Effective strategic narratives? Italian public opinion and military operations in Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon

Oddly enough, in the new Italian White Paper there are no references to the concept of strategic narratives. On the contrary, many official documents and statements by decision makers have recently emphasized the role played by strategic narratives to enhance the perceived legitimacy of military operations.

Venus in Arms has already addressed the concept of “strategic narratives”, defined by Freedman as: “compelling storylines which can explain events convincingly and from which inferences can be drawn”

Today, we are pleased to present the new paper by Fabrizio Coticchia: “Effective strategic narratives? Italian public opinion and military operations in Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon” (here, gated). The paper has been published in the first issue of the new Italian Political Science Review/Rivista Italiana di Scienza PoliticaIPSR/RISP (now published by Cambridge University Press) provides three fully English-language issues per year. Here additional info on the Journal.

Here below the abstract of the paper:

Public attitudes are greatly shaped by the cohesiveness of the strategic narratives crafted by policy-makers in framing the national involvement in war. The literature has recently devoted growing attention toward the features that define successful strategic narratives, such as a consistent set of objectives, convincing cause–effect chains, as well as credible promises of success. This paper provides an original framework for ‘effective strategic narratives’ for the case of Italy. The military operations undertaken by Italian armed forces in Iraq, Lebanon, and Libya represent the cases through which the framework is assessed. Drawing on content and discourse analysis of political debates and data provided by public opinion surveys, this paper explores the nature of the strategic narratives and their effectiveness.

The author has already addressed the issue of narratives, public opinion and Italian military operations, locking at the case of Afghanistan (here)

The current paper presents two main implications.

First, strategic narratives should not be realistic, but rather compelling. A certain ambiguity of the storyline could be sometimes inevitable due to the gap between long-established values (such as peace or humanitarianism, which are very difficult to modify) and a risky military environment, where those beliefs may appears as extraneous. In these cases, an integrated communication strategy, aimed at preparing the public opinion and avoiding counter-productive rosy pictures, could be crucial to avoid a collapse of approval towards the intervention.

Second, as already tested by literature, casualty aversion per se does not determine the fall of public support. However, mounting insecurity on the ground requires greater flexibility of the narrative to adapt and transform. In this case, a negative narrative dominance (i.e., a more persuasive counter-narrative) could play a fundamental role in hindering the plot’s effectiveness.

ViA will provide additional posts in the near future regarding strategic narratives and other security issues (e.g., the F35). Stay tuned.

 

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