The world has changed significantly in the recent past. A new U.S. administration promises to modify or change the national security structure, renewed tensions in the Middle East have escalated global threats and the worldwide financial crisis has worsened. This is in dramatic contrast to the relative stability of the threat environment that generally characterized the Cold War era. A new and practical national security strategy that will work effectively and best serve the U.S., its allies, and the world is required. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated "...correcting that acute imbalance in American 'hard' and 'soft' power is likely to prove the single greatest challenge for the next Secretary of State..." in her confirmation hearings.
Soft power can be wielded strategically and proactively. Soft power must also be a major priority for the current administration. It must be coordinated across agencies, and include both private and non-governmental organizations. To do so, the existing national security structure must be re-evaluated. While there would naturally be obstacles to such a large-scale change, experience shows that when it is a priority, these changes can be effectively made in a timely manner. The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the restructuring of national security functions after September 11, 2001 is a prime example. And there is considerable thought being given to these views.
On the other hand, hard power may be completely different by 2020, and the U.S. must be ready for anything. Further, while the concept of soft power is intuitively understood, it is empirically known to be difficult to implement. Also, compounding these challenges, the increasing importance of environmental issues, including climate change, renewable energies and availability of food supplies, will need to be given greater consideration.
The U.S. must develop a truly integrated national security strategy that synchronizes both hard and soft power appropriate for the specifics of each situation, and that adjusts as the particular threat evolves. This mix is now commonly referred to as "smart power."
Smart power is an accurate description, since smart power must be based upon an understanding that the dynamic, unpredictable character of today's security challenges demands a strategy with commensurate flexibility.
While the nation's ability to respond militarily will always remain relevant, even dominant, the U.S. must aggressively and creatively pursue opportunities to use soft power through avenues that include law, trade, diplomacy, humanitarian operations and strategic communications. Only by creating a comprehensive capacity to build and adapt diverse combinations of hard and soft power flexibly and rapidly will America successfully wield the smart power necessary to safeguard national security interests.
The challenge is integrating hard and soft power, finding the right mix of the two and aligning resources and structures to achieve smart power.