Non-State Actress # 2: Breaking a DIME(FIL) Piece Into Pennies
Don Corleone and The Instruments of National Power
I very much planned, and wrote, today’s newsletter on understanding the cost of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. As I was doing the final read through, I realized I wasn’t *actually* explaining the cost as much as I was telling you what I think it is.
I had hoped to save topics like this until we knew each other better. It seems a little early to be digging into the dryer-than-the-saltine challenge definitions of National Power. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a way to adequately define national power AND employ the definitions to evaluate the decision in question without writing something so long even my own parents wouldn’t read it. So I’ve split it in half. And also used The Godfather as much as possible.
National power, and the instruments of it, are more than vibes. Defining the diplomatic, informational, military, economic, financial system, intelligence, and law enforcement components that generate and impact a country’s ability to Achieve Its Dreams is the first step to describing, analyzing, and evaluating the policy decisions made by leaders.
Read the Previous Issue for Non-State Actress
This issue of Non-State Actress heavily references two clips of the film adaptation of The Godfather. Sofia Coppola’s father, who was also in film, directed the 1972 masterpiece. Grab some popcorn and buckle up.
A Real DIME Piece
National security loves acronyms, and DIME is a great one. Originally DIME stood for diplomatic, information, military, and economic and is most frequently used as an outline of the different components and of national power. These days, DIMEFILis the more accurate term of art, recognizing financial systems, intelligence, and law enforcement as components that create, demonstrate, and exercise power.
DIMFIL ft. The Godfather: A Book Adapted Into A Film by Sofia Coppola’s Father
In The Godfather, Don Corleone’s singer godson Johnny Fontane is having some “professional challenges” with Jack Woltz, a movie studio executive. Johnny asks Don Corleone for some help “on this, the day of my daughter’s wedding’ in what is one of the most well-known scenes of all time:
As Don Corleone and others make a trip to visit a dying member of their Squad, new Corleone family consigliere and non-biological Corleone son Tom Hagen is sent to California to handle the situation on behalf of the Don:
These clips are a *chef’s kiss* demonstration of DIMEFIL. I’ve also included some stills from other scenes in The Trilogy because it’s too good not to. Please, feel free to use these examples on any forthcoming Hinge, Grindr, or Tinder dates if the person you’re out with uses the phrase “well, actually” without irony.
D is for Diplomatic
Diplomatic national power is fundamentally about engagement – and not like the ones all over your Instagram right now. Engagement like how one country communicates, interacts, and partners with another or with non-state actors in order to reach an agreement for peaceful coexistence. Like with all instruments of power, it’s about getting to an outcome and the process of achieving it.
Diplomatic Power in The Godfather: In our example, Johnny is a citizen of the State of Corleone and he needs help in getting to a certain the State of Woltz . Is this not what instruments of power are for?! The leadership of the Corleone sends an emissary to the leadership of Woltz to find a solution. That emissary, Hagen, is welcomed and received as a result of Corleone’s power and influence and treated as a diplomat. Engagement, achieved.
I is for Information
Informational power is about content creation and communication and the exploitation and disruption of both to get one actor (a person, a group, a country) to behave or not behave in a certain way. It’s not just telling the story of what’s happening, it’s doing so in a way to achieve a certain outcome. Like, say, targeted Instagram ads that pop up when you’re at your most convincible, leading you to make an impulsive purchase on ‘customized just for you by a dermatologist on our team , personalized skincare.’
Informational Power in The Godfather: In our scenes of choice, the informational instrument is so well played, you can’t even articulate it. What do I mean? I mean that somehow we find ourselves attached and rooting for mobsters, including Tom Hagen! Mob movies and shows, which glorify violent often transnational criminal networks are the perfect example of the kind of power information can yield and create.
M is for Military
Military power is the one Americans are most familiar with. The textbook definition centers around the use of force, threat of use of force, or enable others to use force to achieve an outcome. The nuance here is that the power comes not only from doing, but from being able and willing to do. An offer you can’t, or wouldn’t dare, to refuse.
Military Power in The Godfather: Going to the mattresses = going to war. There is a lot of force in The Godfather - use of and threat of. If you need more clarity here…let me know.
E is for Economic
Economic power is often understood as the foundation of all national power, while being an instrument of it as well. It’s not just about how much money you have as compared to how much money you need, but also your ability to make more however you choose and how much control you can exert over others’ ability to make or not make money is about furthering or curtailing prosperity. Economic power examples include trade, investment, aid, embargo, and sanctions.
Economic Power in The Godfather: $600,000 for a horse in 1972 is equivalent to $4,277,655.50 today. So yeah, that’s some economic power.
F is for Financial Systems
Financial system power different from economic power, which is confusing sometimes, but also very cool (way cooler than those obsessed with crypto without abandon or nuance) and very relevant to The Godfather. In the US, financial systems power is about a lot about protecting US systems, users, and institutions, those of our partners and allies, and tracking or stopping the flow of money to entities that traffic people, drugs, weapons, and organizations doing bad things like terrorism.
Financial Systems in The Godfather: Remember how Al Capone was eventually arrested on tax fraud? It’s not technically The Godfather, but you catch my drift.
I is for Intelligence
Intelligence is the other side of the information coin. It’s about collecting – actively or passively, information and processing, organizing, integrating, analyzing, and interpreting that information to inform decisions, processes, or actions.
Intelligence in The Godfather: When Woltz first meets Hagen, Woltz mentions that Hagen should have told him who his boss was:
“You should have told me your boss was Corleone, Tom, I had to check you out. I thought you were just some third rate hustler Johnny was running in to bluff me.” - Jack Woltz
And that, my friends, is a wonderful outline of the intelligence process with an even better example of the impact of power! Gathering, organizing, investigating, and analyzing to inform behavior. Corleone may be a murderer - but he’s a murderer with power giving him and his representatives legitimacy.
L is for Law Enforcement
Law Enforcement is the final element or instrument, and it’s both one of the most simple to understand and hardest to explain…kind of like a lava lamp. American society puts a premium on rule of law and rightly so. When you go through customs at a US airport, you don’t need to slip cash into your passport to make it through to the other side. The US constitution not only disallows members of the military from showing up to random homes and taking them over - the law is actually enforced! There are lots and lots and lots of countries around the world where this isn’t the case. The reliability and fairness associated with the US adds to its standing in the world, sometimes referred to as ‘soft power.’
Law Enforcement in The Godfather: Depending on who you consider to be The Law, you’ve got some juicy options for understanding its role in the Greatest Trilogy Ever. Power is measured by the ability to get what you want, when you want, and how you want it – without giving up more than you want to. It’s the difference between simply saying ‘I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse,” and people beliveing it. What Don Corleone says, goes, even when he’s not in the room. Hagen going to California, and Woltz’s reaction to his visit, is a pretty clear example of the power of effective ‘law’ enforcement…
Key Takeaway: We can’t talk about the cost to the US of the decision to withdrawal from Afghanistan without knowing what the US stands to lose. Power is always a priority, so the best way to start this conversation is to start with an understanding of what makes a country powerful.
Gimme More: A Few Resources for More Info
I had an inappropriately hard time finding resources that weren’t out of date, a literal word salad, and not resulting in a list of pieces from authors with nearly identical professional backgrounds and trainings.
DIME Instruments of National Power, video featuring Col. Michelle Ryan from the US Army War College
Joint Doctrine Note 1-18, a Department of Defense document on how elements of national power are used in military strategy
‘Will Washington Abandon the Order?’ essay by Dr. Kori Schake
Marie von Clauswitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War, book by Vanya Eftimova Bellinger
Safe Passage: The Transition from British to American Hegemony, book by Dr. Kori Schake
Empire Imagined: The Personality of American Power Volume 1, book by Giselle Donnelly
“Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of ‘Grand Strategy,’” journal article by Nina Silove
Putting the “FIL” into “DIME”, commentary by Cesar Augusto Rodriguez, Timothy Charles Walton, and Hyong Chu
DIME, not DiME: Time to Align the Instruments of U.S. Informational Power, commentary by Donald M. Bishop
U.S. National Security Strategy, Public Version 2022, US Government
U.S. National Defense Strategy, Public Version 2022, US Government
Renewed Great Power Competition: Implications for Defense—Issues for Congress August 2021, Congressional Research Service
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, movie
The Godfather Trilogy, movies
“legal regime, legal sources, or legal processes in combination with other instruments of national power to significantly increase its opportunity to advance its strategic interests on the international stage.” https://www.jagreporter.af.mil/Post/Article-View-Post/Article/2548732/playing-the-midfield/