Soft power, however, can be understood as an attraction that makes others want what you want. Getting others to want the outcomes that you want co-opts people rather than coerces them. “If I can get you to want to do what I want, then I do not have to force you to do what you do not want.” (Nye 2008)
The soft power of a country is a combination of three resources: its culture (as a means to attract others), its political values (as long as the country lives up to them), and its foreign policies (which provide an image of legitimacy and having moral authority). Soft power is projected by the means of public diplomacy. Public diplomacy is a tool used by the governments to mobilize the aforementioned resources which create soft power. The purpose is to communicate with the public of other countries and attract, change or even manipulate public opinion rather than engage in active diplomacy with their governments. It is often used in countries where governments are not in line with the foreign policies of the soft power applicant. Public diplomacy tries to attract by drawing attention to these potential resources through broadcasting, cultural exports and so forth.
Perhaps for the first time in history countries realized the importance of soft power before the start of WW2. By the late 1930s, the Roosevelt administration was convinced that “America’s security depended on its ability to speak to and to win the support of people in other countries.” (Pells 1997) President Roosevelt was particularly concerned about German propaganda in Latin America. In 1938, the State Department established a Division of Cultural Relations whose aim was to actively promote information about America and its culture to Latin America. In turn, Germany and United Kingdom were also actively engaged to promote their point of view primarily in the United States with the purpose of winning the favor of American public opinion.
The soft projection attempts did not stop after WW2. Quite the contrary, during the Cold War it entered into a new stage. With the growth of the Soviet threat during the Cold War, public diplomacy continued to expand. However, in the new stage, the US government took a different approach. Rather than getting directly involved in public diplomacy, the new means of communications were used by creating independent NGOs or media organizations such as Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe—the tools for promoting Western democracy to the Eastern Bloc.
The end of the Cold War and the start of the 21st century witnessed yet again a different form of soft power projection. As democracy triumphed over communism, the competitive cold war model has become less relevant as a guide for public diplomacy (Nye 2008). Shaping public opinion became even more important in democratic governments. Even when foreign leaders are friendly, they might be limited if the public opinion of their country was against of source country of the soft power. For example, it would have been crucial for the US during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to have a positive image in Turkey as it could ease the process of negotiating with Turkey to provide its territory for the US to transport its troops.
The Information Age has reduced the cost of processing and transmitting the information. The result is an explosion of information, and that has produced a “paradox of plenty” (Simon 1998). Plenty of information leads to a scarcity of attention. When people are overwhelmed with the volume of information, it becomes hard to focus. Therefore, attention becomes a more important factor than the information itself as without catching the attention of the public, information becomes useless as it does not serve its main goal of soft power projection. The new challenge in public diplomacy is to be able to catch attention. Merely producing information is not enough. Additionally, post-modern societies are more skeptical of governments. Therefore, the importance of NGOs becomes more visible in the age of information. Even though governments do not have direct control over NGOs, they can still be used much more effectively for public diplomacy.
The modern age has created a new environment where the importance of soft power is only rising. It has become clear that countries cannot achieve the outcome they desire by only using traditional means of power. Almost every action of a country has to be seen legitimate not only by internal public opinion but also by the neighboring countries and, on a larger scale, by the entire world community. Globalization-driven economic interdependence, the rise of transnational actors, the resurgence of nationalism in weak states, the spread of military technology, and the changing nature of international political problems hinder the effectiveness of hard power. (Hackbarth 2008)
An example of the ineffectiveness of hard power strategies is the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. According to (Steinberg 2008), the strategy of the invasion of Iraq failed to understand the key role of soft power: the Bush administration firstly forgot about the United States’ dependency on the global public support and the question of the legitimacy of the invasion. In the short term, the US might have achieved its military-political goals. However, in the long term, they damaged the American soft power and global public confidence in US leadership.
Above-mentioned factors limit the effectiveness of hard power. Many states now enact soft power rather than hard in their external relations. One of those actors who actively engage in soft power projection is the European Union. The EU is a leading intergovernmental organization and its success generates among Non-Members States the desire to become a Member State of the European Union. Based on this promising foundation, the EU’s soft power derives from the possibility to seat at the decision-making table (Cooper 2004).
As follows from the theory, the main goal of soft power is to change the recipient government’s preferences in a way favorable for the applicant (Gallarotti 2011). It must be noted that soft power should target the elites and the public of the recipient country to achieve its full potential. Failure to attract the recipient’s public may entail some temporary success but fail long-term goals. For example, in November 2013, when Russian President Vladimir Putin promised his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych a significant discount on gas and a $15 billion bill to get him not to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. However, in the end, Russia failed to extract a long-term positive effect from that move. As early as in February 2014, Yanukovych’s regime was overthrown as a result of antigovernmental protests, and the new Ukrainian government signed the Association Agreement one month later. (Patalakh, 2016). We can safely assume that in the case of Ukraine, European soft power achieved a victory over Russian soft power.
As we have discussed soft power, its importance, and the way its applied, I would like now to focus on soft power from the perspective of a recipient. The success of soft power is indeed beneficial for its applicant. However, the question arises: is it equally beneficial for the recipient? Do applicants take the political interests, geographical location and internal dynamics of a recipient country, or is the only goal they focus on to achieve the outcome they desire? Countries that are the target of more than one applicant are in an exceptionally vulnerable position. The political elites of the country might lose control of public opinion. If public opinion is prone to change by the effects of soft power, it raises question even to the legitimacy of so-called “the will of people”. For example, what if Russian soft power had defeated the European one in Ukraine or perhaps the question should be: what if a country is divided between two soft powers, as in Ukraine? Are European or Russian interests the interests of the Ukrainian people? Countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and even Azerbaijan are currently the target for the EU and Russia. Both try to win public opinion in order to change the direction of the countries’ foreign policy in their favor. This situation can cause polarization of the public and weaken countries.
The best example perhaps is Georgia and Ukraine. These countries have already chosen the path of Euro-Atlantic integration, and yet the public opinion there is not unified with the government’s overall foreign policy strategy. In the case of Ukraine, the government is pro-European, but a significant portion of the population still support the Russian interest, and, as a result, a civil war erupted in Ukraine in 2014. In Georgia, however, the incumbent Georgian Dream party is less aggressive in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration and wants to normalize the relations with Russia, although the country’s opposition is strongly pro-European, which led to the current political crisis in Georgia. Needless to say, there are also marginal pro-Russian, religious-nationalistic groups that serve further division of the public. All these factors cause the overall inefficiency of the state and put countries in a vulnerable position., It is also important to remember that, unlike the EU, Russia is not shy to utilize her hard power when it realizes that a country is slipping from its grasp, as we have seen in the 2008 Russo-Georgian war, and the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the civil war started by separatists in Donbas also supported by Russia.
In conclusion, we need to understand that our countries are located in a very unfriendly region, where big powers use all their means in order to gain a footing in the region. Therefore, there is a danger that our countries might turn into a geopolitical battlefield between the superpowers. As recent history has shown us, once the country becomes a battleground, be it a political or military battle, the big loser of this confrontation is the country itself. Perhaps the best way to counter such soft power attempts is to create our own soft power directed to the internal public, as we often have limited resources to project this soft power in different countries. The recent victory of Azerbaijan in the 2nd Karabakh war and its positive resonance in Ukraine, Georgia and other post-Soviet countries is an exception. As nations in such vulnerable position, I believe we have to be aware and focus more on our countries’ problems, goals and interests. My conclusion is that the best counter to foreign influence is to create clear national goals and communicate these goals to our people, thus protecting the public from the influence of foreign soft powers.
Patalakh, A. 2016. Assessment of Soft Power Strategies: Towards an Aggregative Analytical Model for Country-Focused Case Study Research
Hackbarth, J. R., 2008. Soft Power and Smart Power in Africa. Strategic Insights
Cooper, R., 2004. Hard Power, Soft Power and the Goals of Diplomacy.
Nye, J. S., 2008. Public Diplomacy and Soft Power.
Steinberg, J. B., 2008. Real Leaders do Soft Power: Learning Lessons of Iraq.
Pells, R. 1997. Not like us.
Simon, H. A. 1998. It’s not what you know, it’s how you know it
Gallarotti. G. M. 2011 Soft power: what it is, why it’s important, and the conditions for its effective use