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Strategic Social 1-Pager

Our one-page summary provides an overview of our core services—and what sets us apart in the world's most challenging areas.

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Engaging for Enduring Outcomes

Our outcomes are enduring because they are culturally tailored and acceptable from the outset. This approach is effective whether the cultural divide is due to unfamiliarity in the international community or just between domestic regions or business sectors.

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Our Unique Approach

Strategic Social brings a unique, industry-best approach to achieving success in complex environments. Our robust efforts are guided by a simple process: Understand, Empathize, Engage, and Transact.

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Mobilizing the People: Transcending Borders through Social Media

Much has been said about social media’s role in empowering marginalized populations, revolutionizing the ability to share and utilize information worldwide.  In authoritarian governments, where non-regime approved opinions are often silenced, social media allows individuals to advocate and collaborate with their similarly minded peers within their own countries and around the world.  It is this collaboration through social media that Alec Ross, former Department of State Senior Advisor for Innovation, has called the prime medium for the establishment of social change movements.

New forums for social interaction have provided worldwide access to an endless supply of information and news.  As a result, power has shifted from large traditional information providers, such as governments and the mainstream media, to the citizens themselves.  Oscar Morales’s One Million Voices Against FARC is one of social media’s first success stories, as Morales was able to mobilize millions of Colombians against terrorism using Facebook. The movement started by providing the public with the face of a victim, in this case the child of a FARC rape victim, whose story was circulating around the news at the same time.  This timing caused the movement to go viral gaining thousands of supporters on Facebook within hours of its inception.  Rather than let one image define his movement, Morales continued to provide information to his network. Through social media, he was able to organize the movement to reveal more victims to the public, to provide videos, photos, and information against the FARC.  This movement spread across the globe, leading to demonstrations around the world with millions of people in attendance.

In addition to giving social media users the power of information, the new leaderless format of movements has helped to create anonymity for the founders of movements and protect their members. For example, We are All Khaled Said, an influential movement against the Egyptian Government in the weeks leading up to the Egyptian Revolt, was able to use anonymous social media accounts to provide a level of secrecy necessary to evade the dangers of government persecution and punishment.  Additionally, Facebook and other media outlets allowed the movement to connect with other networks and movements, providing wide-ranging support, as well as legitimacy, to the group.

Though social media has ushered in a new era of global community, citizen journalism and information sharing, many academics would advise against buying into the belief that social media, and social media alone, has led to some of the most dramatic social upheavals of recent history. Rather, Jon B. Alterman argues in “The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted,” that it was social media’s ability to empower individuals and convey information to the traditional media that made it a tool of revolutionaries, not a revolutionary force in and of itself.

Nonetheless, social media has facilitated the opening of closed societies and in this new era of global interconnectivity, it will continue to mobilize and connect individuals around the world, shifting traditional means of geopolitics to a more population-centric approach.

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Targeting America and Beyond: China’s Soft Power Initiatives

One of the biggest spenders in the worldwide information space has made the U.S. population a prime target in its attempts to secure a more flattering image of itself on the international stage: China.   The country’s efforts to reach Americans and overcome its general lack of credibility come with a significant price tag.  The Communist Party of China has spent around $6 billion  in the past few years on media campaigns in the U.S.

China’s efforts put an interesting twist on the U.S.’s own public diplomacy attempts to reach international audiences in an attempt to bolster U.S. objectives abroad, whether through Twitter diplomacy, education exchanges or other similar efforts.

As China becomes both an economic and political power, the threat it poses to U.S. supremacy has given China a global image problem. To thwart this perception, China has leveraged showcase events like the 2008 Beijing Winter Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, in addition to more traditional methods of strengthening Chinese soft power.

Chinese diplomatic efforts in the U.S. have focused primarily on advertising campaigns and other soft power initiatives to drive positive public opinion of China. Notably, the government-run Xinhua News (with an office in NYC) has a national broadcasting station in the U.S. as well as online resources.  Other efforts include the Confucius Institutes which aim to promote cross-cultural exchanges, although they are sometimes viewed as “Chinese foreign propagandists.”

The Chinese government’s soft power initiatives also help to satisfy the country’s seemingly insatiable demand for natural resources.  The Chinese government’s work in Africa trade infrastructure development for access to the continent’s natural resources. However, rumors of human rights violations and lack of adherence to democratic principles in general make diplomatic efforts essential for China in this region. The expansion of China’s state news agency Xinhua to Nairobi, Kenya, is meant to thwart biased Western views of China. Particularly in countries where China takes an investment-for-resource approach to foreign policy, effective public diplomacy efforts are vital.

Generating credibility is at the root of public diplomacy efforts and China’s “peaceful rise’ is contingent on its ability to effectively target and influence audiences in the U.S. and abroad. With billions invested so far, will China improve its image among Americans and even best American influence in diplomacy efforts in Africa and worldwide?

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Sequestration: Cutting the Fat and the Muscle

Though much has been said over the last year about the benefits and dangers of sequestration, the reality of the impending automatic budget cuts is beginning to set in for many politicians who previously supported the action. At the Brookings Institution’s “Sequestration and the Nation’s Defense: Prospects and Perils” experts largely agreed with many members of Congress that the sweeping cuts threaten national security. This consensus is based in two arguments: the nation’s debt acting as a security threat in its own right, or that sharp reductions in the budget translate directly to reduced U.S. military capability.

Martin Indyk and Michael O’Hanlon of Brookings wrote that “four straight years of trillion-dollar deficits…leave the country weaker…Obama’s foreign policy successes will matter little if the economy ultimately can’t support American power.” The Bipartisan Policy Center agrees, saying “growing deficits and debt will erode our prosperity and leadership in the world.” Peter Singer calls U.S. debt “more like that of Greece than a superpower.” O’Hanlon reiterated to  the Senate Budget Committee that “federal debt and with it the possible erosion of our national economic foundations have become national security threats themselves.”

While this debt issue has led to near universal approval of budget cuts, the problem with the sequester is that it cuts directly into the military’s perceived “fat” just as much as its recognized “muscle.”

President Obama’s most recent budget will reduce the size of the Army by 72,000 troops and the Marine Corps by 20,000. If the sequester takes effect the Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard will lose an additional 100,000 soldiers according to Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff. The Marine Corps will lose an additional 18,000 Marines, which, according to the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, would render the Marines incapable of performing a single contingency operation. Reducing the size of the U.S. active duty military so dramatically is detrimental as it forces the country to use its National Guard for combat missions the service was never intended for, i.e. “the backdoor draft.”

As it exists now, defense projects will be cut, but not in a way that rationally saves money. Because the sequester is 15-percent, across-the-board cuts, it looks at budget numbers rather than rational areas for cuts. Furthermore, Steve Bell noted that lawsuits and damages claims can result in “more than $500 billion” in cuts. The reason being, if a contract is only partially completed and then canceled, the government has a legal obligation to compensate the contractors. Therefore, canceling large contracts does not necessarily translate into large savings. Additionally, the sequester would affect old and new defense projects equally. A new research program and a nearly-completed weapon system would both be cut 15 percent. The problem being that a 15-percent cut would likely lead to 100-percent failure of smaller programs.

Despite the national debt, the U.S. cannot afford to diminish its military readiness, making way for the rise of current and potential adversaries.  The debt must be cut and a reduced defense budget most certainly will be a part of the solution along with substantial entitlement reform and possible tax increases. Unfortunately, the sequester achieves neither financial nor military security.

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The Big Picture from the Hill

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, the heads of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) and Special Operations Command (SOCOM), General James Mattis and Admiral William McRaven, respectively, appeared before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees ostensibly to testify on the FY2013 Defense Authorization.  Though the commanders and representatives rightly addressed the most pressing issues facing U.S. security, it is perhaps very telling that the defense budget didn’t make the cut for discussion during this hearing, as advertised.

As many combatant commands see their budgets being markedly cut (read EUCOM and the 2011 dissolving of Joint Forces Command (JFCOM)), SOCOM and CENTCOM are unique.  Neither is at risk for significant budget cuts and each appears to be either maintaining or requesting additional funds. SOCOM’s role in the future of conflict was discussed in particular as some congressmen questioned the transparency and accountability of the command, especially as it collaborates with the CIA. These concerns are not new; a New York Times article in mid-February argued that Admiral McRaven has a desire for “[a] freer hand in deployment of elite forces.”

The bulk of the hearings served to justify budget increases by focusing on the ever-increasing threats to American interests emanating from the Middle East and Central Asia, areas which, according to Gen. Mattis, have never been so tumultuous.  These threats are fourfold:

  1. Iran – The commanders emphasized that Iran is the primary threat to U.S. security, due to its increased overseas activities, like the attempted assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the U.S., and its influence in Syria, Bahrain, Kuwait, Yemen, and Sudan.  An Iranian attack could take the form of nuclear weapons, long-range missiles, blockades, or the clandestine Quds Force.
  2. Syria – The situation here is growing ever more chaotic, with over 7,500 now dead.  Gen. Mattis remarked that the situation will likely get worse before it gets better and that a longer conflict means a greater risk of civil war, as Assad might be capable of retaining power indefinitely.
  3. Al Qaeda – The organization is regaining strength, as evidenced by the recent killing of 139 civilians in Yemen and the reemergence of the group in western Iraq.  While Al Qaeda may be unable to significantly threaten any Middle Eastern government, it still poses a danger to the lives of their citizens.
  4. Afghanistan – The situation here has worsened recently due to the violent demonstrations against the U.S. military’s burning of Afghan prisoners’ Korans.  The commanders stressed that the military will not change the current strategy in Afghanistan but violence must be stemmed and security improved before the U.S. can pull out as planned in 2014.

This week’s Senate hearings generated a considerable amount of activity in the blogosphere and media space.  Interest was likely heightened by the recent statement by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder arguing the legality of the U.S. targeting its own citizens abroad if they pose a risk to national security. Despite Holder not mentioning the role of SOCOM in these operations, both the traditional and digital media spaces were quick to draw the connection, with tweeters adding a SOCOM hashtag (#socom) to tweets regarding this announcement.

While the blogosphere and foreign policy community rage over the possibility of U.S. military interventions in Iran or Syria, the commanders’ comments on the post-2014 presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan appeared to gain the most traction the media space.

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Brazil’s Soft Power Advantage

Brazil has surprised a number of observers with its rapid rise onto the international scene. The Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Lula), has lent his unsolicited advice and influence to solving the Iranian situation and the Gaza crisis, among others.  This prompts the question: how has Brazil managed to generate so much international influence and goodwill?  Many American analysts will point to Brazil’s booming energy industry, including the discovery of massive undersea oil deposits off the country’s coast.  Any experienced international traveler or sports aficionado will tell you that one of Brazil’s most valuable resources is its human capital: it’s legions of skilled football (soccer) players.

Poor children the world over know all about the Brazil soccer team and its stars, listing Ronaldinho, Robinho, Kaka, and Ronaldo among their favorite players.  Moreover, given most Brazilian players’ humble beginnings in the country’s favelas, these sports superstars are very easy to relate to.  This affection for Brazilian soccer plays starts at an early age, and over time, has generated massive reserves of goodwill for Brazil all over the globe.

Though the term “Soccer mom” has entered the national vernacular, the United States still has yet to embrace soccer with the fervor with which the rest of the world worships “the beautiful game.” The United States would do well to encourage the development of its homegrown soccer talents to lay the base for an improved performance at the 2014 World Cup hosted by, of all countries, Brazil.

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