Human perception key in hard power, soft power, smart power

Back in 2009, news reports explained that a U.S. intelligence operative in Afghanistan had provided Viagra to an older tribal and community leader who had several younger wives. The story triggered humor, concern and insight about working closely with indigenous populations in Afghanistan elsewhere.

This case shows us that interacting with indigenous people – so that they may consider being friends of Americans instead of enemies – can be approached in various ways, conventional and unconventional.

Much discussion about soft power, hard power and smart power (the appropriate mix of hard power, soft power and other approaches) focuses on macro elements such as U.S. government international policies, diplomacy and military activities.

However, in the micro experience of troops, "human terrain" personnel and intelligence operatives on the ground, a different set of situation-awareness considerations may come into play. Merging hard power and soft power in a seamless way into smart power is a different matter when dealing face to face with communities, community leaders, tribes, families, parents and children.


U.S. Army Special Forces has long been a leader in cultural awareness and building rapport with indigenous people. More recently, the Army's Human Terrain System (HTS) and Human Terrain Teams (HTT) have tried to focus on cultural and sociological elements in current efforts overseas.

Communicating with other people can be challenging, especially when there are language and cultural obstacles, as well as dangerous environments. To reach people, sometimes nonverbal communication and behavior speak volumes.

In addition, we are learning that the psychology, beliefs, perception and emotions that affect behavior are being re-evaluated in certain leading-edge research.

What goes on in the human mind and human heart remain mysterious in important ways.

Is research and development into the understanding of human awareness and perception a legitimate avenue when enhancing soft power and hard power resources?

Awareness and perception can include emotions, thoughts, dreams, beliefs, personal relationships, social networks, cultural influences, education, information acquisition, imagination, creativity, mental health and similar kinds of characteristics.

Understanding more about human perception is also part the concept referred to as "transcendent warfare." This term was coined by a Navy SEAL officer several years ago in a graduate-level paper at the Marine Corps War College in reference to utilizing and optimizing emerging and leading-edge research about human awareness.


For example, in many societies and cultures, spiritual beliefs and traditions are very influential. This often involves the belief that a creator, higher power or larger force is real, is affecting our lives, and that it is desirable to get closer to this larger power. These are fundamental aspects of many faiths.

In these scenarios, people often believe that through prayer, good deeds or other methods (even warfare), a personal connection with a higher power can be established and enhanced. In other words, it is believed in many cultures that our individual and group awareness or consciousness can achieve a connection with a higher power, or at least some elements of it.

Can this common denominator among people be optimized?

As we know, in times past as well as today, poor leadership within structured religions can sometimes drive people apart and even lead to violence and war. Some people seem to misunderstand and misrepresent many aspects of traditional spiritual teachings and insights.

However, by addressing this issue closer to the heart of the matter – deeper human psychology and awareness – it may be possible to mitigate these obstacles and connect with people in more effective ways.

Whether we consider the macro level of international relations or the micro level of boots on the ground in faraway places, human perception and enhanced situation awareness appear to be worthwhile areas of focus. 

Hammons is the author of the novel "Mission Into Light" and the sequel "Light's Hand." The novels follow the adventures and discoveries of members of a small, San Diego-based U.S. defense/intelligence research and operations team,  the Joint Reconnaissance Study Group, as they explore fascinating mysteries affecting the human race and planet Earth.