Defense Secretary Gates’ Radical Soft Power Proposal

Defense Secretary Gates’ Radical Soft Power Proposal

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' self-described "man bites dog" speech this week may be the most important national security legacy speech by any member of the Bush administration. Advocating greater funding and development of U.S. soft power capabilities, Gates was not in fact breaking new ground for a Department of Defense official; but his articulation of the need for such capabilities in a broader, 21st century context gave his remarks a refreshing relevance beyond the political and into the realm of the strategic. Escaping the morass of "long war" rhetoric, Secretary Gates may have written the first chapter in the next Quadrennial Defense Review, due in 2009.

In addition to discussing current successes, such as the use of anthropologists to aid counterinsurgency operations and the creation of a civilian response corps for post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction, Gates called for "new organizations with a 21st century mind-set." He highlighted the need to create anew an agency or department that fits between the hard power of the Department of Defense and the soft power of existing competencies in diplomacy and development provided by the Department of State and Agency for International Development. Strategist Thomas Barnett has argued for a "Department of Everything Else" that would perform such a function.

In a recent report, Richard Armitage and Joseph Nye, co-chairmen of a commission convened by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argue for what they term "smart power." This is the "skillful combination" of both hard and soft power, and as a first step to smart power they recommend large increases in U.S. international affairs funding akin to Secretary Gates' recommendations. Among further suggestions, they call for a "smart power" deputy national security advisor and giving civilian agencies regional operational capabilities.

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