Daniel W. Drezner

Soft power penetrates the Bush administration

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave an interesting talk a few days ago at Kansas State University. It was unusual for two reasons. First, he was asking for greater budgetary and institutional support — for other Cabinent departments: [M]y message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if ...

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave an interesting talk a few days ago at Kansas State University. It was unusual for two reasons. First, he was asking for greater budgetary and institutional support -- for other Cabinent departments: [M]y message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short, based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use ?soft? power and for better integrating it with ?hard? power. One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win: economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more ? these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success. Accomplishing all of these tasks will be necessary to meet the diverse challenges I have described. So, we must urgently devote time, energy, and thought to how we better organize ourselves to meet the international challenges of the present and the future ? the world you students will inherit and lead.... during the 1990s, with the complicity of both the Congress and the White House, key instruments of America?s national power once again were allowed to wither or were abandoned. Most people are familiar with cutbacks in the military and intelligence ? including sweeping reductions in manpower, nearly 40 percent in the active army, 30 percent in CIA?s clandestine services. What is not as well-known, and arguably even more shortsighted, was the gutting of America?s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world ? the ?soft power,? which had been so important throughout the Cold War. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts ? its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department.... What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security ? diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years. Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of ?man bites dog? ? or for some back in the Pentagon, ?blasphemy.? It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don?t get me wrong, I?ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year. Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he?d hand a part of his budget to the State Department ?in a heartbeat,? assuming it was spent in the right place. The second unusual quality was that Gates embraced an academic concept Joseph Nye's notion of "soft power." This is quite the turnaround -- a few years ago, Nye complained in Foreign Affairs about Gates' predecessor: "Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld professes not even to understand the term." It is interesting to see the head of one bureaucracy realize that his organization benefits from enhancing the capacities of a quasi-rival organization, and kudos to Gates for this kind of thinking. On the "soft power" idea, I have just a smidgen of sympathy for Rumsfeld. Over the past half-decade, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com has found this idea simltaneously beguiling and frustrating. However, as Nye defined the term initially -- getting others to want what you want -- he was talking primarily about non-state capabilities, such as culture and ideology. Question to readers: can a government consciously generate soft power?

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates gave an interesting talk a few days ago at Kansas State University. It was unusual for two reasons. First, he was asking for greater budgetary and institutional support — for other Cabinent departments:

[M]y message today is not about the defense budget or military power. My message is that if we are to meet the myriad challenges around the world in the coming decades, this country must strengthen other important elements of national power both institutionally and financially, and create the capability to integrate and apply all of the elements of national power to problems and challenges abroad. In short, based on my experience serving seven presidents, as a former Director of CIA and now as Secretary of Defense, I am here to make the case for strengthening our capacity to use ?soft? power and for better integrating it with ?hard? power. One of the most important lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win: economic development, institution-building and the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good governance, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces, strategic communications, and more ? these, along with security, are essential ingredients for long-term success. Accomplishing all of these tasks will be necessary to meet the diverse challenges I have described. So, we must urgently devote time, energy, and thought to how we better organize ourselves to meet the international challenges of the present and the future ? the world you students will inherit and lead…. during the 1990s, with the complicity of both the Congress and the White House, key instruments of America?s national power once again were allowed to wither or were abandoned. Most people are familiar with cutbacks in the military and intelligence ? including sweeping reductions in manpower, nearly 40 percent in the active army, 30 percent in CIA?s clandestine services. What is not as well-known, and arguably even more shortsighted, was the gutting of America?s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world ? the ?soft power,? which had been so important throughout the Cold War. The State Department froze the hiring of new Foreign Service officers for a period of time. The United States Agency for International Development saw deep staff cuts ? its permanent staff dropping from a high of 15,000 during Vietnam to about 3,000 in the 1990s. And the U.S. Information Agency was abolished as an independent entity, split into pieces, and many of its capabilities folded into a small corner of the State Department…. What is clear to me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security ? diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action, and economic reconstruction and development. Secretary Rice addressed this need in a speech at Georgetown University nearly two years ago. We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years. Now, I am well aware that having a sitting Secretary of Defense travel halfway across the country to make a pitch to increase the budget of other agencies might fit into the category of ?man bites dog? ? or for some back in the Pentagon, ?blasphemy.? It is certainly not an easy sell politically. And don?t get me wrong, I?ll be asking for yet more money for Defense next year. Still, I hear all the time from the senior leadership of our Armed Forces about how important these civilian capabilities are. In fact, when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen was Chief of Naval Operations, he once said he?d hand a part of his budget to the State Department ?in a heartbeat,? assuming it was spent in the right place.

The second unusual quality was that Gates embraced an academic concept Joseph Nye’s notion of “soft power.” This is quite the turnaround — a few years ago, Nye complained in Foreign Affairs about Gates’ predecessor: “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld professes not even to understand the term.” It is interesting to see the head of one bureaucracy realize that his organization benefits from enhancing the capacities of a quasi-rival organization, and kudos to Gates for this kind of thinking. On the “soft power” idea, I have just a smidgen of sympathy for Rumsfeld. Over the past half-decade, the hardworking staff here at danieldrezner.com has found this idea simltaneously beguiling and frustrating. However, as Nye defined the term initially — getting others to want what you want — he was talking primarily about non-state capabilities, such as culture and ideology. Question to readers: can a government consciously generate soft power?

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School. He blogged regularly for Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2014. Twitter: @dandrezner

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