Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power

Ernest J. Wilson, III, the Dean of the Annenberg School of Communication at USC, has an article in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (sub req’d) titled “Hard power, Soft Power, Smart Power.” 

In this paper Ernie argues the zero-sum relationship between hard and soft power must be replaced by a dynamic application of power, hard and soft, across a continuum appropriate for time and place known as Smart Power. 

Smart Power is “the capacity of an actor to combine elements of hard power and soft power in ways that are mutually reinforcing such that the actor’s purposes are advanced effectively and efficiently.”  Those familiar with Sun Tzu and Clausewitz will recognize the four elements of Smart Power:

  • The target over which one seeks to exercise power—its internal nature and its broader global context. Power cannot be smart if those who wield it are ignorant of these attributes of the target populations and regions.
  • Self-knowledge and understanding of one’s own goals and capacities. Smart power requires the wielder to know what his or her country or community seeks, as well as its will and capacity to achieve its goals.
  • The broader regional and global context within which the action will be conducted.
  • The tools to be employed, as well as how and when to deploy them individually and in combination.

Of course imposing deeper cooperation and creating new options for policy makers does not happen overnight.  Ernie urges changes in funding but also increased jointness through reform and education to spark deeper interagency cooperation.  Of course a barrier to the softer use of power, including but not limited to perceptions and state-building, is the

[t]he irony…that the advocates of soft power and public diplomacy have been routed by the proponents of hard power, in part because the latter are such effective users of soft power techniques.

To correct this, Ernie says smart power needs a smart campaign.  The concepts of hard and soft power need to be reframed and remastered.  Echoing the words of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen, Ernie continues that the institutional landscape must be reformed to balance not just budgets but clout and organizational effectiveness.  This is political and requires cross-party, cross-organizational, and cross-cultural (military/civilian, public/traditional) cooperation spurred on by a small group of leaders, much as the Goldwater-Nichols Act had a Barry Goldwater. 

Smart Power will be the product of revolution of national security affairs.  This shift won’t happen on its own and must be the product of a paradigm shift promoted by groups like CSIS’s Commission on Smart Power (and their blog). 

There has, as Ernie noted, been a revolution in military affairs, a revolution in intelligence affairs, but no comparable revolution in diplomatic affairs.  The State Department needs to do more than the subtle transformation to date.  It must realize the world of engagement is both new and old.  Forgotten is how State, through its (and USIA’s) public diplomacy of the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s engaged foreign audiences directly and personally, as well as in large groups.  State must recognize its role in providing civilian leadership and resources

Ernie emphasizes the need for change in his last sentence:

Unless we give the country the institutions, the ideas, and the policies America deserves, then our children and grandchildren will pay the cost of this generation’s inability to wield power intelligently and strategically—in other words, to wield smart power.

Testifying today (15 April 2008) in front of the House Armed Services Committee is Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen.  the committee will “hear testimony on Building Partnership Capacity and Development of the Interagency Process.”  I’m told this is the first time the Secretary of State has appeared in front of the either Armed Services Committee.

Defense is evolving, but what about State?  Not so much.  Change will come with visionary leadership.  Pressure on State needs to increase as well as Congressional confidence in State’s ability to execute its new missions which will lead to additional funds.  Barring that, Smart Power is but an academic discussion on distributing the weight of national security across all of our instruments of national power. 

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