Soft Power: A Private Foreign Policy


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