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:
"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.

67 comments:

  1. related:
    http://tinyurl.com/bhlljbv
    (Hope it works; it's supposed to be a google translation of a German article from last year.)

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  2. "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."

    I guess my question would be, first, would these soft-power players HAVE to "not realize that are acting as ambassadors"?, or would it be sufficient for them to be separate enough from the governmental agencies of hard power that the target audience SEES them as such?

    I mean, I can't believe that foreign nationals that come into contact with the "British Council" you linked to don't see it as in some way connected to the Great Britain of everything from Marks and Sparks to the Parachute Regiment if through the appellation "British" if nothing else. But it might seem sufficient for the BC to be physically and operationally distinct from British hard-power activity to make it effective as a soft-power locus, no?

    The second question that would follow this, then, would be wouldn't it be extremely difficult to assemble something like an "American Council" simply because "American culture" is so widespread and widely pressed on other audiences by those very commercial and overtly-political hard-power sources?

    So, proceeding from this post would be my question; if there WERE such an organization, what would it look like and who would run it? Would it have to be separate from the USG altogether? Could it be run through a cutout by the Department of State?

    And specifically, since all the troubles in the world (or at least the ones that seem to be currently descending on the U.S.) are focused on the Middle East, how could this sort of agency NOT be seen as just a finger on the eeeeeevil mailed fist of Israeli-hugging U.S. policy by the locals?

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  3. Sven: Re: your link to the Turkish soap opera, I do know that (at least as recently as the Eighties) U.S. TV products were widely viewed and (often) beloved in much of the world including the Middle East. I remember vividly having a discussion (through their interpreter) with the Egyptian "policemen" at CP-3A over who was the hottest female star on "Dallas" which was then a big hit in Cairo...

    I can't imagine that has changed completely, given the sheer volume of the U.S. entertainment industry.

    And from what I can tell many foreign audiences are sophisticated enough that while they love American "culture" in the sense that they enjoy U.S. entertainment products and many even dream of living in the sort of physical luxury they associate with those products they can and do differentiate those from U.S. political and military policy which they hate like the clap.

    I'll be the first one to argue that the U.S. SHOULD do more to try and appeal to the sort of folks who otherwise would be taking out an Al Qaeda franchise.

    But I guess the problem I see with that is that without an underlying change in U.S. policy you'd be trying to put lipstick on a pretty ugly pig (in the view of those target audiences). Dunno how you can get enough viewers for a Noor-type deal that love the soap enough to start loving the next U.S.-Israel arms deal...

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    1. Hollywood produced a lot of action C-movies with Arabs as evil guys since the 90's, that may have left some traces. Maybe they were ignored - but that's not so easily done with individual episodes of crime series with Arabs as baddies.

      The point of the article wasn't the influence of Hollywood, though (I actually didn't think of this in the first place). The Turkish soaps appear to be close enough to Arab societies to be actually relevant to the morphing of Arab culture. Miami Vice and CSI are not relevant, they're like Star Wars from a world far, far away.

      Just look at Bollywood productions and how the (both!) parents of main characters often play an important role (even make it onto the cover or poster!). This is from a world far, far away for many of us and is not going to influence our family culture. It appears to do more influential in other countries.


      Again not being totally U.S.-centric; the cultural influence of Turks and Indians is a relatively (re)new(ed) thing and may change the world a lot. South Koreans and Chinese also appear to grow their cultural influence.
      I don't see a Western country growing its cultural influence, albeit Brazil might take off sometime.

      Portugal and Spain may actually move culturally more towards Latin America than towards Central Europe in the next decades and the UK may come increasingly under various Commonwealth influences.

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  4. Sven: OK, I'll buy it. But I think if there's a point to tying the Turkish soaps to seydlitz's post (which seems to be, largely, about Western soft power) it's not just that the Turkish soaps are, as you point out, culturally close enough to their audiences in Arab countries to be popular there. It's that "Turkey", as a brand, as a set of political policies, is also increasingly popular in other Middle Eastern countries and "The U.S." is not.

    The very visible use of U.S. hard power in ways that anger and increase the dislike among citizens of regions where that hard power is being used seems highly effective in negating whatever potential soft-power advances may be effected by some sort of cultural and linguistic outreach. Could it be that the relative decline of U.S. culture as expressed in film and television might have less to do with the role of the parents and more to do with the role of the U.S. Army running a prison in Baghram, or the role of the U.S. government in providing weapons to Israel, or the U.S. mission to the UN vetoing everything in sight that Palestinians and their allies might want?

    I won't disagree that there's a certain amount of attraction in the more-similar-to-the-audience-culture-themes of stuff like Bollywood or Chinese TV dramas. But I have to wonder how much more impact on their advances relative to U.S. products U.S. policies have?

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    1. Well, it certainly doesn't help to do all the things which make me rate the U.S. as the #1 threat to world peace.
      This is an old story, though. Back in 2004-2008 I saw all Americans on European trade shows distancing themselves from their government at first opportunity. Even the Iranians never saw a need to do so as far as I can tell.

      Cultural attraction and soft power is interesting and the U.S. has some left due to its huge size and great relative material wealth, but it's not enough to improve on the current situation.
      You basically already got the rent from what cultural attraction you have and now you're used to it. Don't expect any additional advantages to pile up.
      Same for Germany, which already ranks really high in popularity polls et cetera.
      Our attractiveness may even wane in peripheral regions (Germany appears to lose ground in Southern Europe, for example).

      The Turks, Indians, South Koreans, Chinese and probably also Brazilians can expect a flow of advantages from their growing attractiveness.

      By the year 2030 there might be a global beauty ideal which reflects more the Brazilian preference for female bottoms and East Asian facial features than the Western preference for big fun bags! :-)

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    2. So I think the question I'm trying to get answered here is "Is it possible to use "soft power" to gain advantages in a situation where the "hard power"/actual policies of the nation in question are inimical to the target audience?" and what I'm getting from your replies is (boiled down to the essentials) "No."

      Not that I'd object to a Miss Universe who would fit in along the beach at Ipanema or Bali. But ISTM that the point of this post is how "...soft power fits within the larger spectrum of conflict..." and so far the answer seems to be "little or not at all"; that if the actual policies and hard-power actions produce ANY significant conflict (or antagonism) in the target groups that little or no reversal or amelioration of that conflict can be had from any amount of attempts at cultural/soft-power persuasion...

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  5. S O-

    Where exactly would we put TV in all this?

    Hadn't thought much about TV . . . probably overrated from a Western perspective . . . but take your point regarding Turkey.

    Still you're going to need an institution to achieve what I'm talking about . . .

    Thanks for commenting.

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  6. FD Chief-

    Thanks for commenting.

    It comes down to culture for most educated people, and these are the ones you're dealing with. They perceive a distinction between you and your country's politics. Such an institution of what I speak would convey this sequence/bundle of shared values between ourselves and the locals in times of stress and actually strengthen the bond over time. I wouldn't mention it if I hadn't experienced it . . . I'm that kind of theorist . . .

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    1. OK, so I'm still wondering; what is this "institution" you talk of, grasshopper?

      Are we talking about the sort of programs that USAid runs? Or the kinds of cultural programs that would send Duke Ellington or Dizzy Gillespie to play in Bangkok or Bordeaux? Or the "Christian Science Reading Rooms" sorts of things, VOA...or sort of all-the-above?

      And, again, assuming that the answer to the questions above is "yes", how possible fur such an institution to succeed? How do-able is it to actually detach "culture" from "your country's politics" if the idea of spreading that culture is "get what you want through attraction"?

      If the policies piss the same people who love jazz, or freedom of the press, or the English language, or Saul Bellow, how does that help us "get what we want" if "getting what we want" is a sort of generalized support for those policies? Or specific support for specific policies?

      I mean, it's nice that people "love America". I "love the Portland Timbers".

      But if the Portland Timbers players were out beating up members of my family, how could the Portland Timbers organization convince me that my love for the Beautiful Game should translate into support for the Portland Timbers?

      So I think that there HAS to be some sort of connection between hard power and soft power. All the cultural outreach in the world would seem to have a hell of an uphill fight if the actions of the soft-power state undermine the very attraction that the cultural connections are designed to foster...

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  7. This came to me as I was responding to Sven and I thought it worth pulling up to the main comment thread:

    But ISTM that the point of this post is how "...soft power fits within the larger spectrum of conflict..." and so far the answer seems to be "little or not at all"; that if the actual policies and hard-power actions produce ANY significant conflict (or antagonism) in the target groups that little or no reversal or amelioration of that conflict can be had from any amount of attempts at cultural/soft-power persuasion."

    So would you agree, or no, and if not, why not?

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    1. MLK's non-violent coercion fits within the "spectrum of conflict" as well. Absolute brotherhood at "0" and absolute enemies at "100" . . . or something like that. Someday I'll have to take the time to make an electronic version from the notes . . . you can fit an awful lot of strategic theory concepts on that spectrum . . .

      So I'm talking theory here, not attempting to explain how the soft power institution is expected to help during wartime, which would be an additional point. Of course the British and German soft power institutions continued operation during WWII . . .

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  8. Germany has this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goethe_institute
    and this
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutsche_welle


    I suppose it might be difficult for the U.S. to maintain a global network of cultural embassies world-wide, for sooner or later one or two might get bombed, then they network would either be fortressed-up as the real embassies or closed.

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  9. seydlitz-

    Very valuable offering. Pragmatically, however:

    To use a long standing military saying: "All the attaboys in the world are rendered ineffective by just one aw-shit". Thus, the "mailed fist and sock puppet" approach has serious frailty. As a Leavenworth classmate commented about a notoriously hypocritical visiting flag officer, "The key to advancement in his Army is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you are good to go."

    In most situations, when the chips are down, or a culture comes under stress, their true stripes become readily apparent. In short, unless the constant undercurrent of "American Exceptionalism" is extinguished, the potential for "Aw-shits" that would undermine soft power remain.

    People do things because they perceive those things work, and as long as the perception is reinforcing, they will continue on their merry way. Bacevich said Americans truly believe "War works". Gonna take a hell of a lot of soft power and a hell of a reduction in the worship of force to let the sock puppet upstage the mailed fist. As Sven noted, the US probably doesn't have the fortitude to lovingly weather a storm or two hitting one of their "cultural embassies".

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  10. Gentlemen thanks for your comments.

    How about a recap?

    We're not really talking about hypotheticals here. Such organizations have been in existence since the 1930s. The US used to invest in such an approach. I've mentioned that Britain, Germany, France and Spain maintain this sort of institution and linked to each. Also that the US operated such an organization in Berlin during the Cold War . . . and linked to that. Also in point six I mentioned that to do this you have to be willing to accept hits/losses, but at the same time it would be exactly this institution which would be the first to close shop should the security situation require it. You can't fortify, if you do then you might as well move the whole thing to the embassy.

    This isn't the same thing as VOA or what we had back in Berlin during the Cold War, RIAS. Radio is a means of spreading propaganda or even strategic communications, but it doesn't go the "last three feet" (Nye's quote from Edward R. Murrow in the speech I linked). For that you need people on the ground communicating with the locals. How exactly the local chapter is set up would depend on the political context and input from our staff on premises.

    Take a look at Arendt's essay that I linked if you have time . . . it brings up some interesting questions . . . especially regarding Al's last point . . .

    I think some of you sense now where I'm going with this . . . hope you enjoy the ride . . .



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  11. Actually, guys, the US used to - and when I say "used to" I mean that I don't know the extent to which any of these consulates are still open and the accessibility of them (if any) - have consulates open in medium- and small-cities all over the world, and they were usually staffed by the consul and his people, who typically included a wife and family.

    These folks would usually be American expats or domiciled Yanks who were bilingual, often hosted the local bigwigs and society types for things like jazz concerts, the embassy would send out speakers, or American art films not available in the local moviehouses. Often they would offer English language classes, and sort-of "intro-to-America" seminars for locals interested in visiting or moving to die Heimat...

    I assume that most if not all of these have been shuttered or moved behind the guarded walls of the embassies if they're there at all, given the force-protection obsession of the USG at this point.

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  12. Al - Damn you! - I was gonna use that "awshit-attaboy" metaphor but you got there fustest with the mostest!

    seydlitz: MLK's non-violent coercion fits within the "spectrum of conflict" as well. Absolute brotherhood at "0" and absolute enemies at "100" . . . or something like that.

    Actually, I would differ with you completely on this.

    MLK's strategy was NOT "soft-power"; it was more akin to the gunboat-diplomacy show-the-flag-in-your-face sort of "soft power" which is really the non-kinetic endpoint of hard power.

    His point wasn't to change the minds of the people he was fighting against, the hardcore racists who demanded "segregation now, segregation forever". It was a direct assault on THOSE people. Where it was an indirect approach it was to the people sitting on the fence, the people who had an instinctive understanding of the injustice of de jure racism but had been able to avoid confronting it until then.

    And, you'll note, just as in the case of Al's example, it failed once it had forced everyone to choose sides, because a critical mass of the U.S. public decided that while de jure racism was icky and mean de facto racism was juuuuussst fine with them. So we changed the rules to let the Negroes sit at the lunch counters with us...and then ensured that enough of them were in jail and unemployed (and didn't live in our neighborhoods) that it never really became something we had to deal with.

    That's changing slowly over time, but NOT because of MLK's tactics...

    So I would say, rather, that what you are describing is only effective as a "pre-conflict" sweetener to a nonaligned/nonantagonistic audience. From there, once the conflicts begin to emerge, it becomes, in essence, what the British and German "soft power" institutions were doing in the neutral countries in WW2 - attempting to propagandize and woo the locals.

    But those activities were typically very limited simply because the sorts of venues where those sorts of actions could take place were limited; Spain and Portugal and Latin America, principally. And even there you'll note that no German "soft power" attractions were able to compete, even marginally, against the hard power of the Allied military presence and even less against the hard currency of Allied economics. Argentina was as close as it got, and even it was effectively a closet Ally until 1945, when it had to come out of the closet to join the UN...

    So...while this is an interesting topic in terms of geopolitics and as a facet of international relations? As part of the spectrum of actual "conflict" I would say, rather, that it is more akin to the effect of civil law on the laws of warfare; that when the guns begin to speak the civil law - and soft power - fall silent.

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  13. Chief-

    Why don't I just watch as you fight it out with your strawman? Where did I say that non-violent coercion was soft power? Your analysis also seems to assume that violence is always the final result of conflict . . .

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  14. No, but conflict is conflict, whether it is violent or not. You brought up MLK; his tactics weren't based on attraction but non-violent coercion - conflict, if you will.

    And so my "strawman" continues to batter you. Your definition of "Soft power" - that is, attraction - can work when the target is dubious about the attractor, or even when the "conflict" is about things that the target considers marginal or peripheral to their world view.

    But when it comes down to nut-cutting Al has it right; if the person REALLY hates what you're doing, wooing them with "culture" and language lessons ain't gonna get you anywhere.

    So, frankly, where is this going?

    You've talked about how polities who want to exercise soft power need to have institutions like the British Council, to attract people to the brand "Great Britain". Okay, fine. We'll agree that that is a good idea, in theory.

    In practice, that's hard to maintain if the people you're trying to sell your product to think your product is made by the Great Satan. They'll trash your displays and pour your product in the gutter. You can keep at it, but in effect all you're doing is what the German embassy in Buenos Aires was doing; trying to fight an "operation other than war".

    Don't see how you're really advancing or clarifying anything here, rather than finding different terms to describe something that's been tried before and found helpful where no conflict exists but something between minimal and useless once the conflict begins.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Or, if you don't like my formulation of it, I'll refer to Sven's: "I suppose it might be difficult for the U.S. to maintain a global network of cultural embassies world-wide, for sooner or later one or two might get bombed, then they network would either be fortressed-up as the real embassies or closed."

    No?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "they"? I wrote "they"?
      It was too late at night...
      ___________

      In the end, this 'more soft power for the USA' thing reminds me of the general approach of throwing resources at a problem to drown it.
      Sometimes you really get what you deserve, and you cannot buy more. Try to deserve more, not buy more.

      I also hinted that the USA has already soft power, it merely got used to it (just as it got used to privileges at the UNSC, support by allies, getting away with what it doesn't tolerate if others do it etc).
      Maybe it's time for humility and simply say that it's enough. Look, build decent cars and you'll find enough overseas customers. You can buy almost everything you would possibly want to import, and in quantity. Nobody's actually waging war against the USA (even AQ etc only harass U.S. troops overseas and do almost nothing else). You've got the majority of the foreign military power allied or friendly.

      What more could a country possibly want?

      Delete
    2. S O-

      Of course the US "already has soft power" . . . although you seem to be referring to soft power as a thing instead of a relationship. Which is it for you? If it's a thing, how can it be "soft"? "power"?

      The US has always exercised "soft power" with the Navy in peacetime . . .

      Rather this post concerns the soft power institution with which a political community can generate it consistently . . . for various political purposes . . . over generations . . .

      A country could possible want that . . . assumed that the strategic requirements exist to establish and sustain it . . .

      Delete
  16. seydlitz

    I do not outright reject you notion of or definition of "soft power", just the probability that it can be an available tool to any and all states. In the minds of a given society, it takes a long time for the impact of an "aw-shit" to fade into history. While it may be worth a shot, it's going to be a very uphill battle - sometimes Himalayan class. And subsequent aw-shots tend to have an exponential effect. In short, long term, sometimes generational, "best behavior" is so very vital. I don't know how the Portuguese responded to Mitt the Twit's plans to drastically boost Defense spending, but several of my fine Greek friends saw it as someone who had some specific targets in mind - GWB all over again. To them, the fact that he was a serious contender cost the US some goodwill in their minds. I shudder to think of what a SW Asian Muslim might have thought.

    So, yes, it can be used, but you need to have relatively clean hands inside that sock puppet to do so.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Like Al, I'm not trying to shoot your concept out of the sky. But I do see the same problems with it as "...fit(ting) within the larger spectrum of conflict."

    Instead, ISTM that the sorts of soft power you're describing is part of a sensible state's toolkit to prevent or minimize the effect of an attempt of a foreign actor to gin up conflict against the employing state. The sort of cultural outreach you're talking about would serve to form a sort of intellectual or emotional bumper against an attempt by a local mouthpiece to mobilize popular opinion against the outreaching nation; "No, they wouldn't do that! Look at their delightful culture!"

    But IF the nation actually acts in ways that arouse conflict not only is that sort of outreach ineffective but, as Al suggests, the previous effects may be destroyed, as well.

    So just as against the images of strafed columns of refugees on the roads of Poland and the burning city of Rotterdam all the talk about the poetry of Heine and the music of Beethoven argued in vain so do talk of the poetry of Frost and the music of Gershwin argue against the prisoners of Bagram.

    No?

    ReplyDelete
  18. FD Chief-

    It's not my concept, it's Joseph Nye's and he's been traveling the world talking about it since the early 1990s . . .

    My strategic theory analysis consists of six points which concern the nature of soft power institutions, which have been around for some time and must be effective enough otherwise they would not merit the expenditures they enjoy . . . . I base this analysis on my own experience in Berlin during the Cold War and having worked for perhaps the largest and most successful soft power institution for 14 years . . . not to mention contact with both the French and German equivalents.

    I haven't argued that the US could or should re-establish this capability, since I don't really think it possible given the requirements for such and our current state of domestic political dysfunction . . . or is that part of my argument new to you?

    So, where exactly has this argument been "battered"? I see only straw . . .

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  19. Al-

    Consider Britain. They've been fighting the Global War on Terror as long as we have . . . went into Iraq with little Bush . . . have been in Afghanistan from day 1 . . . . supported the intervention in Libya . . . and lots of saber rattling concerning Syria, the latter two conflicts along with the French. Have they suffered anything like the political damage the US has? There political system seen as a shambles? What do your Greeks friends think of the UK?

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  20. "I haven't argued that the US could or should re-establish this capability, since I don't really think it possible given the requirements for such and our current state of domestic political dysfunction . . . or is that part of my argument new to you?"

    Actually, yes, or, rather, the notion that you were making any other sort of argument.

    As you pointed out, the other nations you pointed to already HAVE this sort of institute. And that the U.S. had it at one time and seems to have moved away from it. So the point to spending inordinate time discussing and dissecting such an institution would seem to be of value only to a polity that didn't have one and wanted to investigate the conditions and preconditions of creating such and how it would function in practice.

    Otherwise, frankly, it seemed like a mere exercise in angel-pinhead-dancing-quantification, and I assumed you had a more functional purpose than that.

    So if the above article IS merely a form of discussion of the mere nature and form of a soft power organization, then I am not so much constructing a strawman but arguing with a windchime; it's noise, lovely noise, but not of any value to me other than its intrinsic lovliness.

    I'm a sergeant; I work with constructs, means, and methods. Air castles? I leave those to the officer-class...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Actually, Brits coming to Greece, have a long history of drunken brawling. Bad enough that the British Foreign Office has published travel advisories to the British people to exercise some moderation, citing the high injury and crime rate due to alcohol consumption by Brits on holiday in Greece.

    Not sure how my neighbors view the UK, but I do know they find most Brit tourists annoying at best.

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    Replies
    1. Ah, yes, the drunken British yob... I know my soccer-playing pals from Belgium and Holland hate the bastards. I think all you'd have to do is start humming the "Dambusters" song to get a German football fan going, too...

      And the Spanish seem to have their own ugly Brit stories from the coastal resorts...

      Delete
  22. I would also add that Great Britain earned a pretty big aw-shit here when they bugged out on Greece in WWII. Especially when the New Zealanders in their task force wanted to remain and fight. Couldn't leave Egypt unprotected, could they? That memory typically bubbles up right after the drunken Brit fides his rental motorscooter through the store window.

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  23. "Have they suffered anything like the political damage the US has?"

    Well, there's this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2255889/Prince-Harry-jackal-wants-kill-innocent-Afghans-drunk-says-jihadist-warlord.html

    But kidding aside, I suspect that there's a sound base of Anglophobia in several ex-British colonies. Certainly the Irish don't love them, and the Argentines, and the 2005 bombings would lead one to suspect that many of the same suspects dislike the British as a lesser Satan, too...

    But remember that it's Tom Fool who leads who gets most of the blame for the fooling. I think that Britain is widely seen as Jack Fool for following.

    Add in the obvious lesser-derangement of the British Tories compared to our own Teabaggers, and there you go, I think...

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  24. However, I still stand by this portion of my dissent: "...the sorts of soft power you're describing is part of a sensible state's toolkit to prevent or minimize the effect of an attempt of a foreign actor to gin up conflict against the employing state. The sort of cultural outreach you're talking about would serve to form a sort of intellectual or emotional bumper against an attempt by a local mouthpiece to mobilize popular opinion against the outreaching nation; "No, they wouldn't do that! Look at their delightful culture!"

    But IF the nation actually acts in ways that arouse conflict not only is that sort of outreach ineffective but, as Al suggests, the previous effects may be destroyed, as well.

    So just as against the images of strafed columns of refugees on the roads of Poland and the burning city of Rotterdam all the talk about the poetry of Heine and the music of Beethoven argued in vain so do talk of the poetry of Frost and the music of Gershwin argue against the prisoners of Bagram."


    So I'm not sure I buy your continuum of national strategic planning/institutions from these soft power institutions as the "0% conflict" endmember.

    Rather ISTM that these are something that falls more closely into the "conventional diplomacy" or "peacetime international relations" spheres along with things like sister-city deals and world's fair-type-market-the-national-brand exchanges. Fine while the skies are clear and/or the hosts are friendly. But quickly either closing or morphing into straightforward espionage/OOTW/subversion/national propaganda when actual conflict with the host nation(s) arise...

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  25. Al-

    Brits going anywhere have to deal with a bad reputation for drunken brawling . . . but that's not what I talking about . . . the "war crazy" label doesn't seem to have stuck them them as it possibly has to us . . . I see Portuguese shaking their heads about the US all the time, but from what I see their attitude towards Britain is different in spite of a common military history since 9/11 . . . does the long-term presence of a soft power institution make a difference? Especially among the urban elite who are it's main target?

    ReplyDelete
  26. "I see Portuguese shaking their heads about the US all the time, but from what I see their attitude towards Britain is different in spite of a common military history since 9/11"

    The difference between two nations that have shared a very common history - including as co-belligerents in the Peninsular War - and that see each other as "Europeans" as opposed to two nations that are fairly different in everything from history to geography?

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  27. Seydlitz,

    Pardon me for being thick headed. Who do you work for? I also am an ex-pat English teacher but am self employed. I wouldn't mind getting some funding. Whose ponying up with the cash? A nation? That would seem to contradict your point of soft power "hippies". We go where we will without state sponsorship. You must have some organization backing your teaching with cold hard cash. What are THEIR motives?

    Metaphors? Sock puppet and mailed fist in a fine coat and you didn't like my schwerpunkt metaphor! A pox on you!

    Seriously, I am trying to follow your logic but it is vague.

    Respectfully, James.

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    Replies
    1. I haven't said, but it should be obvious. Funding in this case means a job as a contract teacher. I don't worry about their motives since I agree with them . . . red, white and blue . . . plus I enjoy teaching and theory and here I can do both . . .

      Explain to me the "schwerpunkt metaphor" again, maybe I missed something . . .

      The logic is that of strategic theory which is all about power relationships . . . political purpose, military aim, various means, all operating within a non-linear social interaction over time . . . if you're not used to it, it will come across as confusing, but with time and the right teacher . . .

      Delete
    2. Seydlitz,

      I brought up my metaphor in the gun debate. No matter. I am just joshing with you. I sort of like the coat with various arms metaphor. Just remember if I bring one up not to denigrate it.

      Was worried that I misidentified it as a metaphor rather than an allegory or analogy but all is right.

      Regarding your money men's motives call me a pudding head. Red White and Blue. OK, got that, YOUR perception of what an American should do. I just spent two weeks substituting at a school here in Taiwan. It is run by Mormons. They actively recruit and "save" the heathens here but they do a damn good job of teaching English.. They also have an active pipeline of getting their elite to the USA to be in their Church.

      Political, religious and all variable means (your words) make it hard for a nation to exert soft power. In the USA we are not unified on any of these so propagating them as a nation is a difficult proposition.

      Who do you work for? Without that it is hard to take you seriously. Nebulous comments that "It should be obvious... and Hope you enjoy the ride". make me skeptical. Soft power should be open. If it is kept secret then it is self defeating.

      As always, I enjoy your posts.

      James

      Delete
  28. Here's a specific example of what I mean, taken from your own text:

    "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."


    There was a huge pile of reasons that the Bushies cunning plan for the Americanization of Iraq failed; the pre-existing sectarian fault lines, massive poverty and kleptocracy, the failure of the occupiers to provide basic security, external pressures, piss-poor execution from the CPA, and the fundamental bone-stupid notion that you could take governmental and economic ideas from a rich First World nation and shoehorn them onto a poor Third World one...

    But the lack of long-term U.S. soft power..?

    How the heck COULD there have been "long-term U.S. soft power" there?

    And...more to the point - LOTS of Iraqis actually wanted what that U.S. lifestyle promised, wanted the peace and prosperity the U.S. promised. If the "soft power" of the attractiveness was inherent in what the U.S. had to offer the occupation of Iraq should have been the tale of a magnificent seduction!

    What they hated was that, instead, the U.S. delivered sectarian civil war and poverty! All the language lessons and concerts in the world couldn't compete with no electricity and a Shiite militia capping Uncle Omar at the roadblock down at the corner...

    So I hate to say this but I think you're confusing correlation with causation here. Yes, there was no long-term "soft-power" structures in Iraq in 2003. No, the failure of the occupation wasn't a certainty because of that but because of the physical realities of Iraq, 2003.

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    1. And here's one example of how the Iraq problems seem to be less one of soft power institutions and more of physical implementation; think of the difference between when happened to the Iraqi university system - where the attempts to institute American-style reforms were almost completely hijacked by external power foci - and the success of the American University of Beirut.

      I would hardly call Beirut a peaceful paradise, but the AUB has been an outpost and center of American soft power there for over 100 years; it's survived the Palestinians, the Syrians, Hezbollah, the disastrous incursion in '83...and it's still doing its work, the same sort of thing you are describing, presenting the "American brand" to the Middle East.

      So I suspect that the problems in trying to influence the Iraqi university system were more due to the weakness of the Iraqi polity and the stupidity of the American occupiers than a failure of U.S. soft power institutions, yes? Otherwise how did AUB continue to succeed while the American attempt to revitalize the Iraqi universities fail?

      Delete
  29. I can only share the comments of my friends on a small island, 95 miles from Athens. Most say the Brit involvement in GWB's adventures in Iraq as a result of Blair being a foolish lapdog. Probably consistent with an image of being "weak and easily led." I would say that in terms of their current relations with the UK, the Greeks see the UK, as Douglas Adams would say, "Mostly Harmless", in spite of the rampaging tourists.

    There is much head shaking towards the US here as well. Most in a manner akin to a parent doing so over a child that never fails to disappoint. GWB was basically both "frightening" and a "clown", both in terms of policy and the man himself, and BHO seems to have failed to have, as one friend in Parliament put it, "failed to meet the world's expectations in taming a run away country." He is respected as a man, but some simply feel the country has passed the tipping point and thus immune to what a good man can bring to the table. Kinda like they sense "Washington Rules"?

    I can't begin to describe how amazed the folks we know were at the threat to cause a voluntary default in the "Debt Ceiling" crap. Probably more Greeks than Americans knew that the Right Wingers of Congress were joyfully threatening to reject paying bills they themselves had incurred. Didn't do much for America's image. There is a big difference between stupidly being overextended and voluntarily stiffing your creditors when you have the wherewithal to meet your obligations.

    Soft power can work when people or states are confident that they can expect you to normally "do the right thing", at home and abroad. Or at least be assured you are not habitually committing aw-shits. Probably works even if you are seen as "Mostly Harmless". I'm not convinced the US, over the past 3 decades, has established any one of those three reputations in quite a few corners of the world.

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  30. Al-

    Or soft power as the last resort of a cultural/political disaster, using your term the ultimate "Aw shit" moment . . . the only hope of making good in the long run. Why do you think Germany operates a Goethe institute in Athens . . . ?

    Thanks for that. A very nice insight . . .

    ReplyDelete
  31. And to add to the list of American aw-shits in front of the Greek "urban elite", consider how stupid, no less insulting the Right Wings sounds with their "we are on the same road as Greece" doomsday cries. Just like Paul Krugman, the Greek media and most common people know why that analogy is just plain false. And they aren't PhDs. Such pandering to the Know Nothings in the Halls of Congress has been called out here virtually every time it has occurred. The memory of the current economic pain will last a long time, and woven into that memory will be such ill informed statements.

    While there is merit in the idea of soft power, we need to recognize that there are also long lasting and potent soft power neutralizers.

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  32. seydlitz-

    I'm sure that Germany operates the Goethe Institute for a lot of reasons of national interest. I will also offer that Herr Schauble has set their work back a decade or more with some of his comments. And those comments only put a brighter spotlight on Siemens Corp paying bribes to get business here, for example. Even though there was no relationship between the two.

    A huge problem in international relations is when multiple aw-shits result in negative stereotyping and generalization - "What do you expect from those people?"

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    1. The recent exchanges with Swiss and Greeks were mostly about problems originating in those countries and affecting Germany. Published opinion and loud minorities are much more irritated than the general population.
      Emigration of Greeks to Germany is following Moore's Law these days; doubling every year.

      Also keep in mind Germany doesn't force austerity on foreigners. It's merely a condition for them to get German money. That's hardly a reason to blame Germans for, especially after all Euro zone member countries signed and ratified a treaty which basically says there shall be no such help at all.

      Delete
    2. Sven

      We are discussing "soft power", basically a method of changing perceptions, and thereby behavior. Perceptions are not necessarily free from bias, my friend, especially when discussing the aw-shits that shape perceptions. The topic is human affairs, not mathematics. I was simply offering an example of one aw-shit calling another to mind and thus amplifying the problem. Since seydlitz asked about the Goethe Institute in Athens, I offered a perceptual problem making their task harder.

      There is a great bit of dialog from Rogers and Hammerstein's wonderful musical, "Oklahoma!":

      Aunt Ella: "George, your wife isn't going to be pleased if she hears that you've been seen with other women."

      George: "But Aunt Ella. I ain't never been with no other woman, and you know that."

      Aunt Ella: "Sure I do. I simply said she won't be pleased if she hears you have."


      My point was not the technical veracity of anything Herr Schauble might have said, but how he said it and what the Greek audience, with their sensitivities, perceived. While it may be intellectually arguable to say "that's hardly a reason to blame", people under stress can be quite easily swayed by emotion. Spouting how may Greeks are seeking employment in Germany (a very small portion of the population) does not change the impact a poor choice of words, on several occasions, by a German official has on the Greek population in general. Think of Mitt the Twit's "47%" fiasco.

      I will only address the "Treaty" you cite briefly. Assuming or claiming that there cannot be any acceptance of unforeseen circumstances in a document produced by fallible humans is a basic denial of human nature. Yes, "we" screwed up, but that "we" includes all the signatories, to one degree or another, as all signed voluntarily. None were fortune tellers nor omniscient. Things went to crap, and every player had a role in that, from the profligate spenders to the ones who chose not to fulfill their role in oversight - all because it was in their short term interest to ignore the "Treaty" in the way they did. Ever heard of an error of omission? In Army training circles, we warned, "A standard not enforced creates a new standard by default".

      However, I am not arguing who is "righter" or "wronger", nor placing blame, but simply addressing the perceptions of peoples in terms of how soft power can be brought to bear, as well as obstacles faced. And that soft power is very dependent on perceptions, and perceptions can influenced more profoundly by aw-shit than atta-boys. You have, in past threads, appeared to have proudly pointed out that Germany paid their "reparations". Have you ever thought that to some folks, the reparations were rightfully imposed and extracted? No matter how thin you slice the salami, Sven, it will always have those two sides. Our discussion is currently focused on that very aspect of national power, and trying to conjure up a one sided piece of salami is a pretty sure road to an aw-shit. Particularly in the course of human affairs.

      Delete
    3. Sven

      Stumbled across this today
      . Don't know where you got your "doubling every year" figure, but this newspaper cites Germany’s Federal Employment Agency data showing an 11% increase in Greeks seeking employment in Germany from 2011 to 2012.

      Delete
  33. Al-

    Agree, the whole Euro crisis has set back their work . . . here as well. Before the crisis here in Portugal the Germans were associated with well-made cars and blonds, although people inevitably described them as "cold". Now? With Austerity? Angela Merkel . . . ? Twenty years at least . . .

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    1. seydlitz- Unfortunately, yes. I'm sure Frau Merkel had no idea that the tide of official, no less popular opinion, would shift away from her prior, generally intractable stance.

      Speaking of "B.C." (Before the Crisis) I was shocked to read an article on the effects of a drop in tourism in Greece shortly after 9/11. It was in an English language Greek newspaper with a strong Brit "bias". In that front page, feature article was the statement, "German tourism remains relatively strong, but since the Germans are notoriously cheap, they effectively magnify the loss in revenues, both basic purchases and, of course, gratuities, resulting from the drop in tourism from other countries." While we had heard, in private conversations, that the general perception of German tourists was that of cheapskates, we were nevertheless shocked to see "notoriously cheap" openly stated on the front page of, albeit an Anglophile, Greek newspaper.

      Delete
    2. Al-

      The Brit bias is also usually anti-German. Try cheering for the German team during a World Cup or European Cup game where Germany is playing against anyone other than England with a lot of Brits in the room, and you'll see what I mean. Germans have a reputation as poor tippers, but that's cultural. I know a guy here who used to manage river cruises up the Douro River and German tourists were especially sought and known to pay good money.

      Portuguese are poor tippers as well, and it's also cultural. But then I guess just about everybody is compared to Americans . . .

      Delete
    3. seydlitz-

      One does have to keep in mind that different tourists destinations tend to bring a less than representative segment of a given national population, based upon expectations of cost and available activities. One issue with Brit tourists in Greece, according to their Home Office, is being exposed to the availability of alcohol way past the restrictive hours allowed in the UK. Two years ago, their "cautionary letter" gave the stats for reported alcohol related crime and injury by Brits holidayers in Greece and a couple of other popular countries, and misbehavior in Greece was significantly higher. For a while, some tour operators in the UK organized and advertized what were clearly "Drinking Holidays", much to the dismay of Greeks. Some local areas began refusing booking from such agencies, and the UK has clamped down on them as well. And, criminal and civil charges have been filed against employees of a couple of these tour operators.

      However, back to "soft power", one thing that we have seen is that the "normal" residents of a given country often do not see every citizen of another country as representative of that foreigner's government's policies. Thus, non-governmental "representatives" may evoke a far different response than the formal state, itself. That said, "offensive" foreigners simply reinforce negative stereotypes, and thus the primacy of "aw-shit" can be a factor.

      Thus, one might find that a typical Greek sees:

      The US government as brutish, but not necessarily the "average citizen".

      The UK government as "Mostly Harmless", but the "average citizen" as insufferably stuffy.

      The German government as a reflection of the German citizenry.

      It all depends on the impacts and behaviors perceived in day to day life, seasoned by atta-boys and aw-shits over the past few decades.

      The UK Foreign Office letter did, indeed, also address the impact of the alcohol issue on the perception of British subjects. So, perhaps they see the "soft power" implications. The local news coverage of it not only bemoaned the behavior, but did credit the Brit government for making an intervention. Keep in mind that the issue had been addressed at the government level by Greece to the UK.

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    4. Al-

      The goal of the soft power institution in the long term is a cultivation of an attitude, one friendly and even supportive of the owning culture/political community. Person by person, step by step.

      There's a certain "Westphalian element" to the concept, acceptance of the nation state, or simply state, as sovereign within their own borders. Thus never any fortifying, that would be the job of the local government. The grounds would be technically covered diplomatically, legally, but physical security? Essentially up to the locals.

      Delete
  34. Seydlitz,

    I brought up my metaphor in the gun debate. No matter. I am just joshing with you. I sort of like the coat with various arms metaphor. Just remember if I bring one up not to denigrate it.

    Was worried that I misidentified it as a metaphor rather than an allegory or analogy but all is right.

    Regarding your money men's motives call me a pudding head. Red White and Blue. OK, got that, YOUR perception of what an American should do. I just spent two weeks substituting at a school here in Taiwan. It is run by Mormons. They actively recruit and "save" the heathens here but they do a damn good job of teaching English.. They also have an active pipeline of getting their elite to the USA to be in their Church.

    Political, religious and all variable means (your words) make it hard for a nation to exert soft power. In the USA we are not unified on any of these so propagating them as a nation is a difficult proposition.

    Who do you work for? Without that it is hard to take you seriously. Nebulous comments that "It should be obvious... and Hope you enjoy the ride". make me skeptical. Soft power should be open. If it is kept secret then it is self defeating.

    As always, I enjoy your posts.

    James

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  35. Excellent post, Seydlitz.I am largely in agreement and I think your points on legitimacy and the preeminence of culture are very apt.

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    1. zen-

      Thanks for the kind words. I also see how the concept of soft power would fit nicely on the "spectrum of conflict" that we've talked about . . .

      Delete
  36. Folks, this is a GREAT discussion! My Special Forces buddy turned me on to it via Twitter this evening, and I've been picking through the post and many comments with real pleasure.

    We recently released my book, "Powerful Peace; A Navy SEAL's Lessons on Peace from a Lifetime at War" and I will be crass enough to say that it suits this conversation perfectly. To explain many of the concepts, I coined the term "applied smart power," precisely because of what many of you are saying---it is very tricky to formalize a soft power approach at the national level, yet most of us agree know we need to do something like it in some fashion. This work is an attempt to put it in the hands of individuals, to sort of crowdsource it, while we simultaneously try to formalize efforts.

    I'll also be crass enough to mention that Joe Nye has told me he loves this extension of his original soft/smart power ideas, and hopes it will get "a wide readership." ;)

    Anyway, I just wanted to say that I'll continue picking through the dialogue and I really appreciate that you've got this important topic moving.

    - Rob DuBois
    Robert@PowerfulPeace.net

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  37. Thanks for commenting Rob. Welcome to MilPub.

    This is my first treatment of soft power, so I'm obviously no expert on the whole theory behind it. I look at it from a Clausewitzian strategic theory perspective, so I see "tensions" in the overall concept that perhaps Prof. Nye does not. I use his concept and definition, but the analysis is mine. That's on the one side. On the other I've had a good bit of experience working within this sort of institution and thus came up with my six points, which I'll expand on a bit in the post script. The post you've read is very general and based on experience of this sort of institution operating with similar cultures, although I have plenty of friends/colleagues who've worked with very different ones. Their response has been positive.

    "This work is an attempt to put it in the hands of individuals, to sort of crowdsource it, while we simultaneously try to formalize efforts."

    I very much agree with this statement. Our people on the scene need to have a large say in what the local program consists of. It can be a difficult balance, that and the pressures to make the institution "pay for itself" which goes against the whole concept . . . good luck with your book.

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  38. Seydlitz
    Keep plugging away. I'll get it eventually. I am still confused about strategic and operational theory. with your patience I'll get there
    Rob, did you ever cross paths with Lou langlais?
    James

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  39. Hi again, folks. Seydlitz89, your point about bringing a different perspective to the soft power discussion is very important. That's one of the reasons Powerful Peace seems to have a sort of automatic credibility for a wide audience; many people write about peacemaking, but none of the others are retired SEALs. ;)

    I believe every topic with any merit can be improved by bringing diverse minds to its dissection. Academics generate valuable theories...but until they're proven against real-world experience, those theories should always be suspect.

    James, I know I recognize Lou's name, but I don't specifically remember from where. Was he West Coast? If you have contact you could try tossing him my name. It's remembered by a number of guys. And that's not always a good thing! :)

    - Rob

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  40. Hi Seydlitz,

    Interesting piece and definitely a lot to digest and think through.

    To start off with, I agree with "soft power" as a concept and think it is very useful as a descriptive term, or as a framework for analysis. I am, however, much less sanguine regarding its use as a tool or instrument of policy, particularly by governments or their institutional proxies. In that regard I disagree with your focus on soft power in relation to institutions, which seems to be the common theme to your six points. I think the focus on institutions is limiting because soft power isn’t really about institutions IMO (though I admit I am far from being even close to an expert on soft power). One thing I thought of as I read your post was Washington DC’s cherry trees, a gift from the government of Japan. These trees are literally a part of the fabric of our nation’s capital – it’s hard for me to see how any institution can compare to that in terms of an enduring link between two peoples.

    Here's another example from your first point:

    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?

    When talking about soft power and the US and Luxembourg, I think Luxembourg is a poster-child for soft power. After all, it is a country with no "mailed fist" to speak of. It has no ability to ensure its sovereignty through traditional means (as either a puppet or client state or on its own through active defense of its borders and its people). Its continued existence is all because of soft power.

    The US, by contrast, simply has more options and thus soft power, as a piece of the whole pie, is relatively small.

    I also think there might be a chicken-egg problem with soft power and institutions. In other words, are institutions able to "grow" soft power because of their actions or are soft-power institutions able to exist over the long term thanks to preexisting affection? I think, situation dependent, arguments could be made either way, but it seems to me that the institutions which you describe tend to build on and reinforce existing soft power attraction rather than creating it from whole cloth. Thus the institutional successes seem to be greatest between societies that already have a lot in common – at least that is my perception.

    Finally, I think there is an inherent conflict in your argument which Chief touched upon. On one hand, soft power is about attraction rather than coercion. But as we all know, attraction, if not genuine, is usually short-lived. I think Chief’s “lipstick on a pig” analogy has merit. To put it another way, creating institutions for the purpose of increasing a nation's attractiveness seems a bit like putting one's most positive attributes on a dating website - it may be enough to get dinner and a movie, but it's not the stuff of a long-term relationship. The downsides that went unmentioned on the dating advertisement will come out sooner or later. For the relationship to succeed over the long term there must be substance and I'm doubtful that any institution can overcome a lack of genuine compatibility borne out of a common experience or shared vision or goals. And humans, being what they are, tend to cluster to what they know and understand and the clusters of humans we call nations are little different.

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  41. zenpundit has added this post to his recommended readings . . .

    http://zenpundit.com/?p=18395

    Thanks zen.

    Andy-

    Thanks for commenting. I'll be adding my concluding remarks soon which will add a few additional points.

    What I see missing in your comments is the realization of the fact that the US used to do this sort of thing with institutions and that other countries have been using their own associated institutions to do it for years . . . to obvious benefit. A country that from time to time may be called on to use military force, Luxembourg doesn't have to worry about this, is seemingly well advised to consider this approach.

    Perhaps the real problem that many Americans have with this approach is that they feel little connection with the past, see this as incompatible with global dominance . . . and assume force to be the preferred method of action . . .

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  42. jrobertdubois,

    Master Chief Langlais is now resting in Arlington so is not available. I thought you might have crossed paths earlier, thus my query. I was wrong.

    James


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  43. Seydlitz,

    Can you provide some examples of American institutions that used to do what you're talking about but don't anymore?

    I would also like to see a little more cause-and-effect with regard to these institutions as agents for soft power. For example, is the problem that the US doesn't have these institutions anymore or is the problem that the institutions are no longer effective because the American "brand" is considered damaged goods in so many places?

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  44. Andy-

    Amerika Haus was the soft power institution. I linked to it in the original post.

    Berlin being Berlin though the whole Allied presence was essentially soft power . . . since it never came to war. Still the soft power institution in general provides a meeting point and focus to sustained operations. Providing the locals access to the culturally relevant elements of our culture . . . no strings attached . . .

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  45. seydlitz: "Providing the locals access to the culturally relevant elements of our culture . . . no strings attached . . ."

    My immediate thought on this was "Be careful what you wish for".

    In today's "connected" world, the locals have access to an amazing amount of elements of "our culture", and those elements seem to be becoming less and less attractive.

    I don't know what your experience is, but the wife and I have found that many non-American people gave the charitable benefit of the doubt to American people, via a logic of "Well, that bad stuff is due to 'the government', but the people tend to be better than that", based on a general wish for a civilized society and the limited number of Americans they might meet. And, "ambassadors of soft power" were able to reinforce that it is not the people, but the soul-less government.

    However, it must get harder to reconcile such a view in the face of, for example, the current national debate on "violence in America". When so many Americans on the street says that it's a shame that a burglar survived a shooting by a homeowner, the use of drones for selective assassinations and the easy acceptance of resulting "collateral deaths" sure takes on more of an appearance of a cultural norm than just the excesses of "the government".

    As a very close Greek friend jokingly (?) commented, "Every country has criminals. Your criminals are worse than our criminals. Even a Greek criminal generally respects the sanctity of a childrens' school. But then, Americans speak out against countries where a thief's hand is cut off as punishment, but say it's OK in America to keep a gun to kill that same thief. So maybe it's not just the criminals that are worse." This is from a reasonably well educated, successful business man who has seen a fair portion of the world in person. If we don't think the internal "debate" on violence isn't a resounding "aw-shit" externally, we are fooling ourselves. Of course, I'm sure it resonates well with a variety of what might be called extremists cultures, who embrace killing as punishment for a variety of transgressions, as it shows that there is hope for America. So maybe we are just aiming our real "soft power" at the wrong cultures.

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  46. seydlitz-

    One additional thought. I see where "soft power" can indeed be applied, and effectively. I'm just offering that in the eyes of far to many other cultures and countries, the US has a lot of behavioral ground to make for up to even start to use it.

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  47. Postscript added . . . thanks to all. It's been fun!

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