Small State Narratives in International Operations

FFI-Report 2020

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20/02310

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978-82-464-3318-9

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Vårin Alme Torbjørn Kveberg
Over the last few years, foreign influence has become an increasing concern for Western states. In confronting this challenge, many states, including Norway, look to lessons learned from the international operations of the recent era, and to concepts such as strategic communication, narrative, and the battle for the population. This report combines small state theory with narrative theory and examines whether this eclectic framework can explain the Norwegian narrative for the international operation in Afghanistan. Our aim is to gain insight into small states’ possibilities and limitations in the defence against foreign influence. A narrative is, in short, a frame for interpretation, which sorts events and actors in time and space. In the narrative, some things are included and others excluded – some things understood causally, and others not so. A narrative is an expression of a world view. State security narratives and state narratives are about how states see themselves in the world and how they seek to portray themselves in a certain way in order to support their own policies. Anders Kjølberg and Tore Nyhamar’s (2011) model for small states in international operations illustrates how the small state at all times partakes in three different but all the while nested arenas (the institution arena, the domestic arena, and the deployment arena). This nested situation may force the small state to make “apparently sub-optimal choices” if one arena is viewed in isolation. From the narrative theory, we can deduce a set of criteria for a good narrative (clarity, coherence, and resonance). The report treats deviation from these criteria as narrative breaches. The narrative framework indicates that a small state in an international operation has a limited room of possibilities in forming, conveying, and maintaining a strategic narrative, owing to its nested game situation. For the purpose of empirical analysis, we can summarize certain theoretical expectations: i) choices that undermine clarity, coherence, and/or resonance occur, ii) choices that undermine clarity, coherence, and/or resonance can be explained by taking into account the nested game situation of the small state, and iii) when the nested game situation leads to conflict between the arenas, the priority is often clarity, coherence and/or resonance on the institution arena first, the domestic arena second, and the deployment arena third. The report investigates these expectations through an analysis of examples of narrative breaches during the Afghanistan mission. The analysis finds support for all three. The findings show that small states’ main interest in international operations are tied to the institution arena, rather than the deployment arena, making it difficult to maintain a good narrative on all arenas, and forcing the state to prioritize and balance between them. In most cases, the small state will prioritize avoiding narrative breaches on the institution arena and the domestic arena – but given that the arenas are nested, breaches on one arena can lead to breaches on another. The small states’ chances of forming, conveying, and maintaining a strategic narrative in an international operation are limited. It requires a consciousness of one’s own narrative and insight regarding one’s own vulnerabilities, priorities, and interests. At the same time, the small state must ask itself to what degree keeping a good narrative is always preferable. As this report will illustrate, the small state can sometimes be best served with “apparently sub-optimal choices”, i.e. the occurrence of narrative breaches.

About publication

Report number

20/02310

ISBN

978-82-464-3318-9

Format

PDF-document

Size

814.2 KB

Download publication

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