Harvard professor, Joe Nye began his seminal work Soft Power (2004) as follows:‘More than four centuries ago, Niccolo Machiavelli advised princes in Italy that it was more important to be feared than to be loved, but in today’s world it is best to be both’. Professor Nye, went on to describe the term soft power as, “the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment“.
There are many aspects of national power that may cause other nations to ‘fear’ or respect us military, political alliances and economic power are perhaps the best known.
We are familiar with rankings of economic power by GDP where the UK are currently ranked fifth and closing the gap on Germany in fourth though a very long way off the United States and China. We may know that the World Bank ranked the UK sixth in the annual ranking of the best places to Do Business, up two places on last year. We know of rankings of military power which ranks the UK ninth (Credit Suisse).
All of this is very impressive and helps the UK ‘punch above its weight’ on the world stage in the familiar but rather ugly diplomatic idiom, but what about those aspects of power which may cause other nations to ‘love’ or like us rather than ‘fear’ us?
Here we are helped by a survey carried out by ComRes for Portland Communications who produce an annual index The Soft Power 30 which compares sources of a country’s soft power across six categories—Government, Culture, Education, Global Engagement, Enterprise and Digital. In this index the UK is the undisputed No1 ahead of Germany and the United States with China in 30th position and Russia not even making the footnotes.
This hugely impressive performance does not come as a surprise to those who have the privilege to travel around the world. The English language, our world-class universities, our historic buildings, institutions and ideas such as parliament, the monarchy, and Magna Carta, our legal system, the BBC, films such as the latest Star Wars movie and James Bond, television series such as Downton Abbey and Dr Who, music from the Beatles to Adele, literature from Shakespeare to Harry Potter and sport from the Premier League to our pioneering paralympians are all established sources of Britain’s ‘soft’ capital.
In more recent years however there has been a significant increase in our standing in terms of Global Engagement. The commitment to deliver on the 0.7% of GDP pledge on Overseas Aid has strengthened our moral authority on the international stage and as our economy grows so does our generosity to the world’s poorest. The strengthening of our commitment to the Commonwealth through the Commonwealth scholarships and tripling the places under the Chevening scholars programme for students from developing and emerging powers.
Initiatives such as the GREAT Britain campaign, which has continued on from the hugely successful London 2012 Games. The protection of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s budget in real terms announced in the Autumn Statement by the Chancellor and the strengthened role of UK Trade & Investment, embassies/diplomatic missions and the British Council signal a collective ambition to capitalise on this new found wealth at the heart of government.
Why is this important? Three reasons:
First, culture connects us. Cultural exchange builds trust and understanding and reminds us that we are all human first. Trust is the base currency in which all global politics and trade is transacted. Where there is trust there is trade; locally, nationally and internationally and wealth is created as a result. The commercial world is of course ahead of politics and diplomacy in understanding the value of soft power in terms of brand value now often being the largest item on the corporate balance sheet. Brand value is of course a corporate proxy for trust is the hardest to build and yet the easiest to lose. The same goes for national soft power.
Secondly, because we live in a world where through the growth of international institutions and rules, nations are less able to project hard economic or military power without agreement, soft power achieves a new strategic value for the UK being able to engage positively and yet uninhibited around the world.
Third, ‘soft power’ is ‘twice blessed’ to paraphrase Shakespeare as when this particular ‘weapon’ is deployed the benefits flow to both the giver. And, when nations enter into an ‘arms race’ in soft power the world always ends up in a better place as a result–not because of being coerced by ‘fear’ but rather by being inspired by ‘love’.
If then power is defined as the ‘ability affect others and obtain the outcomes one wants’ then in the modern world there is nothing ‘soft’ about Britain’s ‘Soft Power’ in delivering those outcomes when compared to ‘hard’ alternatives. It should increasingly be seen as our ‘weapon’ of first resort and receive resources to match.
In 2015 Michael Bates undertook a 1059 mile walk in China to mark the First Year of UK-China Cultural Exchange and raised over £90,000 for the Red Cross. In 2016 he will undertake a walk between Argentina and Brazil to raise awareness for the 2016 Olympic Truce and to raise funds for UNICEF. Further information can be found at www.walkforpeace.eu