Counterinsurgency,  Public Diplomacy

Smart Power Equalizer, Part III: a Matter of Time

This is part III of a series of posts on my Smart Power Equalizer model. Part I introduced the model, graphically represented by an adaptation of the iTunes equalizer. Part II discussed the need to disaggregate the enemy (or simply “opponent”) to understand and contextualize the opponents. This post, part III, looks at Smart Power and Time.

Smart Power is the intelligent mixture of methods of influence, from bullets and ideas, to achieve a particular behavior, or to avoid action. It is the application of techniques to affect the will to act in some way. Smart Power is, in reality, nothing new and yet because policymakers, and academics, have become so singularly focused it appears to be novel. What the model brings is a realization and awareness of the variety of tools available to policymakers. Smart Power replaces the linear trade-off model of hard power, or the threat or actual use of bullets (or “kinetic” force) or other armed military coercive force, at one end of the scale and soft power, or the power of ideas, at the other. These are not binary choices but varying levels of application, just like the sliders on an equalizer. You can move each slider independently, but selecting the right combination takes time, talent, and often trial and error, to achieve the best effect. 

Overly simplifying the problem results in an overly simplified model

Effective policies must not be based on an either-or application of hard or soft power. This seesaw approach of increasing hard power improperly imagines a corresponding decrease in soft power. But, this does not fit in a world where offensive and defensive action can, and often must, take place across multiple domains. The enemy is not a singular monolithic bloc and there is not one single theater of operation, conceptual or physical.

The parallelism of Smart Power puts it between Grand Strategy and Tactics at the level of Operational Art, a concept that is, unfortunately, missing from traditional diplomacy and inter-“state” activity. Smart Power should have a two-way relationship with Grand Strategy by helping frame desired outcomes. This is also true at the operational and tactical levels.

Too often we only think about isolated time slices in the application of power. The suitcase nuke in NYC rightly immediate focus on finding and disarming the device, but this can’t be divorced from the larger longer term reality. Attention must be put on the broader networks of facilitation that can be attacked and confronted (sometimes with kinetic force, sometimes and often not).

Smart Power Equalizer - WMD(ME)

To show how Smart Power can be used, consider this counter-threat model against a terrorist group about to deploy a nuclear device. It is likely this imminent threat requires immediate military action, as depicted in the “pre-set” of Imminent WMD (ME) (with the clear implication that other groups and situations may require different emphasis). Remember Smart Power doesn’t mean we don’t put a bullet in somebody’s head. It may tell us in whose head would be the most effective use of the bullet or that, in fact, a bullet isn’t necessary (or necessarily from us) to achieve the desired outcome.

The Smart Power model shows full force on multiple fronts and high (overt) coercion. It does not ignore the sources of power by those responsible and their support networks, both explicit and implicit. It also does not consider the action isolated in time or perception.

The response is part propaganda in the derogative sense and part propaganda that informs to limit the effectiveness of opposing information operations. This multidimensional effort seeks to disconnect passive and active acceptance of the means to the end. Many of Hamas’ supporters don’t agree with their tactics but agree with their goals and without alternatives or discussions, their public has few, if any options.

Keep in mind that Smart Power is not about “winning hearts and minds”. On the contrary, Smart Power doesn’t give a damn if somebody likes us (often we really don’t care about their heart, that might follow), at the very least we want them to hate us less than our opponent. For example, in regions where clans and tribes dominate (often providing a greater unifying factor than religion although we like to simply and say Islam is the glue), we find internecine rivalries are suspended to repeal the attacker. Smart Power identifies this and offers appropriate tactics. All of which assume an element of time extending beyond the instant moment of now, but not by much.

Smart Power is applied over time and yet it benefits the immediate tactical level of now. It also allows dynamic adjustment of the sliders as it does not dictate a singular path but expects modification as barriers are overcome and discoveries are made overcome (such as additional networks of power and their vulnerabilities).

Remember a key to Smart Power is understanding the concept of power as perceived by the opponent and not by us. Our opponents, especially those who cannot match the U.S. militarily, recognizes this reality. Finance and economics do not at first seem to have much value to al-Qaeda, yet they understood the impact of hitting the World Trade Center, as well as having their income to consider. In general, we need to avoid mirror-imaging and develop a cultural/societal understanding of AQAM’s power to best identify how to have the most significant impact. By looking at Smart Power as an Operational Concept, we can bring to bear multiple pressures from multiple tools from different agencies, branches of government, and the private sector. We need to understand how the opponent operates to know their strengths and weaknesses to defeat them. Too much force in one vector, just like too little force, may have the opposite effect and may create or encourage more enemies.

Thanks to AE for pointing out the lack of clarity on the point on AQAM’s understanding of our financial and economic power. This revision should makes that more clear.

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  • AE

    “Finance and economics don’t mean much to al-Qaeda yet they understood the impact of hitting the World Trade Center. “Actually, Bin Laden thinks very much in terms of economic damage. He wants to bleed America to death. I wrote an article on this a while ago:

  • leftend

    It is important to recognize, as you have, that smart power is, above all else, still “power” (party A trying to get party B to do something it might not do otherwise). With that in mind, your point that “smart power doesn’t give a damn if somebody likes us” is well taken. It’s about results.What needs to be remembered, however, is the value when Party A IS liked (or respected or loved or whatever), so that party B is more likely to do what A wants in the first place. I see this as a key attribute of smart power. Is this always possible? Of course not. But by doing things right – by knowing and understanding power B and recognizing the range of options at its disposal – Party A is far more likely to be successful in the long term.

  • MountainRunner

    You miss understand (probably because I wasn’t clear, which I’ll fix some other time). These elements of power don’t mean much to their group. He understands how to impact us in those spheres of power very clearly. These elements aren’t important to them, or nearly as much as other cultural, social, and ideological areas of power whereas as Western society is based on financial and economic power, which OBL/UBL etc clearly understand. In general, we don’t have the equivalent cultural / societal understanding of how to hit AQAM. That was my point.

  • AE

    Ah–sorry I didn’t get your original meaning.I think that’s a good point. OBL’s power is on the level of symbolism.
    Reminds me, I had an idea for a trippy cultural studies paper about postmodernism and power politics—about power now being determined at the level of the image. Maybe I should dust that off and try to get it somewhere.

  • Kristofer Carlson

    The problem with this approach is that it is conceptual only. It has no ties to any catalogue of capabilities. Moreover, even if such a catalogue existed, it would only help in the creation of a CONOPS, not in the actual planning and execution of an operation against an opponent.