Smart Power

Session 1 – ‘Speaking softly’

Soft power in its form of attraction is not something new in international relations. In very broad terms, soft power means reliance on persuasion and attraction rather than on coercion and threat. It can be seen as an idealized approach to foreign policy and it is therefore important not to overrate the value of soft power, despite embracing it. As the former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright summarized foreign policy, its purpose is to influence other nations in a way that serves your interest and values and the tools available for achieving the goals include anything from kind words to cruise missiles. What is the art of diplomacy is mixing these two extremes with sufficient patience. This is also what smart power is about.
Soft power capability in terms of attractiveness is not something that can be forced, but rather it is shaped by the civil society, with governments being only there to help or enhance its development. Additionally, soft power can not be controlled entirely and should not be exploited as a part of some strategy - the moment it is consciously used as a tool, a controversy raises with reference to the unforced nature of soft power.

With the rapid evolution of media, especially social media, the essence of diplomacy has changed drastically. Traditional diplomacy was based on government-to-government relations whereas public diplomacy is based on government-to-public communication. Publics now have their own sources of information which has resulted in diplomacy no longer having a passive audience but rather being interactive. Diplomats have to be ready to use the growing importance and usage of social media and there has to be a policy towards operating with it.

European Union is often portrayed as a vivid practitioner of soft power with enlargement perspective being its most powerful tool. As the offering of a possible membership forms a huge part of EU’s charm, it would be disappointing if the consensus within the Union showed enlargement fatique. EU is seen as a regulatory superpower and a source of inspiration for institution building, which makes it an attractive model for many partners. The EU’s association agreements with various neighboring countries and Russia’s angry reaction to them really adds to that EU has something to offer in terms of a long-term perspective.

Although usually seen as a big ATM machine, the European Union should aspire for the reputation of being a big ATM machine with guns and power of conviction, meaning that whilst being the world’s largest humanitarian aid donor, the EU should really improve itself in implying conditionality to the aid it offers. EU’s foreign policy is in its essence value-based, which is a constraining factor, but moving away from it would mean an act of self-denial for the European Union. The problem here lies in the gap between the values that are announced in rhetorics and acts that are carried out in practice, as the current reluctancy to take action in defence of its advocated morals is seriously undermining EU’s credibility.
Soft power has a lot to do with culture, which is a tricky subject for governments, as democratic states can not control their cultural values. In Europe, there are strong national identities but the notion of sharing a common European culture as such is quite poor. It would therefore be wise for the members of EU to stop treating Europe as an ‘other’ and start realizing that they themselves are part of that Europe. A more common ground for self-identification would also serve the interest of a more effective Common Security and Defence Policy, as so far the CSDP has been an usual balancing act between member states that have very different threat perceptions. Resting upon a decade old security strategy dating back to 2003, the consensus-based CSDP still has no clear goals, but there should be effort put into defining the changed strategic concept in which EU has to operate. From recent years, Libya was a lesson for the EU that when it wants to be taken seriously, it needs to be able to act decisively (also in hard power terms) on its own, especially when it wants to engage with rising powers like China and Brazil in the future, which can not be done from a position of weakness.

EU is not the only global actor that consciously acknowledges the potential of soft power. Russia, with its aspiration of playing an important role in world politics, has also started to pay more attention to the potential that soft power has to offer. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has stubbornly remained to the stance that Russia has always been and will be a great power. Regarding Russia’s soft power potential, the Russian themselves feel they are not very good at it. There have been continuous statements that Russia is weak in terms of soft power and its position should be improved. This way of thinking is already where the whole concept starts to go wrong for the Kremlin. Undoubtedly Russia has soft power capability but this has been produced by its civil society and the issues regarding it cannot be solved by a government degree. Soft power cannot be forced, because when indeed forced, it seizes to be soft power anymore. The essence of soft power is that others discover you and start to sell their new discovery, as was, for instance the case of Finnish education system. Russia is, however, trying to sell itself with the image it wants others to have on it. Kremlin officials have set goals for Russian soft power policies in terms of information with the objective of ‘countering Russia’s negative image in media’ – this, again, is not how soft power works.

Stemming from Moscow’s unusual way of thinking, several peculiarities of Russian understanding of soft power can be noted. Firstly, Russia is defining democracy in interesting forms and stating it in alternative ways in a zero-sum thinking, seeing all other actors either with them or against them, which is not a very ‘soft’ approach to ideological thinking. Secondly, the factor of twisting the reality and stubbornly sticking to this vision is consistent in Kremlin’s thinking. Thirdly, Russia’s goal is not to raise interest in Estonians, Finns, Americans or any other nation, but rather Kremlin’s target audience is formed of the Russians living abroad whom they intend to utilize and serve culture to. This reverse logic does not, once again, fit into the concept of soft power that is acknowledged in the West. It can therefore be said, with reference to Theodore Roosevelt’s metaphor, that Russia speaks hard whilst carrying an unreliable stick.

Session 2 – ‘Carry a big stick’

Armed forces are not only meant for waging war but they also fulfill other societal roles, ranging from defence diplomacy to being national unifiers within a country. The question here is what is the appropriate balance between these roles and what is the paramount objective the armed forces are pursuing. On the case of Western states it ultimately comes down to protecting the international order that is free, opened and based on cooperation as this international order is the basis for the prosperity of the affected countries. The nature of international relations is changing and we are now entering an era of post-modern militaries – a motion that is driven by changes in social, technological and conflict-intervention spheres. One of the main features of a post-modern military is its consistence of small professional forces that have multinational structures and mainly carry out peacekeeping missions. Demands for individual soldiers in these post-modern militaries have increased, as soldiers now have to fulfill the role of soldier-scholars or soldier-diplomats, as the post-modern armies themselves have to cooperate with huge range of actors varying from NGOs to different governments and media.

Common Security and Defence Policy of the European Union fits with the concept of post-modern militaries as the CSDP is exclusively expeditionary. The question here for European countries lies in finding the suitable relationship between national defence on the one hand and peacekeeping and intervention operations on the other hand. Regarding CSDP, there are several constant problems that have not been solved during the last decade. In addition to cumbersome decision-making processes and hesitant commitments from some of the members, the most persisting and fundamental issue is that there exists no agreed long-term vision. Sun Tzu would not be proud of the European Union as he taught all strategists to conceal their plans, not to abandon strategical thinking entirely. A new EU security strategy is a long overdue project and it would be wise to set levels of ambition and contribution which could then be taken as guidelines. A realistic level of ambition should be maintained but it should be kept in mind that being realistic does not necessarily mean lowering one’s aspirations.

Last 4 years were seen as ‘great crisis of European will’ and it is of utmost importance to find ways for solving this motivational crisis. One option is to wait until EU recovers financially, as a prerequisite for a working CSDP is functioning and coherent EU. Another option would be to ‘jump ahead’ like Javier Solana did 10 years ago. In any case, the question here seems to be what are the societies ready to fight for. Whatever are these ideals that have the potential for mobilizing societies of EU members, it is evident that in face of ever-shrinking defence budgets, nothing less than EU’s capability to be a confident security actor is at stake. Further cuts will not be linear anymore but rather of on-off type, meaning that future reductions raise the question of whether there will be a capability at all. Although the initiative of sharing and pooling has been brought to the table as a possible way to counter financial difficulties, at the current rate, the budget cuts are outpacing the possibility of pooling and sharing in the ratio of approximately 100 to 1. It is hereby obvious that an effort should be made for stopping the trend of austerity.
Additionally, sharing assets in itself is not a panacae as the fact that nations do something together does not necessarily mean that it is more effective than efforts of individual nations. Pooling and sharing is not about bookkeeping but about precisely what will be the outcome and to what extent will it be usable and operationable. Sharing and pooling may sound like a good recipe but it also remains a national responsibility to provide for one’s own defence, meaning that hard power capabilities can not be overlooked for ever. Hard power is also an important element of smart power, as for smart power, both elements of soft and hard power are needed. At the same time, defence alone can not be sufficient for deploying smart power, but it is indispensable for this.

10 years ago there was a saying for NATO to go ‘out of area or out of business’. The era of being ‘out of area’ is now reaching its end so the question asked today is whether NATO can come back to the area and still be in business. If so, then what is this business? NATO’s strategic concept has 3 core essential tools: collective defence, crisis management and co-optive security, which are all equally weighted. All nations are obliged to do the most difficult thing of national defence, but the core of NATO Article 5 lies in that there needs to be an assurance that NATO’s societies are ready to fight and die for each other. The case of Libya showed that most NATO members and also partners like Sweden and Finland and some Arab states showed their willingness to go with the Alliance, whereas some of NATO’s own members were not ready.

Today, NATO has achieved facilitating 99% of its targets, but largely because several targets have been pushed to the next decade. Within the targets achieved, it is clear that NATO wants to maintain expeditionary capabilities. There are three possible options for organising principles for cooperation in its future actions: regional focus with shared identity, similar strategic outlook and teaming up based on intent – what is it that is aimed to be achieved by cooperation. These options for grouping together should be viewed as part of collective defence, not as a kind of fragmentation. The same applies to the concept of framework nation, which can be depicted as something that could break the unity of the Alliance. This concept of one or several more capable countries taking the lead is exactly what Afghanistan post-2014 will be about, with the country divided into regions where more able member states lead the initiative and to which nations smaller members should cluster. As the framework nation concept is something that is already practiced in the EU, it is worth exploring its potential within NATO as well. However, it should be looked at as an idea and its potential assessed to certain extent, not as something that should be made basis for everything from outside.

Session 3 – ‘Smart power in practice’

Globalization has eroded the absolute power of most states and given non-state actors enormous influence. New threats have emerged, ranging from climate change and economic disparity to failed governments and radicalized ideology. In times of change, the West is still trying to carry on with organizations that were constructed for a different world. Today, there is a need for big ideas with the Alliance being in front of a question whether it is relevant or it is a relic. Fundamental challenge for NATO is the fact that it is still a military alliance that has to be transformed into a political-military alliance. NATO also needs to put out its own public diplomacy campaign. So far nothing has been done to counter terrorist organisations, with Al-Qaeda above all, in terms of ideologically tearing the adversary down. Mounting a strong and effective public diplomacy campaign would be a smart choice. The challenge here is what kind of message should be put out there and how should it be done. The example of Afghanistan has shown that within the Alliance there are different national narratives that do not quite fit together when put out.

Mali and Sahel region at large is an example of smart power implementation, deriving from combined action of the international community. The region has been approached by the EU in a more soft power way and by the USA in a more hard power way. Unfortunately, due to growing unrest, high level of corruption up to the uppest level in government and fighting related to Mali being a crossroad for drug trafficking of cocaine from South-America to Europe, European Union’s actions in the Sahel can largely be seen as a failure. There are several reasons for the instability in the region: poverty, artificial borders, trafficking of drugs, cigarettes, armament and etc. Despite important efforts by the international community to counter these issues, the region has become more and more unstable.

Lesson to be learned from here is that if the international community wants to act collectively, it has to do so in a more coordinated and swifter way. Also, a lot of money was invested into the problematic region without sufficient surveillance over it, without being able to provide proper education for the regional elites. From the European Union’s part it once again raised the necessity of developing hard power capabilities for the CSDP, but there seemed to be a lack of political will in doing so.

Afghanistan, despite the contribution of more than 50 countries, has not been a success story. The bar was raised too high – there was an effort to build a society in 10 years and now there is disappointment that the effort was not successful. Already in the beginning, wrong tools were used and they were used in a wrong way. The main misstep in 2001 was that most of the tools available immediately were of military-type and there was very little experience on how to do nation-building. In Afghanistan, the West had a hammer and, although there were no nails, it still kept banging the hammer. The militaries did what they could enthusiastically, they were just not equipped for training nurses or giving vocational training to village blacksmiths and etc.
Main errors regarding the false usage of inappropriate instruments were largely related to Western support. Foreign money partly created a problem of feeding corruption and foreign support created dependencies on too many of key services, including the ANA and the ministries. Also, military rotations were too short as the soldiers did not get in touch with the country and the locals during their deployment. From political side, after the 2005 elections the coalition closed the political shop by thinking that with the mere fact of elections being held the ‘politics part’ had been done and all further effort should be concentrated on development. Problems of governance and technical tasks were noted but they were not seen in the political background and this failure is still being paid for. Likewise, building up Karzai should have been a focus in establishing a bridge between NATO and the Taliban. Instead, it was claimed in 2009 that Karzai was a fraud, which was not a coherent strategy (if any strategy at all) from Western states. Lastly, a geographical error was made in concentrating on the country’s capital. Kabul is not like provinces. Kabul and a village somewhere can be like from two different planets. What worked in Kabul was not necessarily translated like that in the villages. Approximately ¾ of the people are still living in these small villages, in isolation from the capital. The Persian calendar year is 1392 and the life in these villages does to some extent resemble Europe in the middle-ages, being incomparable to Kabul.

The question about Afghanistan is what to do now? The international community tends to talk about 2014 as if it was the end of the game. However, in 2015 and 2016 the West should still be concerned about Afghanistan. It would be important to nurture and grow organic enthusiasm in Afghan government. It is crucial to support education and training, life in villages and better agricultural productivity in order to counter the backlog of society with its 60% rate of unemployment. Bottom line is to give ownership of the measures to Afghans themselves and let them act on their own and be accountable for the consequences. The purpose of future support in terms of policy and financing should be the ANA, as it is the only national institution in Afghanistan that actually works. The question here is will the ANA be able to support the politicisation and institutionalisation of the countryside as well.

Power is about two dimensions: capacity and time. Therefore smart power should be aimed at connecting resources for fulfilling goals on time – being able to execute over long-term. As Donald Rumsfeld has once said, mission will determine the coalition. Reliability and sustainability are the characteristics that are mostly run by institutions, because institutions are good at the long run, whereas coalitions are good at the short-term. Institution building is what institutions do and this is about long-term objectives of policies.
In campaigns executed by the EU and NATO, there is a tendency to think of them in terms of development and not politics and power. This stems largely from the human security perspective from the UN. For starting an operation, the concept of human security is convenient because it can be said that of course, human security is always needed. This leads to having and using something that can be called ‘the development template’ – if we do three line operations of development, governance and security, we can go going. So there are Western institutions that become comfortable on this three-line template thinking. Also, another facet accompanying the human security paradigm is ‘bombing to protect’ approach, which in itself is contradictory, as one can not bomb and be neutral at the same time.

As a recommendation for future operations, institutions and what they are capable of should be connected to what coalitions do when they go out like in Libya, Mali or Afghanistan. We should not look to institutionalised coalitions as this would be a contradiction in terms. Instead, we should politicise our institutions (EU and NATO) and their capacity for institution-building. Main issue for EU countries here is how to finance the security sphere of the institution, how to convince EU’s own citizens to spend money on their own security. Rule of 10 from economics works both ways, meaning that budget cuts of 7% a year will result in reduction by half in a decade. It is said that in times of austerity we must ‘do more with less’, but power in physics is defined as energy over time and doing more with less is physically impossible.

 

Prepared by Juhan Kinks, ICDS

Edited by re:finer