Soft Power In Politics And Diplomacy (IV)

Part I, Part II, Part III

Various actors of soft power 

We have to keep in mind, nevertheless, that in the very practical activity, a state authority can’t possess comprehensive soft power in all possible areas as soft power is not proportionately disseminated in all areas. As a matter of example, the USA has plenty of social organizations, and, therefore, such a situation enables the USA to build strong social networks around the world which are promulgating American values and ultimately support for the realization of the American foreign policy and geostrategic, economic, or other national interest. Many powerful and rich countries are using multinational corporations to play roles in the promotion of their business culture around the world. The Westernmost developed societies are enjoying all benefits of having prosperous universities and research centers, whose extremely powerful innovations’ production is making those countries to be at the top of setting the trend and positive national image. However, on another side, the vacillating attitude to multilateralism of, for instance, the USA, is decreasing the soft power of Washington in addressing some of the global public issues.

Soft power in principle can be diffused to an array of different actors, including institutions, organizations, etc., of which may not necessarily be in direct connection with the state authority or its agencies. Consequently, soft power is for sure not monolithic and differently from hard power which is mainly in the monopoly of state forces (composed according to their inner hierarchical or/and pyramidal structure), soft power is contrary mainly distributed among various actors and issue areas.

Foreign policy and soft power

Foreign policy and its instrument of diplomacy are today very much using soft power as its useful component. Practically, the state authorities are able to realize their goals in foreign policy by two means: 1) coercive (hard power); or 2) cooperative (soft power). Nevertheless, the first option is not encouraged to be used by the governmental authorities and in many cases is even restrained greatly whether at the level of inner policy and/or domestic political culture or the level of international rules and/or norms. Such situations and practices are de facto fostering state authorities to opt for soft power for the sake to realize their foreign policy goals.

Concerning the interrelations between states and their diplomacies, the use of soft power simply means that the governmental actors can increase their influence and it is mainly manifested by the focal goal of state diplomacy in foreign affairs to make friends and cultivate a culture of friendship rather than creating enemies and/or military alliances or blocs. In principle, an actor of virtue will never be isolated as it will all the time have like-minded friends and followers. In other words, a just policy will attract a lot of supporters while an unjust policy will find little.

Many authors noticed the extreme importance of similar cultures for friendship and alliances in IR. The means to accommodate different views and cultures and make all kinds of supporters is more important and necessary compared to the promotion of consistency and uniformity in IR. Regarding the use of soft power by diplomacy, it is strongly suggested that strategy, which historically meant physical elimination of the enemy, should be changed and a new strategy on how to turn enemies and foreigners into friends adopted.

US Aid
United States Government Assistance to Haiti after Hurricane Matthew

Another form of the use of soft power by state agencies is financing ability, especially in economic diplomacy. On one hand, there is historically traditional widely accepted economic orientation in foreign policy and diplomacy – to try to alter a policy of another state by using coercive (hard power) economic sanctions.[i] However, as a critical approach is suggesting, it is not always being effective in case of direct economic sanctions. Therefore, there is an alternative form of economic measure used successfully after 1945 – official development foreign aid (like USA Aid). Consequently, the state authorities can use their economic resources as soft power within such a framework. For instance, the USA is for a very long time played a leading role in this economic soft power area of activity. Washington did gain much soft power by making institutional arrangement frameworks but in the recent future, its economic soft power and financial ability in international institutions may be eroded by its serious and huge fiscal deficits and public debt.[ii]

Culture as soft power

Nonetheless, it is suggested that the most influential and finally effective method of soft power is to conduct public diplomacy within the framework of culture. Public diplomacy from the very traditional perspective was and still is heavily focused on improving the national image or changing other people’s image via the line of cultural interaction and communication that, in fact, is the policy of cultural promotion.[iii] Public diplomacy today is giving special attention to bilateral understanding and dialogue between different civilizations. Taking this into account, a society (nation) with rich cultural resources would be most probably create attractiveness of its culture for other societies and nations, if it has well-established cultural promotion institutes, like media or universities.

In practice, there are today an increasing number of state authorities that have established special and different kinds of offices for public diplomacy (for instance, cultural centers). Nevertheless, it has to be noticed that public diplomacy reaches far beyond the official sphere of the state authorities and it is mostly motivated by (I)NGO’s. There are face-to-face contacts among the people like human resources training, education exchange (for instance EU’s SOCRATES/ERASMUS Exchange Program), cultural dialogue, or common research programs which in many cases are more important and effective concerning soft power than traditional intergovernmental relations. Such kinds of interaction contribute to better understanding and cultivation of certain consciousness among people from different areas.[iv]

The phenomenon of cultural relativism is an integral part of cultural diplomacy as an instrument of soft power. It is known that cultural belief systems (for instance, ethics, morality, or social meaning) differ from culture to culture and are equally valid relative to each culture. The sociologists (like Émile Durkheim) argue that no one culture around the world can be understood as superior/inferior compared to another for the very reason that culture is relative to its members’ belief systems. Cultural imperialism[v] appears in those cases when one culture and its values are proclaimed or supported as superior to another producing the policy of cultural colonialism[vi] which can be understood as a kind of coercive soft power (like in colonial systems in Africa or Japanese colonial policy in Korea and Taiwan from 1895 to 1945).[vii]

Euroculture Erasmus Mundus Student Master Scholarships for EU and International Students, 2019

Nevertheless, in IR, cultural relativism is usually used as a means to critique Western policy of using hard power, soft power, smart power, globalization, and post-colonialism, but as well as to struggle against cosmopolitanism. Cultural imperialism as an instrument of soft power is basically the process when one (allegedly superior) culture is imposed on others for the sake to reshape the receiver’s (allegedly inferior) culture. In the contemporary world, cultural imperialism is associated with the “coca-colonization” or “McDonaldization” of the globe and, in fact, is understood as an expression of the American cultural soft power and, therefore, is dovetailed with the critique of globalization which is associated with the neo-liberalization of non-Western societies and cultures. In this process of westernization of the rest of the world, the American administration is using as soft power the crucial international financial institutions (the WB, the IMF, the WTO)[viii] which are culturally converting non-Western societies according to neoliberal norms.[ix] Consequently, Western cultural imperialism is superstructural and multi-phenomenal which means it is driven and informed by focal economic requirements of the capitalistic system of production and consummation. After WWII, the Theory of Orientalism, which created the ideological-political foundation for post-colonialism, argues that the imposition of Western cultural imperialism is crucial for Western identity and culture in general. Therefore, the idea of the inherent inferiority of the non-Western cultures is leading to the Western imperialistic policy for the sake to culturally, politically, and economically alter “inferior” societies to that of Western civilizational norms by applying a “civilizing” mission. It includes as well as the policy of Christianization of these societies by all means.

The diversification of international society and soft power

The practical power of soft power is nowadays widely recognized as a new and very productive form of spreading different types of influences to other countries, societies, nations, cultures, or regions. However, if soft power is used improperly, it will have a counter-effect producing antagonistic feelings in other states, within many cases harsh types of backlash. The fact is that the main resources of soft power are accumulated in culture and, therefore, the promotion of culture is easily risking being accused as the promotion of cultural imperialism or cultural chauvinism even in some cases as the revival of cultural colonialism. In this respect, we have to keep in mind that after 1945, exists an irresistible trend of rising cultural identities in developing countries (the so-called, Third World nations).[x] However, cultural self-awareness followed by social awakening may finally downgrade the role of other cultures in developing countries.

From the very political viewpoint, the citizens of each state are formally entitled to choose the social, political, and economic systems and ways to further development fitting to their national conditions, culture, needs, and way of life. From both political and economic points of view, democratization reinforced the attraction of Western types of democratic systems. Nevertheless, one of the goals of development is to prompt developing countries to seek a suitable development model but the attempt to let one set of values and one culture dominate the globe and negate traditions and independent choices of nations or groups of people is going against the trend of the diversification of international society.

Many nations are in a dilemma why some groups of people or nations hate them? All great powers’ nations to varying degrees face such situations in their relations to some middle or small nations as a result of their historical intercourse. Currently, in a very dynamic world, the images of great powers’ nations are not quite positive and attractive regardless of their huge investment in soft power. For instance, anti-Americanism is increasing after the Cold War, and the US’s soft power in many regions is in the process of declination as the American authorities are not able to attract others by the legitimacy of US policies and the values. However, a majority of Europeans still believe that the American administration is fighting against global poverty, for the promotion of democracy, protection of the environment, and even to maintain peace.[xi] Nevertheless, the practice is showing that some basic principles (like tolerance, equality, dialogue, or mutual respect) have to be maintained by the conduction of public diplomacy.

To be continued

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.

End Notes:

[i] Coercion is the synonym for power. The focal issue of the term is to consist of controlling people by threats (tacit or overt). Practically, it is extremely difficult to make a difference between a threat and other forms of relationships in IR (see more in [Garret W. Brown, Iain McLean, Alistair McMillan (eds.), The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics and International Relations, Fourth Edition, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2018, 448]).

[ii] See more in [John Ikenberry, After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint, and the Rebuilding of the Order After Major Wars, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2001].

[iii] Culture from the most general viewpoint are the values, ceremonies, and ways of life characteristic of a certain group of people. Similar to the concept of society, the notion of culture is very widely used in social sciences including political sciences as well. Nevertheless, culture is one of the most distinctive properties of human social association [Antony Giddens, Sociology, 5th Edition, fully revised and updated, Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2006, 1012]. In short, culture is the totality of learned, socially transmitted behavior, customs, knowledge, and material objects. Culture includes the ideas, values, customs, and artifacts of some groups of people. At least from the very sociological point of view, culture does not refer only to fine art and refined intellectual taste. Culture consists of all objects and ideas within a society. Each people have a distinctive cultural tradition with its own characteristic way of doing something. Society is the largest form of a human group which consists of humans who are sharing a common heritage and culture including customs and tradition. Members of the society learn this culture and transmit it from one generation to the next [Richard T. Schaefer, Sociology: A Brief Introduction, Fourth Edition, Boston: Mc Graw-Hill Higher Education, 2002, 55].

[iv] See more in [Arthur Hoffman (ed.), International Communication and the New Diplomacy, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968].

[v] Imperialism is either domination or control by one state or group of people over others. Usually, it is understood as the policy of extending a country’s influence or direct administration over less powerful states. Historically, imperialism existed in all periods. The industrial revolution in the 18th century introduced a new form of imperialism as West European states competed across the globe for markets, a low-cost labor force, and raw materials. The new imperialism was the imposition of colonial rule by West European countries but particularly the “scramble for Africa” in the 19th century. For the Marxists, imperialism was an economic necessity of the industrialized capitalist economies, seeking to offset the declining tendency of the rate of profit, by exporting capital. Imperialism generally assumed a racial, intellectual, and spiritual superiority on the part of the newcomers. The imperialistic policy meant the breakdown of traditional forms of life, the disruption of indigenous civilizations, and the imposition of new religious beliefs and social values.

[vi] Colonialism is the policy and practice of a GP’s power extending its control territorially over a weaker people, country, or nation. Linguistically, originally the Latin term “colonia” meant only a country estate but already in classical Latin, it meant an estate that is deliberately settled on the soil of the foreigners. In modern terms, colonialism is used as an attribute of the 19th century Western imperialists who occupied a large portion of the world. However, in practice, the term is used mainly pejoratively to denote an unwarranted sense of Western racial superiority and the set of attitudes, beliefs, and practices that are coming out from this sense. It is very much argued that racism and xenophobia are colonialism brought home

[vii] Korean Peninsula was in modern history due to its geographical position under the crucial influences of China, Japan, and USSR. At the end of the 19th century, Korea came under increasing pressure from imperialistic powers of the UK, the USA, and neighboring Japan to open its borders to missionary and commercial activity (Japan was forced to do it in 1867). The Korean Peninsula became a Japanese protectorate in 1905 and a colony in 1910 followed by Japanese economic exploitation and absence of political and even human rights of the Koreans. It was introduced in the late 1930s a new Japanese policy to crush the Korean culture and traditions by the use of only Japanese language as the Korean became forbidden, and the clothing in Korea had to be only Japanese (see more in [Mark E. Caprio, Japanese Assimilation Policies in Colonial Korea, 1910−1945, Washington, D.C.: University of Washington Press, 1984]).

[viii] The World Bank is a global lending agency that is focused on financing projects in developing countries. It was formally known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, established by the OUN in 1945 for the formal sake to promote the economic development of its member-states by facilitating the capital investment for the purposes of production, encouraging private foreign investment, and lending money from its funds. The HQ of the WB is in Washington, DC. The WB derived its funds from its member-states and by borrowing on the global money markets. After a series of reconstruction loans to assist member-states after WWII, since 1949 the WB is concentrated on development loans, especially to less-developed states.

The International Monetary Fund was the focal issue of the Bretton Woods agreement in July 1944. The IMF was to oversee the exchange rate mechanism and the international payments system, to be the crucial source of liquidity in order to improve trade and to monitor national economic policies with a task to prevent policies in one state which would unduly prejudice the others. The IMF’s member-states provided the Fund with resources through a system of quotas in principle proportional to the size of respective national economies and they received votes in the Fund relative to these quota contributions. Therefore, the power of the richest states became protected but particularly of the USA, which still commands some 17% of the votes. The IMF is a formal symbol of international cooperation but is heavily weighted in favor of the interests of the most developed (Western) market economies (G7).

The World Trade Organisation is the successor to GATT that was founded by the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement with the focal aim to promote economic liberalization, mutuality, and preferred trade rules for all member-states. The WTO is acting as an arbiter in international trade disputes between its member-states. However, its commitment to economic globalization is making itself the target of mass demonstrations around the globe. The anti-WTO and anti-globalization protests are reflecting general concern that unbridled economic liberalization would help the economy of the most developed against the weak member-states, and that globalization is destroying cultural diversity. One of the biggest challenges to the WTO is coming from different civil society groups like NOGs or social activists in the anti-globalization movement who are drawing attention to the difficulties of liberalization across the world but especially for the weaker nations and less market-competitive forms of economic organization which can be focal to local identities and cultures.

[ix] Liberalism is a political philosophy with origins in the 17th century that emphasizes individual liberty to be achieved by the use of a minimal state. In both domestic and international economies, liberalism implies a commitment to free-market principles generally without the intervention by the governmental authorities.

[x] Third World is a term coined at the time of the Cold War that was referring to underdeveloped states. The majority of these states belonged to the group of the so-called “nonaligned movement” meaning that they did not want to choose sides between the capitalist West (First World) and the socialist/communist countries (Second World).

[xi] Joseph Hye, “The Decline of American Soft Power”, Foreign Affairs, 83, 2004, 16−20. In principle, the US’ primacy of both hard and soft power is not really new. After 1945, the USA had the opportunity to construct new international institutions and to structure the international system in ways that might have established it as an imperial power. However, unlike historically previous GP’s countries, the USA used its resources in an unusual and exceptional way. While struggling against the USSR and the Warsaw Pact’s countries, the USA at the same time worked with other countries for the sake to build a new network of relations based on the anti-Communist sentiments (see more in [Тодор Мирковић, Стратегије и ратне доктрине суперсила и блокова: Еволуција и преласци у нови квалитет, Београд: Војноиздавачки завод, 2003]). During the Cold War, American power and foreign policy were widely seen as hegemonic, including very much the countries and nations outside the communist bloc, for the reason, it elicited widespread support. The core of the US’s power is hard in the sense of the capability to coerce but there is as well as much soft power because of consent derived from multilateral cooperation. In other words, rather than crudely dominating other states, the USA is trying to work with them in ways that recognized their interests, empowering its allies, and constructing a durable and reasonably well-accepted international order (see more in [David P. Forsythe, Patrice C. McMahon, Andrew Wedeman (eds.), American Foreign Policy in a Globalized World, New York−London: Routledge, 2006]).

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