Soft Power, Hard Power, and Counterinsurgency

The Early Soviet Experience in Central Asia and Its Implications

by Olga Oliker

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In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks were faced with consolidating power throughout the lands of the Russian Empire. In Central Asia they faced armed insurgency as well as a variety of other forms of political opposition. Although the Soviets initially focused on violent suppression of the revolt, a combination of ideology and expedience soon drove them to a different set of tactics, which combined “soft power” approaches of winning over key groups with violent exercise of “hard power” in the form of targeted arrests and executions. Both types of actions were taken to effect the same explicit goals: secularism, sex equality, and mass literacy, as well as Communist political ideology. This paper discusses the Soviet experience and concludes by drawing some parallels and disconnects with more recent efforts to fight insurgency and opposition, identifying lessons and implications for the near and longer term.

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