If hard power is violence and coercion, then soft power is influence and motivation. American power projected across the globe teaches that violence has its limitations. To modify a turn of phrase, war is not always the answer. Coercion causes resentment and, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, creates unnecessary enemies. (Just look at the popular backlash against law enforcement when violence is used as an action of first resort. Many individuals not directly affected by police action have changed their opinions on just how peaceful “peace officers” are.) Violence indeed solves some problems, but it may also cause more problems than it solves — and that’s why we need soft power, too.
In his book, The Accidental Guerrilla, author David Kilcullen writes that soft power on a regional or global scale includes, “international reputation, moral authority, diplomatic weight, persuasive ability, cultural attractiveness, and strategic credibility,” arguing that soft power is a critical piece of enabling hard power and not an either/or proposition. It was America’s soft power after 9/11 that enabled a global response to al-Qaida. American leaders persuaded and gained the cooperation of other nations not directly affected by al-Qaida to join a coalition to wage the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The nations that did not participate in kinetic operations tracked and prosecuted terror financiers, stemmed the flow of foreign fighters and materiel, and cooperated with U.S. intelligence to hunt down known and suspected terrorists.
Now consider America’s soft power in the world in the years following the Iraq War. Between perceived unilateral action, the global battlefield, warrantless spying on U.S. citizens and other “perceived human rights abuses,” America’s standing in the world is diminished, both among its foreign and domestic audiences. In short, U.S. soft power is diminished because the government has harmed its credibility and reputation. To reiterate, your soft power is a critical enabler of your hard power, as Kilcullen writes.
For individuals and communities preparing for a future that incorporates violence and morally ambiguous situations, to omit developing soft power is an unwise move. We can imagine lots of realistic scenarios in which soft power will enable us to achieve or maintain security: gaining the trust of community members to contribute to the security effort, working with local authorities to fight known threats, sharing information with neighboring communities and security groups, and persuading at-risk segments of a community to not support threat elements.
How can we develop soft power as a part of community defense? First, focus on your reputation. There are militias, security teams and prepper groups that have poor reputations, stemming from poor leadership, unrealistic, unethical or immoral goals, past indiscretions, and incompetence. When cooperation is a necessity for community defense, these groups are going to have a much more difficult time finding partners to push in the same direction. You don’t want to be a security partner of last resort with a team reluctant to work with you.
Second, be virtuous people. I foresee that communities who seek justice and do the right thing, even at great personal cost, will be more able to exercise its soft power in an area. Community members, neighbors, and others in the regions will be more likely to trust you and therefore more willing to cooperate towards greater security and stability.
Third, focus on developing an ability to persuade. Influence, by Robert Cialdini, should be on everyone’s bookshelf. Those who are just as interested in solving another person’s problem as they are their own, are more likely to find satisfactory, win-win agreements. If you want to persuade someone to cooperate with you, demonstrate your value and trustworthiness.
Lastly, be technically and tactically proficient. That’s a bit from the U.S. Army’s Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Creed; which, by the way, many of us here at FO have had to recite from memory on more than one occasion. Tactical and technical proficiency should be the standard for those outside the military, too; especially those working towards security and defense. Technical proficiency means knowing your tools and equipment. Whether it’s a radio, rifle, or medical kit, know how to use it and be able to teach others. (Being able to teach and mentor others will go a long way in gaining a positive reputation, too.) Being tactically proficient means knowing how to employ your tools, equipment and teammates to accomplish the mission. You may not need to have been a career infantry soldier to accomplish community defense, however, obtaining tactical training for you and your team, as well as continuing education and follow-on training, is the absolute minimum effort that will be required.
If you can set aside some time to consider how to further develop these four things — your reputation, making virtuous choices, your ability to persuade, and becoming technically and tactically proficient — then you will be developing “soft power” that will benefit you and your community in any SHTF scenario.