1st of a 3-part series

In a USNI Blog exclusive, I recently interviewed Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, Twelfth Air Force and Air Forces Southern Commander, on the USAF’s role in Soft Power. Seip is a passionate and inspirational leader and these traits will serve him and our nation well as the 12th Air Force “builds, enhance, and strengthen partnerships…” 

As you will see by our interview, the USAF is doing some great things in regards to Soft Power. Today’s post focuses on some general background information on soft power as well as funding issues.

Q: What is the U.S. Air Force’s definition of soft power?

Seip: Traditionally, Soft Power has been defined as the courses of action one nation uses (political measures, foreign policy, exportation of cultural values, etc) to influence or persuade another party to cooperate or adopt similar values. But I believe this is too narrow a definition, and that “influence” should never be part of the Soft Power

As I stated in Small Wars Journal, Air Forces Southern is zeroed in on Soft Power because of our area of focus; Central, South America and the Caribbean. Our objective is to promote security, enhance stability and enable partnerships across the Americas. Countering narcoterrorism, promoting human rights and providing humanitarian assistance to partner nations are some examples of Soft Power in action.

Q: What are some of the resources the U.S. Air Force has that can provide soft power?

Seip: Obviously the first resource people think of when the Air Force is involved is airpower….be it airlift, search and rescue or combat forces, the Air Force has a full array of airpower options to assist in Soft Power operations, but our most important resource is our Airmen….Officer, Enlisted, Active, Guard, Reserve and Civilians that make up our Total Force Team. I like to say that we build, enhance and strengthen partnerships with partner nation Air Forces ‘one Airman at a time.’

Although the notion is to first think of military hardware in relation to what the Air Force brings to the table, I prefer to think of Airmen as the key enabler in Soft Power operations. Airmen build bridges, both figuratively and literally, and are the most important part of making a Soft Power initiative successful. At any given time, more than 1,000 US Airmen are deployed in the AFSOUTH area of focus, working alongside other military members and in local communities to assist partner nations during dozens of training, outreach and infrastructure operations.

Airmen provide expertise, innovation, and a high degree of professionalism to every operation they’re involved. Whether it’s flying, engineering, maintenance, environmental, medical, rescue, chaplains, scientists or communicators, Airmen have a wealth of knowledge to share with partner nations. The personal relationships built between military members during Soft Power operations are integral to future military cooperation. When we send a team to assist a partner nation, it’s the spirit of the American Airman that I want people to remember.

Q: Do opportunities exist for the USAF to increase its role in Soft Power? If so, are they funded? If they are not funded, what soft power initiatives are on your unfunded programs list?

Seip: There’s always room for more resources – I run out of dollars long before I run out of opportunities to employ Soft Power initiatives in our AOF. I firmly believe that our great Air Force will participate in even more Soft Power initiatives in the near future.

Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have taught our up-and-coming commanders that firepower isn’t always the most effective means of solving problems. These leaders are bringing this mindset to every command they join; sharing ideas for Soft Power programs that may have helped citizens in the Horn of Africa or Afghanistan and applying them to their new assignments. The Air Force’s global reach and airlift capacity makes us the ‘go-to’ provider during natural disasters, humanitarian assistance and the like.

Money isn’t always the issue – many programs don’t cost a lot, but pay huge dividends to participants. For example: legal exchanges between Air Force JAGs and lawyers in Latin America help to reinforce the rule of law; allowing partner nation Airmen to attend an NCO Academy or Squadron Officer School in the United States increases the professionalization of their corps; deployed Airmen cleaning up a reef near their forward operating location benefits locals and tourists alike; and environmental experts sharing inspection techniques with partner nations can help prevent future pollution. These are some examples of low-cost Soft Power initiatives we’ve found to be very beneficial to our partner nations – in the case of Soft Power, creativity is often more important than a big budget.

While I can’t speak for every command, in AFSOUTH we’ve been particularly fortunate in that military and civilian leadership understand the value and importance in funding Soft Power initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, just six short months ago AFSOUTH received funds directly from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force to execute Operation Southern Partner, the first-ever regionally focused subject matter exchange of its kind. The event proved so successful that our team is planning the next iteration to take place in June and again in the fall. This bi-annual event is focused on providing partner nation Air Forces with subject matter experts in areas they identify as value-added for their Air Forces. USAF members benefit by finding new perspectives on their career specialty and new ways of approaching problems common to Airmen.

For example, during medical exchanges in Chile and Uruguay, doctors from Wilford Hall shared trauma medicine techniques from their past deployments to Balad Air Base, Iraq. During the exchange, the American doctors also learned from their counterparts about new techniques in dealing with heart disease and emergency care. The American doctors were able to take these findings home with them and into their emergency rooms.
That’s success – effective Soft Power initiatives are two-way – we’re learning together with our partners.

Jim, this is only one example. I hope you can join us during the next Operation Southern Partner – to see for yourself Soft Power in action!

As for unfunded programs, our command is very fortunate to have Admiral Stavridis, the USSOUTHCOM commander, leading the Soft Power charge. If we’ve got an idea that might help benefit partner nations in the USSOUTHCOM area of focus, he works hard to find a way to fund these missions. I encourage our team to think of new and innovative programs to share across the region, and we haven’t turned down a good idea due to lack of money.

My interview with Lt. Gen. Seip continues tomorrow. Havy any questions on the interview so far? If so, please post them in the comments section.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power

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  • Dee Illuminati

    “creativity is often more important than a big budget.” That was part of my post a while back, the idea that every enlisted personnel one meets is an ambassador is critical, we remember the exception not the rule.

  • Rogue

    The general’s statement “that “influence” should never be part of the Soft Power equation” strikes me as politically correct semantics. Soft power and influence operations are inextricably linked. We can call it anything, by influence is exactly what we seek through the use of soft, and not-so-soft, power. The objectives listed by the general require that we influence others to share our objectives, influence them to take steps to reach those (hopefully) shared goals, and influence other groups to not act in opposition to our objectives.