The Smart-Power Push

"Smart power" -- the combination of military and diplomatic power abroad -- has become a popular buzzword in foreign-policy circles over the past decade. As David Axe chronicled in the December issue of TAP, it's a strategy the U.S. is using in Congo to curb sexual violence.

But what does the term really entail, and is it something the administration is using effectively? TAP talked to Richard Parker from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition to find out.

How do we define smart power? Do proponents, institutions, or countries define it differently, or is there an agreed-upon definition?

There is thematic agreement around what smart power is, and that is using our military and a broad range of national-security tools to accomplish our foreign-policy goals. The simple way to look at it is what we call the three D's -- development, diplomacy and defense -- and using all three of those together as our foreign-policy tools. It is important to keeping our nation safe, contributing to our economic prosperity, and demonstrating America's humanitarian values around the world. There are some people who include broader terms within smart power such as economic development, trade, or democracy promotion. There is widespread bipartisan agreement now for the smart-power approach, and we have seen that in the past few years and in the previous administration, this administration, and also a growing level of support in Congress.

Where, if anywhere, is the U.S. really using the smart-power strategy?

In all of our embassies and missions around the world, any of the ones that are using economic development, rule-of-law programs, and working to build stable societies; that is all a demonstration of smart power. The really obvious ones right now are going to be the frontline states -- which are Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan -- which is where a lot of the money is going right now. You are beginning to see there that there is a real integrated planning between military and civilian operations, particularly in Iraq now where you are seeing the drawdown of the American troops and civilians taking over operations.

You also see it in countries like those in Africa with the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) or microfinance programs. We are helping to build stable societies before a crisis begins. Or where Peace Corps volunteers are serving around the world; they are serving at the grassroots level day in and day out. They are talking about what America is truly like, and they are demonstrating our humanitarian values. [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates at [the U.S Global Leadership Coalition] conference at the end of September had an interesting quote where he talked about how development contributes to stability. He also said that development is a lot cheaper than sending in soldiers. So people are beginning to see the civilian-led pieces we have out there are very important in that they can prevent crises before they begin to happen.

Has its implementation involved any substantive changes to the way the U.S. conducts its foreign policy, or is it business as usual under a new name?

One of the things we have seen is how the international-affairs budget is considered. President [George W.] Bush began including the international-affairs budget as part of national-security funding in his administration, and that is something that President [Barack] Obama has continued as well. That further demonstrates the importance of civilian power as part of America's foreign policy moving forward. You also see Secretary Gates and Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton up on the Hill now presenting their budgets in tandem.

There were great expectations that Obama could restore the U.S.' image after it took a bruising in the Bush presidency. Have you seen international opinions of the U.S. improve over the last two years?

Rather than looking at the two as individuals, you can look and see how specific instances have changed the image of the U.S. abroad. When we think back to the tsunami relief efforts in Asia in 2005, the image of America in Southeast Asia was improved significantly with the aid we were providing to them. A good example is also in Tanzania: When we did a Millennium Challenge Corporation grant, Pew did a global attitudes poll about favorability views of the U.S., and in Tanzania they found an increase of about 19 points after we signed the grant that went to them. So when people overseas see the U.S. using our resources for development and smart-power purposes, they do change their attitudes [about] us. Particularly in Africa with PEPFAR -- that was something that countries in Africa really saw as a benefit to them and really saw the generosity of the American people from that.

With so many problems at home, what benefits does the U.S. derive from continuing to engage in foreign missions in faraway countries like Congo?

The most important, of course, is our national security -- making sure just as Secretary Gates has talked about, that we are actually preventing problems before they occur. Using development is a lot cheaper than sending in soldiers, as he always likes to say. It is also very important to our economic security. Over half of our exports now are going to developing countries and one in five U.S. jobs is tied to exports, so when we are doing development work in those countries, we are building up markets for American goods, and there is a benefit to our economy back at home.

How does one evaluate the effectiveness of smart power?

Many of our smart-power initiatives, such as Feed the Future and PEPFAR, can be measured in real lives that are saved. With the drawdown of troops in Iraq, and our diplomats and development experts taking charge, we will be able to monitor the growth and stability of the country. There are also several reform efforts underway such as the President's Policy Directive on Global Development and the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which call for a better coordination of our smart-power tools through procurement reform, new monitoring and evaluation policies, and an emphasis on technology. These efforts will go a long way to allowing us to measure our success.