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Create ‘Smart Power’ Budget Pool for Tough Times Ahead

Posted by Cheryl Steele on

Contrary to what some say, applying smart power to our most challenging national security issues makes even more sense today amid the severe budget pressures facing the Pentagon and the State Department.

Today’s military and Foreign Service officers will tell you that collaboration and coordination among State, DoD and USAID is more common than one might think– asymmetric threats demand an approach to national security that blends the tools and capabilities of partners in and outside of the U.S. government. Harvard’s Joseph Nye coined the term smart power and defined it as the integration of soft (diplomacy and development) and hardpower (defense) to achieve national security objectives.

But we hear that reaching beyond boundaries to pull in mission partners is not palatable or feasible to many in the national security world.

We think it makes even more sense today for a discrete set of U.S. national security objectives. Under the right circumstances smart power can enhance mission efficiency and effectiveness. With the Pentagon set to cut at least $450 billion from its budget in the next decade, and the State Department and AID facing significant reductions to the International Affairs Budget, efficiency is the guiding principle for government operations.

We believe smart power can make a mission “resource-light.” One way to achieve this is to deploy smart power proactively – identifying issues as they percolate, and thinking through how to get structures in place today that will be of use tomorrow. This enables agencies to spot potential hurdles to collaboration, and to predict where they might duplicate efforts or run into culture clash. Planning now can potentially save time and resources down the road.

Organizations can pursue their own agendas. The assembled smart power “team” can assess the partner best suited to the task. As agencies must demonstrate the value of their own missions to preserve funding, this allows each “actor” to focus on his/her strengths, and to better align activities to core missions. For example, in the area of global health, the interagency representatives within a particular U.S. Embassy can compare their respective projects, partners and success metrics to minimize duplication and maximize impact; allowing the U.S. government in its entirety to tell a more seamless story of collaboration among DoD, USAID and CDC, for example.

Because not all missions require a smart power approach – it’s not one-size-fits-all – the government does not need to reconfigure its daily operations. Smart power isn’t about creating a new structure. It is about understanding how to pull different pieces together.

A mission is a candidate for smart power if its complexities demand more than the normal capability of a single department or agency. Sec. Clinton most recently identified counterterrorism as one candidate – the scope of the issue requires the use of all instruments of national power.

But roadblocks persist

A lack of trust has perpetuated a reluctance to share information and created barriers to collaboration. Officials fear that inviting mission partners to participate may result in loss of resources and responsibilities. This is hardened by a lack of understanding of partners’ strengths and the need to define a “swim lane.”

A recent study shows appreciation of collaboration – and more importantly, coordination – appears to be limited to the junior, and most senior, ranks. Junior military and Foreign Service Officers in the field are living the reality each day. At the highest levels, there’s praise for smart power. But this appreciation does not permeate middle-management, where responsibility for executing strategic planning and oversight of implementation generally reside.

To move forward

To remove the barriers that inhibit smart power, and to make it more palatable, it’s time to:

  • Design simpler policies on interagency coordination and provide clear directives on reaching beyond the government to channel the skills, capabilities and insights of civil society and the private sector. By doing so, we can institutionalize trust. And when an agency selects a non-government partner with the right skills sets to support a mission, we could see a reduction in the need for government resources
  • Designate a budget authority. As Congress trims the national budget, this is all the more critical. This might be similar to the Global Security Contingency Fund model. In Sept., Andrew Shapiro, Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the Department of State, described the approach: “[this] innovative fund would pool resources for the first time with DoD … bring together the expertise necessary for rapid crisis response.” Importantly, these policies should build the respective strengths and capacities of each constituent part.
  • Articulate the value of smart power, particularly the contributions of each “leg” of the stool. At 1.4 percent of the federal budget, the International Affairs Budget gives DoD operations a critical lift. We must show how smart power assembles the right set of tools to address the most complex national security challenges.

Cheryl Steele, a former Foreign Service officer, is a senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton. Jon Allen, also a senior associate at Booz Allen, is a former Army infantry officer.

What do you think?