The management of public perception plays a crucial role in national security imperatives. Effectively shaping the public perception is essential to maintain domestic support, deter potential adversaries, and ensure regional stability. Public perception management helps convey the importance of nuclear capabilities in safeguarding Pakistan’s sovereignty and deterring potential aggression.
By effectively communicating the rationale behind the program, the government aims to garner public support and maintain a sense of national unity. Public perception regarding Pakistan’s nuclear program is a national security imperative as it effectively conveys the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear program, both peaceful and military; nuclear safety, security, and command and control, which has always been an international concern, though for political purposes.
Pakistan’s nuclear program is driven by its national security concerns, particularly in response to perceived threats from India’s hegemonic ambitions. Negative perceptions regarding the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear program began to surface soon after it went nuclear in 1998. Despite implementing enhanced security measures, the international propaganda for Pakistan being an insecure nuclear weapon state continues to persist. While it is true that Pakistan faces many challenges as a developing country, the nation has demonstrated responsible behavior regarding its nuclear capabilities.
In contrast, the global perception of India’s nuclear program is shaped by various factors, including colossal politico-diplomatic factors. In the case of India, Ashley Tellis has played a significant role. Tellis, an eminent scholar and a strategic analyst, has been actively involved in shaping the discourse in the West around India’s nuclear policy. His recent remarks, which he made at the Idea Exchange Forum, suggesting “India may be compelled to test again, and when it does, it is in the US interest to avoid penalizing it,” carries significance against the backdrop of recent developments that suggest India’s inclination to resume nuclear testing, specifically in relation to the testing of a thermonuclear weapon. Such actions would undoubtedly constitute a flagrant violation of established norms about nuclear testing.
Impact of public perception on Pakistan’s nuclear program
Pakistan has faced challenges in managing its public perception on a global scale. Factors such as limited resources for public diplomacy, disinformation, and propaganda campaigns have contributed to a less favorable national and global perception. Negative perceptions or misconceptions about Pakistan’s nuclear program, such as concerns about the security of its nuclear arsenal, have been more prevalent in international discourse.
One specific example of this was observed during the visit of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi to Pakistan when rumors began circulating based on unnecessary controversy. It was perception management internally for political purposes, wherein the public was misguided about Grossi’s visit, which was portrayed as a government’s step to deny Pakistan of its nuclear arsenals willingly. However, the visit was carried out to inform the world about the peaceful nuclear program of Pakistan that needs international recognition. Hence, this event highlights that nationally, there is a lag in public knowledge related to peaceful nuclear uses, and this issue needs to be addressed as a priority.
The impact of this burgeoning perception gap has been significant for Pakistan. It has encountered difficulties gaining the same international recognition and support as India. This disparity affects Pakistan’s diplomatic efforts, access to nuclear technology and resources, and potential collaboration on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The gap in public perception also hinders Pakistan’s ability to counter false narratives and effectively communicate its national security imperatives to the global audience.
Managing public perception
Addressing this perception gap requires concerted efforts by relevant institutions like the National Command Authority (NCA), Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA), Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, and Strategic Export Control Division to engage in public diplomacy on a global scale. It involves effectively communicating Pakistan’s commitment to nuclear safety and security.
In addition, managing public perception is vital to counter external pressures and international scrutiny. By actively managing the global perception, Pakistan can articulate its security concerns, highlight its commitment to responsible nuclear practices, and defend its right to maintain credible deterrence. The national security imperative necessitates that Pakistan effectively communicates the rationale behind its nuclear program and the prospects of peaceful uses of nuclear energy to its people.
Managing public perception involves disseminating accurate information, educating the public about the defensive nature of Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities, and addressing any misconceptions or concerns that may arise. By doing so, it aims to instill a sense of pride, confidence, and reassurance in the population regarding the country’s ability to safeguard its sovereignty and deter potential threats.
Read more: All eyes on Pakistan’s nuclear program
The writer is a researcher at Strategic Vision Institute (SVI), Islamabad. She tweets @ZukhrufAmin. The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.