Employing Power

Dr. Naif Alhadari


The regression of the role of war and military power will be one of the more glaring aspects of the coming decades. According to Joseph Nye, an American political thinker, using military power will be expensive in the new millennium, because people "are looking for luxury and not glory". In other words, the nature of modern people tends to lean towards peace, security, and stability, and is different from that of previous generations that went out on demonstrations, and support marches for armies during the Second World War, and subsequent wars of the nineteen-fifties and sixties. Wars of the future won't take on the traditional forms of the past, but will be clever wars and short-term ones, using clever and precise weaponry. For example in recent years, America has been able to develop a small but smart army that depends on technology and advanced programming and is ready to stage quick confrontations, anywhere in the world.



Knowing the extent of power that a country enjoys, is an important factor for determining political strategy, and each country needs to evaluate the power it has (especially soft power) and to know its sources and effective means, aspects of deficiency and weakness therein, as well as strategies required for employing this power. And because power is ever-changing and the stronger party may not continue to be strong and the weaker not always weak, the bet will be on the countries that know the limits of their ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ power; and those who can grow this power and employ it in an effective way. On the other hand, there are countries that have huge resources of power but cannot employ it in a manner that serves its interests. Regarding this, Joseph Nye says: "There are countries that have resources of power, more so than others, but fail to convert this power into positive outputs or results, and this is what I call the problem of transforming power".



Naturally, the question of transforming power is important for the future of nations; and employing soft power rather than military power is an important aspect of the new millennium. There are many lessons from the past regarding the importance of employing power, and how some countries failed to do this while others succeeded. Huge military power, and atom bombs, did not stop the Soviet Union from falling in 1991, and on the other hand, not having a military did not make Switzerland a weak country or ineffective on the international scene. The soft power that Switzerland has is what makes it more powerful than countries that have armies, armadas, and even nuclear bombs.



Of the more important means for employing power is benefitting from the strength of others, and entering into partnership with them to achieve common interests - instead of trying to bend them by force or using hard power - and to work towards partnership, cooperation, and agreement. These are the more effective means for the political and economic containment of competitors. It is also the principle recommended by former Chinese president, Deng Xiaoping, to the Chinese government to deal with the US, in other words using harmony rather than opposition. He said: "Increase confidence, reduce problems, develop cooperation, and avoid confrontation…".



Ownership of media outlets and influential media platforms



Media are one of the most important sources of power for countries, they are soft weapons, but very effective; and are a means of employing power in a way that deeply affects others. For the voice of a nation to be strong, and have effect on international public opinion, it must have strong media and media platforms because strong media will be the quicker and more effective means for protecting agendas and national ideologies, and to re-arrange the priorities of other countries. Through the media, enemy countries can resort to vilifying their enemies, and using media to direct hostile political messages into other countries to affect the stability of these countries. Therefore, for countries to become regionally influential, they must have influential media platforms, adopt an opposing media theory, and lean towards privatizing their media while reducing dependence on government outlets that are not effective on the viewer or the reader in our present day and age. Private media are currently guiding the world scene, and are the ones with greater influence.



Qualified personnel, influence and the middle class



One of the most important elements of success in employing power is to appoint the right person in the right place, in other words employing the most qualified people, especially appointing personnel who carry ideas for developing and reforming, and employing them in the roles most suited to their qualifications. Samuel Huntington, the famous thinker, said: “appointing modern men in a bureaucracy, is necessary indeed for reform, and is an essential means that allows the ruler to reduce his dependency on the traditional elite of the bureaucracy”.


Also, one of the most important elements, is to widen influence by gaining maximum impact on new entities, nations, countries, and markets, in addition to using intelligence in distributing influence, through employing diplomatic methods and tactics. For example, the tactic of ‘driving from behind’ was employed by the USA in the Libyan crisis, when it allowed NATO to lead, and USA played the role of the leader from behind while providing logistical support and help.



Maintaining a middle class is also a main factor for maintaining power. The deterioration of this class brings with it disastrous consequences in any country, even if there is a developing economy. This economy cannot stop the erosion of the middle class because inflation and the increase of the number of rich and poor, at same momentum, destroys the middle class. And modern economic policies must be applied to solve poverty and unemployment, and fulfill the economic needs of the middle class to protect it from erosion.



Finally, there are indications that can help countries to detect shortcomings in their efforts to know and employ the power they own. When you have a heritage of culture and civilization, but cannot market it to others, then you have a dysfunction in understanding the limits of your soft power. When you are the party that contributes the most towards humanitarian and relief efforts but you do not have a supporting media that broadcast these efforts to the world, then you are in need of changing the mechanisms of power at your disposal. And when you host thousands of foreign students and do not have an effect on them, their values, or the mental image they have of you, then you are in need of using your values in a manner that supports your image in the eyes of others.



In the end, countries who aspire to be in the front line and build their futures with their own hands, are the ones who are the quickest to set up a ‘council’ or ‘authority’ for increasing soft power and taking steps forward towards ‘smart power’, in order to employ it in the appropriate manner that achieves their interests and preserves their gains. Because, if you don’t know the extent of your power, or the proper way to employ it, then logically you shouldn’t expect others to inform you about it.






Dr. Naif Alhadari is a Saudi writer, researcher and media advisor. He has worked for several prominent Saudi media outlets.

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