Guitars, Google, and guns: a new view of Western power
As the West gears up for a NATO summit, free nations must consider how to be smarter about their tools of influence.
In the run-up to the NATO summit Nov. 19 in Lisbon, the transatlantic community must confront not just the burning issues it faces (from Afghanistan to Russia), but the way free nations can and should wield their power for global progress.Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, it needs to address the biggest questions of all: How is the free world going to lead in an age when its values are increasingly under attack? When it is facing threats and challenges unknown in the past? And when its economic model – the source of our power and freedoms – is being questioned?
The buzzword for dealing with these challenges in the corridors of power in Washington and European capitals is "smart power." But a buzzword is no substitute for honest reflection. What the West needs most is a fresh look at the full range of its capabilities and interests. Only then can its power fulfill its purpose.
Seen as a wonder tool, smart power has been embraced as a fresh and benign aspect of power; a definably formulaic mix of soft (cultural) power and hard (military) power. The reality is that the need for hard power has not vanished. And soft power alone will never suffice to win a war, push down threatening dictators, or keep a peace. We still live in a world that requires both swords and plowshares.
Soft power has always had a place. During the cold war, rock songs by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Janis Joplin played an important political role by inspiring a young, disaffected, and rebellious generation in Eastern Europe to help bring down the Iron Curtain.
Today, rock almost seems like a soft-power anachronism, along with most shortwave radio broadcasts; underwritten overseas English-language training; and other pricey, legacy public diplomacy programs paid for by the European Union and the United States.
In the past 20 years, the transatlantic community has expanded its military, political, and economic institutions, but it hasn't come forward with new ways to augment its arsenal of soft and hard power influence. At least not in a big way. America is sorting out where it erred with its extreme embrace of its military power after 9/11. But Europe, too, must reflect on why its global strategic and political influence is not on par with its economic might.