[Viewpoint]Beyond ‘smart power’

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[Viewpoint]Beyond ‘smart power’

‘Smart power’ has returned to draw our attention since the new United States Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stressed her determination to harness it at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Jan. 13. She expressed her intention to choose the right tool or combination of a variety of diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural tools to ensure the United States remains a positive force in the world.

In this context, it can be recalled that the bipartisan CSIS Smart Power Commission chaired by Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and former Deputy State Secretary Richard Armitage presented its final report in Nov. 2007, one year before the presidential election, to recommend a national security policy the U.S. should implement no matter who takes office in the White House. The crux of the report was that the United States must move from eliciting fear and anger to inspiring optimism and hope around the globe.

It is therefore logical and natural for the Obama administration to adopt the recommendations contained in the report in an effort to liberate the United States from the image of the neocons who pursued unilateralism based on hard power over the last eight years.

But there are a couple of points to be raised: First, the Obama government needs even more mature and refined diplomacy than what Secretary Clinton professed. It must resort to more ‘soft power’ components within the smart power strategy and evolve smart power itself with a more farsighted vision. Next, it needs more detailed country-specific means to dovetail its smart power with that of others.

At the outset, the Obama administration is faced with hard challenges for which soft power solutions may prove ineffectual to thwart terrorism and fight diseases and poverty in the Third World. These challenges have been tackled by previous administrations and most probably will remain pressing in the coming decades.

This is why not only tough but wise choices for closer collaboration with other nations are necessary.

The concept of smart power came into being from the perception that neither hard power nor soft power alone is sufficient to cope with traditional and nontraditional threats. As soft power evolved from hard power, so has smart power.

This, however, is not the end of the continuum because still smart power is not a panacea. Smart power looks agile, swift, efficient and cost-effective. Countries like the United States need a more long-term stable power base - a national image others would respect. This requires the wisdom to share its values with others.

This can be called smart power plus or wise power. We need smart power to win ongoing wars, solve impending conflicts, settle current disputes, deter present threats and struggle with imminent dangers.

But wise power is required when we strive to prevent upcoming dangers, attract allies, alleviate woes of potential enemies, reduce causes of war, construct a longstanding framework of win-win situations and eventually build durable peace.

In the years ahead, Secretary Clinton should go further than the Millennium Development Goals and women’s rights that she emphasized during the confirmation hearing. It is recommended that she exert more energy and passion in bridging gaps between diverse values, ideas, languages and cultures of friend and foe alike.

She gave assurances of her commitment to investing in common humanity through social development and for a Global Educational Fund to bolster secular education across the world. In addition, she can also make the best use of time-honored American institutions of higher learning as valuable resources of smart power through advanced educational programs developed by both the public and private sectors.

Ultimately, the United States shall find it wise to accept non- Judeo-Christian values and integrate them with its own to be more than a smart power.

It would be desirable for the Obama administration to invest in translating the Koran, the Vedas, Sutra, Confucian Analects and the Tao Te Ching into English and teaching them to American schoolchildren to facilitate communication with people who grow up with values learned from those scriptures.

In general, responses to Secretary Clinton’s statements from the rest of the world including Korea seem to show a belief that smart power is an agenda unique to the United States, which is grappling with the perils of decline as the world’s only superpower, just as the Roman Empire did centuries ago.

Some people may think that for a country like Korea it is mere conceit or a luxury to talk about anything but hard power (i.e. economic and military strength) to survive in this era of global economic meltdown and of wars in the Middle East, Africa and Afghanistan as well as heightened tensions from North Korea’s bellicose posture.

Nonetheless, Secretary Clinton’s statement comes out at a time the U.S. economy is in shambles, while the Smart Power Commission report did not anticipate the crisis sparked by the subprime mortgage meltdown, though it warned of global financial instability.

As the United States needs smart power regardless of its economic circumstances, all countries need it regardless of the size of their territory, population or economy.

This means that not only the United States, which aspires to remain the sole superpower in this millennium, but also all other nations that are determined to stay secure and prosper, South Korea included, can and must build and wield smart power as do a number of small but strong European states.

What the Korean government has to do at this juncture has become clear. It has to think how the nation has to be branded; build up its own image to be at least as decent as other member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development; expand its bilateral alliance with the United States in the domains of wise power; and evolve the [Korea-U.S.] alliance into a multilateral mechanism by playing a significant role in U.S.-initiated multinational endeavors.

Additionally, one significant component of smart power as underlined by Secretary Clinton is a global developmental strategy. She made it clear that the State Department will revitalize functions of the U.S. Agency for International Development that were downsized during the past eight years of the Bush administration.

The Korean government plans to expand its official development assistance budget to 0.1 percent of the annual gross domestic product. It also shares concerns and interests with the United States in major global issues such as climate change, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, piracy, disarray in financial markets, pandemics and many more.

Korea can aspire to become a wise power if it can manage to incorporate a range of its traditional values into global standards and terms of reference - loyalty to the nation, filial piety, respect for elders, diligence, Hangul and its high literacy rate, ardor for education and learning, love of arts and sports, religious harmony and resilience. If the Republic of Korea becomes a country admired by others in doing so, none would dare to threaten it, and many countries would be willing to cooperate in fending off external threats.


The writer is a professor emeritus, Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.

by Kim Jae-bum
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