The Evolution and Future Components of Soft Power

Article

Since the early 1990s when the term soft power was coined by Joseph Nye, it has transformed significantly both in definition, concept, practice, and actors involved in the implementation of the strategy. Such changes have been brought about by a number of reasons, ranging from the critique scholars have had on the definition of the term, the changing structure of the international system as well as the changes in the capabilities of different actors....

ABSTRACT

Since the early 1990s when the term soft power was coined by Joseph Nye, it has transformed significantly both in definition, concept, practice, and actors involved in the implementation of the strategy. Such changes have been brought about by a number of reasons, ranging from the critique scholars have had on the definition of the term, the changing structure of the international system as well as the changes in the capabilities of different actors. This article, therefore, seeks to examine the evolution of soft power in theory and as a foreign policy strategy now and in the future. I argue that soft power remains an important foreign policy tool for state and non -state actors and will continue to influence the behavior of different actors in the future. However, given the rapid changes in the international arena that has witnessed new actors and different challenges, it would be less strategic for international actors to fully depend on soft power as a means of achieving their goals. Similarly, hard power has become less effective, costly and unpredictable to be fully relied on. Therefore, it is arguable that smart power, a unique combination of soft power and hard power will persist as a more reliable choice in the future and it will be characterized by a combination of coercion and attractiveness in areas that either of the two can deliver success.

Key Words: Soft Power, Future components of Soft Power, Hard Power, Smart Power


INTRODUCTION

The term soft power at first glance may appear to be a simple and an easy to understand concept. It’s usually defined as a reverse to hard power (the use of economic and physical cohesion). Soft power as a concept is associated with Harvard professor Joseph Nye who in the 1990s developed a theory to explain what was by then a growing narrative that America’s dominance in the world was on the decline. In two of his works contained in an article that was published by the Foreign Policy Journal (Nye, 1990a) and his book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power (Nye 1990b), Nye did not only attempt to dismiss the narrative that America was a declining power, but developed the theory of soft power which to him explain states’ behaviour in a changing international arena.


DE-AMERICANISATION OF SOFT POWER

When Soft Power was first coined, it was centered on explaining the behavior of the United States in the post-cold war era. Joseph Nye while developing this theory did not focus on other non - western countries or regions away from the Northern hemisphere and this had a significant influence on the perception and understanding of soft power at the time especially regarding its theoretical dimension. However, recent years have seen a new twist on how soft power is explained and researched. Broader perspectives have been adopted, new actors and regions have been included in studies. In fact, these changes have not only led to the development of a global soft power index but also, smaller countries have been chosen as case studies for soft power. This is buttressed by two continuing occurrences: one is the general signs that the world is slowly tilting towards a multipolar system where several countries are emerging to challenge the dominance of America at least regionally as it is the case of China in South East Asia and the decreasing role of the United States in the Middle East which has created a vacuum that Russia, Turkey, and Iran are increasingly tussling to occupy. In Africa, countries like China, India, Brazil, and Turkey are giving Washington a run for its money. Since their military and economic strengths are subdued relative to that of the United States, soft power provides emerging powers with a better alternative for them to spread their influence regionally and beyond. The character and nature of soft power which does not necessarily have to be accompanied by material strength means that even smaller countries can increase their global attractiveness by exploiting their soft power assets.


EVOLUTION OF SOFT POWER

To understand the future of soft power, it is important to determine how the concept has evolved over the years. Based on the trend and how changes in the international system have affected the nature of soft power, understanding its future will be derived from the already evident evolution. Indeed, the nature of soft power today and in the future is determinant by among other things, how military warfare continue to change and how we will be able to distinguish new wars from old ones, the opportunities and challenges of an actor to generate and use soft power, how globalization will affect the state’s ability to accumulate hard power, democratization of the media as well as technological revolution.

It is taken from TASAM Publishing's book named “New World Architecture Of Economy and Security“
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