MÂRZAC: “The national interest is to have the necessary capacities to provide measures to combat the foreign hostile influence.”
Interview with Elena Mârzac, CID NATO Executive Director
– The North Atlantic Organization is used as a scarecrow in Moldova. The stereotype that where NATO is, there is war is still present in our society. How do you deal with these perceptions?
During the 25 years of cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and NATO, the subject of this partnership, as well as the image of NATO in our country, has been strongly politicized. The perception of our citizens about NATO is based on the rudimentary Soviet principles, strongly fueled by hostile information received from outside. Because the society was divided on geopolitical criteria, misinformation and lack of objective information, we could conclude that although the national interest is officially announced as European integration and international cooperation, including with NATO, the support of this direction is either decreasing or it is constant (it does not exceed 30%).
The NATO Information and Documentation Center of the Republic of Moldova (NATO CID) being a non-governmental organization and whose main objective is to promote Euro-Atlantic values and principles in the Republic of Moldova and promote cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and NATO, has become a communication platform for the representatives NATO member and partner countries, the governmental, associative and academic sectors. CID NATO actively promotes cooperation between the Republic of Moldova and NATO, supporting Moldova’s participation in NATO projects, activities and missions. Through the implemented projects, CID has extended the degree of knowledge among the media representatives of the problems related to the security that the Republic of Moldova faces and the significance of the partnership between NATO and the Republic of Moldova. Most important, however, is that NATO CID has offered the opportunity to better understand the current process of practical cooperation between NATO and Moldova, being an instrument for promoting dialogue and constructive debates on the need for such cooperation.
However, the activities of such an information center are not enough to change the perceptions of the citizens. At the same time, it is absolutely necessary to introduce on the public agenda the topics of national security, foreign policy and defense, to increase the collaboration with various international organizations, to ensure transparency in the decision-making process by creating an adequate framework for public debates in the field and to ensure an efficient communication. between all the actors involved in this topic.
-Our information space is intoxicated with myths about NATO that are hard-fed by the Russian Federation through TV channels that are broadcast on the territory of the Republic of Moldova, of the local media that is a political party and especially through politicians, active supporters of the Kremlin. How real is it in these circumstances to influence society’s opinion about our country’s partnership with NATO?
Indeed, NATO is one of the main actors targeted by the Russian information war whose message is mainly based on the following phrases:
– presenting NATO as an aggressive US-led military structure, leading to a warrior and expansionist policy;
– NATO efforts are aimed at artificially maintaining the confrontation with Russia and deepening the divide between the former Soviet states;
– The Republic of Moldova is forced to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization;
– the cooperation with NATO contravenes the neutrality status of the Republic of Moldova;
– European integration also implies membership of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Citizens’ opinion can be influenced by direct, permanent communication, oriented towards continuous explanation and engagement, understanding of local security needs and perceptions of our citizens regarding certain topics related to security assurance.
-What are the current challenges for strategic communication in the Republic of Moldova?
Government institutions in the Republic of Moldova, including those belonging to the security and defense system, are facing strategic level challenges in the field of communication efforts management. To act, in the field of communication, at the strategic level, means to plan activities aiming to achieve effects starting from strategic objectives.
Following an analysis of communication practices in the institutions of the defense and security system in the Republic of Moldova, we could conclude that lack of expertise and financial resources would be some of the main causes of inefficiency of strategic communication, insufficient coordination. Moreover, the failure of the legislation and the random implementation of the existing strategies of the institutions mean that their vision does not change or is not heard by the political decision makers.
Among the basic challenges for strategic communication we could also include: the lack of strategic vision on ensuring national security (for example, different views on national security objectives or the divergent messages of central authorities) and the existence of certain limits in the inter-institutional cooperation in the field of national security and defense; The lack of plans / programs / strategies of communication at national or interdepartmental level in areas such as foreign, defense and security policy (the communication takes place ad-hoc without a synergy between the relevant public information institutions, as a result the principle of “Unique voices” is forgotten; Limited collaboration with civil society, academic environment on security and defense issues, as well as the lack of interest in developing and promoting a common message of the relevant institutions; Lack of monitoring and evaluation of the results of the security and defense reform, the perceptions of the citizens and the impact of the message transmitted; Lack of interest and skepticism among the population and media representatives for security and defense issues; The information environment is conducive to the presence of external and internal propaganda; The absence of a mechanism for monitoring and evaluating the results of the security and defense reform (as a result there are no analyzes regarding the impact of the message transmitted to citizens).
-Do you think Moldova is ready to face new hybrid threats? It is a serious problem that all countries of the world are facing, given the fact that fake news, misinformation and propaganda are attacking the democracy of these states.
The findings made for five years regarding the assessment of the risks and threats to the national security of the Republic of Moldova are still valid, as the escalation of the situation in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimeea have created a totally different regional security environment, and the hybrid war in the immediate vicinity of Moldova affects and deepens national vulnerabilities. Thus, the hostile attitude of the big actors in the region, such as the Russian Federation, towards the development vector or foreign policy of the CIS countries became evident.
In the context of such a conjunction, the different types of external pressure and indirect aggression, in common with internal factors / vulnerabilities: unregulated conflict, low index of good governance, tendency to escalate a post-electoral crisis, etc., limit the capacities to implement some adequate policies to ensure the state development vector, aggravating the national security status of the Republic of Moldova.
Propaganda and external misinformation have become a tool of weakening national and regional security and stability through the use of traditional (press, radio, TV, film) and more recent (Internet, social media) tools. Technologies have led to a new qualitative environment of operations – influences, beliefs and, more generally, mass manipulation. Overall, it presses national security and defense, self-government and the implementation of national interests both in domestic and foreign affairs.
It is of national interest to have the necessary capabilities to provide measures to combat the hostile foreign influence. The development of countermeasures and the dissemination of the narratives of the “own state” must be a joint effort, requiring the active involvement of all state institutions and civil society. The efficient implementation and institutionalization of strategic communication would be a solution to counter the above mentioned hybrid threats.
-Two years have passed since the opening of the NATO Liaison Office in Chisinau. On the day it happened, there were several hostile reactions.
It is important to mention that the request for the opening of the NATO Liaison Office (NATO’s diplomatic representation in the Republic of Moldova), was received from the Government of the Republic of Moldova and ratified by the Parliament. In general, the partnership of the Republic of Moldova with the Alliance is based on the demand principle. During the activity period in our country, the Office continues to support NATO assistance projects and actively engages with our public, promote NATO programs and their implementation and also the objective information about the organization.
Of course there are a lot of misinformation about running. Even on the opening day, the Socialist Party of the Republic of Moldova, organized a protest with the idea that “this decision of the government has violated the Constitution and the people of the Republic of Moldova ”. This false information continues to persist in the press: NATO has a secret military base in Chisinau, that in a neutral country the NATO representative cannot be opened.
-Who should explain to the population the value and true goals of NATO in Moldova?
Communication and explanation is the obligation of democratic governments to gain competence and credibility in establishing the legitimacy of the importance of long-term decisions. In this sense, the governmental actors, by using the governmental instruments: political leaders / decision makers, strategic actors, communicators, official diplomacy, public affairs, media operations, public-private partnerships (programs, projects), military diplomacy, internal communications, public relations between departments should play the most important role. At the same time, establishing and strengthening partnerships between state institutions and civil society, including non-governmental organizations, academic enviroment and the media, could strengthen the unique message transmitted to citizens and gain positive support for the Moldova-NATO partnership.