The Magazine

Between Hard Power and Soft

We need a new type of foreign policy professional.

Feb 6, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 20 • By ROY GODSON
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At the nation-state level, helping an ally change a dysfunctional political culture requires inculcation of values that undergird civil society. A culture of lawfulness needs to be built by broadly fostering principles such as equality under the law. If attempting that seems like hubris, consider the real success in the past in Asia (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan) and more recently in Eastern Europe. There are signs now that Mexico is moving along this path. 

It helps that both Mexican presi-dent Felipe Calderón and major opposition and civic leaders have concluded that corruption in the police and other security forces, along with the great reach of criminal cartels, is crippling their country. Mexico has put up more than 15 times the money the United States has provided, and is beginning to take action to change a culture that has allowed the growth of debilitating corruption. With our help, the Mexicans are revamping training for police and military officers and developing internal incentives—including new standards for promotion, and rooting out offenders. They realize that hiring more cops does not help if they are easily corrupted. 

Effective foreign security forces are our second line of defense, especially among our allies and partners. Shockingly, our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have not included serious human rights and anticorruption training for new security forces, despite billions spent. 

This matters, because in many places we are engaged in a great political competition with forces of tyranny, which operate in the name of fundamentalist religions, crime syndicates, or authoritarian warlords. In a world where half the sovereign nations are weak and likely to remain so, we can only win with a competitive vision. Clean government, fair justice, and minimal corruption are bulwarks of that vision. It is time to have a new, specialized professional corps of Americans, drawn from military, diplomatic, and other backgrounds, with dedicated career tracks that allow them to stay in a region and develop long-term trust and connections that allow us to help shape a freer, more stable future. This strategic, hard-edged but softer approach is our best bet for precluding the need for a large and expensive U.S. military footprint on the ground.

Roy Godson is president of the National Strategy Information Center in Washington and a professor emeritus at Georgetown University.

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