Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Smart Power: What is it?

Matrix of smart power

From The Statesman

The Obama administration is orchestrating its foreign policy in a new key, one based not on any political ideology such as the mission of spreading of democracy as the Bush administration attempted halfheartedly, but one based on “principles and pragmatism”. Not a faith-based policy but one based “on facts and evidence, not emotion or prejudice”. Thus spoke Hillary Clinton at her confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee, promising to use a matrix of development, diplomacy and defence, and cultural tools to achieve foreign policy goals. “USA must mobilise international support for peace through the use of smart power, the full range of tools at our disposal. With smart power, diplomacy will be the vanguard of foreign policy,” Clinton said.

To protect the country from international terrorism, which continues to be a major foreign policy objective, America needs a strategy of deeper and multilevel engagement with the world. This can be done by providing international economic aid, helping build up democratic institutions and strengthening weaker states so that they don’t become safe havens for terrorists. The United States of America cannot depend only upon its overwhelming military power to contain violent, unruly people. “America cannot solve the most pressing problems on its own, and the world cannot solve them without America... I believe American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted,” she said.

Obviously, the USA is not going to give up its global role regardless of the economic downturn. The best way for the USA to exercise its influence is through the use of the power of persuasion, mutual cooperation, and commonality of national interests such as economic growth, fighting terrorism and improving education. Diplomatic power arises from the attraction of a nation’s culture and values, apart from its economic and military might.

The culture of Hollywood including pop music, blockbuster movies and exciting television programs is universally enjoyed by audiences. But that’s only a part of the American story. American society embodies a culture of entrepreneurship, transparency and freedom, necessary for the development of open marketplace.

The rise of Barack Obama, a man from elsewhere, should leave no doubt that the USA is a culture of openness and optimism that holds the prospect of self-renewal and expanding human horizons. Openness is the essence of the USA. By opening itself to Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea in the Cold War era and later on to China, the USA exercised its cultural and diplomatic power and transformed the whole region. A once-upon-a-time hostile nation such as China has been turned into a friendly if competitive global power. But the rapid economic growth of China has created new problems for which a different kind of engagement is needed. “We want a positive and cooperative relationship with China, one where we deepen and strengthen our ties on a number of issues. But this is not a one-way effort ~ much of what we will do depends on the choices China makes about its future at home and abroad,” Clinton said.

On her visit to China in 1995, she told the Fourth World Conference on Women: “It is time for us to say here in Beijing, and the world to hear, that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights.” Now we have to see how far she can pursue her human rights agenda especially with regard to Tibet when the USA needs China’s cooperation in stemming the global financial crisis. Once again the issue of “currency manipulation” by China to boost its exports at the expense of other developing nations is being raised. But the immediate focus of the matrix of smart power ~ diplomacy, development and defence ~ are of course Afghanistan-Pakistan and Israel-Palestine. “As we focus on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, we must also actively pursue a strategy of smart power in the Middle East that addresses the security needs of Israel and the legitimate political and economic aspirations of the Palestinians,” Clinton said during her confirmation hearing.

In pursuit of this objective, the Obama administration has appointed two seasoned international negotiators: Former senator George Mitchell as a special envoy for Israel-Palestine; and career diplomat Richard Holbrook for Pakistan-Afghanistan, who although not covering India, nonetheless, might pay “friendly visits” to the country.

Eliminating the Taliban, Al-Qaida and their training camps in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region will need enhanced US (and NATO) hard power, which of course must be accompanied by economic and educational development of the region. But the biggest challenge in Afghanistan is to free the country not only from the Taliban but also from the drug trade.

Incorporating the soft power of development into the matrix of new foreign policy is a challenge. Joseph Nye of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government was the first to develop the concept of soft power. According to him, a country can become attractive by “co-opting people rather than coercing them”. International influence “comes from an effective aid and information program abroad,” he said. “What is needed is increased investment in soft power, the complex machinery of interdependence, rather than in hard power ~ that is, expensive new weapons system.” Fighting terrorism certainly requires both hard and soft power. But soft power “is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished”.

Just as trade with China and rising prosperity has changed the Chinese people and has given them new hopes and new dreams, a similar policy might transform Iran too, it is argued. Global communication can play an important role in changing people’s perceptions, especially when outside information challenges their assumptions and makes them think afresh.

The USA should encourage corporate America, through economic incentives and other means, to invest in poor but aspiring countries to raise hopes and dreams of a prosperous future. That should be the ultimate goal of smart power.

(The author is Professor of Communications at Norwich University.)

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