Monday, 16 April 2012

Soft Power: The Global Liaison of the 21st century

When I first acquainted myself with the concept of Soft Power I was a little surprised. In fact, I questioned if this was a Utopian fantasy? In this era of globalisation and nuclear prowess can two countries be friends without a strategic interest involved? After all this was a concept that did not talk of plain bilateral or multilateral treaties with a long list of do’s and don’ts attached to them. In fact it was far from the standard, ‘Signed-Sealed and Delivered’ black and white agreement.

The concept was coined by Harvard Academician Joseph Nye. Soft Power may be defined as, “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion.” Nye gave a three point programme for the success of this concept: Emotional Intelligence, the ability to have a vision and communication skills. The concept is a more effective aide in International Relations than its counterpart which finds solace in the use of arms, defence strategies and hard talk. It is as the Indian Member of Parliament, Dr. Shashi Tharoor says, ‘Leading by The Power of Example.’

In the midst of increasing insecurities and fear of external threats, arises the need for a reassurance which is found in Soft Power. Countries around the world have realised that the strategy of building international comity does not depend on the extent of nuclear power or military might that a State might exert nor does it lie in mere documentary evidence of a welcome relation between two or more countries. The essence of peaceful co- existence lies in a barter system where one can indulge in the exchange of culture, language, art and more. It is this exchange that is slated to be the most interesting development in the next few decades.

Politics in the yore was the off- shoot of the Art of Warfare. Negotiation, Mediation and Conciliation are the watch words when it comes to International Politics. But, effectively these alternative dispute resolution mechanisms work only in solving the international problems prima – facie. But, what of the sense of deep mistrust that accompanies one wrong decision. At such times we need something that can alleviate the impending problems, rather than fan the fire. It is interesting to note what Anita Borg stated, ‘Leaders of the future will have to be visionary and be able to bring people in who are real communicators.’ Therefore the essence of Soft Power lies in the power of communication. This sort of ‘Positive’ reciprocity is more than welcome. While dealing with a challenging neighbourhood especially for a country like India, it is quintessential to find a practical alternative to the use of arms and warfare.

World History has been a fine combination of international rivalry and the traditional alliances. These alliances were generally political or military alliances and aimed at a peaceful co- existence. However with the improvement of science and technology, we belong to an era where countries have become more assertive. The Big Five have maintained status quo as Super- powers since the Post World War era. But today the Big Five are not the only ones exerting sizable influence on other countries. Each country has something to offer to the world apart from its military might. Soft Power is perhaps also the only concept in International Relations whose success does not depend solely on Governments. It exists despite Governments.

The world is a melting pot of language and culture. Each country has its own individuality which is also a vital part of its national and international identity. If India has Bollywood, The U.S has Microsoft, China has acupuncture and its age old medical miracles to share with the world. The idea is for me embedded in a simple three step formula. Break the ice using ICE: Inspire, Change, Exchange. This will create a favourable opinion of one’s own country abroad.

At this time it is essential to remember that Soft Power cannot completely replace Hard Power for one simple reason: Every nation is bound by its municipal laws, its geopolitical interests, the quest to achieve more than its neighbours and the conflict of interests that generally arises between States. The political scenario differs in each country and is deeply influenced by internal and extraneous factors. Soft Power works for the promotion of a reformed exchange of thoughts and ideas that will help reduce the animosity that countries may harbour toward each other. Apart from the political good, it is also an excellent way to improve bilateral and multilateral ties in terms of Foreign Trade. The transfer of technology from developed to under- developed and developing countries could help raise the standard of living on a global scale.

Promotion of the study of International Relations right from High School could inculcate within students a thirst to know more about the world at large. It will give them a more panoramic view of the practical problems that the countries face rather than restrict their thoughts to the confines of  domestic issue. After all why must Soft Power be restricted to diplomats, why not start promoting this concept in all practicality right from the grass-root level?

Katherine. Abraham

@katie_abraham on Twitter

The writer is a Law Student and aspiring U.N diplomat.

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