Hard and soft power -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Hard and soft power

By: Ikram Sehgal

A key element of leadership, soft power, is meant to attract to get others to want what you want, to frame the issues, to set the agenda – and has its roots in thousands of years of human experience. Power has never flowed solely from the barrel of a gun; even the most brutal dictators have relied on attraction as well as fear. Not the possession of any one country or actor, its success heavily depends on the actor’s reputation within the international community, as well as the flow of information between actors. Popular culture and the media are regularly identified as its source, as is the spread of a national language, or a particular set of normative structures; a nation with a large amount of soft power and the goodwill that engenders inspires others to acculturate.

Cultural events (exchange programmes, broadcasting, or teaching a country’s language and promoting the study of a country’s culture and society) are often seen as its tools. These do not produce soft power directly but can promote understanding, nurture positive images, and propagate myths in favour of the source country. Not all non-military actions are forms of soft power, as certain non-military actions, such as economic sanctions, are clearly intended to coerce and are thus a form of hard power. That said, military force can sometimes contribute to soft power.

Governments have been using the media, especially the electronic media, to conduct diplomacy and wage information warfare. Non-state actors, too, have exploited the global media to stage events – and sometimes to pull off publicity stunts – to attract attention to their causes. For long the media was the privileged forum of global diplomacy and opinion shaping, a shift is very much evident from old media towards new media as effective platforms of global diplomacy, communication and opinion shaping with the rapid emergence of Web-based forms of journalism, information and propaganda. Online networks like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube challenge the traditional function of established media by diffusing media power towards individuals. These networked Web platforms are powerfully effective tools for “digital activism” by non-state actors, including individuals; but are also deployed by states to exert influence in the theatre of global diplomacy.

The world has thus become an information village and, in terms of foreign policy and national security in post-Cold War power politics, helped transform international power politics. Information Operations (IO), in which time zones are as important as national boundaries, is the use of modern technology to deliver critical information and influential content to shape perceptions, manage opinions, and control behaviour. IO differs from traditional psychological operations practised by nation-states, because the availability of low-cost high technology permits nongovernmental organisations and rogue elements, such as terrorist groups, to deliver influential content of their own. It also facilitates damaging cyber attacks (hacktivism) on computer networks and infrastructure. As Dick Cheney once said, such technology has turned third-class powers into first-class threats.

Psychological warfare (Psywar) uses soft power – the power of attraction – as a weapon. It lures citizens into believing or doing things they would otherwise not do. It does so by changing the way they view themselves, each other and the world around them. Great states use it to gain territorial power by manipulating human perceptions; even to the extent of strategically promoting ethnic conflict and war. Today PsyOps is the changed name for Psywar. Used during peace as well as emergency, the term Psywar has been discarded to avoid the negative connotations of war. PsyOps objectives are (1) conversionary – to change emotional allegiance to ideology; (2) divisive – to split the country into regional and sub-cultural entities; and (3) counter-propaganda – countries need to adopt scientific techniques to rebut enemy propaganda and also to keep in mind that only countering does not achieve results. Propaganda needs to be an offensive weapon and not a reactive one. From failing in the use of “hard power” on the nations on its periphery, India has now turned to “soft power,” and quite effectively.

The pursuit of national interests abroad through hard power has come under increasing examination and the use of military force on foreign soil has in particular been criticised. Within this context, the concept of soft power and the use of cultural diplomacy have increasingly been put forward as alternative or complementary approaches. In today’s security environment, any national security system must employ a more balanced approach that can adequately resource, train, and equip the full range of civilian instruments required to operate successfully.

“Smart power” refers to the combination of hard-power and soft-power strategies. Joseph S Nye, Jr, says a combination of soft power and hard power to form “smart power” can prove to be a winning strategy. Defined by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) as “an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, “smart power” invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions of all levels to expand American influence and establish legitimacy of American action.”

A bipartisan Commission on Smart Power was launched by CSIS in 2006 (Richard L Armitage and Joseph S Nye, Jr, co-chairs) for developing an integrated policy to strengthen US influence, image and effectiveness in the world.” The commission submitted recommendations for a smart-power strategy to guide America’s global engagement. With America’s image and influence in decline around the world, the United States had to move from eliciting fear and anger to maintaining a leading role in global affairs by inspiring optimism and hope. The commission report recommended investing in the global good -providing things people and governments in all quarters of the world want but cannot attain in the absence of American leadership.

During her confirmation hearing, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked about the new foreign policy thinking and direction of the Obama administration and said that America must make effective use of “smart power” in order to strengthen its foreign relations. This “smart power” encompassed foreign relations, economic, military, political, legal, cultural and other methods.

Whether a nation has “smart power” or not lies in determining whether or not it is able to use various means in order to perfectly exercise, demonstrate and develop reserves of hard and soft power it has at its disposal. “Smart power” is both a technique and a kind of ability and capacity.

Nations must be ready to revitalise their ability to inspire and persuade, rather than merely rely on military might – this is what smart power is all about. “Smart power” is both a technique and a kind of ability and capacity. It is insufficient for a nation to have only “strength” (hard power) and “influence” (soft power). This strength and influence must be applied cleverly, adeptly and at the right time and place. Only through the adept use of “smart power” can one best one’s opponents and achieve success. When are we going to become smart enough in Pakistan to use “smart power” effectively?

This is the second and concluding part of extracts from a lecture at the National DefenceUniversity (NDU) recently.


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