American influencing public opinion abroad is the most effective, adaptable, cost-effective and humane means of leveraging tax dollars to promote national security. The US don’t need to use threats or force. And it is important to the West.

American soft power is abundant, the policies of attraction that Professor Nye has so elegantly crystallized: long-term, positive, appealing aspects of American culture and society that aren’t necessarily calibrated to promote a particular policy or initiative, but are always working for us in the background. Then there is the evolution of “soft power” idea to “smart power,” as Professor Nye and his colleagues have done.

US Professor J. Michael Waller has taken that concept a bit further still, adding a hard edge to soft power when attraction fails, but giving our nation extra tools to use instead of military force. This edge takes two forms.

The first is political action – the same type of political action that other countries use against the United States when they hire lobbyists, fund grass-roots front organizations, and channel money through political action committees and similar organizations.

If other countries can use the American system to apply pressure on Members of Congress and the executive branch – and even further their agendas by helping elect or defeat candidates and incumbents – then is the United States not compelled to do the same around the world to promote its own interests? So there is a need, Professor Waller has argued, for a political action instrument of US national security policy to influence public opinion and decisionmaking in other countries.

When softer persuasive methods and political actions fail, there is a need for another instrument of statecraft: political warfare. Political warfare differs from political action in that it is inherently aggressive but it stays within the confines of civilized political conflict and can avoid the need to use military force. Professor Waller argues for the use of political warfare as a means of influencing public opinion and the policies of leaders around the world to promote American national security. Using political warfare would make it possible to avoid the perceived need to resort to economic sanctions and military force that needlessly harm human life.

For further reading see J. Michael Waller, Strategic Influence: Public Diplomacy, Counterpropaganda and Political Warfare (2010). It is a work of 13 scholars and practitioners in the fields and surveys the subjects of public diplomacy, counterpropaganda and political warfare from the American Revolution through the Cold War, to present-day wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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