Thursday, July 19, 2012

Power, Soft Power & China !

What is Power? Power - "It is the ability to influence the behavior of others to get the outcomes one wants."
There are three primary ways by which one can affect the behaviour of others:

  • Usually Power is narrowly defined, just in terms of "command and force".

e.g. Suppose there are two people 'A' and 'B'.

So, the narrow definition would say, 'A' has power, if he/she can make 'B' to do something that 'B' would otherwise not do.
So, if I command my young nephew to play video games and guileless as he is [], he starts playing his favourite Max Payne 3 game on PS3, so do I have power over my nephew? Things are not this straightforward. What if my nephew loves playing PS3?
So when we measure power in terms of the changed behavior of others, we have to first know theirpreferences, else we may be thinking like a rooster, that his crowing makes the sun rise. 

Another example would be to think, the then Viceroy of India, who executed Saheed Bhagat Singhproved his power. This is wrong, as Saheed Bhagat Singh was seeking martyrdom so that he can motivate youths for national freedom.

So, power always depends on the context in which the relationship exists.

  • Power can be understood in two ways: Behavior & Resources. 

Sometimes one can affect other's behaviors without commanding it. So if someone believes that my objectives are legitimate, I may be able to persuade him without using threats or inducements. So, for instance the recent incidence of some fanatic muslim guy shooting people in France[he also seem to have planned Indian consulates as targets] in name of jihad and Osama Bin Laden, not because of payments or threat(Osama is anyway dead), but because he believed in the legitimacy of Al Qaeda's objectives.
It is in this context that soft power comes into picture. So the ability to make others to want the outcomes that you want is soft power. Here you are co-opting with people rather than coercing them.
Resources:Power is also understood as the possession of capabilities or resources that can influence outcomes.
So, a country is powerful if it has a relatively large population, territory, natural resources, economic strength, military force, and social stability. This way power becomes more measurable and predictable. We must have usually come across terms in "diplomatic" discourse or in news, that certain country is holding the "high card". It basically means being powerful from resourcing perspective.

It is in this context that hard power comes into picture. You either use force or economic power and coerce others to toe your line.
But defining power as synonymous with the possessing resources, may lead to something called "vehicle fallacy".

Vehicle Fallacy: This is the confusion of power as a 'resource' and power as a 'behavioural change item'.
Power cannot be exercised without the use of some resource (vehicle). In other words, since power does not have its own legs to go, it has to ride on some vehicle. With this in mind, let's explore the fallacy

Take culture for example, it's considered as one of the resource (vehicle) for exercising Soft Power, but culture in itself does not provide powe
r. So, Coke and Big Macs do not necessarily attract people in the Islamic world to love the US nor does the popularity of Bollywood assure that India will get the policy outcomes it wishes.
This is true for h
ard power as well. If suppose you have tanks, you may win battle in deserts, but that may not help, if the fight is taking place in swamps!!! So considering power as some "concrete" entity e.g. bombs or bullets, which if used on some country can lead to some behavioural outcomes is a fallacy. If "possessing more resource" was equivalent to "possessing power", then why did US lose in Vietnam war when US had far more resources than the tiny country? Or even take the example of 9/11.

So, you must be wondering, you have resources and still no power?? The answer lies in my next point.

  • Inorder to convert resources into power, so as to obtain desired outcomes, one needs to apply "strategies" and "skill-full leadership".

How do we do that? By finding out who is holding the high cards (see above to understand what holding high cards means), and understanding what game one is playing - i.e. which resourcesprovide the best basis for power behavior in a particular context? E.g. Oil was not an impressive power resource before the industrial age nor was uranium significant before the nuclear age.

  • One other thing about power one needs to note is that the value of its resources change over time. So, if the Talibans, Haqqani N/ws or the Saudi rich Osama Bin Laden(which were created by US), did help US to win the Cold War at some point in past, but now pose the single biggest threat to US. So, we see how value of power resources change over time and this needs to be noted.

So analysing the above four points, we have come to a conclusion about power as follows:

  • power resources cannot be judged without knowing the context
  • Before understanding who is holding the high cards → understand what game you are playing and how the value of the cards may be changing

Soft Power Vs Hard Power 
What is Soft Power ? 
I have described above, the hard power - military and economic might, often get others to change their position. But sometimes we can get the outcomes we want without tangible threats or payoffs. A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries admires its values, emulates its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness. It is your ability to shape others preference so that they want what you want them to do.This is what we call Soft Power

Resources that generate soft power are:

  • Culture is set of practices that create meaning for a society. It can be high culture like literature, art and education that appeals to elites and mass culture - TV, cinema, music. So when a country’s culture promotes universal values that other nations can readily identify with, it makes them naturally attractive to others.

[US has had a huge appeal for its open culture, pop music, hollywood etc. ]
So, things like tourism of that country, what is the global power of its native language, how many gold medals it won in World sporting events like Olympics etc. are few things coming under this component of soft power.

  • Political values and institutions that govern a nation strongly affect the preferences of others. So, if a govt. effectively uphold values like transparency, justice, and equality domestically, it will have more attraction for outside world.

[The recent retrospective tax has had a lot of negative press of India in the world. It had led to lot of
decrease it India's soft power. This new regulation did not showed India in good light w.r.t transparency in
its dealing etc. Our political instability (Ma Maati Manus ! heckles in every other reforms move is causing lot
of Soft Power decline for India]
Transparency of govt., its Human Dev Index, Political stability, democracy or authoritarian etc falls in this category

  • Foreign policy is about country maintaining legitimacy and moral authority in its conduct abroad. Is it seen as good force or bad to be with.

[1. How do you think other countries would rate foreign policy of North Korea vis a vis that of India?
2. Don't you think with recent democratic initiatives taken by President Thein Sein, Myanmar's soft power would have increased? Why else do you think, Ms Clinton, Mr Cameroon or our MMS visited there in succession? Ofcourse there are economic underpinnings as well, but we must credit soft power here as well.
Voice of America was a successful Public Diplomacy tool used to enhance US soft power around the world]Public Diplomacy: It is defined as actions of govt. to inform and influence foreign public. In today's world, anything that govt. or private parties does from popular culture,fashion, sports, news, Internet, that have an impact on foreign policy, national security, trade, tourism and other national interests. 

So, if govt. A tries to enrich its traditional diplomacy route, by either directly (blue lines) propagating its positive image to public in country B or indirectly (through its own society - society A, green lines), would be called public diplomacy. However, explicit influencing public can be termed as "propaganda", which may not be good for its soft power. So a balance has to be maintained.
So, position a country takes in world fora, its interference in other countries sovereignty, Foreign Aid (amount and terms and conditions), Visa regulations, Strength of its national brand etc are few things which falls in this category.

  • Education has been used effectively by countries to further their public diplomacy initiatives. The ability of a country to attract foreign students is a powerful tool of public diplomacy for countries.

[1. The Ivy League colleges of US - Harvard, Wharton, Stanford etc attract a lot of students world wide, which increases US's soft power. Almost 50% of Indian students studying in US are from Andhra Pradesh. Many students after completion of studies return to their motherland and further US's cause. 
2. Sir Ivor Jennings once remarked that "the ghosts of Sidney and Beatrice Webb stalk through the pages of the text" of the DPSP of Indian Const. As it happens, the Chief of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution, Dr. Ambedkar had once been a student of the London School of Economics, which was formed by Sidney and Beatrice Webb. It has been said that the socialist agenda of Nehru and Indira were deeply influenced by LSE graduates V.K. Krishna Menon, P.N. Haskar and B.K. Nehru.]

  • Business/Innovation is extremely important in today's globalised world. Attractiveness of a country’s economy in terms of openness, capacity for innovation and regulation, also defines its soft power.

[Did you check where does India rank in Global Transparency Int'l report or Global Competitiveness Index? Few steps Indian govt. has taken to provide investor friendly environment are - Investment Policy liberalization (FDI/FII), MCA-21, e-gov initiatives, GST Reforms, MSME Act 2006, RTI Act 2005 and the recent National Manufacturing Policy to list few]
Level of foreign investments, business competitiveness of the country, no. of international patents it has etc.

Hard Power Vs Soft Power
  • Hard and soft power are related because they are both aspects of the ability to achieve one’s purpose by affecting the behavior of others. The distinction between them is one of degree.

So we can imagine them as a range along a spectrum with "Command Power" at one extreme and Co-optive power at the other end.

Command power—the ability to change what others do using coercion or inducement.
Co-optive power—the ability to shape what others want, without using force or threat.
Soft-power resources tend to be associated with the co-optive end of the spectrum of behavior, whereas hard-power resources are usually associated with command end.

  • Hard and soft power sometimes reinforce and sometimes interfere with each other.

Let's take example of US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Hard Power and Soft power reinforcing each other:
Hard power - some of the motives of US could be for deterrence and also a message to Syria or Iran to not harbour support to terrorists.
Soft Power - export democracy to Iraq and transform the politics of the Middle East and thus make this war self legitimizing.
Hard Power and Soft Power interferring each other:
US has the unipolar power when it comes to military strengths. So there is no balance of power at the moment. But countries like France, China and Russia, without directly countering the US’s military power, made it more costly for US to use its hard power (i.e. the military power).
Such balancing act involves the use of international institutions(like UN), economic statecraft, and diplomatic arrangements to limit the use of American power to wage preventive war.
Also, millions of people protesting against US's invasion of Iraq led to severe decline in US's soft power. Due to this several countries like Turkey declined US, to enter Iraq from North, using its territories. Turkey was vary of losing its ground in the Islamic world, thereby its soft power. So decline in US's soft power came in way of its usage of hard power.

  • Soft power may not necessarily be better than hard power.

Like any form of power, it can be wielded for good or bad purposes. Hitler, Stalin and bin Laden all possessed a great deal of soft power in the eyes of their followers, but that did not make it good. It is not necessarily better to twist minds than to twist arms.
Suppose, if I want to steal your money, I can threaten you with a gun or I can also persuade you that I am a guru to whom you should donate your investments, so that you are placed directly to heaven [lol ]. So though the means depends upon attraction or soft power, but the result remains fraud and theft.
We often judge ethics on three dimensions:

The means, dimension is particularly important.
Let's compare consequences of Gandhi ji's choice of soft power with that of Yassar Arafat's choice of gun. We are contrasting means here. 
While Gandhi ji was able to attract moderate majorities over time with a consequence that India got it's independence. On the other hand, Arafat’s strategy of hard power, particularly in th2nd Intifada, led to consequences of creation of Hamas and its perpetual fighting with Israelis. Nor could he achieve his goal of a Palestinian state.

  • Europe counts too much on soft power and the US too much on hard power

"Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus"Europe has long relied on soft power through its culture, institutions, human rights and EU [Recent Financial crisis led to huge loss of soft power for Europe], and on the other hand US has often acted as though it military pre-eminence could solve all problems - Persian Gulf (1991), Bosnia (1995), Serbia (1999) and Afghanistan (2001).
But it is a mistake to count too much on hard or soft power alone. The ability to combine them effectively is “smart power”. During the Cold War, the West used hard power to deter Soviet aggression, while it used soft power to erode faith in Communism behind the iron curtain. That was smart power. To be smart today, Europe should invest more in its hard power resources, and US should pay more attention to its soft power.

  • Military Power and its role in spreading Soft Power

Though Military force is a defining resource for hard power, but the same resource can sometimes contribute to soft power. Take for example the role of Indian Army in various humanitarian measures, US forces in Haiti after the devastating Earthquake. This can add to soft power of the country in eyes of others.

  • Changing nature of power in 21st century - relative importance of soft power increasing

Power today is less tangible and less coercive than ever before. Almost 50% of world countries are democracies now and hence the way in which international politics was played in 19th or 20th century will not work anymore. Today, for example if a country has military might, smaller countries might not fight directly but may group together and use "soft power balancing" and would make usage of your hard power extremely costly. (We saw US example above).
The information revolution and globalization of the economy enhanced US power in 20th century. But with time, technology has spread to other countries and peoples, and US’s relative pre-eminence diminished. With the information revolution, virtual communities and networks are created which cut across national borders. Transnational corporations, NGOs , non state actors will play larger roles. Many of these organizations will have soft power of their own as they attract citizens into coalitions that cut across national boundaries. Politics then becomes in part a competition for attractiveness, legitimacy, and credibility. Soft power then becomes even more important.
The countries that are likely to be more attractive and gain soft power in the information age are those with multiple channels of communication that help to frame issues, whose dominant culture and ideas are closer to prevailing global norms (which now emphasize liberalism, pluralism, and autonomy) and whose credibility is enhanced by their domestic and international values and policies.
Power Distribution in World, Balance of Power & Hegemony 
In today's world, power distribution across the world can be understood in following ways:

  • First dimension is the Military Power - US is the only country in this dimension. Power here isunipolar or hegemony.
  • Second Dimension is that of Economic power - The distribution of power is multipolar. Today US alone cannot obtain the outcomes it wants on trade, antitrust, or financial regulation issues without the agreement of the European Union, Japan, China, and others.
  • Third Dimension is that of Transnational issues - Here no single country has power. So issues like terrorism, climate change, infectious diseases etc falls under this dimension. Power is widely distributed and haphazardly organised among state and non-state actors.

Lets chalk out the transition of power and evolution of power resources in last several centuries. 

In today's world, no country is better equipped with all three power - military, economic and soft power than USA. 

War has been the crucial instrument of multi-polar balance of power. Take Europe for example, there has been wars b/w great powers of Europe for 60% of time since 1500. However in today's Nuclear age, resorting to such measures can be disastrous. On the contrary, many regions of the world and periods in history has seen stability under hegemony, when one power has been pre-eminent. 

The term balance of power is basically a predictor of how countries will behave i.e. will they pursue policies that will prevent other countries from developing power, that could threaten their independence. Many have argued that growing preponderance of US will cause other smaller countries to gang up and eventually limit US's power. However there are few things that needs to be considered:

  • US enjoys a geographical benefit of being separated from Eurasia and offers a less possible threat than neighbouring countries. This explain why inspite of US being the single largest power in 1945(after WW II), Europe and Japan, allied with US, rather than Soviet Union, whom they saw immediate threat, because of its geographical proximity and revolutionary thoughts.
  • From history we see that inequality of power has led to peace and stability, because there is little point in declaring war against a dominant nation. Pax AmericanaPax Britannica and Pax Romania ensured an international system of peace and stability.

But the question that needs to be answered here is how much and what kind of inequality and for how long?

So, if US has to maintain its Superpower status, it needs to work on its soft power and soft pursing the non-provocative preventive wars, which goes against the norms of international politics for any democracy.
China's Softpower 

When we talk about power trainsition, we talk about rise of Asia. I would rather call it as "return of Asia". So if we looked into 1800s, more than 50% of world population was in Asia and they made around 50% of world products. Now fast forward it to 1900s, more than 50% of world population still lives in Asia, but they made only 1/5th of world products. What happened?? Industrial Revolution, which meant all of sudden, Europe and America become dominant powerhouse. But in 21st century, we are seeing slowly Asia is gaining the lost ground and it is poised to regain its status soon. 

This diagram from Mckinsey report of world's economic centre of gravity, says exactly that, except that it measures urbanization of world and the pace in which it is happening. 

China is one of the major reason for this rise of Asia (Japan, India being the other powers).

Since beginning of 21st Century, China's economic and military powers (the hard powers) have grown significantly. This has made its smaller neighbours (including India) concerned. It is with this thought, that they are looking for allies to balance China's increase in hard power. But if China could do something, to increase its soft power of attraction, its neighbors could feel less need to balance its power. For e.g., Canada or for that matter Mexico do not seek alliances with China to balance U.S. power the way Asian countries seek a U.S. presence to balance China.
So, realising all of these, President of PRC Hu Jintao had told the 17th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party(in 2007) that China needs to invest more in its soft power resources. 
China's most important soft power tactics have been its foreign aid, the economic networking it tries to achieve and the cultural transmission it does. So, three most important soft power resources used by China are:

  • Development Agenda - With the brilliant success in its economic development, China is now looking to invest it in achieving soft power.

Beijing Consensus forms the core of China's soft power resources.

It has been popular with many developing countries, especially in the African Continent,where the Bretton Woods advocated Washington Consensus has failed. Moreover, IMF or World Bank aid comes with huge list of Do's and Don'ts. Chinese or for that matter even Indian aid, comes with little or no pre-conditions attached. This makes aid from such countries more meaningful and lucrative.

Opening of the World Expo in Shanghai and the spectacular Beijing Olympics(2008) was similar display of China's arrival in the global arena. All of these events gave a huge boost to China's Global Soft Power reserves. 

Washington Consensus (for comparison with Beijing Consensus) - Adopted by IMF, World Bank

  • Foreign Policy - China's foreign policy combined with careful diplomatic rhetoric about the"Peaceful rise" & "peaceful development" theory is second important part of China's soft power resources. This makes China's move its focus from US to its neighbourhood.

The purpose of the peaceful rise theory is to reassure other countries that China will not constitute a risk because of its domestic economical needs and that instead of being opposed to globalization, China wants to take part in it what will create prosperity and stability throughout Asia and the world. Peaceful development, similar to the peaceful rise theory, says that peaceful development is the only way for China to create and achieve prosperity and that it is in China's interests to create and maintain a peaceful world order while at the same time solving its domestic problems and needs.

Non-interference into other's sovereign matters have been China's another major foreign policy drive. Unlike US, China respect other countries sovereignty issues as was evident from recent stance it took on Libya, Syria and other middle east countries. It's only condition has been "no Taiwan" and "no Tibet". 

  • Culture Transmission - Chinese civilization enables China to seek moral leadership in East Asia. So, the values connected to Chinese history and culture can be used in diplomacy to create common Asian values by leaning on things like Confucianism. Many Confucius Institutes have come up across the world as an initiative towards this end.

Chinese Influence on World 

BBC Survey of China's image in World.

Key observations from above chart:

  • Fairly good rating in Middle East and African Countries - No wonder Chinese unconditional developmental agenda in African countries is paying dividends. Many countries also sees China as balancing power for US.
  • Europe has average to low rating for China - Human rights issue, authoritarian views has been China's major problem. recent issue around that blind human rights activist being the recent example.

There is still long way to go for China to compete with US on Soft Power aspects. 

What steps can China take to increase its Soft power in World?
1. Increase the hard power, which is the basis of the soft power

  • Accelerate the transformation of the economic growth pattern
  • Improving the socialist market economy system
  • Making greater efforts to improve China’s capacity for independent innovation

2. Stick to the path of peaceful development and adhering to the independent foreign policy of peace
3. Develop socialist democracy, comprehensively implementing the rule of law as a fundamental principle and speeding up the building of a socialist country under the rule of law and increasing transparency. 
4. Develop education and culture to improve the educational level of the people

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