Interpreting “Soft War”

Soft War

The importance of discussing the concept of 'Soft War' in Lebanon arises due to the transition in the fields of confrontation from the military aspe

Interpreting “Soft War”

Hadi Kobaysi

The importance of discussing the concept of "Soft War" in Lebanon arises due to the transition in the fields of confrontation from the military aspect to other domains which we have not yet competently dealt with in a way which enables us to be on an equal level with the enemy in our conflict. There have been many discussions, debates, and disputes to determine the systematic framework or basis of this concept in order to satisfy the need and intellectual vision. Nonetheless, many have been heedless of its pragmatic structure and have diverted away from the aspect of implementation which it was actually initiated for- as if it were a philosophical concept or fixed term while it actually signifies a direct and current practical approach.

The term "the Soft War" was used by the Supreme Leader of Iran, Imam Khamenei, as an ideological and strategic heading for a specific front-line in the ongoing conflict for the past decade between Iran and the West. On the other hand, "Soft Power" is the weapon which is used in this conflict. Joseph Nye who coined the term "Soft Power" states that: "Power means the ability to do things and control others; to get others to do what they otherwise would not do." In an essay issued in 1990, Nye presents a preliminary explanation for the term "Soft War”: “This second aspect of power- which occurs when one country gets other countries to want what it wants- might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command power of ordering others to do what it wants.”

Nye proceeds to give roots to the concept from a historical and experiential aspect. He considers that “political leaders and philosophers have long understood the power of attractive ideas or the ability to set the political agenda and determine the framework of debate in a way that shapes others' preferences” . He promotes his idea through emphasizing its importance and effectiveness and maintains that “soft co-optive power is just as important as hard command power. If a state can make its power seem legitimate in the eyes of others, it will encounter less resistance to its wishes. If its culture and ideology are attractive, others will more willingly follow. If it can establish international norms consistent with its society, it is less likely to have to change. If it can support institutions that make other states wish to channel or limit their activities in ways the dominant state prefers, it may be spared the costly exercise of coercive or hard power.”

"Soft Power" is a relatively modern term which is still under discussion. Altogether, it is a coined term which is subject to various interpretations depending on practical aims or cultural and political backgrounds. This term has shifted to formal use in American policies and strategies under different phrases and overlapping headings such as: Winning Hearts and Minds, War of Ideas, Public Diplomacy, Leading through Civilian Power, cultural diplomacy, Global Developmental Initiatives, Building Moderate Muslim Networks, Information Operations, Psychological Operations, and Conflict Prevention.

The different terms for “Soft War” have become the theoretical framework for American foreign policy. They have also been transformed as names for institutions which are part of the Department of State and other establishments. Official expenditure in this domain has increased in comparison to the past due to the growth of globalization and the capacity to make an impact through civil means aided by the break-up of national boundaries in our modern era. Here, it is necessary to point out that influence through civil means in comparison to military ones is a very old method in power policies which dates back to the Roman Empire and even prior to that. This method was theoretically and practically reinforced to a great extent during the Cold War due to the difficulty of plunging into a military nuclear war and mutual mass destruction.

Lately, in the year 2010, the American Department of State issued a quadrennial for the first time in its history under the heading: “Civil Power”. It forms an advanced point concerning increase of expenditure, attention, and intent upon benefiting from globalization in order to influence other countries’ policies and factions for the sake of an imperialistic enterprise. Official and non-official centers of research all over the world have published tens of thousands of studies and practical field recommendations to advance the benefit which is reaped from civilian frameworks and means in order to win political- and even military- battles. This has become more significant especially after almost all wars have turned into disproportionate clashes between classical armies and national movements which have no full control over their civilian masses.

The American “National Defense Strategy” which was issued in 2008 specifies the effect of “Soft Power” on achieving strategic American interests in the following framework: “To pursue these interests, the U.S. has developed military capabilities and alliances and coalitions, participated in and supported international security and economic institutions, used diplomacy and soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system, and using force when necessary.”

The concept of “Soft War” in its different expressions was present a long time before Joseph Nye’s concept, but only recently has it become a prompt matter of discussion and has gained a more important spot. Nye refers to this historical fact in his first essay on the issue of “Soft Power” in the year 1990 where he states: “Co-optive power -getting others to want what you want-and soft power resources-cultural attraction, ideology, and international institutions- are not new. In the early postwar period, the Soviet Union profited greatly from such soft resources as communist ideology, the myth of inevitability, and transnational communist institutions. Various trends today are making co-optive behavior and soft power resources relatively more important.”

Nye points out that one of the reasons for this transformation is “because the use of force has become more costly, less threatening forms of power have grown increasingly attractive” . He emphasizes another aspect in the course of development which has led to the increase in the importance of “soft power” and considers that “when ideals are an important source of power, the classic distinction between realpolitik and liberalism becomes blurred. The realist who focuses only on the balance of hard power will miss the power of transnational ideas” .

We can notice the difference between the conceptual definition which Joseph Nye presents and the official definition of the previous American Secretary of State Robert Gates. In his first book which was published in 1990, Nye discusses the aspects of power as “the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes you want. There are several ways one can achieve this: you can coerce them with threats; you can induce them with payments; or you can attract and co-opt them to want what you want” . He denies that bribery can be one of the instruments of “soft power” while Robert Gates considers that enhancing American “soft power” may be undergone “by a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security- diplomacy, strategic communications, foreign assistance, civic action and economic reconstruction and development” .

In another statement, we find that Gates delves into a wider approach concerning “soft” ways and instruments: “Our efforts must also address economic development, institution building, the rule of law, promoting internal reconciliation, good or at least decent governance, public services, training and equipping indigenous security forces, effective, strategic communications, and more. These so-called soft capabilities along with military power are indispensable to any lasting success, indeed, to victory itself as Clausewitz understood it, which is achieving a political objective.”

He broadens the framework of “soft power” to constitute the economic and constructive aspect, and we can also note that Joseph Nye further develops this concept in his second book which was published in 2004 where he considers that: “Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive” . It is evident that individual prospects have become a part of the instruments. However, the context of “soft power” is attraction instruments: persuasion and influence- not coercion and imposition which are carried out through military force or economic sanctions.

Hence, we have taken a glimpse into the main viewpoints concerning this concept and we have seen how the country which most maintains this idea’s significance on the practical level puts it into application. However, we must also consider the opposite perspective which is asserted by anti-American powers that perceive “soft power” as a threat. The power which is the most heedful of this challenge is the Islamic Republic of Iran which is the target of a non-stop “Soft War” in its various forms and on multiple levels because a military war against it would be too costly.

One of the official Iranian references issued by Sadra: The Center for Cultural and Social Research and Studies –an official state affiliated center- defines “Soft War” as follows: “ ‘Soft war’ is defined in contrast to hard force, and it actually includes any form of psychological, propaganda, media, or cultural operation which targets the society or a certain group and drives the opponent toward agitation or defeat without the use of military combat or hard force. ‘Soft war’ aims at crushing the targeted society’s ideology in order to weaken its intellectual and cultural elements and to spread instability and commotion in the socio-political system through a media and news onslaught. ‘Soft war’ encompasses all operations which are accomplished through cyber war and internet activity including the establishment of radio and television networks among other means. ‘Soft war’ is sometimes used as a substitute for aggressive measures when the latter lose their effectiveness, and at other times it is a prelude and preparation for a military assault” .

This reference includes an introduction about relevant concepts such as Globalization, Secularization, Way of Life, in addition to a chapter about regime change in accordance with the soft targeting which Iran is now facing. It also includes many points which the American Secretary of State mentioned or which were a part of the American “National Defense Strategy” along with other formal and political documents.

Through this brief discussion we can deduce that this concept is dependent upon practical aims and can be developed according to them. This is due to the fact that this concept is no longer theoretical and has become an official policy in the United States and even in China and Russia, and there are also some who discuss Iranian “soft power”. It is a concept which describes political activity and conduct that are not limited to a fixed form and are able to be developed regardless of time, place, circumstances, scientific and technological advancement, in addition to the accumulation of experiences in the field of confrontation which requires ingenuity, innovation, and constant enhancement in an attempt to overcome the foe.

In what follows, we shall pose a set of questions which are suitable for generative discussion and which contribute to planning for the confrontation on our Lebanese front-line in this war.

Questions for Discussion:

Theoretical Approach

1-Does the dilemma of the concept’s theoretical framework arise from its wide ranges, the ambiguity of its instruments in comparison with military war which has a specific set of weapons and means, its emergence as a term after its actual usage, or the difference in its application to the influencers and the influenced according to their circumstances?

2-Was the concept of “soft power” coined in order to create a new way to use power or to describe and sustain policies which were already existent in political history?

3-Does the concept of “soft power” propose a certain official framework or a term which is subject to practical and theoretical development?

4- Why hasn’t “soft power” been transformed to an official concept? (For example: A “Soft War” Ministry in the countries which possess that power)

5-Can imperialistic countries ensure that their official speech will include a complete conceptual framework and practical instruments which are used outside the domain of military war?

6-Is there anything which compels the various state systems to determine the framework of their activities in a certain theoretical sphere?

7-Is there anything which prevents the major countries - especially the United States- from altering any policy or concept according to circumstances in order to achieve their aim?

Practical Approach

1-Can we specify our own concept of “Soft War” in Lebanon based on our special theoretical and practical needs? How?

2-What are our particular motives behind the specification of this concept?
If our motive is scholarly and theoretical, then what will be the outcome of this concept and its intellectual usage?
If our motive is practical and realistic, then what are the policies and actions which we intend to resort to in this domain?

3-What are the practical determinants which form a prelude for the specification of the framework of the “soft war” we are facing in Lebanon?

4-Can we place the framework of “soft war” under the heading: “Everything which is Non-Military”?

5-Can we determine a general framework of the “soft war” we are facing and then specify our possible ways of confrontation and thus obtain a theoretical framework particular to the situation in Lebanon and a general framework concerning the means of confrontation?

6-The concept of “soft war” is for benefit and utilization and not only for determining details and theoretical frameworks. How can we make use of the wide usage of this term in order to establish an actual civil front-line?

7-To what extent is the necessity of establishing a reference about soft targeting in Lebanon which confines the instruments, policies, and programs that are adopted in the face of the Resistance?

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