Talking ‘Smart Power’ With Admiral Stavridis

Talking ‘Smart Power’ With Admiral Stavridis

By Dialogo
July 31, 2013


With one-liners like, “We are excellent at launching Tomahawk missiles; we need to get better at launching ideas,” it is not hard to appreciate why The New York Times labeled recently retired Admiral James Stavridis a “Renaissance admiral.” The former Aircraft Carrier Group Commander, author and overlord of all NATO missions, including the 2011 NATO-led operation in Libya, champions a revolutionary approach to the most vexing conflicts of our day.



Stavridis has challenged the stagnant military culture and pushed for the transformation of organizations like U.S. Southern Command from an old school military planning citadel to an agile organization better able to “plug ‘n play” with non-traditional partners. The admiral believes the U.S. can help partners to end conflict quickly, reconstruct and then develop through the application of “smart power”: the effective combination of soft power (diplomacy and development) and hard power (military might).



Stavridis recently retired from military service after a 37-year career. He now serves as Dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and as the chairman of the board of the U.S. Naval Institute. We recently discussed his thoughts on 21st century “smart power” and counter-terrorism. The following are highlights from the interview:



As the former Commander of both U.S. Southern Command and U.S. European Command, you placed heavy emphasis on smart power approaches. Why?



In the 21st century, we can’t create security by building walls. In the 20th century, we built a lot of walls – we endlessly tried to build walls between us and people we perceived, correctly or incorrectly, as our enemies. In the 21st century, because of the advent of networks, the free movement of goods and people across the globe, we need to build security by building bridges instead of building walls. Smart power is the short hand for a collection of tools that allow us to do that.



What are the principal tools of smart power?



The tools are: first, international and multi-national approaches; second, interagency approaches built upon the “three Ds“– defense, diplomacy and development; and third, public-private cooperation. If we do those three things and we use strategic communications effectively, we will be building the much needed new bridges. Now, though there will be times when we need to use hard power – because soft power with no hard power in reserve is no power at all – but smart power is the best approach to achieve desired outcomes.



Can you give an example of where and when this has worked?



Colombia 10 to 15 years ago was a lot like Afghanistan is today, but through the application of smart power, today we have productive negotiations ongoing between the main Colombian rebel faction, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the government of Colombia. A second example is the Balkans. In the 1990s, tens of thousands of people were killed due to ethnic hatreds, and a million people were pushed across borders, becoming refugees. Through the application of smart power, and some measure of hard power, we were able to stabilize the situation and bring peace to the region.



How do you measure the success of this approach?



There are technical tools that can be used, including the polling of populations, traditional media and social networks monitoring, and the professional judgment of trained professionals on our in-country teams. With these tools, you can fairly effectively determine how well our approach is working. In addition, there are simply “outcomes.” Take Colombia, for example. I don’t think anyone would look at Colombia today and say that it is failing. This positive outcome is an example of the effective application of smart power – it is succeeding.



Do you believe there needs to be a de-emphasis on the kinetic dimension of counter-terrorism and a focus on ameliorating vexing and deep-rooted problems in fragile states?



I think you have to do both. In any insurgency there will be people who are irreconcilable and who pose a clear and present threat to the U.S. and our allies. Those people have to be dealt with using hard power, but I think that the broader effort in counter-terrorism needs to be addressed with smart power approaches in order to adequately deal with grievances like unemployment, lack of health care and entrenched hatreds. You can’t kill your way to success in a counter insurgency effort. You have to protect the people, get the civil military balance right, train the locals, and practice effective strategic communications.






Mr. James Stravidis is totally right, for countries to avoid conflicts it’s not necessary to make war, all they need is to use intelligent power, defense, diplomacy, and development, these are the key tools for a country’s stability
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