15 February 2011

Sound Off! Airpower v Soft Power

In order to bring about a change in another country's behavior, which is more effective?


Soft Power?

Sound off in the comments with your thoughts!

By: Brant


Guardian said...

South Africa is the only case in recent history where I can think of soft power alone changed a regime or its behavior under external pressure.

Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq have all defied soft power. The recent democratic revolutions in the Middle East (as in Tunisia, Egypt, and possibly elsewhere) are hard to trace to externally-applied soft power. They are essentially internally-driven. We can claim that we are "on the right side of history" and that the neo-conservative vision for democratic reform in the Middle East (at gunpoint if necessary) has been vindicated, but I think that is analogous to me claiming credit for the Sun rising in the east this morning.

On the other hand, air power and other kinetic effects have definitely changed regimes or behaviors in the case of al Qaeda, the Afghan Taliban, Iraq, Libya (which seems to have responded well to the example that was made of the Hussein regime in Iraq), and others.

It would be great if soft power actually worked on today's problem regimes and trans-national actors, but empirically it just doesn't seem to have much effect.

Just my two-cents worth as an amateur observer of history and current events...

- Guardian

Anonymous said...

Guardian said, "Air power and other kinetic effects". Cheat cheat cheat! Air power alone has never changed a regime.

However, in fairness, it's only been tried rarely. I can recall only one "pure" air campaign off the top of my head - Kosovo 1999. And that didn't work out very well, and the operation was only concluded by a ground invasion of Kosovo by NATO.

Even the brief "RAF as Imperial police" phase in the 1920s in Somaliland, Iraq and Transjordan etc. was undertaken in concert with ground forces. And even then it was only to put down local tribal rebellions against a regime which the British had imposed on the area in the first place!

Brant said...

While airpower did not bring about regime change in either Iraq or Kosovo, did it alter the behavior of the belligerents at all?

There's a difference between changing behavior and changing regimes, y'know :)

Guardian said...

Guilty as charged, Itmurnau. I conflated "air power" specifically with "hard power"/kinetic effects in general because air power alone has also been generally ineffective.

It did bring about some small changes in behavior in Iraq: Iraq would violate the 1991 truce, the Allies would smack them around with air power for a few days (ala Operation DESERT FOX), and then they'd behave a little better for a little while.

One could also say that air power was semi-effective in Kosovo because the eventual Allied invasion of Kosovo was largely unopposed by the Serbs after the air campaign. In fact, the Russians almost ended up being the active opposition in the ground campaign in Kosovo :). Considering how things have gone in Kosovo since then, maybe the Russians were right after all :).

-- Guardian