Friday, March 26, 2010

Smart phone, smart sanctions...Smart Power?

We know what smart sanctions are, but what about “smart power”? Don’t google it because all you will find are web sites devoted to green energy. However, the Wall Street Journal explained the phrase relative to defense in this article last week (although Ted Galen Carpenter probably coined the phrase in his book Smart Power).

Adm. Mullen said. "Should we choose to exert American influence solely through our troops, we should expect to see that influence diminish in time." State and DoD’s cure for this is moving funding from projects like the F-22 to those which exert more “soft power” in order to align target states with US strategic interests. To do this, Secretaries Gates and Clinton are calling on the biggie defense contractors to step in. For 2011 President Obama has requested $39.4 billion for civilian contracts abroad. We are not talking the “civilian” contracts of the Bush era which Blackwater made infamous. Think more along the lines of Peace Corps, legal aid, peacekeeper training—projects where, in the past, NGOs have dominated the field.

Aerospace companies like Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin have long been expanding their business development initiatives beyond the exemplars of force which made them DoD sweethearts. To date, NGC builds bomb dismantling robots for police in Europe and satellites for NASA communications. Still, these contracts do not radically deviate from what one traditionally associates with security. But only recently has there been something of a 180.

Continuing to produce things with lasers and missiles (it will long be lucrative to produce mechanisms to annihilate the enemy), top defense contractors are also bidding on (and are being encouraged to bid on more) contracts completely contrary to their combat roots. Instead of making their money developing technologies to win conflict, now they are charged with finding ways to avoid conflict altogether. This concept has permeated the foundations of these companies to the extent that NGC’s new motto is “a leader in global security” which still applies to the old stuff but is also inclusive of the radically new contracts it is pursuing.

This has all come to light due to the recent awarding of a contract to Lockheed Martin to train prosecutors in Liberia's Justice Ministry. This is not the first though; Northrop Grumman previously won a contract to train Senegalese peacekeeping troops in human-rights law. BAE Systems provided anthropologists to accompany U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to aid understanding of local cultures. DyneCorp recently bought a company which specializes in building up public-health and legal systems in the developing world.

Naturally, businesses as successful as the above mentioned have well learned to follow the money by now, continuously adapting their business model an innovating their technologies to remain attractive to the customer. Still, redefining the idea of security in a global context (rather than national) of organically avoiding conflict (rather than threat and force) seems revolutionary. And making development an honest-to-god for-profit business venture—this isn’t your grandpa’s Marshal Plan.

But don’t expect the State and DoD budgets to level out anytime soon.

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