Experts in strategic communications from around the world gathered at King’s College London on March 8 to discuss the mounting challenges ahead for practitioners. “Strategic Communications in the 21st Century: Turbulence, Strategy and Tactics”, was the first joint-conference hosted by King’s Centre for Strategic Communications (KCSC)  and NATO’s Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence based in Riga, Latvia. It opened on the day the news was dominated by another major leak of US intelligence files.  The first panel of three King’s academics attempted to put events into perspective.

At the opening of the event director Janis Sarts said, “We were delighted to co-host the conference. We provide KCSC with the opportunity to interact with real life operational challenges, and we benefit from their academic expertise. It is a reciprocal relationship and it’s a strengthening one.” 

“It’s increasingly difficult for governments and multinational organisations to deal with the number of voices and amount of data surrounding every event.  Anybody with a smartphone can attempt to challenge any narrative.  We are asking how best to communicate in that environment, win trust and influence the debate,” said Dr Neville Bolt, KCSC Director.

A high-powered panel of three King’s academics opened the conference on the day the news was dominated by another major leak of US intelligence files. Professor Sir David Omand, a former head of GCHQ, Professor Thomas Rid, an expert in cyber security, and Professor Sir Lawrence Freedman, Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s, reminded people that deception and espionage have always been features of warfare but new technology has changed the environment.

Strategic communications is a rapidly developing field.  It involves all aspects of communication including information warfare, cyber, propaganda, media operations and diplomacy.

Senior defence journalists, Deborah Haynes of The Times and Alistair Bunkall from Sky News, chaired two of the panels, bringing their own insights to proceedings.The conference attracted a diverse range of expertise. Baroness Verma, a Conservative peer and former DFID minister, provided a political perspective. James P. Farwell, who has advised on strategic communications at the Presidential level, came from the US to contribute.

Concerns about Russia dominated. Carmen Romero, NATO’s Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy, told the conference, “We cannot, and will not, play by the same rules … we will continue to rebut Russian propaganda with the truth.”

KCSC is one of the world’s leading academic centres, based in the War Studies Department and School of Security Studies, and is rapidly developing its reputation.  An MA course launched this academic year with plans to extend it into a full Masters programme next year.

The relationship was later celebrated with a reception in the House of Lords.