The Definition Of Soft Power Politics

Essay add: 28-10-2015, 17:12   /   Views: 289

Soft power is a concept introduced by Joseph S. Nye to describe the focus of power on attracting and convincing (rather than forcing) other actors to do what they otherwise would not have done. It primarily focuses on changing preferences of an actor. The resources that soft power uses can be distributed into three categories: culture, political set of values, foreign policy. A concept that is complementary with soft power is interdependence. It is defined as a set of linkages between countries that triggers mutual effects after certain actions. Its main features are: the use of multiple channels, the presence of multiple issues and low probability in using military force.

The two theoretical frames are used in a case-study: the impact of Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland in 1979. We argue that the trip was a display of soft power that encouraged an anticommunist attitude inside the Polish public opinion. One of the limits that an analysis about soft power will face is the impossibility of accurately measuring the impact of soft power. However, a logical analysis of the actors involved will demonstrate that John Paul II has influenced the negative attitude of Poles towards the communist regime.

The definition of soft power

In determining the concept of power, Joseph S. Nye begins by referring to Robert Dahl's definition: the ability to get others to do what they otherwise would not do. However, the most difficult thing in understanding the concept through this definition is the impossibility to measure what one would have done if he/she wasn't influenced to do otherwise [] . Knowing the preferences of an actor (person, organization, nation) is often difficult and almost impossible to measure using an objective scale.

Starting from the definition of power as the ability to determine one actor to do something he otherwise would not have done, another issue that arises is the way in which power can be exercised. From this point of view, there are two main types that can be identified: hard power and soft power.

The term "hard power" is a characteristic of strategies that are rather focused on coercion: military force, sanctions regarding the use of resources, coercive diplomacy. Therefore, the logic of hard power accepts that in order to reach their goals actors can efficiently appeal to the use of coercive measures.

From the opposite perspective, the soft power concept is based on persuasion and not on the use of force. It is a feature of strategies that try to attract and convince other actors that one step is better than the other. In this way, the actors involved establish power relations that ultimately determine their behavior without the use of coercive measures. While the use of hard power is usually visible and easy to understand by average citizens, the use and effects of soft power can bring mixed results [] .

As the author of the term describes it, soft power primarily focuses on changing, the preferences of an actor, in one way or another. It is preferable to make a person want something than to force that person in doing so. The way soft power works is by using resources that generate attraction towards a specific issue, outcome or culture. Joseph S. Nye also offers a good example of a specific resource that can generate mixed results if misused [] , e.g. while Hollywood movies have been a way of making American culture more popular in Western Europe, their use of violence can bring the exact opposite outcome in traditional areas, like the Middle East.

Even though soft power and hard power are opposite, they can both be an option for states that try to impose their policy on other actors. Their use, however creates different costs. While hard power relies on military force, geostrategic advantages, the possibility of enforcing sanctions, soft power uses complex resources that help persuade or attract other actors [] . In the current fragmented scene of world politics, power becomes a less tangible concept. Its nature and sources tend to be rather vague if we compare them with the means of power used 100 years ago.

World politics can witness complex forms of soft power: ideology, international institutions, political influence and culture [] .

As soft and hard power instruments are both accessible to a superpower depending on the situation, the use of one can seriously impact the strategy of the other. The best recent example is offered by Joseph S. Nye, who uses the data from a BBC poll that refers to the war in Iraq [] . The American invasion of Iraq has attracted a lot of criticism from the public opinion throughout the world. Because many people didn't consider the military intervention necessary, the actions of the United States became illegitimate. For this reason, the soft power tools accessible to the US diplomacy diminished their area of influence.

The use of soft power: Resources

Because the possibility to control another actor is often associated with the possession of certain resources, politics nowadays accept the definition of power as the possession of resources [] . These include natural resources, military forces, population, political stability, territory. etc. This definition is useful because it converts a theoretical concept into something easier to measure and to predict.

The resources that soft power uses can be summed up into three categories [] . The first category, culture, refers to a general set of characteristics that define a society. When adopting soft power strategies, Joseph S. Nye insists on distinguishing between the popular culture (that addresses' to masses) and art. The second type of resources that a country can use to practice soft power is its own political set of values. By making it desirable for other actors, a state can easily determine other actors to do something that they otherwise would not do. The third category of resources that soft power uses is a country's foreign policy strategy. The best way to efficiently use soft power is through gaining legitimacy for actions that regard another state.

When targeting a certain actor, soft power tries to shape the actor's preferences and expectations by exporting a set of cultural, political and normative elements [] . Through those means, the actor can later be convinced to adopt a certain position in a given issue.

One way to apply soft power would be to use a diplomatic network in order to influence the public opinion form a foreign country by having or not having the consent of formal leaders. This attempt of shaping the beliefs of a population can apply to a complex range of groups of organizations [] . Therefore, soft power can involve governments, NGOs or informal groups that influence a certain issue.

The joint use of hard power and soft power: smart power

"Sophisticated nations have everything from smart bombs to smart phones to smart blogs [] " - in the 21st century the tendency of states is to use in their strategy something beyond soft power or hard power: smart power. This strategic behavior comes from the necessity to adapt in a complex environment with different types of actors, resources and dynamics. Since state borders no longer create an impassable separation between individuals, the change of norms between societies is speeding up.

Norms are not static they tend to change, and they are contested inside societies [] . The reason why they do not change constantly, in response to the instability of daily politics lies in history and institutions. Actors attribute far deeper meanings to the historical battles that define collective identities than to the insignificant conflicts of daily politics. Collective identities are not easily changed. Also, institutionalized norms limit the range of the individual choice at any given time. Laws and norms, therefore, gain their importance and credibility through institutions and history.

Norms influence the behavior of individuals. A country's social and legal norms, that are institutionalized in the media, in the judicial system and in the bureaucracy, shape the interests and policy choices of government or other actors.

If a state or actor chooses to combine hard power strategies with soft power in order to achieve something, the resulting strategy belongs to the sphere of "smart power [] ". While the use of hard or soft power strategies needs a targeted evaluation, the combined use of the two types of power involves a complex capacity of analysis.

Furthermore, it is important to know when to use and how to combine the two types of instruments because the results of an actor will be significantly different if the actor faces economic sanctions compared to cultural influence.

Theoretical limits of soft power

Soft power is a concept with complex attributes: "It is relative, intangible and context-based [] ."

Therefore, measures that are involved by the use of soft power are highly dependent on situations. While military force or economic sanctions are clear exponents of hard power, it is difficult to describe to what extent a measure can be strategically considered a part of the soft power approach. Also, as individual preferences are subjective and their change is hard to measure, soft power is intangible.

Because the tools used by soft power are supposed to change the actions of an actor, it is imperative to know the preferences of that actor [] . Therefore, any analysis regarding the effects of soft power must begin by finding the tendency and expectations of the targeted actor.

Critics have argued the consistency of the "soft power concept", because it tries to attract or persuade governments or groups inside a state, it becomes unclear what the outcome of soft power would be. Therefore, the use of such strategies would be rather unclear. Also, it is difficult to determine who possesses and who is affected by soft power [] .

Interdependence, a frame for exercising soft power

The technological development that speeded up at the beginning of the 20th century has contributed to the creation of "a global village". This way, the interactions between people are less conditioned by states' borders.

This is an era in which the territorial state, which has been dominant in world politics in the last few centuries, is being eclipsed by non-territorial actors, such as multinational corporations, transnational social movements and international organizations [] .

Even though military force remains the last option for a display of power, the use of this force has become more and more costly for states. Therefore, the natural direction for governments to reach their goals inside the current international system is by using interdependence [] . Interdependence refers to situations characterized by mutual effects among countries or among actors in different countries. International conflict is not necessarily ended when interdependence prevails. Interdependence changes the form and display of the conflict [] . Governments identify issues that characterize their main interests and form alliances or other types of organizations to promote their agenda. States' linkages based on an issue of mutual interest tend to create means of promoting that issue on the agenda of international organizations.

When analyzing an interdependent situation, one must focus on the nature of gains or losses. They can be analyzed from two perspectives: by emphasizing gains or losses of all the parties involved (joint results) or by stressing issues regarding distribution (relative results) [] . If, for example, we accept that liberalizing the trade of certain products would bring overall benefits, a key issue appears: how can, those gains be measured by individually referring to each actor involved?

Joseph Nye and Robert Keohane state that complex interdependence has three essential characteristics [] :

1. It uses multiple channels. They are defined as links inside societies that connect government actors, nongovernmental elites and transnational organizations. Those ties affect both the administration and the private sector; therefore, they create an interdependent network that affects society as a whole. The channels that the two authors identify are a part of interstate, trans governmental and also transnational relations.

2. It addresses a multitude of issues without using a hierarchical order between those issues. Interstate relations (and also the relations between different types of elites) follow an agenda that covers multiple issues. Many of them are considered in several government departments and at different levels, because inadequate policy coordination on these issues involves significant costs, coalitions between states or organizations are built around those specific areas of interest. Different issues generate different coalitions, both within governments and across them, and involve different degrees of conflict.

3. It discourages the use of military force between governments within the same region. Within an alliance, for example, using the army to solve an economic issue can be irrelevant. However, the importance of military force would be enormous when confronting to economic sanctions imposed by another state outside the alliance.

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