Lockheed hosts ‘soft power’ conference

Published 11:28 pm Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Lockheed Martin Center for Innovation in North Suffolk is hosting a conference on “soft power” this week. “Soft power” is using strategies other than military strength to gain or maintain cooperation.

More than 70 people from around the world have converged on Lockheed Martin’s Center for Innovation in Suffolk this week for a symposium on soft power.

Don’t know what soft power is? Neither did some of the participants, at least not at the beginning.

The conference was held by Soft Power Solutions, a Centreville-based company that works on the concept that “soft power” is cheaper and more manageable than “hard power” — in other words, military power.

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“I would say soft power is more lasting, more economical and more sustainable than raw military power,” said Philippine Maj. Gen. Carlos B. Holganza, the keynote speaker for Tuesday’s session. The conference continues today and Thursday.

The company chose Lockheed Martin’s Suffolk location for its conference, because the building is designed to encourage thinking, said Dan Tolley, chief executive officer of Soft Power Solutions.

“The Lighthouse is a very unique place,” Tolley said. “People come here and things open up in their heads. You get a chance to take a deep breath and think.”

The hexagonal-shaped building on Harbour View Boulevard in North Suffolk has hosted hundreds of conferences of all sizes since it opened in 2005. Its numerous technological simulators, open spaces, conference rooms with floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall whiteboards and a complete lack of right angles all contribute to the building’s reputation as a place that encourages the free flow of ideas. It gets its moniker from the fact it has a working lighthouse inside.

In the building, conference participants get to participate in a live blog chat while the speaker is still talking, ensuring that no idea gets left behind.

On Tuesday, the attendees used the feature heavily, holding their own conversation while Holganza and others talked.

The concept of soft power is perhaps best understood in the context of overseas warfare. Holganza used the example of the problem of insurgents. While hard power would fight the insurgents, soft power would address underlying causes of insurgency, such as poverty and disenfranchisement.

“The enemy is no longer the insurgent, for it is just the symptom of the problem,” he said. “The enemy is poverty.”

But the conference attendees also discussed ideas with local significance Tuesday, such as the use of soft power in potential reactions to hurricanes. Today, they will discuss port security, along with earthquakes and drug cartels.

Soft power also affects the national budget, leaders said Tuesday. Already, U.S. military operations are trying to use a service-minded approach where practical, which is cheaper than flexing their military muscle.

“If the U.S. does not build vested relationships, our influence will wane,” said Skip Vincent, president of Soft Power Solutions.