Smart Power Equalizer (part I): finding the mix

This post is the first of a multi-part series about the design and application of “smart power.”

Counterinsurgency, much like international relations, is about the right amount of power in just the right places. However, in the macro scheme of international relations, there is room for fudging, and fine grain controls aren’t as necessary. Counterinsurgency requires greater finesse to be successful.

Bridging the ideas of hard power (generally kinetic use of force) with soft power (non-coercive persuasion), we arrive at the somewhat new and fashionable term Smart Power (side note: see the Smart Power Blog for one of the few open discussions on the topic under the banner “smart power”). To counterinsurgency, this isn’t new.

Up until a few years ago, conventional wisdom still held that winning wars against non-state actors could be calibrated by looking at the elements of national power. State opponents didn’t necessarily need all of the pressures brought to bear as, since the 19th Century, victory could be achieved by capturing the capital city. Non-state actors, however, didn’t often have such a convenient defined geo-political heart and so we looked at the broader spectrum of our elements of power that could be brought to bear. Originally this was DIME (diplomacy, information, military, and economics), somewhat recently it was expanded to the awkward acronym MIDLIFE (military, information, diplomacy, law enforcement, intelligence, finance, and economics).

However, this emphasized our powers and our perceptions of their importance without considering the pressure points of our opponents. Recently we this has started to manifest itself in questions about whether there are different engines of insurgencies (“Maoist” versus “Religious”) and how we might craft different responses.

The Equalizer graphic above is one way I submit we can look at the application of power (apparently the idea came to me after using my iTunes equalizer…) against insurgencies. Let me give a quick walk-through before continuing.

The pre-amp, the device to smooth out power before amplification, is used here as the macro level of coercion. The pre-amp sets the general “tone” of everything that follows. Each slider to the right moves independent of the other but, like when listening to different kinds of music, there is an optimum combination that varies from genre to genre or perhaps song to song. The “20th Century Traditional” settings above are my quick thoughts on what optimum COIN looked like (and perhaps arguably what it continues to look like in parts of Iraq).

What does “fully aware” smart power look like? Below is my quick rendering of how multidimensional power is brought to bear in COIN in HOA. Note the emphasis isn’t on American perceptions of power or the mirrors of America, as in MIDLIFE, but on local sources of power. Coercion is only slight advanced, as is Military and Information. Diplomacy, expanded here to include influencing outside actors more than the target agents, is somewhat retarded. Law Enforcement is neutral because of the “militant” or endemic “warrior” characteristics. Intelligence is of course advanced, as is Finance. However, there is more focus on Ideology (includes religion, generally but not exclusively of the target but also on outside actors), Politics (in the Area of Operation of the target, not just the AO of our counteractivity), and Society (of the target). Culture is cranked up because of the how power is gained and kept in the Horn of Africa.

Smart Power: complex tribal, religious, warrior culture

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3 thoughts on “Smart Power Equalizer (part I): finding the mix

  1. It’s an interesting graph–I see you used the iTunes equalizer skin.You’ve captured here what’s been pretty absent in news coverage and policy debates–“smart power” as primarily ideological, political, and cultural force.

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