I should have been on that trip on behalf of the Wardman Wire . Instead I found myself in a nearly built new wing of a Nottinghamshire Hospital, chattering with other patients about politics and NATO.
An objective for the Atlantic Council was to encourage an already quite wide ranging public debate about their “Strategic Concept” to include bloggers and independent commentators. It was also a “first” for NATO in attempting to engage new media commentators. Roughly, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, and the changes in role that have developed since, NATO is asking the question:
“Who are we? Where are we? What are we doing here?”.
I’ll write about the Strategic Concept later, but for now I’ve a few comments on the bloggers’ briefing itself, which was organised by the Atlantic Council UK.
First, a disclosure: I did a small project earlier this year as a consultant/adviser to the Atlantic Council UK in setting up this process and visit.
NATO is – by its nature as an organisation which provides a platform for political, military and security co-operation over timespans of decades or even generations – necessarily conservative (with a small c), and highly security-conscious.
The visit was under the auspices of Dr Stephanie Babst, NATO’s Assistant Deputy Secretary General for Public Diplomacy. As others have commented, it is a new departure for an essentially conservative organisation to engage with a field of commentators as varied – and as changeable – as bloggers.
NATO’s “Strategic Concept” incorporates more than just straight politics. The role of NATO has developed to include providing infrastructure for peace-making / peace-keeping, support for humanitarian relief, activities touching on civilian policing, and providing resources for other organisations (such as the European Union) seeking to develop their own role. Also, the NATO has moved beyond its traditional area of operations. Some of these have developed on an ad-hoc basis, or as a result of NATO being the only organisation capable of meeting certain requirements.
Therefore commentators from other niches within the blogosphere may be just as interested as those of us who focus mainly upon politics. A change in the Strategic Concept can have an effect on, and therefore needs to incorporate insights from, for example:
- The world of politics.
- Military and weapons specialists.
- Policy wonks, and think tankers.
- Development organisations.
- Human Rights campaigners.
- Communities which may be affected by changes in the military – consider the impact on Yeovil if there was a smaller (or larger) role for British made helicopters.
- Traditional troop towns, and their local politicians.
- Expatriate communities in the UK from countries where NATO operates.
All of these niches and communities have their bloggers, and have different thoughts and viewpoints to bring to the conversation. All will all ask highly targeted questions based on their own knowledge, and the host organisation needs to have the relevant people available to engage with the different questions.
Further, bloggers are also not always as familiar with normal “rules of engagement” with the media as professional journalists, and we hate being either “bullshitted” on the one hand, or “stonewalled” on the other.
NATO also needed to be sure that it would be a useful exercise to host the visit, and to appreciate the more informal way which bloggers operate, compared to more traditional media outlets.
Combine all of those, and there is plenty of potential for misunderstandings, wheels to fall off, and thereby the prospect of future repeat visits to be derailed.
I hope to do a more detailed case study of the project later.
Bloggers who attended:
Luke Akehurst (lukeakehurst.blogspot.com)
Martin Butcher (natomonitor.blogspot.com)
David Cole (davecole.org)
Mehdi Hasan (newstatesman.com)
Sunny Hundal (liberalconspiracy.org)
Zohra Moosa (thefword.org.uk)
James O’Malley (poddelusion.co.uk)
Will Straw (leftfootforward.org)
Bloggers who have commented:
Sunny Hundal: NATO hosts first ever briefing for bloggers
Will Straw: NATO: We won’t bugger off
Mehdi Hasan: My conversation with a Nato brigadier-general
Luke Akehurst: NATO holds bloggers briefing