Projection of ‘smart power’ - Ikram Sehgal - Thursday, March 17, 2011

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Hard power has been used often in the context of national security by a number of states, if the aims have not been achieved it is primarily because of their inability to employ all elements of national power. The US national security system is grossly imbalanced and finds it easier to mobilise resources for hard power assets than soft power capabilities. Any national security system must employ a more balanced approach to adequately resource, train, and equip the full range of civilian instruments required to operate successfully. Interagency teams must be empowered that can effectively integrate hard and soft power by establishing common national security goals to create unity of purpose and by carrying out those goals jointly to achieve unity of effort.

Daryl Copeland says, “When it comes to Afghanistan, mixing military might with diplomatic talk is easier said than done.” Some of the basic distinctions which may make their effective combination become clearer, hard power seeks to kill, capture, or defeat an enemy. Soft power seeks to influence through understanding and the identification of common ground. Hard power relies ultimately on sanctions and flows from the barrel of a gun. Soft power is rooted in meaningful exchange and the art of persuasion. Hard power is macho, absolute, and zero sum. Soft power is supple, subtle, and win/win. Hard power engenders fear, anguish, and suspicion. Soft power flourishes in an atmosphere of confidence, trust, and respect. These distinctions can become divisive when placed in an institutional setting or applied in the field. The disconnects between the two are exacerbated by the differences within and between the bureaucratic cultures of the military and civilian agencies such as foreign ministries and international organisations.

Smart power is not only a technique but also a kind of ability and capacity. A nation must be able to apply its strength and influence cleverly, adeptly, and at the right time and place in ways that are mutually reinforcing so that the purpose is advanced effectively and efficiently. Joseph Nye, Jr defined smart power” as “the ability to combine hard and soft power into a winning strategy”. In essence this involves the strategic use of diplomacy, persuasion, capacity building, and the projection of power and influence in ways that are cost-effective and have political and social legitimacy. Only through the adept use of ‘smart power’ can one overcome one’s opponents and achieve success.

The relevance of smart power has grown immensely today. The two most powerful countries in the world today, USA and China have turned to ‘smart power’ to achieve long term objectives in the international theatre. The Obama Administration sees ‘smart power as the guiding force of its policies overseas in the future. When Hilary Clinton was appointed US Secretary of State, she moved quickly to employ this concept of ‘smart power’ in the foreign policy arena emphasising that it must be used as a bolster and support, and that foreign relations (and not military might) would be the centrepiece of American foreign policy in the future. China is using ‘smart power’ extensively to convey the idea of its ‘peaceful rise’ and thus head off a countervailing balance of power.

While the world is increasingly turning to ‘smart power’, Pakistan lags far behind; because of its weak economy the country is at a disadvantage. One reason is our tendency of looking for short term gains instead of looking at long term benefits. We will have to make conscious efforts to rediscover and re-disseminate smart power. With limited options Pakistan can either turn to its most reliable friend China to learn from their model and experience or it can harness the power of its own media potential to reap rewards. The media is one of the most powerful tools for influencing national and international public opinion through around-the-clock coverage of worldwide events. Understanding the media and the singular power it possesses can allow the strategist to make much more informed decisions by treating the media as a critical element of smart power.

Some years back, I tried to convince President Pervez Musharraf of the benefits of setting up and/or supporting an English Language Television Channel. To his credit he liked the idea immensely but this was promptly shot down by the courtiers who surrounded him when he was in power, and still surround him when he is “out in the cold”, even though according to reports quite enjoying himself. In the context of a fast changing world and the speed with which technology is evolving, this has now become vital for us. The capacity of cable and satellite signals to cross national boundaries has redrawn the lines of television and the ways it addresses the audience, and makes it perhaps the most potent medium for providing entertainment, news and education; it can be effectively wielded to mould opinion worldwide. Because of a targeted disinformation campaign by India, force-multiplied by the animosity of the Jewish controlled media, Pakistan’s image has been badly tarnished and our credibility has taken a major hit. Most of the gains made by India because of ‘soft power’ initiatives have been because of the private sector.

A new independent television station that is devoted to faithful and accurate reporting of events to reach an English-speaking international audience with no-holds barred and truthful approach must be set up. Its main theme would be to convey the Pakistani side of the story (without its origin being in Pakistan) in a manner that portrays the image of the country (and about Islam) in its true perspective, in a language that is understood by all. This station would televise almost all programmes in the English language – the primary intent would be to reach out to an audience that reacts to a common language and educate them in a subtle yet effective manner as such give the people an alternative choice to base their opinions on. Such a television station will give us the means not only to counter the barrage of untruths and allegations from across the border but also from some western nations too.

Some of our ‘strategists’ indulged in acts of ‘adventurism’ that have spawned negative perceptions about Pakistan, our premiere intelligence agency, the ISI, continues to bear the brunt of a malicious India-led campaign. A practical and pragmatic use of ‘smart power’ via the media can turn such perceptions around in a realistic manner. Smart power must be based upon an understanding that the dynamic, unpredictable character of today’s security challenges demands a strategy with commensurate flexibility. Only by creating a comprehensive capacity to build and adapt diverse combinations of hard and soft power flexibly and rapidly can a state successfully safeguard national security interests. The challenge is integrating and finding the right mix of the two and aligning resources and structures to achieve a successful hybrid strategy that will benefit us as a nation.

(Acknowledgement is made with thanks to Joseph Nye, Jr, the “Soft Power” Guru and his two books as well as BBC’s Nik Gowing and his book, “A Skyful of Lies and Black Swans”. Final extract from a talk given recently at the National Defence University (NDU), Islamabad)

The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: isehgal@pathfinder9. com

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