Thursday, January 20, 2011

Soft Power and Public Diplomacy

If "soft power" is, as I understand it (perhaps mistakenly) essentially an entity's power to attract other entities for what it is, then why does such an entity (call it a nation like the USA) require "public diplomacy" to attract other nations? If we Americans seduce others because of who we are, then why need we "sell" ourselves to others through PD? Indeed, countries that use public diplomacy, it could be argued, have a deficit of "attractive power" and thus feel compelled to make up for it through government-supported programs that present and represent them overseas "positively." Take the USSR, with its vulgar propaganda, during the Cold War -- or China seeking to display itself favorably to Americans with a promotional video on six huge screens in Times Square.

Is not, conceivably, "soft power" an argument against the very notion of "public diplomacy"?

The below reflects my speculations better than I ever could:

"Soft power is, after all, like sex appeal on a national scale: it is more a reflection of who you are than how you talk about yourself, and if you say you have it, you probably don’t."

--Blogger David Wolf; image from

3 comments:

dtearl said...

I tend to think that Soft Power is great for state-to-state relationships, but conducting "public diplomacy" also intends to make key connections on an customized, individual level.

Given the role of non-state and individual actors in shaping political and economic dynamics within and across borders (whether through business relationships or acts of terror), "soft power' in the traditional sense over a parliament or national executive only covers a portion of US needs.

Free Media Online said...

Soft power of international broadcasting (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty) was used during the Cold War to communicate U.S. commitment to human rights and to restoring democracy in the Soviet Block through a peaceful war of ideas. USIA officers also engaged in this process on a more person-to-person level. I think it was a much needed and highly successful use of soft power, but it would not have worked if it were not backed up by America's military power and a resolve not to give in to the demands of totalitarian regimes. The U.S. still needs to use these methods to overcome disinformation and to communicate its values. The problem, as I see it, is that the foreign policy establishment no longer agrees on what these values are.

Jeffrey said...

I asked this question today to Dr. Brown, and I disagree with his conclusion. He seems to draw a line between Soft Power and Public Diplomacy like they are two different things. In my opinion, this academic area is so hard to study because all of these concepts are blurred into one. It is not soft power and then public diplomacy as two separate entities because having a lot of positive soft power makes public diplomacy easier. Having negative soft power makes it more difficult to promote public diplomacy. In that case, having no soft power at all is in the country's best interest. Maybe that is why the world loves Canada; because they tend to stay to themselves.

Anyways back to negative soft power. For example, North Korea has a very negative stigma (soft power) all around the world. Therefore, when they went and did an art exhibit in Europe trying to promote their country and government, no one took it seriously; some were pissed and horrified. If North Korea already had some positive soft power in Europe, I believe their ploy would have been much more successful. I believe Public Diplomacy is using institutionalized positive soft power to promote specific interest of a country.

Another example: America has had a substantial influence in Europe through fashion, entertainment, etc. (AKA soft power). However, while these countries may be influenced by U.S. soft power, it does not mean they agree with all of America's policies. Quite the contrary, many Europeans are resentful towards American soft power in their country. I know its a stretch, but its like me and Walmart. I am resentful of the company, but its cheap and convenient so I shop there.

Something else to think about is whether we are all wrong in that public diplomacy in relation to soft power might have completely different influence and perspectives on the foreigners. You can absolutely love a country while despising their leadership. Heck, I'm like that right now. A example of soft power being separate from political power can be seen with the tensions on how to promote U.S. interest abroad between the various cones of the State Department. Anyways, its late and I have just been ranting now. Just thought I would post some thoughts.