Community Defense & the Elements of “Soft Power”

(Admin Note:  This article first appeared at Forward Observer.)
If hard power is violence and coercion, then soft power is influence and motivation. American power projected across the globe teaches that violence has its limitations. To modify a turn of phrase, war is not always the answer. Coercion causes resentment and, as we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, creates unnecessary enemies. (Just look at the popular backlash against law enforcement when violence is used as an action of first resort. Many individuals not directly affected by police action have changed their opinions on just how peaceful “peace officers” are.) Violence indeed solves some problems, but it may also cause more problems than it solves — and that’s why we need soft power, too.

In his book, The Accidental Guerrilla, author David Kilcullen writes that soft power on a regional or global scale includes, “international reputation, moral authority, diplomatic weight, persuasive ability, cultural attractiveness, and strategic credibility,” arguing that soft power is a critical piece of enabling hard power and not an either/or proposition. It was America’s soft power after 9/11 that enabled a global response to al-Qaida. American leaders persuaded and gained the cooperation of other nations not directly affected by al-Qaida to join a coalition to wage the Global War on Terror (GWOT). The nations that did not participate in kinetic operations tracked and prosecuted terror financiers, stemmed the flow of foreign fighters and materiel, and cooperated with U.S. intelligence to hunt down known and suspected terrorists.

Now consider America’s soft power in the world in the years following the Iraq War. Between perceived unilateral action, the global battlefield, warrantless spying on U.S. citizens and other “perceived human rights abuses,” America’s standing in the world is diminished, both among its foreign and domestic audiences. In short, U.S. soft power is diminished because the government has harmed its credibility and reputation. To reiterate, your soft power is a critical enabler of your hard power, as Kilcullen writes.

For individuals and communities preparing for a future that incorporates violence and morally ambiguous situations, to omit developing soft power is an unwise move. We can imagine lots of realistic scenarios in which soft power will enable us to achieve or maintain security: gaining the trust of community members to contribute to the security effort, working with local authorities to fight known threats, sharing information with neighboring communities and security groups, and persuading at-risk segments of a community to not support threat elements.

How can we develop soft power as a part of community defense? First, focus on your reputation. There are militias, security teams and prepper groups that have poor reputations, stemming from poor leadership, unrealistic, unethical or immoral goals, past indiscretions, and incompetence. When cooperation is a necessity for community defense, these groups are going to have a much more difficult time finding partners to push in the same direction. You don’t want to be a security partner of last resort with a team reluctant to work with you.

Second, be virtuous people. I foresee that communities who seek justice and do the right thing, even at great personal cost, will be more able to exercise its soft power in an area. Community members, neighbors, and others in the regions will be more likely to trust you and therefore more willing to cooperate towards greater security and stability.

Third, focus on developing an ability to persuade. Influence, by Robert Cialdini, should be on everyone’s bookshelf. Those who are just as interested in solving another person’s problem as they are their own, are more likely to find satisfactory, win-win agreements. If you want to persuade someone to cooperate with you, demonstrate your value and trustworthiness.

Lastly, be technically and tactically proficient. That’s a bit from the U.S. Army’s Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Creed; which, by the way, many of us here at FO have had to recite from memory on more than one occasion. Tactical and technical proficiency should be the standard for those outside the military, too; especially those working towards security and defense. Technical proficiency means knowing your tools and equipment. Whether it’s a radio, rifle, or medical kit, know how to use it and be able to teach others. (Being able to teach and mentor others will go a long way in gaining a positive reputation, too.) Being tactically proficient means knowing how to employ your tools, equipment and teammates to accomplish the mission. You may not need to have been a career infantry soldier to accomplish community defense, however, obtaining tactical training for you and your team, as well as continuing education and follow-on training, is the absolute minimum effort that will be required.

If you can set aside some time to consider how to further develop these four things — your reputation, making virtuous choices, your ability to persuade, and becoming technically and tactically proficient — then you will be developing “soft power” that will benefit you and your community in any SHTF scenario.


  1. Spiritbeau says:

    You make a valid point. Although I was not previously familiar with the term “soft power” it certainly holds true that one needs to achieve moral authority. That is a fact that the leftists in this country know all too well. They have effectively vilified their enemy. An example is the way conservatives are defamed by the liberal media and liberal politicians. Those who refuse to dig deeper than the narrative are swayed to think of people opposed to liberal ideologies as “racist”, “homophobes”, “ignorant”, “anti-female”, “radicles”, you name it. The liable and slander is off the charts. Leftists are persuading the uninformed that conservative values are self centered, archaic, and intolerant. Although we know that this is actually the opposite, as is most everything the left claims many are swayed into believing that opposing conservatives is “the right thing to do”.

    Therefore, I feel it is important to attack leftists in a similar manor. To win back moral authority it must be made clear that totalitarians and their policies are subjugating the American people to a life of servitude. Leftists are stealing the wealth and control from the people. Totalitarians are using a corrupt media to launch unfounded smear attacks against conservatives and conservatives groups such as the Tea Party. Criminals and traitors are held in high regard by liberals and it must be made clear that this is an attack against the American people. The narrative must change. We must achieve the moral high ground by exposing the ultimate goal of totalitarian and that being total domination.

    We are up against a true evil, an evil that is striving to devour the values of a great nation and usher in a lawless, unethical political standard. The tyrants are salivating at the progress they’ve made and our nation is already unrecognizable to the nation of two decades ago. We’re heading down the maelstrom, and it is going to take the cunning, truth, morals, spirit, will, and actions of a collection of individuals acting as one unit to survive the torrent.

  2. Veritas says:

    The conditions that cause war are obviously to be solved through the application of “soft power.” Stalin. Hitler, Che, Tojo would all have bowed to reason and a good strong editorial by the NY Times. The crowds that chant “Kill America” would love us if only we employed soft power rather than read the trash that Macavelli wrote centuries ago. The poor fool actually believed that a power would gain greater influence through respect (employing fear where necessary) rather than depending on being loved and cherished.

    One only need look at Obama to see how softpower works and how successful it has been. And the constant use of the police example would do Goebbels proud. One can see softpower at work by examining how the media and academia treat Christianity versus Islam. See softpower always works.

    • Samuel Culper III says:

      Reading comprehension, much? Soft power is not an either/or proposition. Soft power is an enabler of hard power. Next time actually read the article. Thanks.

      • Veritas says:

        Pathetic suggest you think before you vomit forth such tripe. Sounds like a lecture delivered by some fuzzy buck trying for that ticket punch in the O ring.

        • Spiritbeau says:

          Okay, lets take your point, Veritas. I agree fear and force is also a motivator. The dictators Stalin, Hitler, Che, and Tojo understood that very well. Groups like the mafia, and drug cartels rule with fear and it is often very effective. However, my belief is that when this manor of motivation is employed without achieving some form of “moral high ground” heroism and selfless sacrifice is lost. I think that the “soft power” used in influencing a group to certain ideas and celebrating the sacrifices made by members of that group is a more effective way of keeping chaos and turmoil from affecting members. I’m not saying that the use of fear has no place in leadership, but it should be used sparingly and along with praise of those who perform their duties well and along with the vilification of the enemy. Influencing the group in an ideology and a moral goal as opposed to driving the group has longer lasting effects and is transferable through the chain of command. This soft power when used along with hard force and fear is an effective way to control a group of people. Winning the hearts and minds of the group does have power.

          • Samuel Culper III says:

            +1000. Spiritbeau gets it.

            U.S. Army Special Forces is a perfect example. Flexibility: hard power when you need it, soft power when you need it.

        • Samuel Culper III says:


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