Global Affairs Desk

Tue Jun 18 2024

Soft Power- Persuasive Diplomacy

~ By Aarush J on 5/11/2022

Soft Power- Persuasive Diplomacy

In international relations, power has traditionally been defined and assessed in hard terms, often associated with the use of economic and military might. Hard power is deployed in the form of coercion, using the threat of force and economic sanctions. In contrast to the coercive nature of hard power, soft power emphasises on the use of persuasion and positive attraction to achieve foreign policy objectives. Soft power seeks at achieving objectives by building networks and communicating compelling narratives, to name a few. Narratives, one of the branches of soft power, nudges one to understand the truth in a particular way. Creating narratives and favourable perceptions does not happen by accident. There must be an agenda to do so and must be worked at over time.

Circling down to the United States of America: the presence of American culture is felt very evidently in the world around us, even in any tiny eco-system we may find ourselves in. The predominance of the USA in the world today is a by-product of its economic and military prowess and the cultural influence it wields. All ideas attributed to good life and personal success are dreams churned out by practices prevailing in 20th century America. USA's use of soft power is experienced most glaringly in the Cold War years, when the USA found it difficult to score points against the Soviet Union in the domain of hard power. But it was in the area of soft power that the US was ultimately triumphant.

In the early years of the Soviet Union, blue jeans came to symbolise liberation. Young people often spent their savings, usually over a year's salary, to buy blue jeans from foreign tourists. Blue jeans came to represent aspirations of good life that wasn't available in their own country. The USA was able to engineer a generational divide in the Soviet Union on the basis of a cultural product.

The economic dominance of the USA is inseparable from its structural power, which is the power to shape the global economy in a particular way. Thus, it can be safe to regard the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation as products of American preponderance across the world.

Another classic example of the USA's soft power is the much sought after MBA Degree. The idea, unique to America, emphasises that business is a profession that depends upon skills that can be taught in a university. The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania was the first business school in the world which was established in 1881. The first MBA course was initiated around 1900 and the first school outside the US was established only in 1950. Today, there is not a single country in the world that does not regard the MBA as a prestigious academic degree.

The USA gave the world some of the most popular food chains, authors and brands etc. McDonald's, as of 2021, has around 40,000 odd restaurants all over the world. Another popular American food-chain, KFC, has around 41,000 outlets present in close to 125 countries. These figures prompt the American influence in the world around us, not using the F-16s or any frigates, but mere soft power.

Many of us have heard of and seen the infamous Marlboro cigarettes. Teenagers in the 1960s took to smoking cigarettes owing to their reverence of the infamous Marlboro Man, sitting on a fence.

Any movie produced by Hollywood seeks to project the United States as the sole saviour of the human race, in case of any threats advanced. An American superhero steps up to save the human race. A movie produced by Hollywood, released over a decade ago, showed a group of Iranians storm the United States embassy in Tehran, in retaliation to the last Shah ruler of Iran seeking asylum in the USA during the Iranian revolution. It further goes on to show some of the embassy staff taken as hostages.

A superpower, with immense interests around the world, and forces spread all over the globe has great need for narratives that are global in their outreach, positive and permanent. Examples given above explain the charm around American products and things. It cannot be measured. It can only be exerted. Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.

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