Narrative Led Operations

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A 77-page paper on the role of information operations in international relations, by Thomas Elkjer Nissen, MA, Royal Danish Defence College.


The concept of a strategic narrative has begun to resonate in International relations, communications and war studies, although with an emphasis on narratives role in Strategic Communication. Most of the discussions are communication centric and discusses narratives in the framework of Strategic Communication, Information Operations, Psychological Operations and to some extent Public Affairs (which mostly have been concerned with politics and domestic public consent) to minimize the so called "say – do gap" and winning the "Battle of Narratives". Unfortunately on the premise that it is the communications that should be better planned, synchronized and coordinated in order to effectively employ the narrative – not the other way around, that it is the operations in their entirety that needs to be based on the narrative.

Little has therefore yet been discussed when it comes to the operationalization of narratives in military operations at the operational and tactical level and how a narrative can inform, and even direct, the Operational Planning Process and the conduct of operations in the future. The latter discussion must be at the heart of the issue for it to add any value to current military operations heavily influenced by the "fourth operational factor" – information– and the demands put on all operations to be transparent and legitimate in the eyes of the media, domestic, international or in theatre based audiences - all actors that continuously scrutinize our actions and seek to make sense of them in the framework of narratives in the information environment. At the end of the day perception of our actions will inform not just the domestic opinion but also potential protagonists and the undecided population’s behaviour - and human behaviour is what contemporary conflicts are all about.