The US Global Leadership Council held their annual conference on Tuesday September 28 and focused on the importance of “smart power.” According to the conference participants, smart power is the use of development and diplomacy in conjunction with defense. The conference featured panels with a wide range of participants—from General Henry Shelton, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Gary Knell, the President and CEO of Sesame Workshop to Secretary of State Clinton. The conference featured three panels on the different dimensions of smart power (military, economic, and political) and a lunch workshop on the current political landscape.

In the first panel, military leaders discussed their views on the benefits of employing smart power. Participating in the panel was: Admiral James Loy (retired), the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard from 1998 to 2002, General Henry Shelton (retired) the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001, James Morin a former Captain in the U.S Army and current lawyer with Hogan Lovells, Geoff Garin the President of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, and Bill McInturff the Partner and Founder of Public Opinion Strategies, with Ambassador Mark Green, former Ambassador to Tanzania (2007 to 2009) moderating. The participants agreed there was a clear and present need for additional civilian forces alongside military missions, arguing that development aid is a cost effective means to achieving military missions. In a poll of current or recently retired military members conducted by Garin and McInturff, they found that 89% believe that a strong military alone will not be enough to protect America, and that the tools of diplomacy and development are essential for national security. Many stressed that soldiers are train to fight wars not create infrastructure; having on the ground civilian professionals—members of non-governmental organizations, US AID and State Department employees, and business people—make significant impacts.

The second panel was intended to discuss the links between development and our economy, though it seemed that the conversation mostly focused on why international trade is important to the American economy. Participating in this panel was: Farooq Kathwari the Chairman, President and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc, Gary Knell the President and CEO of Sesame Workshop, Robert Mosbacher Jr the former President and CEO of Overseas Private Investment Corporation, and Leocadia Zak the Direct of the U.S Trade and Development Agency, with Nina Easton, the Washington Bureau Chief of Fortune Magazine. Panelists discussed how “trade” has become a sort of dirty word recently, one that is used as shorthand for lost jobs overseas and responsible for the current economy; however, panelists agreed that international trade can serve to build ties between nations. Mosbacher argued that private business investment overseas can be a win-win—not only can it help develop the host nation, but it gives American businesses expanded market access, which can lead to greater success. While Kathwari, Zak, and Mosbacher often got caught up in the benefits to America from international trade, Knell’s discussion focused on how American cultural and educational exports can improve America’s international standing and its exports. Knell discussed “Muppet diplomacy” or the concept of television as an export that can help develop nations through early childhood education. By exposing children to characters with HIV (as the Sesame Street in South Africa has) or showing smart female muppets in school (as the Sesame Street in Egypt has), American educational and cultural exports can help empower children and adults in developing nations.

The third panel was unequivocally the biggest draw of the day. The panel focused on the current Administration’s new global development policy and featured some very big names. Speaking in this panel was: Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, Administrator of USAID Rajiv Shah, and Daniel Yohannes the CEO of the Millenium Challenge Corporation, with Frank Sesno the Director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University moderating. Secretary Clinton used her time to expand on President Obama’s new national security policy, which features development as a core pillar of the policy. She mentioned how economic development is key and that the administration is looking for “partnership not patronage” where projects will be country-owned—and thus sustainable through the years rather than suffering from fits and starts.

Secretary Gates echoed the first panel’s statements that military success is not sufficient to win. He discussed how development can serve as “Phase 0” in a military campaign, namely that the best way to win a conflict is to prevent it from occurring in the first place, which can be achieved through development. Secretary Geithner discussed how growth is key to a nation’s success and that with more resources to education children and women, for health care, and for increased availability of loan, nations are able to start providing for themselves. Administrator Shah discussed how as the main development agency in the US federal government, USAID hopes to improve coordination among US federal agencies in the future. He also focused on USAID initiatives such as “Feed the Future” which attempts to combine physical development work—such as building highways—with giving information—such as data on agriculture and agricultural varieties—to help nations feed themselves to combat food insecurity. Yohannes discussed the necessity of accountability in foreign assistance.

At the conclusion of the panel, Sesano asked what would be the benchmark of success in the future, some five years down the road. Shah pointed to the transformative effects of technology (arguing no one could have predicted the effect of cell phones on developing nations) and that he predicted some other personal technology would likely have a revolution effect on development efforts in the future. Geithner argued success would be visible in strengthened relationship with multilateral institutions. Gates argued success would be marked by what you don’t see—conflict. Clinton argued success would be seen in visible and significant changes in how the US government does development.

Overall, the conference demonstrated that there is a growing awareness that the ties between development, diplomacy, and defense. With panel members from across the non-governmental organization, business, and political spectrum it is becoming evident that a greater integration of diplomatic, development, and military matters is a policy position gaining ground.