On 11 September 2013, the Centre for Culture Media and Governance (CCMG), Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi hosted its second videoconference with the York University, Toronto, Canada. Professor Daniel Drache presented a paper on the role of soft power in the globalized world. He and the students of M.A. Media Governance from Jamia had an engaging discussion on notions of power, public opinion, and its impact on world politics. Coauthored by R.Parvathy and Ragini Tewari, this piece is based on the videoconference session.
A slide from the presentation of Prof. Daniel Drache
The Relationship between Power and Globalization
With globalization, nation-states are becoming increasingly interdependent. At the same time, international stability has to be maintained. Since the world has become a global village, the growth of one country has a direct impact on the growth of another country. However, this has increased the vulnerability of nation-states, because most of their challenges are now global in nature, and require global intervention.
Traditionally, power was exercised solely through wars where nation-states showcased their military might. However, today, power is not just characterized by guns and bullets; modern factors such as technology, education and the economy have become important indicators of power because of their persuasive ability. The changing patterns of control are diffusing power and power structure. The meaning of ‘national security’ has undergone a transformation from being defined exclusively in terms of military might to one where economic, environment and energy security have become important. The threat to national security is no longer from nation-states, but has diversified to include non-state actors such as, multinational corporations, cartels and NGOs.
The videoconference is in progress
Soft Power: An alternative?
This is where soft power, a concept first developed by Joseph Nye, comes into play. Instead of being upfront and aggressive, power is changing from coercive to co-operative, from capital to information.<1> The key to power today lies in information. Soft power is based on several things, but the power to use one’s culture and values rather than military force forms the basis of soft power. For example, India has a rich civilization and culture and a strong set of values and beliefs, particularly the successful non-violent struggle against colonial forces, which gives it a unique as well as a strong identity. It is making an international mark through Bollywood and cricket, which act as soft power.
Joseph Nye’s book in which he has developed the concept of “soft power” [Image: www.wikimedia.org]
With the rapid spread of information and communication technology, the power relations are getting transformed. People are able to put strong resistance and challenge the institutionalized power because of new forms of communication. Public opinion, which was rather localized and parochial, has now become global because of the online and digital media. The credit also goes to the traditional form of media such as the newspapers and television that complement the dissemination of information.
The Arab Spring showed how soft power can be used effectively against an authoritarian regime. Recent events, where the rising pressure of public opinion forced the US government not to attack Syria, clearly reflect how soft power can be used effectively against hard power. No doubt, the Russian government did play an important role in persuading the US government against the military strike, but the building of a strong public opinion also added more pressure.
A student participates in the discussion that followed Prof. Drache’s presentation
Professor Drache interestingly pointed out that public opinion is “both cosmopolitan and chauvinistic”. Soft power serves as an alternative to existing power; its aim is to change direction. A key question that he answered was, “Why is there a need for a third force?” It is because soft power gives citizens the belief that they are important. He highlighted that “soft power is the wild card of new information technology and social media”. It has a strong impact, and also at the same time, unpredictable consequences. It includes the crucial process of debates, discussions, dialogues, and exchange of ideas.
Hard & Soft Power: Two sides of the same coin?
While the concept of hard versus soft power is new and intriguing, its nature is debatable. There is a constant debate between consent vs. coercion as well as between structure and agency. It is true that traditional forms of exercising power are losing their charm and are becoming increasingly difficult to employ. As succinctly put by Manuel Castells, “torturing bodies is less effective than shaping minds”. <2> Countries are thus increasingly resorting to soft power. However, it has to be kept in mind that soft power cannot exist in isolation; in other words, it is difficult to use soft power effectively without some threat of hard power. Nevertheless, countries today are accepting the limitations of hard power and supplementing it with soft power.
One cannot discount the role of smaller nations in the arena of world politics. This diffusion of power is a result of economic interdependence, transnational corporations, nationalism in weak states, the spread of technology and changing modes of politics. Better means of production and transportation have resulted in the growth of world trade relations. Factors such as modernization, urbanization, and increased communication in developing nations have diffused power from government into the hands of private actors. These trends actually make us believe that there is an alternative way to exercise power. In contrast to ordering or showing outward power, soft power or co-optive power uses a persuasive approach, whereby it skillfully persuades the other nation to ‘want’ what it wants. This helps nations play their politics and set their agendas accordingly.
The session witnessed intensive discussion
It is difficult to say which type of power has the upper hand. Neither can survive without the other. Yet the dynamics of world politics is changing everyday, which require the nations to depend on both powers simultaneously and use them together effectively. The emergence and spread of new media, which has helped people in different parts of the world to come in a web of networks, has definitely shifted the balance in favour of soft power.
1. Nye, J. S. (2004). ‘Soft power’. In J. S. Nye (Ed.) Power in the global information age: From realism to globalization (pp. 68-80). London and New York: Routledge, 2004
2. Castells, M. (2007). ‘Communication, power and counter‐power in the network society’. International Journal of Communication, 1(1), 238–266.