About the speaker
Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon is a Senior Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, and teaches at American University. For several decades, she has been one of the finest analysts and best proponents of public diplomacy in the war of ideas.
Her new book is The Art of Peace: Engaging a Complex World (Routledge). Her others books relevant to this topic are Cultural Intelligence for Winning the Peace and Why America is Such a Hard Sell: Beyond Pride and Prejudice.
Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (Ret.) says, “Juliana Geran Pilon explains disconnects between the instrumental use of violence and objectives in recent and ongoing conflicts. The neglect of the political and human nature of war has been a common cause of strategic failure as well as a common flaw in theories that oftentimes contribute to those failures. Indeed, recent wartime plans have exhibited a narcissistic approach, failing to account for interactions with determined enemies and other complicating political, cultural, historical and economic factors. Armed conflict is a competition and, as Dr. Pilon points out, winning the peace requires fighting across all contested spaces and considering the consolidation of military gains as an integral part of war. It is not enough to read The Art of Peace. We must also heed its lessons.”
Gen. James Mattis (Ret.) states that, “Juliana Pilon is to be commended for pressing the question of American competence in carrying out its global engagement. As she rightly points out in her book, we need to fully engage both our fundamental powers in American foreign policy: the power of inspiration and, when and where needed, the power of intimidation.”
Dr. Pilon believes that the steep rise in unconventional conflict has increased the need for diplomatic and other non-hard power tools of statecraft. Throughout the years, U.S. foreign policy has strayed from diplomacy and become – and stayed – militarized. The military, even if indispensable to national security as a deterrent, should not be the only – or even the main – branch of government required to prepare itself for future threats. The need for diplomatic and other non-hard-power tools of statecraft has not diminished; on the contrary, the steep rise in unconventional conflict has raised their importance. She supports an American strategy that effectively synchronizes all instruments of power. It can no longer afford to sit on the proverbial three-legged (“military, diplomacy, development”) national security stool, where one leg is a lot longer than either of the other two, almost neglecting altogether about a fourth leg – information, especially strategic communication and public diplomacy.
In 2014, she helped found the Daniel Morgan Academy in Washington, DC. Her other books include: Cultural Intelligence for Winning the Peace; Why America is Such a Hard Sell: Beyond Pride and Prejudice; The Bloody Flag: Post-Communist Nationalism in Eastern Europe,andNotes From the Other Side of Night. She has also published over two hundred articles and reviews on international affairs, human rights, literature, and philosophy, has made frequent appearances on radio and television, and has served on several advisory boards. She has taught at several colleges and universities including the National Defense University and George Washington University. During the 1990s, she was first Director and later Vice President for Programs at IFES (The International Foundation for Election Systems), where she designed and managed a wide variety of democratization-related projects.
Born in Romania, she emigrated with her family to the US; she earned a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and was an Earhart Foundation post-doctoral fellow at the Hoover Institution.
Juliana Pilon is a Senior Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. She also teaches at American University. I’ll make this very brief. As you saw in the invitation, both General McMasters and General Mattis have given absolute raves for The Art of Peace: Engaging a Complex World, which is Juliana’s topic tonight.
I would simply just like to add, having known Juliana since she was a graduate student, she doesn’t look much older today, she has been for a considerable period of time one of the most eloquent voices on behalf of U.S. public diplomacy and how it ought to – but doesn’t – fight our side of the war of ideas whether in peace or in war to achieve U.S. objectives.
The book that Juliana has written here is one of the most substantial, brilliant volumes on this subject that I’ve ever encountered and public diplomacy was my profession in the U.S. government, starting in the U.S. Information Agency many years ago when Juliana was still a child.
I’d simply add to her other qualifications, she helped found the Daniel Morgan Academy here in Washington, D.C. Her other books include Cultural Intelligence for Winning the Peace, Why America is Such a Hard Sell: Beyond Pride and Prejudice, The Bloody Flag: Post-Communist Nationalism in Eastern Europe, and Notes From the Other Side of Night, the latter being a more personal memoir as Juliana was born in and came from Communist Romania, so she knows that dark subject quite well.
Juliana obtained her BA, MA, and PhD all from the University of Chicago. She’s also taught at George Washington University and also National Defense University at the College for International Security Affairs founded by Joe DeSutter who was its president for many years and for whom a number of us in this room worked. Please join me in welcoming Juliana Pilon on The Art of Peace.
Thank you Bob and thank you everybody for venturing out into the traffic. Many in this room are old friends whose expertise far exceeds mine. I feel humble to be in your presence. But since my words are, god willing, being videotaped for posterity not to mention the ubiquitous social media. It seemed wise not to rely on improvisation. There should be plenty of time during the Q&A for me to digress, stutter, and stumble. Accordingly, I must beg your indulgence if I read my comments, which have the added advantage of dialectical coherence, which sometimes eludes the overconfident professor oblivious to his – or in my case, her – propensity to digress.
When Bob invited me to speak before this august group a few weeks ago about my book, my first reaction was to remind him that it was, well, old: it was published more than two years ago. But I quickly recognized the absurdity of such a suggestion to a fellow defender of Western civilization for whom age – in books as in vintage wine – is less a liability than an asset. Besides, I must regretfully concede, the book could have been published yesterday, for not only are its diagnoses as valid as ever, so too are the recommendations nearly all left un-addressed, at least practically if not perhaps rhetorically. The nation continues to suffer from a chronic case of strategic deficit disorder, with no immediate prospect of recovery.
True, many observers endowed with healthy doses of common sense, especially among the military who must pay war’s ultimate price after the politicians congratulate themselves for having started it, occasionally do remind the public that real peace is hard. Both naïve “woke” wishful-thinking on one side, and MAGA jingoism on the other, fail to appreciate that peacefare is at least as complicated as warfare, and no less an art. My preferred campaign acronym would be MAWA: Make America Wise Again. But we might have to turn the clock back a couple of hundred years.
I wish there was a deeper appreciation of the true genius of the American system of liberty – a brilliant political and economic creation altogether unique in human history. Too many of our countrymen, who are the fortunate beneficiaries of that system, are unable to understand its wisdom or recognize its fragility. Anesthetized by prosperity, certainly insufficiently and, increasingly, mis–educated, they fail to notice our enemies’ relentless Damoclean sword that threaten America and its allies. In Sun Tzu’s disarmingly simple words, we know neither ourselves nor our enemies. By the time we resort to violence, we have missed countless opportunities to win without a shot being fired – which Sun Tzu, as you all know, thought the acme of strategic wisdom.
You’d think it would be obvious. In fact, even the prince of military theory Carl von Clausewitz, often cited but seldom read, fully appreciated the fundamentally political element of warfare. As Brigadier General Mike Eastman wrote in his brilliant Foreword to my book: “The foundational tenets of Clausewitzian thought, that war is the extension of policy by other means, or that warfare itself is an illogical thing whose outcome rests on the relationship between the State, the military, and the people, are as close to timeless wisdom as exist in the literature.”
General Eastman is right to speculate that had Clausewitz not died prematurely in battle he would have expanded upon the role of economics, intelligence and statecraft. The ubiquitous assumption that his main legacy is the notion that military superiority on the battlefield leads to victory continues to prevail, with dire effects on national security. An unduly simplistic reading of his work, unfortunately, has prevented serious consideration of alternative approaches not only to military strategy but to “the way we as a nation conceptualize war and the vast arsenal of tools at our disposal in the pursuit of national goals and objectives.”
“There has been no real distinction in recent years between national and military strategy,” states General Eastman. “Because of [the military’s] exceptional capabilities, we have turned to [it] … to address our greatest foreign policy goals, from building democracy in the Middle East to destroying a rising global terrorist threat. In doing so, we blur the lines between what we as a nation can do and what we should. As a function of these first two, we have allowed perhaps our once greatest components of national power, from statecraft to economic influence, to atrophy.
Development work is done by Soldiers in the field, ‘heroic amateurs’ who lack critical skills and experience necessary for these efforts but are frequently the only ones available to perform them. Diplomacy, when it is practiced, is far more likely to be conducted by a General Officer than an Ambassador, whose movements in a conflict zone are limited and whose culture favors the gravitational pull of the Embassy over meeting tribal leaders in the hinterlands. In the area of Strategic Communication, our country has all but given up, gutting organizations like Voice of America, whether in pursuit of cost savings, or mired by bureaucratic processes, so that we consistently lag behind the news cycle – that is, if we attempt to inform local peoples at all.”
Strategic communication – ah yes. We’re back to that. So then. Once upon a time, at the dawn of what would become the field of International Relations as a subset of Political Science, in the apocalyptic year 1939, British political thinker Edward Hallett Carr advanced a concept of political power that included three elements: military, economic, and what he called “power over opinion.” Carr’s most illustrious student Hans Morgenthau, who in his classic Politics Among the Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, first published in 1948, observed that “information power is . . . hard to categorize because it cuts across all other military, economic, social, and political power resources, in some cases diminishing their strength, in others multiplying it.”That is exactly what makes it exceedingly unwise to overlook.
Morgenthau’s conviction in the importance of wielding some influence over world opinion was shared by President Dwight Eisenhower, who established the US Information Agency in 1953. Well, now, if information had its very own agency, it had to be something real. As goes the official government soliloquy: To be is to be a line-item in an appropriation bill. But what did USIA do, exactly? Its principal function, insofar as it could be defined, was “public diplomacy.” The term had been coined in 1856, when it was merely a synonym for civility, soon to include engaging the public in matters of international action. It was first used in its modern sense in 1965 by diplomat Edmund Gullion to denote the influence of public attitudes on the formation and execution of foreign policies. The State Department often insists that it alone and no other agency has this mission. It doesn’t help that the US Code of Law assigns the conduct of public diplomacy to State under Title 22, whereas military budgets are regulated under Title 10. Defense and State, wouldn’t you know, are under separate budgetary authorities – which only exacerbates these agencies’ notorious inability to work together smoothly.
USIA’s life span of course turned out to be brief—especially for a bureaucracy. Abolished in 1999, its function was essentially (more or less) absorbed into the State Department. There were no obituaries. The end of the cold war was taken to have signaled the triumph of Western ideas and the end of “history” as ideological warfare, so why continue paying for a separate agency to engage in a dialogue that no longer needed to be broadened? But in the absence of an agency tasked with disseminating information abroad, the activity became even harder to define, and certainly to locate. Opinions varied as to whether everybody or nobody was doing it, though it was hard to tell the difference given the relative non-impact.
“Information operations” (IO) became a catch-all term that combined, confusingly, three different components, best explained by National Defense University’s Daniel Kuehl. There is first, the physical dimension, which consists of “the stuff that we see and use every day,” like phones and computers; second, the contentcarried by those technologies; and finally the cognitive dimension, which is “where the content that is delivered by the connectivity impacts human beings and how we think, decide, etc.”14Noting that “far too often anything related to Information Operations is seen through the single-focus lens of technology,” Kuehl warned that “in fact the issue is much more complex,” stressing the critical importance of the cognitiveeffect of IO. But that is also the most slippery and as Morgenthau noted, hardest to measure. And if you can’t measure it, does it exist?
The Defense Department has tried for years to come to grips with the place of information in national power by focusing on the Diplomatic, Informational, Military, and Economic elements, which led to the catchy acronym DIME. It was soon followed by the equally catchy MIDLIFE (Military, Informational, Diplomatic, Law enforcement, Intelligence, Financial, and Economic). Still others, similar if mostly longer, formulas were proposed and used in various contexts, but unfortunately, catchy or not, none is especially clear.
Kevin P. Chilton, then-commander of STRATCOM (the US Strategic Command) candidly admitted: “You ask ten different people what IO is, and you’ll get ten completely different answers. We have a lot of doctrinal work to do here.”19That was a decade ago. But if you think we are in a better place today, think again. Just last month, writing in The Strategy Bridge, RAND analyst Christopher Paul pointed to a serious problem. After noting, with approval, the “unprecedented” groundswell of interest in information within DOD, he observes that “IO” as such is nowhere to be found.
Certainly, one way to deal with an ambiguous term is to drop it altogether. But unfortunately, the general public didn’t get the memo. In a 2017 report by Facebook, which one may reasonably assume “has a much larger readership than most Department of Defense doctrinal publications, defined information operations as ‘actions taken by organized actors (governments or non-state actors) to distort domestic or foreign political sentiment, most frequently to achieve a strategic and/or geopolitical outcome.’ But here’s the problem. This definition promotes an understanding of information operations that is inconsistent with both the colloquial and the formal Department of Defense usage—and one that is quite pejorative.”
Mere semantics? Oh, but semantics is never mere. Though you can seldom go wrong in blaming the bureaucracy for obfuscation and opacity, the problem is far far deeper. Americans often have trouble with concepts. We live in a culture that feels more at home with products than with ideas, that puts a higher premium on gadgets than on concepts. As soon as we leave the hard-nosed world of hardware, we are flummoxed. We then tend to lump the whole business together, and the scramble leaves us, well, scrambling. So, now, let’s see: what’s not-hard power? Hmm. . . . what’s left? Maybe “soft” power?
Conceived in 1990, the expression “soft power” became the title of a book released, not coincidentally, at the very moment that the Iron Curtain collapsed of its own weight, without a Western shot being fired. The book’s author, Harvard professor Joseph A. Nye, was ready with the conceptual marching band. Cheerleading for his neologism, he defines “soft power” in opposition to the nasty, hard stuff: “A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries—admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness—want to follow it. In this sense, it is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not only to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions.”If this sounds like American exceptionalism, actually it is not. In Nye’s version, it is neither American nor particularly exceptional, for he thinks anynation can attract another—and there is nothing special about ours. In his view, soft power absolutely excludes threatening someone by any other kind of hardball tactics.
Soft power is getting others to want what you want, just by being admirable. It is the power that a nation exudes by sheer example, by nothing more than attraction, by its commendable reputation for “prosperity and openness,” as Nye puts it. The idea that prosperity may be considered a symptom of decadent materialism, or that openness is seen in some cultures as extending carte blanche to heresy and to behaving in deliberately offensive ways, meant to subvert opposing religious teachings, never appears to have crossed Nye’s mind. This oversight could not be forgiven even in 1990, let alone today. Still less explicable, or at any rate justifiable, is his seeming lack of appreciation for the omnipresent evidence suggesting that in all ages, and across virtually all societies, success is far more likely to generate envy than love. Cain could have reminded him of that.
Nye often substitutes for “soft power” the only slightly longer, not to mention redundant, expression “the soft power of attraction,” which serves to underscore its essential passivity. Soft power is exerted by its possessor simply being attractive—like an irresistibly gorgeous young thing. A maximally attractive country is the earthly equivalent of Eden. Who would want to harm such a place? Who wouldn’t want to live there, or replicate everything about it in his own land? Nye advises all heads of state to increase their nation’s soft power because by adding it “to your toolkit, you can economize on carrots and sticks.” Did you make a note of that, Presidents Bashar, Maduro, and Kim Jong-un? As Nike says, just DO IT.
Nye notwithstanding, some of our adversaries will stop at nothing, including their own suicide, to oppose our values and destroy everyone who disagrees with theirs. In such circumstances, America’s “soft power” boomerangs: we cut our own throats, with no benefit of virgins to boot. The premier British strategist Colin Gray has articulated better than anyone why Nye’s defiantly un-strategic, even anti-strategic, concept of soft power has limited, if any, use as a conceptual tool in national security strategy: “The greater attractiveness of soft power is more than offset in political utility by its inherent unsuitability for policy direction and control.”The conclusion is inescapable: “Soft power cannot sensibly be regarded as a substantial alternative to hard military power.”
The problem goes beyond words, to the heart of modern American culture, which has traditionally placed far too much importance on its ability to attract, while woefully failing to understand other cultures. A national survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in late 2018 has found that almost three times as many Americans think admiration of the United States is more important than fear of the United States to achieve US foreign policy goals – 73 vs 26 percent. I wonder if North Korea’s chief thug will let his admiration for our great basketball players will suffice if he stops fearing America’s first-strike capability. (If I may be permitted a small digression here: I just read this morning that the Pentagon released a report on Monday stating that North Korea has proven capability of striking the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons.)
Every intelligence analyst in this room, and probably everyone else in this august audience, knows that Americans are prone to engage in what logicians call “mirror imaging,” defined as the assumption that others are, simply put, “just like us.” Though hard-wired in all humans, this propensity has to be resisted. But, writes Professor Gray: “Not only do Americans want to believe that the soft power of their civilization and culture is truly potent, we are all but programmed by our enculturation to assume that the American story and its values do and should have what amounts to missionary merit that ought to be universal. American culture is so powerful a programmer that it can be difficult for Americans to empathize with, or even understand, the somewhat different values and their implications held deeply abroad.” “Ironically, the empirical truth behind the attractive concept [of soft power] is just sufficient to mislead policymakers and grand strategists.”
Nye’s simplistic dialectic of hard vs. soft power is known as “the false dichotomy,” a common error found in any introductory book on logic under “informal fallacies.” The choice should not rest between coercion and a charm offensive. Waging peace involves far subtler forms of engagement which could be called “influencing” – something most people do naturally every day, but which somehow eludes us in an international context.
Perhaps having seen the error of his ways, in 2003 Nye came up with another concept, which seeks to combine “hard” and “soft” elements of power: smart power, defined as the ability to combine hard and soft power depending on the situation. Any tool, of course, can be used well or badly, together with other tools or alone. That doesn’t make it inherently “stupid;” what is stupid is its use, or more precisely, its user. Most people understandably do not see this as much of an improvement, raising the question once again of why anyone would want to resort to bribery to get their young progeny into Harvard.
But words matter, as do ideas – with a nod to the great University of Chicago professor Richard M. Weaver, whose 1948 masterpiece Ideas Have Consequencesshould be required reading. For without a clear and succinct vocabulary, we simply cannot communicate—not even to ourselves. And we certainly cannot formulate policy. Max Boot and Michael Doran, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations in 2013, blame the absence of words to describe the multifaceted art of peace on the fact that no government agency views the use of nonmilitary instruments as “a core mission.” Not dignifying “soft power” even with a mention, they opt for “political warfare,” as defined in a State Department memorandum written on May 4, 1948, by the policy-planning staff under the direction of George Kennan. Touted as the logical application of “Clausewitz’s doctrine in time of peace,” Kennan’s memo defined political warfare in its broadest sense as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives.” Others call that “grand strategy.”
To repeat myself, if you think this has changed, think again. In a recent article published by the National Interest, professors Hal Brands and Toshi Yoshihara agree that “a comprehensive approach to political warfare is integral to a comprehensive strategy for competition,” particularly given “the fact that America’s rivals have taken a far more holistic and expansive approach to competition. Russian and Chinese strategies for reshaping the international system employ all aspects of national power to weaken adversaries and influence countries across the Asia-Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and beyond…. By acting more energetically in the realm of political warfare, America can fill this gap and ensure that it is not simply abstaining from a crucial area of competition.”
But then they add a fascinating observation: “It can also exploit the fact that the United States actually knows this area of competition well.” DO we, really? We certainly did during the Revolutionary era, when the Founders’ influencing talents excelled beyond imagining. Unfortunately, particularly in the last few decades, the road has been for the most part rocky – and the blame is shared almost equally by Democrats and Republicans. Even people sympathetic to George W. Bush’s military interventions in Afghanistan and – even – Iraq could not fail to be stunned by the failures of his administration to communicate his policies, for reasons no one quite seems to understand, not even those who served in it. Bush’s Under-secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, for example, reports that his boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, had long “wanted Defense and other departments to coordinate with the White House in a professional, systematic effort to explain our Iraq policy to the Congress, news media, and the public.” The President seemed to agree, having “commented continually that the Administration should improve its strategic communication. But no effort was ever organized that satisfied the President, Rumsfeld, or the other top officials.” In the end, the bureaucratic infighting quashed the initiative. If there ever was a grand strategy, no one could discern it.
Being able to sort out enemies from friends, cultivating those friends, and understand our enemies’ goals and modus operandi, are elementary prerequisites for preserving national security and keeping the peace. Nearly two decades have passed since 9/11 yet the war on terror, by whatever name, isn’t over. True, Osama bin Laden is no more, and ISIS, has lost virtually all of its territory, but violent Islamism is transitioning to a new stage. Our collective psyche is being sorely tested by the persistence of this threat, whose appeal is visceral but its operatives are highly pragmatic. Yet the national security leadership continues to trip over its own vocabulary, continuing a practice started during the Obama administration of calling it “extremism.”
If you thought that too was over, consider the fact that little over a month ago, a Congressionally mandated report of a Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, produced by a bipartisan group of experts under the umbrella of the US Institute of Peace, continues to use the word – without, however, defining it. The Task Force concluded that “The United States should adopt a shared framework for strategic prevention that recognizes that extremism is a political and ideological problem.” To that end, it recommends launching a Strategic Prevention Initiative, whose principal objective should be to promote long-term coordination between agencies in fragile states.
The Executive Branch, in particular, should designate a new Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Prevention to coordinate the policies and activities of agencies and work with the intelligence community to establish an early warning and risk management system to identify priority prevention countries based on clear criteria and an assessment of both risks and opportunities for engagement. But since, as I mentioned, “extremism” is nowhere defined, one wonders what system could possibly be devised to identify “priority prevention countries.”
Note the emphasis on countries– a framework that is least helpful in the most volatile region of the globe, the Middle East. In a characteristically brilliant analysis for the Hoover Institution, Samuel Tadros wrote just last week: “The reality is that the state system in the region has always been weak and has nearly collapsed in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. The inherent weakness of the Middle Eastern state is the result of its failure to find an answer to the crisis of modernity and offer a sustainable governance compact to its people.” As a result, it is the whole region and not merely the nominal “states” that is fragile. We cannot hope to address “extremism” in a piecemeal fashion by looking at “prevention” in “fragile” states unless included in our crosshairs are all the sponsors of “extremism.” But that includes, of course, America’s principal enemies: Iran, China, Russia, and North Korea.
In conclusion (the two most welcome words an audience wishes to hear after a lengthy talk), I want to thank you for your patience and leave you by invoking the wisdom of our Founders. John Adams despaired that “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself…. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.” Hamilton too, distrusted the impulse of politicians to demonstrate “unqualified complaisance to every sudden breeze of passion or to every transient impulse which the people may receive from the arts of men, who flatter their prejudices to betray their interests.”
While bearing in mind these warnings, however, I choose to end on a hopeful note and invoke Jefferson’s trust in the people. “Educate and inform the whole mass of people,” he wrote to James Madison in 1787. “Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” Yet I must give the last word to the greatest American, George Washington: “If we desire to avoid insult,” Washington told Congress in 1793, “we must be able to repel it; if we desire to secure peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising prosperity, it must be known, that we are at all times ready for War.” But for that, we must wage peace without illusions.
Listening to you on the subject of your book, I see a polarization between the concepts of semantics and information operations and cultural war by other terms, and you defined a bunch, and the conceptual notion of ideas.
Juliana Geran Pilon:
They’re kind of related.
Yeah, they’re kind of interlinked, that’s true. Disregarding your view of Joseph Nye, which I won’t ask about, but where do we take this notion of idea in developing what you would conceive of as grand strategy today for the American idea?