Public Affairs and Soft Power (2010)

I have a great deal of interest in “soft power” because I think it will become increasingly more important in the years to come out of sheer economic necessity.

It is no secret that many of the western nations, to include England, Germany, and the U.S., are having financial “issues” on the domestic home front and are looking at ways to decrease military spending.

For example, England is looking at a reduction in military spending by approximately 10%-15% with a reduction in their military personnel of about 20%.

Germany is looking at reduce the number of their military personnel from 250,000 to 163,000 while eliminating its mandatory conscription.

The global “great recession” has greatly impacted the economies of the world and have caused governments to rethink how they are spending their money, and defense spending is naturally one of those areas that can be expected to be looked at.

The term ‘soft power” was originally coined by Joseph Nye, a Harvard University professor and author of a book with the same title. It a nutshell, soft power is about getting others to want the same outcomes you want without coercion or bribery. It is being able to influence without using either the carrot or the stick.

If you look at some of the current communication personalities, there are a number of similar things being discussed along the same lines as soft power.

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith talk about being a Trust Agent in their book of the same name.

Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom talk about being a catalyst in The Starfish and the Spider.

Brian Solis has numerous posts on his blog about being an influencer.

All these ideas nest with Nye’s ideas on soft power and they are all similar concepts, only communicated within different contexts, using different terms to different audiences.

I believe that over the next decade, soft power will take on new emphasis.

 

“A majority of military officers — especially the mid-career officers in the O-4 and O-5 paygrades — support giving more money and strategic emphasis to nonmilitary initiatives such as diplomacy and economic development in order to advance U.S. security interests, according to a recent poll.” - Army Times, 27 September, 2010.

 

 

All these ideas nest with Nye’s ideas on soft power and they are all similar concepts, only communicated within different contexts, using different terms to different audiences.

I believe that over the next decade, soft power will take on new emphasis.

The various sources of government leadership will look for more ways to achieve our goals through non-kinetic means, but doing so in conjunction with the military. In my opinion, “soft power” will come to mean many things just like “strategic communications” did when it was the latest and greatest DoD buzzword.

With a majority of my fellow Army field grade officers supporting the use of other initiatives like diplomacy and economic development to advance our security agenda, we should expect to eventually see more diplomatic and economic ideas take hold in the senior military decision-making process.

So what should be expect?

For those in the PA field, I think that means we will be asked to serve more and more as diplomatic/military liaisons ensuring that the military themes, messages and most importantly our actions are nested with, and are advancing, the diplomatic agenda.

I think there will be more things thrown under the strategic communication umbrella, and we will be asked to either lead or be a part of a more holistic communication and soft power programs.

Additionally, I think there is going to be a greater need to identify and measure the sources, impacts and effects of strategic communication and soft power. Public Affairs has made great progress in identifying indicators that allow us to measure some aspects of the media, our products, and public opnions over the last decade, but I think the measurement business is only in its early stages.

As operations in Iraq are ramping down, and presumably operations in Afghanistan doing the same at some point, I would expect that PAO’s will eventually get more education, training, and experience on the diplomatic side.

All of the above is not to say that I think our core work as military public affairs will change, just that we may eventually be asked to take on additional roles in the future.

 

Mike Nicholson

I've spent my career working in a variety of Strategic Communications, Public Relations, Public Affairs, Information Operations, and Executive Outreach positions. With a history of planning, preparing, executing, and assessing communication strategies in the U.S. and abroad, I use this site to write, think and share lessons learned on organizational communications.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap