The Impact of Soft Power

On Apr. 7, President Donald Trump ordered missile attacks on Syria – a country caught in a civil war that has claimed the lives of approximately 400,000 people.  Six days later, on Apr. 13th, the United States struck eastern Afghanistan with a 22,000 pound bomb, the largest non-nuclear weapon ever used by the U.S. Both actions created blowback from U.S. allies. The strikes in Syria mistakenly killed 18 members of the Syrian Democratic Forces who are fighting the country’s ruling dictator Bashar Al-Assad, a foe of the U.S. The strike in Afghanistan provoked a reaction from U.S. ally and former Afghani President Hamid Karzi (2004-2014) who said the U.S. was using the country as a testing ground for new weapons.

In the last few days, tensions with North Korea have risen. U.S. officials said they will conduct a preemptive strike against North Korea should the country follow through with a planned nuclear weapons test. The Trump Administration has moved the nuclear aircraft carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson in the area for a possible retaliation. This signals a shift in North Korea policy which usually makes use of diplomacy and economic sanctions.    North Korea’s Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song Ryol said that North Korea would launch a preemptive strike if the U.S. displayed any “reckless military aggression” and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told both sides to stop provoking each other.

Driving a wedge between the U.S. and its allies, preemptive strikes, threatened preemptive strikes and opposition for foreign aid define the foreign policy of the Trump administration. But is there another way of shaping the behavior of other countries? Former Assistant Secretary of State for International Security Affairs (1994-1995) and international relations theorist Joseph Nye wrote extensively on the concept of soft power – the ability of one state to move another state in a desired direction without force or coercion. He maintains that U.S. power depends as much on winning heart and minds as it does on winning wars. The U.S. regularly wins hearts and minds through its industries, foundations, universities and culture.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) recently issued a report titled “Rethinking the Battlefield” that calls for a beefing up of our soft power. The Senator refers to Trump’s views – the U.S. protecting itself with generous doses of military force – as “medieval.”

Senator Murphy’s report states that, between 2001 and 2010, the military budget has doubled, partially due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, even after winding down those wars, the military budget remains at historically high levels. The report states there’s no link between military spending and global stability. The last 15 years of instability proves this point.

“Rethinking the Battlefield” states that the emerging threats can’t be met with military force alone. It also states that our country cannot compete with China, Russia or ISIS if we exit the economic development field.

Senator Murphy’s report uses an example of the soft power employed by other countries. China gains influence in the developing world through massive foreign aid programs, Russia uses its energy dominance and propaganda to increase its influence on its periphery, and extremist groups use the internet to peddle a false version of the U.S and Islam.

“Rethinking the Battlefield” presents a vision where the U.S. gains power through our commitment to democratic values and the well-being of others. It calls for increasing our presence around the world by doubling our number of State Department diplomats and United States Agency for International Development workers by 50 percent.   USAID administers foreign aid to other countries. The report advocates fighting extremism through empowering developing economies. It proposes a new International Development Bank, which would provide loans for developing economies, assistance for fragile states and in increase in global health programs.

In addition, Murphy suggests increasing the number of Peace Corps volunteers and for increasing funding for global health emergencies and disaster assistance in order to quickly deploy help when needed.  It also states our country should continue to reinforce its message in traditional media and online. This report is about prevention – preventing conflicts before they arise.

Sources: NBC News, ABC News, Salon, Associated Press, Huffington Post, Foreign Affairs, Bloomberg News.

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