The use of soft power in foreign policy is often aided by the knowledge that should it not be effective, military (hard) power is waiting in the wings.
Following this argument, it seems logical to conclude then that when boots are on the ground, soft power has come up short. The military’s mission is to fight and win wars. There is a difference between ethically grounded and culturally aware soldiers who have a strategic mission to fight and win wars and humanitarian-focused aid workers.
As the military seeks to adapt to counter-insurgency warfare and win the people, its role is changing. As combat operations extend to years instead of months, the need for rebuilding in areas such as Iraq and Afghanistan is necessary – even though combat operations are still ongoing. Governments are naturally averse to sending non-governmental agencies and civilians into combat zones, which has left the military trying to fulfill dual roles.
However, the army is not equipped to be used as a humanitarian organization — nor should it be. This is counterproductive to the military’s primary mission and I strongly believe that it is a source of ethical conflict and confusion among troops on the ground. Each mission, military or humanitarian, is vital; but they cannot, and should not, be accomplished by the same person at the same time. The military is the enforcing instrument of our national power and policies; as such the military’s role must be clearly defined.
The end of the Cold War not only expanded economic markets and changed political landscapes, but it also introduced shades of gray into a previously black and white foreign policy dialogue between the West and the East. During the Cold War, foreign policy debates centered on the free Western democratic ideal versus the restrictive communist system. Today the discussion is no longer confined to Western democracy and Soviet communism but has expanded to include a pluralist understanding of democracy within an international context. The United States has also come to understand that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” Americans hold the deep belief that freedom is the destiny and inherent right of every individual, and this destiny can best be attained through a democratic government. If this is, in fact, true, then democracy can’t only be seen within the context of American exceptionalism. Democracy must be able to adapt to a variety of economic processes and cultures.
The ongoing democratization of Turkey as a secular Islamic nation lends credence to the hope that democracy will be able to take root in the Middle East and thus encourage regional stability. The western world has long viewed Turkey as a buffer zone between Europe and the Middle East. However, the end of the Cold War opened economic markets and expanded Turkish political influence throughout the region. Modern Turkey is attempting to redefine its international position, just as Turkey and the United States have redefined their relationship and foreign policies. This new relationship with Turkey, as with the rest of the international community, must rest on a robust ethical framework.
Understanding the complex relationship between ethics and foreign policy is difficult, especially when very morally relevant issues such as human rights and the democratic ideal (which, at their core, place an individual’s autonomy above other values) are interwoven. U.S. policy and actions should, however, strive to acknowledge and address the ethical element of foreign policy; for not doing so will foster enmity and be counterproductive to the prosperity of American citizens.
I firmly believe though, that prosperity is not of unlimited quantity and that our prosperity need not come at the expense of other nations. Our interests will not always be the same as those of others, and there will inevitably be competition. But when business is conducted on a respectful, ethical framework, there is far more room for diplomacy. When diplomacy fails, as it inevitably will in some cases, our moral framework will arm our soldiers to perform their duty in a manner that brings honor and integrity to their profession and nation.