Second, we must show the media in a way they cannot misunderstand the abuses perpetrated by the enemy. Our own units must identify such enemy abuses, and make statements about them, backed up by the hardest available evidence.
Every front line unit must be trained and equipped to collect this information in the same way as they are trained and equipped to collect intelligence on enemy operations.
Third, we must be proactive in preventing adverse media stories about our own units. I am not talking here about distorting the facts. We must look ahead and identify potential problem areas, preferably before they arise. Be absolutely sure of the facts, and ensure they are pushed rapidly to the media.
Where real problems do occur, where our troops are in the wrong, we should if possible say so as quickly as we can, driving the agenda, preempting the shrieks of the enemy or of the UN.
Where there is genuine concern over our own troops’ conduct or action, we must not hesitate to conduct enquiries and investigations and if necessary bring people to justice. As far as possible, these processes should also be open and transparent.
But this involves of course yet another major complication, because we must not confuse mistakes made as a genuine consequence of the chaos and fog of war with deliberate defiance of rules of engagement and the laws of war.
Mistakes are not war crimes. We must also know how to explain this.
Most armies do some of these things already. But what we really need is a radical reevaluation of the effort required to achieve the impact we need. This requires a mindset that is hard to find in most armies. It requires extra resources and a shift in priorities. And it significantly complicates already highly complex military operations.
These steps are in essential to countering the strategies and tactics of the insurgents we are faced with today in Gaza, Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
They are also essential in defending our military policies and objectives – and in defending our brave servicemen and women who are prepared to put their lives on the line to defend their countries.