Why I write this piece – firstly , to analyze how much public relations (PR) would a member of a military institution require in a country like ours and, secondly; to raise a question how much open his institution should be with the public ? Not much would be my answer for both. I will not further elaborate the value of civil military relationship as theorists like Samuel P. Huntington , Morris Janowitz , Charles Moskos and Rebecca L. Schiff have prescribed and the political pundits on a nation like ours including men in uniform justify their conduct, in reference to the overstated PR in recent days which eventually degrade the domineering silhouette of a national security architect .
The concept of good public relation is not new to Nepal army. In short, we can understand Nepal Army’s bed rock foundation that was created due to an ideal civil military relations, which Great King Prithvi Narayan Shah had established by raising initial five armed companies to pursue his daunting unification campaign signing in with his small kingdom’s (Gorkha) people initially. PR maintained at that time was on high tide, which can closely linked with the Clausewitzian 18th century concept of the trinity – army, government (King’s rule) and the people where the noble (single) ambition was deeply molded with the national strategy, necessitated by contextual political aim and objective to apply national means to achieve the ends –(Clausewitz ‘s theory ) as “war was a continuation of the political aim” – to build a Greater Nepal free from any expansionist’s aggression. His operation secret was never understated.
Down the road, with the establishment of Directorate of Public Relation and Information at NAHQ and formations and units under its command were directed to uphold good Civil military relations especially by engaging media with sound PR and furnish people the “should know” “information as per the government’s RTI ( Right to Information Act )rule , but the task of PR remained all time challenging for keeping a balance in information sharing as well in safeguarding operation secrecy (OPSEC). In each commands of every level, information officer ( PR ) is designated with this purpose to attentuate NA’s public relation outreach and maintain Opsec. Over the years, for media, the NA’s PR window became increasingly essential at home especially where NA operations drew attention in diverse situations. At times, the nature of information that needed to be protected given out in plain conveyed odd imagining there lacked the stringent guidelines.
Why Secret ?
The national interest of any nation must be heartfelt by the public. So as to secure and sustain her national interest all the elements of national power must be strengthened – with a synergy of a combined work force galvanized with the available national resources. Hence, military commanders choose to stay outside the room where other features of national elements – such as political, social and even diplomatic and economical aspects are discussed openly. As in many countries qualifying military commander’s virtual conference without own dedicated internet network would be implausible. Conferencing through civilian apps like Zoom meeting , or Google meet or any others like this is hosted by a third party server which can jeopardize the security of data of the computer on which it is installed, or even potentially on other computers on the same network, experts view.
A highly structured picture of military force can be obtained if all dots are deductively connected from available open source, including the weapon and logistical vintage. A careless handling of social media by uniformed men would contribute to the divulgence of sensitive information of the command and their activities. It would be unfortunate if the media have the access to depth news on military conferences, its agenda and even minutes of closed doors.
Ideology and political system
Nepal’s political system has undergone dramatic structural change since 2006, and republican set up is fostered after completing the elections in three tiers, federal, provincial and at local level, and with the promulgation of constitution in year 2015. With this republican ranking the commanders of military units deployed across the nation also have appeared to have a cohesive civil military platform at each of their levels they command and other ranks do demonstrate response to new PR scenario.
Maintaining a cordial relationship with civilians is paramount but All Ranks should maintain a distance from civilians in cases other than those extremely necessary. For that reason, the units are regularly rotated for familiarization of their new duties, operational environment, and for maintaining a distance with local folks. The unit commanders also require maintaining only a requisite relationship with the local officials with restricted openness.
In China, the PLA has always been a political force to some degree, the advocates of professionalism assert that PLA is most concerned with advancing its own institutional interests to retain autonomy but develop as a modern fighting force and are not found to have a transparent PR (reference Ladakh casualty ). In Indian Armed Forces, the regulation for using social media has been strictly imposed and All Ranks comply with that otherwise action is taken.
This writer remembers a day when one Norwegian colleague raised eyebrow fearing interception and untoward consequences when I did mention “name of a banned militia outfit” while talking over the landline phone in plain with my native colleague during my tour of duty in UN peace keeping operation milieu. No secret information was passed through facsimile.
We do remember many instances where officers relied on their high frequency radio sets communication to discuss operational matters. In the contrary, these days we find the instructor group of local outdoor exercises do use either mobile phones during sensitive tactical outdoors exercises, carry out conference in Google meet or Zoom which is perhaps controlled by a third person server.
This type of unconventional gesture will erode military professionalism which ultimately will cost the lives of a soldier in the time of conflict. A glaring example had happened in year 2005 during Maoist insurgency, when a section deployed in NTC tower in Dang were ambushed resulting a ninety percent casualty while returning from a local village after buying their daily need of fresh vegetables.
In my knowledge, it happened due to unknown PR , lapse in a tactical route out and route in, and the plain transmission in the radio which had given advantage to the insurgents. With the advent of high-speed internet connectivity over mobile phones now, which All Ranks make use social media there is a chance of extensive divulgence of information which they are not supposed to divulge.
Be a military
If one has time to monitor one can collect a long list of information about NA through open source. Military commanders should make a note of consequences of easy access of media to many of the irrelevant details for public and the unrestricted use of social media by All Ranks contributing the same.
While being familiar and transparent to public, one should note that it is essential to keep security in mind, but to be perfect in duties by following cyber policy of the government. Military authorities must be aware that over familiarization in social media and the breach of military communication codes and surplus openness will not do well for any security institution. For military, wining the trust, respect, support and confidence of the people is a great challenge, for which the senior leaders must pay attention to enhancing the knowledge and importance of PR by balancing operation security in mind.