Thursday, March 31, 2011

Smart Power in US Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice on Libya and Japan

Last month, I talked about a new security concept of smart power and US foreign policy. The word of “smart” captures the heart of many people, occasionally without exploring the real meaning of it. Quite often, “smart” or “efficient” organizations fail to manage something unexpected. Regarding smart power, Joseph Nye,Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University, and Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, discussed this concept in US foreign policy in PBS's “Ideas in Action” on March 4. See the video below.





Nye is an authority of smart power and a close advisor to the Obama administration, while Kagan is a leading neoconservative commentator who was a foreign policy consultant for John McCain in the last presidential election. Therefore, this program illustrates how the new concept is viewed among American foreign policy makers. In the program, Professor Nye explains that smart power is a combination of hard power, which is economic and military power, and soft power, which is persuasion and attraction. Nye says that the United States is still the preeminent power, because of ideological supremacy. Robert Kagan agrees that power is multidimensional and smart use of those powers will be helpful to US diplomacy. However, Kagan insists that soft power is effective only when associated with strong hard power, as typically seen in US security umbrella during the Cold War.

Today, security challenges are intertwined. While global issues like financial disorder, environmental degradations, and non-state actor threats need transnational cooperation, traditional state to state rivalries are growing. Quite importantly, as Kagan argues, charm of Obama has not had any effect to curb Chinese and Iranian challenges. Nye also agrees importance of military power in this century. Through the discussion by both opinion leaders, we understand that the use of hard power and soft power is correlated.

When we talk of smart power, we must remember that the nature of security challenges is evolving increasingly intertwined. This is not only an agenda of US foreign policy. The strategic security concept adopted at NATO Lisbon summit in November last year states, “A comprehensive political, civilian and military approach is necessary for effective crisis management”, in order to tackle such security challenges discussed by Nye and Kagan.

Currently, humanitarian intervention to Libya and the nuclear crisis in Japan are critical cases to discuss smart power in practice. The former is a traditional power rivalry of “The West and the Rest”, as China, Russia, and India did not vote for the war at the UN Security Council. The latter, however, requires transnational cooperation. Since nuclear energy and environmental issues are critical agenda of global commons, problems are beyond national and ideological clashes.

The case of Libya is quite puzzling. At the beginning, the Obama administration was too cautious of humanitarian intervention, while France and Britain urged American commitment. This is completely opposite to the Iraq War. Solid Western alliance is essential to help rebels against the Kadafi regime. In addition to policy coordination with allies, the Obama administration is psychologically traumatized with anti-American protests during the Iraq War. This is not the only reason for Obama’s hesitation to “boots on the ground”. Those who urge US commitment are neoconservatives who advocate regime change and liberals who insist on humanitarian intervention. Meanwhile, the Congress demanded Obama to clarify war objectives and the limit of intervention (“Pressure building on Obama to clarify mission in Libya”; Washington Post; March 24, 2011). Quite embarrassingly, “Mr. Obama’s administration, however, has clearly tried to avoid the debate over a strategy beyond that by shifting the burden of enforcing the United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing force on to France, Britain and other allies, including Arab nations like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, which on Thursday said that it would contribute warplanes to the effort. In other words, the American exit strategy is not necessarily the coalition’s exit strategy.” (“Allies Are Split on Goal and Exit Strategy in Libya”; New York Times; March 25, 2011)

As the debate on the Libya strategy became intensified, Senator John McCain urged the Obama administration to act beyond air attack, and not to allow Kadafi to massacre Libyan citizens (“McCain Wants Obama to Oust Qaddafi”; FOX News; March 25, 2011). On the other hand Professor Joseph Nye defended Obama’s approach. The United States avoids unilateralism and behaves humbly by leaving command responsibility to NATO. Also, Nye endorses Obama’s restraint on strategic objectives and fighting duration (“Four reasons to support Obama on Libya strikes”; Power & Policy; March 22, 2011).

But we should remember that In response to pressure from inside and outside the United States, Obama extolled America’s special role and universal values, and rejected realism in the speech at the National Defense University on March 28. Robert Kagan comments his speech Kennedy-esque (“In Obama’s speech, echoes of JFK”; Washington Post—Post Partisan; March 28, 2011). See the video below.






At the London Conference hosted by British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Secretary Hillary Clinton met Libyan opposition leader Mahmoud Jebril, and discussed democratic transition of Libya. However, the United States prefers political pressure to oust Kadafi. Though majority of rebel fighters are responsible Libyans, NATO Commander Admiral James Stavridis testified at Capitol Hill that some of them were associated with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah (“Summit swings behind Libyan rebels”; Financial Times; March 29, 2011). In addition to domestic opinions against unlimited war expansion and relations with European allies, this makes the Obama administration still cautious of “boots on the ground” decision.

The Fukushima Nuclear Accident caused by the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake requires transnational policy coordination beyond national strategic interests and ideology. Above all, the United States has more resources to manage this crisis than any other countries, a cabal of nuclear experts and the most well-equipped armed forces in the world. Michael Auslin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise, urged US armed forces to help Japanese earthquake victims. As Japan has only 100 military helicopters, he recommends more US heavy-lift helicopters to be sent (“Japan Needs Its Own Berlin Airlift”; FOX News; March 15, 2011). The earthquake and subsequent tsunami has inflicted dreadful damages to the Japanese economy, and the United States must support this ally that cannot help becoming inward-looking for years. Despite difficult economic ties, political ties of both countries are strengthened by the joint rescue and reconstruction mission of the Operation Tomodachi (“The US Military's Role”; New York Times Room for Debate; March 16, 2011). Rescue teams from other countries also give substantial help to Japanese victims.

In addition to multinational rescue and reconstruction activities, new global governance for nuclear safety must be established. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev proposed to expand nuclear safety regulations by international organizations. Also, Medvadev said that Russia would be willing to offer technological help to safe nuclear plants in developing countries(”Russian standards of safety for nuclear power industry should be adopted internationally”; President of Russia News; March 24, 2011).

Libya and Japan are vital cases to explore practical use of smart power in American foreign policy. The former needs traditional power oriented approaches, as insisted by Kagan. The latter needs multi-multilateral coordination including civil societies and local communities, as maintained by Nye. Being smart does not necessarily mean achieving something with smaller capital and manpower. Smart power diplomacy must deepen American involvement in global security. Any presidents must be psychologically into the world.