With one-liners like, "We are excellent at launching Tomahawk missiles; we need to get better at launching ideas," it is not hard to appreciate why The New York Times labeled recently retired Admiral James Stavridis a "Renaissance admiral." Labels like "innovator" and "thought leader" may be overused, but Stavridis lives up to the hype, nudging the U.S. military not only to be more adaptive and less insular, but also to re-examine its role in international conflict resolution in places like Latin America and Afghanistan.
The former Aircraft Carrier Group Commander, TED Talk guest, author and overlord of all NATO missions, including the 2011 NATO-led operation in Libya, champions a revolutionary approach to the most vexing conflicts of our day. Stavridis has challenged the stagnant military culture and pushed for the transformation of organizations like U.S. Southern Command from an old school military planning citadel to an agile organization better able to "plug 'n play" with non-traditional partners. The admiral believes the U.S. can help partners to end conflict quickly, reconstruct and then develop through the application of "smart power": the effective combination of soft power (diplomacy and development) and hard power (military might).
Stavridis recently retired from military service after a 37-year career. He now serves as Dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and as the chairman of the board of the U.S. Naval Institute. We recently discussed his thoughts on 21st century "smart power" and counter-terrorism. The following are highlights from the interview:
As the former Commander of both U.S. Southern Command and U.S. European Command, you placed heavy emphasis on smart power approaches. Why?
In the 21st century, we can't create security by building walls. In the 20th century, we built a lot of walls – we endlessly tried to build walls between us and people we perceived, correctly or incorrect, as our enemies. In the 21st century, because of the advent of networks, the free movement of goods and people across the globe, we need to build security by building bridges instead of building walls. Smart power is the short hand for a collection of tools that allow us to do that.
Read the full interview