Soft Power

March 31, 2009


Soft power is defined by international relations scholar Joseph Nye as being, “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” It is a means of governments and diplomats of interacting with countries and groups of people to achieve an end.
The movie “Bringing Down a Dictator” brings the debate of soft power to the forefront on the international stage. The movement developed by OTPOR which helped bring down the former Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic was an incredible feat. Inspiring a crowd in order to achieve a goal is very plausible. Charismatic leaders and the demonstration of a tangible benefit in order to rouse the attention and passion of the masses, have created movements in the past. When watching that video, I thoguht back to, on a more popular culture level,The Wave showed how there is vast potential especially for youth to generate excitement and to create a dedicated group of individuals to work for a common cause. As was seen in that movie, creating a “cult” like atmosphere has the potential for creating erroneaus ends in which those not involved turn vindictive and destructive—discriminating and alientating individuals. Therefore, the goal has to be able to effectively use the attention that was harnessed. That is where the use of soft power comes in. With new technology, there are modern ways of utilizing the potential energy.
The United States had seen the failures of bombing in Serbia. Yes, the military tactics were effective in destroying the assets that they set their sights on; but they were not able to remove the creulty from the seat of power. With the absolutist authority evident in Serbia, the old saying comes to fruition: “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Thus, western ideas of removing that type of power and installing a democratic regime made sense. Yet the problem was that the movement had to come from the bottom up. Because the power in office had corrupted society into agreeing to what had always existed. There had to be a change in the culture. This is where soft power comes to play. As is seen with the movie, the US used assets to support the grassroots movement with experts and resources. This type of movement helped buttress the work being done by the students on the ground. It created a network of action that would ensure that the movement would not falter and fall into violent ends. That type of faltering would make the movement illegitimate, because not only would they lose the high ground but they would also lose the buy in from the millions around the country that had started to view the movement as an alternative movement that would better their future.
This notion of utilizing soft power is especially important in situations where using military force is just too complicated to become effective. In an insightful and intriguing demonstration, the ‘Counterinsurgency Seminar’ at Tufts University showed that with the modern availability of arms and technology—it is exceedingly difficult to orchestrate a campaign that will take into consideration all of the aims of the invader, the people being rescued, and the international community. Therefore the encouraging advocacy of “Smart Power” from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a testament to the fact that the future of diplomacy lies in utilizing more resources from internet advocacy, to digital activism, to cultural dialogue. This was one of the most important take-aways that I had from the “Bringing Down a Dictator” and the efficacy of the US using more than just boots on the ground or bombs in the air as a diplomatic approach to ending a cruel dictator.

–Mike Mandell


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