Explaining the importance of ‘soft power’ in adherence to ‘hard-power’ and their role in facing global challenges in the Middle East today.
I love Japan. But I have never been there; I don’t speak Japanese, and I don’t even know its economic or political policies in detail for me to love them. However, I have been exposed to a bombardment of Japanese culture that led me to my obvious statement: I love Japan.
Same goes with Turkey; I love Turkey not because of its politics or economy, but simply due to its delicious food and exotic ice-cream. I am sure I’m not alone in this. I know a fair amount of people who are crazy about Japan and Japanese anime, and have learned the language and are constantly visiting Japan. All this is a prime example of what the political scientist Joseph Nye coined as ‘soft power’.
According to Nye, “soft power” is the use of economic, social, and cultural drives to influence the decision and thus the power over people or states. ‘Soft power’ is more than just persuasion or the ability to move people by argument; it is also the ability to attract, and attraction often leads to agreement. (Nye, 2004)
As you may have guessed, ‘hard power’ is the opposite of ‘soft power’, and ‘hard power’ utilities military action to influence the decision and action of other states. True, it’s mostly wars that people remember in history; however, you’d be surprised to realize how big of a role soft power plays in maintaining and forging peace and prosperity.
The United States’ soft power is driven primarily by economic and cultural platforms. Mc Donald’s, Coca Cola, Hollywood, the message of freedom and liberty, university teachings, and even news which revolves largely around the US and its affairs. All these are forms of ‘soft power’ that play a major role in persuading other societies and states to adhere to the common values and goals of the US.
Historically, the Middle East’s soft power was a major influencer in tribal affairs. Back then, poetry was a tool used to convince or influence the action of other tribes. You would have poets roaming from village to village just to spread a certain message about a certain tribe in the form of poetry. Another form of soft power was marriage, which without a doubt played a major role in forming peace and influencing other states or tribes.
However, I believe that the Middle East today lacks in its ability to spread its soft power effectively. Our arts and culture are rarely known, our language is losing its voice with the younger generations, and our economic power is dwindling. Losing our ‘soft power’ means we lose respect and voice in the global field – beyond the fact that we even lose our own identity. I have met countless Arabs who claim that their identities have been shaken because they didn’t know how to speak, write, or read Arabic.
However, to be realistic, a state must use both ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’ at appropriate times to combat various challenges. Take ISIS for example; if the Middle East fought ISIS only through ‘hard power’ we would have caused another vacuum of a war-torn country whose radicals and extremists spur. However, the use of ‘soft power’ to deny and teach against the outgrowing violent methods of ISIS deters any further threats. Joseph Nye coined it perfectly when he stated “The distinction between ‘hard power’ and ‘soft power’ is one of degree, both in the nature of the behavior and in the tangibility of the resources. Command power—the ability to change what others do—can rest on coercion or inducement. Co-optive power—the ability to shape what others want—can rest on the attractiveness of one’s culture and values or the ability to manipulate the agenda of political choices in a manner that makes others fail to express some preferences because they seem to be too unrealistic.” (Nye, 2004)
Nye, J. S. (2004). The Benefits of Soft Power. Retrieved 2017, from http://hbswk.hbs.edu/archive/4290.html