The Soft Power Army of the 2020’s: An Alternative Perspective
by Christian TripodiSeptember 1, 2020
A recent piece posted in the Wavell Room titled ‘The Soft Power Army of the 2020’s’ ponders the relevance of ‘hard’ military power in our new security era. The coming decades will be characterised not simply by the familiar threats of state-on-state violence or terrorism, but biological devastation, malign influence campaigns and cyber threats. What does this mean, it asks, for the British Army going forward?
The Soft Power Army proposed three distinct but interrelated arguments to answer this question. Firstly, that the concept of traditional war, i.e. violent interstate conflict resulting in a clearly defined victor and vanquished, is outdated and irrelevant. Using the army only for controlled violence in the land/physical domains going forward is, to quote, ‘a fail’.1 Secondly that Britain will likely never have the resources, or national and political will, to contemplate a re-run of the failed interventions (e.g. Iraq, Afghanistan) of the past. And thirdly that the Army should, as a consequence of these two aforementioned factors, re-orientate itself more broadly toward the exercise of soft-power, political warfare and influence operations. These capabilities in turn need to be encouraged by way of a number of targeted initiatives; strategic investment in STEM training; a deeper understanding of politics and diplomacy; the development of divergent and critical thinking skills; and efforts to increase the intellectual diversity found within Land HQ’s. It is argued that this combination, namely an acknowledgement of the changing threat environment and the related development of alternative skills and capabilities on the part of Land forces, will provide the British Army with the necessary aptitudes to remain relevant in the rapidly evolving security environment of the 2020’s.2
The author of The Soft Power Army certainly isn’t wrong in terms of proposing that the British Army finds itself at a crossroad, and that its present capabilities and strengths may not be innately suited to the range of challenges going forward. The sight of highly trained soldiers or commandos abandoning their expensive weapons systems to act as delivery drivers for the new ‘frontline’, i.e. the NHS, reinforces that point. But the article demands a slightly more forensic examination of its implications and the extent to which these are either feasible or advisable. The original article was designed to be a short think-piece, and as such was never intended to provide a thorough examination of these matters in depth. This response merely sets out to provide some deeper, and sometimes alternative, considerations.