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The DSF's Co-founder, Lady Olga Maitland
Welcome to The Defence and Security Forum

The Defence and Security Forum was founded by Lady Olga Maitland in 1983. It was originally a campaigning organisation known as Families for Defence launched to challenge the anti-nuclear protest movements such as CND. Families for Defence’s remit was to promote the NATO case for multilateral nuclear disarmament. In the course of doing so the purpose was to focus on the importance of a proper provision for the defence of the United Kingdom.
Major General Patrick Cordingley, our Chairman Our Keynote Topics

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Colombo Defence Seminar:  The Perils of Softpower Booking forms

Soft Power And Its Influence On Global Issues: The Perils of Soft Power

Lady Olga Maitland, President, Defence and Security Forum

1st and 2nd September 2016

BEWARE OF GREEKS BEARING GIFTS.  The phrase is serves as a warning against potential  deception by an adversary.

Soft power in 2016 – a force for common good,

Soft power can only go so far.  There are times when it slips.

UN Soft power  -  peacekeeping operations.  Can be hugely worthwhile, but there are human frailties.    Expectations can be too high.  Peacekeeping usually only works in a context of resolved conflict.   In unresolved conflicts they are often produce more problems  than they solve.

What is the point of peacekeepers if they do not keep the peace?  

From Rwanda to Bosnia, Haiti to Congo, failures raise questions about UN Operations and their mandates.

Headlines – just two weeks ago, ‘Violence in South Sudan kills two Chinese U.N Peacekeepers.’ A third Chinese peacekeeper had been killed only weeks before. The deaths illustrate the vulnerability of peacekeepers.

Overall in 2016 until June, 3,499 Peacekeepers have been killed .
The truth is that peacekeeping – soft power, can pay a hefty price,.
There are indeed real perils to soft power.  It need not go the way it was intended.

The UN Peacekeeping Mission  is soft power at its best. They are there to help countries torn by conflict to create conditions for lasting peace. Last decades successes include Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast. To work,  this requires local consent of the parties, impartiality and non-use of force.
Two weeks ago Ethiopia, China and Nepal Peacekeepers failed to act while foreign women aid workers were raped by South Sudanese soldiers. A journalist shot dead.

Herein lies the dilemma

One of the most vexing issues  is the use of force by the United Nations peacekeeping forces.

UN intervention in civil wars such as Somalia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Rwanda has thrown into stark relief the difficulties faced by  of peacekeepers operating in situations where consent to their presence and activities is fragile and where there is little peace to keep.

Hence some real failures and with it recriminations. Complex questions arise:

  • Is a peace enforcement role for peacekeepers possible or is this simply war by another name?
  • Should or can the Rules of Engagement be changed?
The United Nations find themselves on a soul-searching mission: how  and when should our blue-helmeted troops respond when civilians are under threat or attacked?

They failed to intercede with force in the 10 deadliest attacks between 2010 and 2013 in the warzones where they were sent.  This included a clash in South Sudan that killed 600 civilians, one in Darfur that killed as many, and another that left 100 dead in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Today the perils are worse than ever. There are currently 16 UN Peacekeeping operations...And there is a price.

No. of deaths recorded to end of June, 3,499 peacekeepers have been killed.
Soldiers face different risks: terrorist groups, transnational criminal gangs, and hateful ethnic militias.

Tasks becoming more complicated: increasingly involved with protecting civilians, - and not as was the case 20 years ago, keeping warring armies at bay.

The mandates are not clear.   The Peacekeepers can fire when under personal attack yet  they  responded with force in only one case in five when civilians were attacked.

There is a constant refrain: why did not they respond when a village in the Eastern Congo was attacked, 30 civilians killed.   Human Rights Watch said the UN troops just five miles away were ‘aware of the attack but did not intervene’.

They turned up two days later.

Take Rwanda in 1994. The nadir of many lows of UN Peacekeeping.
Hundreds of desperate Tutsis sought refuge at a school where 90 UN troops were based. Surely they were safe.  The UN flag flew over the school.
The Belgian peacekeepers were armed with a machine gun, planted at the entrance. The Tutsis could not imagine they would stand by while people were slaughtered.

However, the UN command decided that despite warnings of impending genocide, there were other duties to be done. The peacekeepers were ordered to abandon the school and escort foreigners to the airport and out of the country.

As the soldiers left, Tutsis begged to be shot rather than be left to the militia’s machetes.  Within hours, 2,000 people at the school were murdered by gun, grenade and blade.

A year later, matters were even worse.  A detachment of  Dutch peacekeepers failed to stop a massacre of 8,000 Muslim men in Srebrenica, a supposedly UN ‘safe area’  .   They were in fact overwhelmed by sheer numbers. When they did call for help from the French in the area, it was refused.  The Dutch were forced to watch as the killings began before they withdrew.  The stench of shame about the abandonment has remained to this day.

And there have been egregious failures elsewhere. The Somalia Tragedy in 1993 where the UN peace keeping mission failed miserably, resulting in the tragic deaths of 25 Pakistani soldiers (54 injured) and followed by 18 US soldiers some of whom were dismembered and dragged through the streets.

Step forward Ibrahaim Brahami with his report in 2000, when he said that the UN had repeatedly failed to meet the challenge,’   reforms then began.
 The UN produced a new model including the ethos of ‘responsibility to protect’. No longer would UN forces stand idly by while innocent people were murdered.

Issues have still persisted 

In 2000 British forces landed in Sierra Leone after UN peacekeepers stood aside or fled an advance on the country’s capital., Freetown, by a notoriously brutal rebel group, the Revolutionary United Front. Indeed several hundred Indian peacekeepers actually surrendered to the rebels.

A bitter row broke out between the British General Sir David Richards and the Indian Major General Jetley as to the terms of engagement.   According to Richards, the Indians were determined not to risk or lose a single Indian soldier’s life.

In truth the majority of peacekeeping soldiers conduct themselves honourably.

But In the end it boils down to the fact that it goes against human nature to expect foreigners to risk their lives to protect people they don’t know,  and to whom they have no relational connection or commitment.  

Hence the importance of clarity  UN peacekeeping missions . They create the illusion of safety and doing something good, but  keeping up to that is tough.

U.S. Soft Power in the Middle East

Unintended consequences’ of the US led war on Iraq.

After the war, the idea was that soft power would bring stability and democracy. It did not.

Nothing new. Since the end of the Cold War, both Democratic and Republican administrations have, in varying degrees premised policy on the notion that economic incentives and other soft power can cultivate peaceable democracies through the world, and friendly societies adhering to Western liberal values.

President Obama is correct to warn that flexing military muscle is not a stabilising solution everywhere.

Perhaps Iraq best epitomizes the dilemma that terrorism poses. The US can provide air transport, put troops on the ground to defend Baghdad, it may halt the advance of ISIS, but it can’t defeat it.

Radical ideology is a tough one, because it cannot be controlled with the bullet. It will just move elsewhere, such as Syria for instance.

Russia on the other hand, takes a robust military view. No soft power here. Like it or not, in their view the Syrian situation can only end with grinding the people down to a standstill. Not a pretty sight.

In the end, the US must see that   no amount of nation building and economic aid will change the Middle East. It has to find its own roadmap which is painful and frustrating to watch.

And sadly armies still trump economics. 
The reality is that soft power cannot be a major diplomatic tool , it is only effective when tempered with hard power.

Soft power versus hard propaganda

Which do you trust for reliable, honest and independent information?
BBC News is the one that beleaguered people struggle to switch on to on their radios.   Citizens caught in war zones  are desperate to tune it. They know that the BBC is not pushing a government political message.

The dangers of soft power surface in state orchestrated cultural programmes – which often come across as just propaganda.

The Pentagon calls it ‘psy-ops’, but the State Dept. and USAID  call it ‘information, ‘ all of it intended to influence local populations.
Government funded Arts projects such as promotional films  are seen as propaganda, not helpful diplomacy.

 Communities in war zones want tangible improvements to their lives: fewer drone attacks, night raids and airstrikes. When food, electricity, housing , transportation, water and sanitation are lacking, no amount of reality TV will bring America’s adversaries closer to the American perspective.

The fact is the US is not shy in using any resources at its disposal. Take the USAID programme.  Officially it is an international aid programme, and does indeed useful work. But there is a darker side. It operates  subject to the foreign policy of the President, the Sec of State and the National Security Council.  Add to that,  the  CIA.

Take Cuba. USAID has run a multi-million dollar programme, disguised as humanitarian aid, but in fact it was intended to incite rebellion in Cuba and overthrow the government. The programme had two operations: one to establish an anti-regime social network called ZunZuneo, and the other to attract potential dissidents contacted by CIA agents posing as tourists and aid workers.  Indeed one ‘aid worker’ masquerading as a subcontractor  was jailed for spying by the Cubans in 2011.

The fact is that where the US government is hostile to the government of a country,  USAID may be asked to undertake programmes that the US govt. cannot be formally associated. This might include support for opposition political movements that seek to remove the government, (Bay of Pigs all over again, but failed).    Such ‘political aid’ is criticised as being incompatible with USAID’s humanitarian role.

 Similarly their engagement with the US military has been severely criticised for exposing USAID workers to the dangers of military combat.   For all that, the US government overall has no qualms for political aid and joint-civilian military programmes to go ahead in the interest of US geopolitical interests and to build democracy.

They can also have influence at the United Nations. The US can use aid as a political weapon.   Take Yemen.   In 1990 the Yemeni Ambassador to the UN voted against a resolution for a US lead coalition to use force against Ira1.    The US Ambassador, Thomas Pickering walked over to the Yemeni Ambassador and retorted, ‘That was the most expensive No vote you ever cast.’   Immediately afterwards USAID ceased operations and funding in Yemen.

As for Iraq.   This time no pretence than that USAID’s budget of $5.1b included a massive sum devoted to setting up democratic elections.   In hindsight – voting played a limited role in reconciling religious divisions or combatting corruption in Iraqi society. 

 Everything went from bad to worse.  Insurgency spread and  remains persistent with  killings to this day. ISIS became the unintended consequence of the US  led war  work. They never understood the local culture, or sectarian identities. Their mission was fatally flawed. They were carried away by ideals which could not be met.

China takes different tack

For China soft power means trade as well as development programmes.
 China is  trading with the Philippines at the rate of $60 b. a year  . But soft power to merge into hard power as China seeks to consolidate its position in the region.    In 1994, in an attempt to claim disputed territory in the South China Sea, China built a massive military base on Mischief Reef, well within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.

Philippines could not respond militarily to this provocation.   But, after a series of incidents it took the matter for adjudication by the United Nations International Tribunal in  Hague.  The finding came down overwhelmingly in favour of the Philippines.  Beijing firmly rejected the finding. Its state news agency described the ruling as both  ‘ill founded’ and ‘ null and void.’

The matter is unlikely to rest there.

Soft power in the South China Seas has turned into hard power. Military spending is up – both on the China side and the US.  Manila has sought more US military funding and made its bases more accessible to US forces.
So long as China continues to harbour a highly aggressive military strategy in the South China Sea, its soft power initiatives will appear ineffective and illegitimate.   As an example, on the say day that Chinese philanthropists established a Confucius Institute in Manila, Chinese warships were believed to have tracked and targeted Philippine ships just off Subic Bay.

So what about Chinese aid and the development programmes? Are there any strings attached?  First no questions are asked about the host government structure, it could be murderous, autocratic, but the Chinese policy, unlike US and Russia is to take no part in internal politics no matter how unsavoury they might be.

The aid comes in all shapes and forms, some are complete loans, debt relief,  others deferred long term repayments, above all development finance which blurs aid with trade . They are building biggest mosque in North Africa  in Algeria; elsewhere they have built hydropower stations, stadiums, hospitals, schools,  goods and materials, technical cooperation, medical and humanitarian assistance, organised volunteer programmes –
Little published data, but it is believed there are nearly 3,000 development projects in 51 African countries ie. 45% of their entire aid programme
They have overtaken US aid programmes by a large margin.

In truth aid, development finance  and commerce programmes have merged.   China is entirely  professional in their approach.   Businessmen arrive already fluent, as I have seen in Algeria, perfect Arabic, French and English.

Soft becomes tough  when you look at their powers of negotiation which are awesome, and always hugely in their favour..  

Take a look at Russia.

Their propaganda machine has scaled great heights. President Putin manipulates the local media mercilessly now he is turning it to   global audiences.

The state run news agency Sputnik has opened  its first British bureau for Russia Today TV, known as RT, using Edinburgh, Scotland as its base. Hence The Times splashed on its front page .’PUTIN WAGES PROPAGANDA WAR ON THE UK’.

Through this medium the West is portrayed as decadent, plagued by racism and constantly betrayed by its elected representatives.

When Radovan Karadzic was convicted of genocide and war crimes, RT declared the UN tribunal a ‘kangaroo court.’  They are in  total denial of  the Srebrenica massacre , and the same goes for the Holocaust.

This war is headed by Dmitry Kiselyov, former KGB official, regarded as the master of information warfare. He has been blacklisted by the EU for his part as a propagandist in the 2014 military intervention in Ukraine.

If The Russians  can sew division they will, and are hard at it.   They chose Scotland in the hopes that a divided Britain will be less obstructive to the Kremlin.   They dislike the UK for being vociferous member of the UN Security Council, and champion for sanctions against Putin.

Hence the campaign is part of Russia’s military doctrine which specifies the use of ‘informational and other non-military measures’

We have already witnessed them hacking into the Democratic Party, releasing 20,000 stolen emails, many of them embarrassing to US party leaders giving rise to the suspicion that Russia is trying to subvert the US presidential elections and gather support for Donald Trump who already has close commercial links in Russia.

In short Russia’s propaganda mission is to sow doubt about incumbent governments and undermine trust between Europe and the US.
Like the US, they bankroll the political parties they prefer such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front and have contacts with several insurgent populist parties across Europe.

Their misinformation campaign in Ukraine reached new heights when they claimed that the Malaysian civilian airliner shot down over eastern Ukraine (by Russian weapons fired by Russian-trained men) was in fact the work of the Ukrainian government.

Indeed they do extremely well in post Soviet states where they work on proxy groups where Russian is the dominant language.  There they can exploit residual Soviet sentiment.   For radical nationalist movements and younger generations, they offer the narrative of a rising Russia and of a new pole of Euroasian civilization that is challenging the United States othodoxy. Huge effort in this regard is being pumped into the Baltic states who are already extremely unsettled by the military excercises taking place off-shore.

And so it goes on.

Nothing new here.

And when it descends into Russian propaganda war, then my recipe is clear. We need to be more vigilant.  Lies must be dispelled swiftly by facts.  The longer false rumours are generated by these  television channels, the broader they are spread by   social media, the more difficult it becomes to counter the Russian narrative.

I would like to see more funding into the BBC World Service, BBC World News TV, trusted and reliable sources of information particularly when broadcasting into Russia.

Anything we can do to broaden sources of information should be encouraged. Mr Putin’s power at home, and his swagger abroad hinges on his monopoly of information.

That cannot go unchallenged.


Soft power has become a bitter battle ground.   The digital age has ushered in new weapons in cyber warfare. Digital density has raised the stakes, be it hacking 20,000 emails from the Democrats, to manipulating  social media,  More effective in the developed world. Less so Africa.   The most useful peg is via sports and the arts, but then it readily lends itself to social and political manipulation.

In the end I believe that soft power inevitably ends up hard, thus becoming a paradox. Tangible power is all that matters, not intentions. Entry into a country’s psyche via culture has its inherent limits.

Soft power in my view cannot prevent war. Idealists believe that culture, and trade can create a relationship, the two lasting pillars of stability. The fact is we cannot identify a single, isolated  or rogue pariah state  that has responded positively. Soft power does not deter North Korea from launching a missile, Al Qaeda did not pull back in the face of very generous soft power, in fact their recruitment went up.

Soft power did not solve the Middle East.   It cannot.  In the end hard power overwhelms and triumphs.

It can also be said that hard power is the key to stability. Having the strength to move forward is tough, it demands judgement. Failed in Iraq’s second war. Failed in Iraq’s first war for not going far enough.  Saddam’s forces was reportedly down to their last two weeks supply of bullets.

My instinct is that any country should be clear in their own mind about what returns they expect to emerge from a massive investment in soft power.  It can be immensely positive but not in the face of a bullying power.

Real politics mean being firm and clear about your position, and then by all means talk, talk, talk.  Then roll in soft power and all its benefits.

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