"the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies. When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced."Notice the link of soft power with policy and legitimacy. Here is where a whole series of tensions are introduced to the overall concept, which are not apparent with a casual reading. Power can involve simply two individuals, whereas policy involves distinct political communities, policy being simply seen as the collective interests of the political community (see On War, Book VIII, Chapter 6B). Legitimacy would require the targeted political community seeing the actions of the soft power wielding political community as "legitimate", which is obviously a difficult goal to achieve. This assuming of course that the policy actually reflects the national interests of the political community involved. Let's look at the source of this tension more closely. Power is related to "domination" another Weberian concept, which is defined as "the probability that a command with a given specific content will be obeyed by a given group of persons". Power can involve individuals, whereas domination is always about groups. Domination also has more the nature of a "state of existence" involving a larger group, whereas power remains a specific relationship between two or more individuals. The distinction is important, since too often people talk of exercising "soft power" when what they really mean is attempting to secure domination. For domination to be secure over the longer term, Max Weber argued that legitimacy was required. Brute force would not ensure compliance in the long run, the people obeying the dictates of the leadership had to believe that what they were doing was correct or "legitimate". Like power and domination, legitimacy is also something of a sliding scale. When a ruling elite loses all legitimacy, they are said to be "dead" from a social action theory/strategic theory perspective since it is only force against their own subjects which will ensure their continued existence as rulers. So, there is my introduction of the various terms/concepts. At the level of praxis, what can I say about soft power? Here is a list of six points: First, a government has to decide whether they need this type of institution or not. Do the level of national interests exist such that a long-term commitment to establishing and maintaining this type of institution? For Luxembourg, this is probably unnecessary, but for the United States? Then there is the question as to where to have these representations? Obviously, not every country in the world would merit one, whereas other highly influential countries would merit an extensive commitment. I would add here the establishment requirement of a national government being able to formulate policy which reflects long-term national interests. This would also require bi-partisan support since the project is decidedly long-term, taking place over generations. If these basic internal political requirements do not exist, a country is probably better off not even attempting this sort of thing, and essentially writing off the application of soft power in any sort of consistent fashion. Second, to exercise soft power effectively over generations, and it takes a very long period of time to achieve the type of influence I'm talking about, a political community/nation state is best advised to have a specific institution to attempt this. Relying on commercial interests (defined somehow as "national") or the military to carry out this function is short-sighted and actually impossible/self-defeating. Commercial interest are simply that, they have their own interests and goals, which are primarily associated with profit making. The "profits" associated with soft power are not going to show up on a quarterly balance sheet, in fact the actual success is almost impossible to qualify in terms of money or even statistics. Rather what defines successful application of soft power is the presence of a positive attitude over the long term, that is over generations. While the military talks about applying soft power, especially the navy, which is the best suited branch of the military to carry this out, it is not something that can be done consistently. The task of the military is to act as an instrument of potential violence to achieve national policy goals, which is not going to be seen as positive by the those who are the target of that violence. Nor will this be seen as positive by outsiders who almost inevitably see military action as "unwarranted" or "extreme". Relying on the military exclusively to exercise soft power consistently is thus irrational. Having a dedicated soft power institution avoids this problem. They act essentially as the sock puppet on the left hand to the mailed fist of the right. Having the military carry out soft power operations is like painting a smily face on the mailed fist. Sure it looks cute and might gain some temporary soft power success, but it is still a mailed fist. In line with this argument, I would simply point out that Britain, France, Germany, Spain and other advanced countries have such institutions in place. In fact the USA is almost unique among the major powers for not having one. Third, the skill set required by those working for the soft power institution is in some ways the opposite of those required by commercial enterprises and the military. The soft power institution sells "culture" which is why they also inevitably offer language courses as well. I will talk more about language teaching below, so let's look at the type of people we need in these organizations. We need people who easily fit in to and respect the target culture, who are knowledgeable of their own culture, who are open to new ideas and able to separate easily from their native culture, who are empathetic and enjoy dealing with people, who are "artistically" inclined (this broadly defined), who are critically minded (especially of their own country's policies), who are hard-working, dependable, not money-oriented, and of above average intelligence. If we label the ideal commercial person as a "business manager" and the ideal military person as a "soldier", we would label the ideal soft power institution employee as a "hippie" without the negative stereotypical characteristics. What we need is essentially ambassadors who do not even realize they are acting as ambassadors and are not seen by the target audience as so acting. Their critical attitude towards their own country's policies pays extra dividends during war time, because the target audience sees that the institution is able to question the policies of the country it represents, sending a very strong message in terms of the target audience's experience with their own country. The artistic inclination will appeal to a large spectrum of the target people as well and will be linked to the country of origin somewhat free of additional, that is controversial policy, connections. To expand on the sock puppet analogy above, the sock puppet is always friendly, witty, entertaining, and never a threat, and offers something of a distraction while the mailed fist does its work. Even if the sock puppet complains, cries, or makes funny faces in response to what the mailed fist is doing, you still have the audience paying attention and in many cases marveling at the whole spectacle. Finally, since your "ambassadors" are not money-oriented, the target audience picks up on this positively as well. Fourth, soft power requires a dual approach utilizing two models. Nye's two models of how soft power works are the direct and the indirect. The direct is when one leader does a favor for another because of cultural affinity/attraction. Say, the President of China offers a lucrative government contract to a US enterprise (via the US President) because he thinks America is a really cool place. The indirect model is when you attempt to influence the target country's government through public opinion, or rather elite public opinion. This brings up language education. This institution is not a commercial enterprise per say, but functions to sell your country's culture. The price of your language courses is going to be high-end, since you want especially the local elite attending. For the prestige of studying at your institute, the local people need to feel that they are getting extras including especially a cultural program. This could include visiting artists, musicians, poets, exhibitions, and the like, all of course associated with the institution's country's culture. In this regard, the last thing you wish the target audience to feel is that the language courses offered are simply a commercial transaction, which makes your institution the same as any commercial school. Rather you wish them to leave feeling that they have experienced something that only your institution could provide in the sense of an intense association with the "foreign", that is our, culture. Through consistent positive experience the students prize this experience and wish to not only maintain it, but share it. In this regard, alumni associations of some type, comprising former students (and current movers and shakers of the target country) are to be encouraged and financed. This will help to ensure participation in the institution's operations over generations. Fifth, how does the type of institution we are talking about diverge from the activities of the usual diplomatic representation? Cannot the embassy perform this function? Nye talks about three dimensions of public diplomacy. The first two clearly fall in the realm of the embassy/consulate staff: daily communications and rapid reaction, and strategic communication, which is providing a consistent message regarding foreign policy objectives. These are essentially propaganda targeting the local population. The third "circle is the most encompassing", according to Nye. This is everyday personal contact between the locals and our "representatives" and here is where the soft power institution functions best because this is its prime function. Who/what the locals are communicating with/being exposed to is our culture, not our political interests per say, nor commercial interests (since that would belong to the embassy staff as well). Recall the sock puppet and mailed fist metaphor above. The diplomatic representation is the fine frock coat that actually unites to two approaches, the left sleeve exposes the sock puppet while the right exposes the mailed fist. The coat unites, but does not dominate either, all three elements remain distinct since they have distinct functions, while all sharing in the achievement of the same set of goals. Sixth, and finally, there is a need to separate this institution from the embassy, commercial interests, and our military. Flying the national flag out front is a good idea, but the association has to stress the cultural over all else. Access should be open to the public and security as light as possible. Obviously should the local security situation deteriorate to a certain extent, this institution would be the first to reduce activity or even close its doors. This sends an important message to the locals, that being that the institution is not seen by our country as any sort of legitimate target, having as it does officially a solely cultural function. To conclude, history has shown that much can be achieved by the institutional application of soft power. This is by definition long-term with all the positive and negative aspects that implies. During the Cold War, the attraction the West enjoyed, much of which was centered on the US, did much to end that struggle. The application of soft power had begun with the Berlin Airlift in 1948 and continued ceaselessly beyond the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Here is an obvious example of a US soft power success. An example of a failure is the invasion of Iraq in 2003, where it was assumed, essentially as an afterthought by President Bush and his advisors, that the Iraqi people would welcome the implementation of a US-styled form of government and economy. That was not the case, nor could it have been absent the existence of a long-standing US soft power commitment to Iraq. While soft power could not have assured success, its absence indicated the certainty of the failure of such extensive and radical goals. Postscript- I would like to thank all those who commented. It is a difficult task to combine theory with personal experience. Thanks especially to those colleagues who read this post and commented to me personally. To my six points above I would like to add two more. Let's label them seven and eight for consistency's sake. Seven, it would seem that the establishment of a soft power institution is the best way to plod the long road to rehabilitation after a political/cultural catastrophe. Luckily these are few and far between, but they do happen, as in the case of Germany in the 20th Century. The establishment of Germany's soft power institution has provided that country with a "way back" to attaining what I would see as it's rightful place among nations. There are various advantages that a country achieves through a soft power institution including, but not limited to, recruiting skilled foreigners to work in the institution's country. Undoubtedly offering German courses overseas allows an opening for locals to consider working in Germany. This would be the same with other countries whose institutions have the same offerings. Along with this goes the Westphalian element I've mentioned in the comments. The country operating the institution has to trust the local government to physically protect their soft power location/establishment. This subordination of actual physical security to the local political community is necessary to rebuild the image of the soft power wielding country as "just another country", rather than one which sees itself as above others. A point that Americans should carefully consider imo. Eight, the subject of TV and mass media has been brought up. I've heard stories of people who essentially taught themselves English in isolated situations due to a very strong attraction to US or perhaps UK culture. While this is impressive on the individual level, it hardly amounts to strategic or even operational effect, which is no reflection on their individual achievements. TV and the mass media remain passive influences. The strength of the soft power institution following Nye is "the last three feet", the personal contract, the establishment of a dialogue which is what needs to be emphasized. This is after all why countries establish and maintain these institutions. So, what about the future of these institutions? Provided that the institutions can avoid the pitfall of commercialization, I think they have a future, especially when the prospect of a political/cultural catastrophe is always possible.
Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Soft Power, A Strategic Theory Perspective
Not too surprisingly, soft power as an academic concept has gotten a lot of press almost since Prof. Joseph Nye first coined the term back in 1990. Since that time Nye has traveled the world giving lectures on soft power including one he gave back in 2010 for the organization I work for. The concept is easily misunderstood and sometimes intentionally so, especially by government bureaucracies engaged in budget/turf battles with other rival government bureaucracies. From a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective, the concept has merit and a clear understanding of it can assist us in seeing the advantages to promoting soft power approaches and understanding what can be achieved by this approach and what cannot. Also, soft power fits within the larger spectrum of conflict which is part of a more extensive on-going project of mine. Finally, there are inherent tensions in the concept as I see it, so while the definition of soft power is clearly Nye's, this analysis of the concept is clearly mine, based on a strategic theory perspective. I will start with a definition of terms and how they interact followed by my own views on the practical application of soft power from a strategic theory perspective. While I have been employed as an English language teacher for almost 15 years by perhaps the leading soft power state institution, which as Nye states "has been practicing it effectively since 1934", the views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any particular organization. Let's start with the concept of power itself. Nye's definition agrees with the realist Weberian definition of power, that being "the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be able to carry out their own will despite resistance". It is important to stress here that for me power is a social relationship of varied degree, not a state of existence, nor a physical entity. Power can exist at various levels and involve individuals or whole nations. Force, coercion, economic incentives and "attraction" or soft power, are all types of power relationships. Power is also contingent, in that that each power relationship is unique involving the history, culture and personalities of the different actors. At this point a quick diversion . . . consider Hannah Arendt's concept of violence . . . Violence will remain the unmentioned reality throughout this essay, since violence alone defines the political, the willingness to use violence in pursuit of strategic aims . . . While soft power is the opposite of force, it still retains its political character which exists as a sort of tension within the concept. Soft Power is defined by Nye as: