Professor speaks about military policy

Dr. Carol Atkinson, professor of international relations at USC and a veteran of the United States Air Force, gave an hour-long briefing to USC students at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism about U.S. military tactics on Wednesday afternoon.

Power move · Atkinson believes the changing landscape of foreign policy necessitates an emphasis on developing soft military power. - Carol Kim | Daily Trojan

Power move · Atkinson believes the changing landscape of foreign policy necessitates an emphasis on developing soft military power. – Carol Kim | Daily Trojan

Atkinson, who served in Operation Desert Storm, spoke on the shift of the U.S. military’s approach from hard tactics to soft, due to what she described as a changing tide of foreign policy and a new era in public diplomacy.

When Atkinson initially studied the nature of soft power, or using the relationships and collaborative nature of military educational exchange programs to build public diplomacy, she was met with opposition.

“Studying soft power is all the rage [now], but that wasn’t always the case,” Atkinson said. “The stereotype is that the U.S. Military teaches its soldiers to repress.”

Atkinson’s 10-year research project was mostly based on the War and Staff Colleges in the U.S., which house U.S. military students and offer grants to international students or give foreign countries the opportunity to “buy slots” for their citizens.

Currently, about 140 countries send their military personnel to these American military colleges, which traditionally host students over a two year period. Residents often bring their families and thoroughly integrate themselves into American culture.

“They form a cohesive group and form very close friendships,” Atkinson said. “It’s a social gathering as well.”

Atkinson surveyed international students at the military colleges about their experiences in the United States and their relationships with U.S. citizens, asking them a variety of questions such as what region they came from, whether they belong to a democratic or undemocratic country, what their most positive experience was in the United States, what they feel the United States can improve upon and how much time they spend off-duty with U.S. citizens.

Her studies found that the international students responded very positively to having their families in the United States with them. Atkinson refers to the impact of families on military officers as “underestimated and under-studied.”

She spoke from personal experience, having served overseas without her husband.

“It’s nice to have someone in your family there with you … [Y]ou’re not alone in dealing with [problems],” Atkinson said. “[I]t enhances the cultural experience.”

Atkinson said that Disney World was the most popular answer when she asked students about their favorite cultural and travel experience in the United States.

“Where is that anti-American culture?” she asked the audience.

Atkinson said the programs help improve the image of the United States.

“Most come away with positive impressions,” Atkinson said.  “It’s not just the country. It’s an international web of people educated in the United States.”

Students said the seminar highlighted the shifts in U.S. foreign policy.

“The findings from this seminar show that this soft power … has shifted from the military, power influence to the cultural influence,” said Danwei Wu, a first-year graduate student studying communication management.

All of Atkinson’s research and studies can be found in her book Military Soft Power: Public Diplomacy through Military Educational Exchanges, which was released in June.

“I think the bottom line of my presentation here is that the U.S. military is often thought of in a sense of coercion and fighting wars,” Atkinson said.  “But we are also interested in how the military extends its influence through soft power, through building relationships, building partnerships with other militaries around the world and I hope my study here helps contribute to a better understanding of this.”