Soft Power: A Private Foreign Policy

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Looking on
a foreign policy of any big power — no matter it will be USA, Russia,
Japan, or whatever — we can get a conclusion that politicians know
only two means of influence: gunboats and dollars. None of them
is acceptable for a libertarian. One is bloody, next is market-injuring.
Fortunately, there is another solution. Years ago Joseph S. Nye
jr. have created an idea of soft power, cheap and peaceful
alternative to hard power which is both: warfare and welfare
foreign policy. But it's not everything! What is more, soft power
is hardly controlled by government and remains almost totally in
the private sphere.

Hard power
consists of traditional means of foreign policy: wars, gunboats
diplomacy, deterrence, foreign aid, economical sanctions, etc. Soft
power, contrary, is something definitely more fragile. It's a state
of attraction. Pretty girl has a soft power. She don't need to use
coercion or money – boys will do everything for her just because
she is an attractive one. Soft power is neither as cruel as military
power, nor as wasteful as economical one. People abroad do what
we want just because we are appealing them.

Once America
have had a heap of soft power. During Revolution it had enough of
it to attract Lafayette, Kosciuszko, or Pulaski. In XIX century
— to appeal legions of immigrants. And migrators were creating even
more soft power raising the American myth in Europe. In previous
century main sources of US soft power were idea of liberal democracy,
(relatively) free market, Hollywood, McDonald's, or CNN.

Wait a minute!
Hollywood, McDonald's, and CNN? But aren't we talking about foreign
policy? Yes! And it's a non-governmental foreign policy. The role
of McDonald's is well known. Thomas Friedman and Benjamin R. Barber
have written enough on that theme. Hollywood movies had probably
more impact on Eastern Europeans than all that MADs, dominos, or
else strange Pentagon's doctrines. Even the most advanced censorship
wasn't able to hide fact that people in Western movies don't need
to stay in queues in front of every shop and in groceries there
is something more than just bottles of vinegar. And CNN is as same
good in promoting American values abroad as Voice of America. At
least it doesn't need state funds.

Soft power
isn't an exclusive domain of states. Greenpeace has it. As same
as Roman Catholic Church. How many divisions does the Pontiff possess?
— once asked Uncle Joe. History have showed that the Pope didn't
need any to make a big mess inside the Soviet empire.

Like everywhere,
in a sphere of soft power government is such an ineffective actor.
In fact it has not so much possibilities to act here. It can create
a mesh of Goethe, Dante, or Confutius Institutes. It can maintain
some agitprop media like Voice of America or Radio Tirana. It can
take some students from abroad. But what more? Not much. Because
soft power is produced mainly by private sector. In general, BBC
and Manchester United make a better job in creating a Downing Street's
image than British Council. And Bollywood is just a blessing for
New Delhi.

As usual, governmental
interference can make things only worse. According to Nye, Hungary
1956, Czechoslovakia 1968, and Poland 1981 ruined high Soviet soft
power. Similarly, Vietnam and Iraq have decreased American one.
Interventions aren't very popular abroad. And messy, unjustified
war is the shortest way to make some new enemies everywhere around.
Donald Rumsfeld once said that he don't know what is a soft power.
I believe him.

Of course,
soft power isn't a cure for all diseases in foreign policy. It is
impossible to please everybody. MTV can get a sympathy of Iranian
teenagers but it's improbable that it will mollify ayatollahs. All
in all, value is subjective. And it is not free of controversial
fallacies. A complaint of coca-colonization can easily appear. And
some forms — like state-funded scholarships for foreign student
— are still waste of money. On the other hand, Nye claims that Washington
spends 400 times more money on hard than soft power. Difference
is remarkable.

July
5, 2007

Pawel
Witecki [send
him mail
] is a student of international relations from Poland
(Warsaw University).

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