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Holshek: We need to rebalance hard and soft power

December 13, 2010

“Soft power” is integral to national power and must therefore be understood and applied strategically – within a holistic, comprehensive context. It’s not either/or, but both:  “soft” (or persuasive) and “hard” (coercive) power are complementary and synergistic – they are co-multipliers.  Still, in the 21st century, America’s “soft” power – the moral suasion of the ideal of e pluribus unum of this nation-of-nations in a globalized world – will play the preeminent role of defining the United States in the world than “hard” power did over the last century. This is not just because hard power is less conducive to the strategic and operational environments we now find ourselves in, in which the United States is no longer the dominant (yet still leading) power.  It is also because “hard” power is too expensive and risk-laden in a world in which the margins of error among decision cycles flattened by 24/7 information are too small.  In the 21st century, “hard” power must be in support of “soft” power more than the other way around. Thus, the civil-military relationship in applied American power must reflect this practical reality as well as align with the moral imperative of a democratic society.  In this way, the United States can best fulfill its international destiny.

– Chris Holshek, Senior Associate

This is from a series of posts by our staff in response to this question: What role should soft power play in 21st century national security?

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