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Moving Towards Smart Power

Adm Mike Mullen
Adm Mike Mullen

With the recent operations undertaken by the U.S. in Afghanistan and previously in Iraq, military personnel, politicians and academics have extensively debated the right approach to waging a counterinsurgency campaign. In late 2009, President Obama announced that there would be a 30,000 troop surge in Afghanistan and back in 2007 President Bush launched a troop surge in Iraq which was largely credited for decreasing the level of violence.

Last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, speaking at Kansas State University, discussed the need for a “whole-of-government” approach to the counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan. Particularly, Mullen called for more input from “soft power” agencies, like the State Department.

“My fear, quite frankly, is that we aren’t moving fast enough in this regard,” he said. “U.S. foreign policy is still too dominated by the military, too dependent on the generals and admiral who lead our major overseas commands, and not enough on the State Department.”

What is soft power exactly? Dr. Ray Johnson, CTO of Lockheed Martin, defines soft power as follows:

According to Harvard’s Kennedy School dean Joseph Nye, soft power is the concept of ‘co-opting people rather than coercing them.’ Soft power, like hard power, is a means of obtaining desired outcomes. Together, they are seen as smart power, which involves making choices about what type of influence to use under varying circumstances. The legitimacy of national policies in the eyes of others enhances soft power, which is intrinsically linked to a nation’s culture, political ideals, and principles.

The increased use of soft power in counterinsurgency operations follows the path of current trends in International Relations theory, emphasizing a “whole-of-government” approach with multi-national support.

Soft power techniques include “hearts and minds” projects, such as building schools and medical facilities, and building up the capacity of the local government through training and aid.

As the U.S. looks to prepare for future conflicts, soft power will continue to play a central role in effective operations.

“It is hard to think of a future conflict or contingency in which we will not need an effective civil-military partnership — or “whole of government” approach,” said Anthony Cordesman, Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at CSIS. “If America is to deal with the challenges of the 21st Century, it must have integrated civil and military efforts and carry out truly integrated whole of government operations that cut across every element of government.”

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