Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Re-Inventing Political Warfare

Re-Inventing Political Warfare

Last week, I wrote here that the U.S. can’t only deal with al-Qaida militarily and stated that: “The U.S. military will be a player in all of this, but it should really be supporting the other interagency actors involved in assisting the regional governments under threat.” Hours after submitting that blog entry a colleague alerted me to the fact that in the forthcoming fall issue of FPRI’s quarterly journal of world affairs, ” Orbis,” an article will appear that deals with the very issue of using other governmental means to competitively engage with our threats, challengers and competitors abroad.

In “Competitive Engagement: Upgrading America’s Influence,” Nadia Schadlow, a former Defense Policy Board member and Senior Program Officer in the International Security & Foreign Policy Program at the Smith Richardson Foundation, argues that organizations across the U.S. government that work overseas have to think about the challenge of their operating environments in ways that deal with the competitive nature of those interactions. From her introduction:

Being successful in a competition requires knowing and understanding both one’s competitors and oneself. Yet in those areas where non-military instruments of power dominate, the culture and the organizations needed to act competitively to achieve desired outcomes is generally absent. For the most part, competitive thinking is left to the realm of hard power. Only our military and intelligence agencies are structured to think and act competitively. The imbalance between military and non-military instruments of power is likely to continue unless civilian agencies develop approaches which account for the contested landscapes in which they function.

A posture of competitive engagement would require that the civilian actors who oversee U.S. economic and humanitarian programs account for the fact that new ideas, economic strategies, civic action plans, and even public health-related initiatives are contested by vested interests or ideological or political opponents. This is true in a range of countries—from Pakistan, to Egypt, to Uzbekistan, to Somalia. It requires the recognition that even the building of a girl’s school in Afghanistan or a health clinic in the Sudan is a political act. As the head of the Australian government’s aid agency put it, “aid is 10 percent technical and 90 percent political.”

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