I often say in international relations there six things a country can do: ‘giving, helping, sharing, boasting, shouting, and fighting.’ This fits with Joseph Nye’s classic definition of ‘soft power’ coined in 1990 as ‘the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a means of persuasion.’ In an ideal world sharing culture and trade is a lot better than firing bullets or giving aid.
That’s not to underestimate the significance of ‘hard power’– military intervention, diplomacy, sanctions, and subsidies, as well as aid are as vital to international relations, geopolitics, and people’s lives as they have always been. But the problem for many Governments – outside of one party states and dictatorships – is these days more and more culture and trade happens outside or despite Governments not within or because of them. And in the last five years the explosion of connectivity and social media means that even things which were once potentially controllable – broadcast and media – are now increasingly ‘for and from the people’ not by or through States.
‘Soft power’ is much less the property and tool of Governments these days and much more the responsibility of people and cultural institutions. Some say diplomacy, culture, education, business, and innovation collectively add up to ‘soft power,’ but whatever you think, the weight and impact of these pieces of the jigsaw is certainly changing.
Far more of a nation’s ‘soft power’ now resides in its cultural and educational institutions… MORE