February 7th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Where will President Obama take America?

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Can Australia avoid an economic depression?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Australia should brace itself for worse to come

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: Blatant political bias in human rights body

JUDICIARY: High Court nominee's gay rights, abortion activism

GLOBAL TERRORISM: The great lie of 'home-grown' terrorism

QUARANTINE: Shake-up for Australia's quarantine system

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Being smart about using soft power

MEDIA: What to make of the Obama cult

OPINION: Is there any point to suffering?

CIVILISATION: Created equal: how Christianity shaped the West

OPINION: Legislative change could help first home-buyers

Should democracy always have the last word? (letter)

Deserted by the Liberals? (letter)

A future for News Weekly (letter)

FORUM: Free markets and libertarianism

CINEMA: Slumdog Millionaire - Indian orphan tale a box-office hit

BOOKS: ENOUGH: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, by John C. Bogle

BOOKS: THE WHITE WAR: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919, by Mark Thompson,

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Being smart about using soft power

by Jeffry Babb

News Weekly, February 7, 2009
The exercise of smart power requires sensitivity to the use of both soft and hard power, writes Jeffry Babb.

Listen to Hillary Clinton in her confirmation hearings as Secretary of State, America's top diplomat, and she talks about using "smart power". This might sound like a glib phrase, but actually it's been a theme in diplomatic discussion for some time now. "Smart power" is a combination of soft power and hard power, says Joseph S. Nye, Jr., in his influential book Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004).

He writes: "Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals and policies." Power can be either hard power, such as the use or threat of military force, economic power or soft power. When America's policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, the United States' soft power is enhanced, Nye comments.

"Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights and individual opportunities are deeply seductive," says Nye.

Australia's diplomatic armoury

What implications does this have for Australia? Public diplomacy has always been part of Australia's diplomatic armoury. Soft power is especially effective where we want to build public support for Australia's policies when we have limited means to exert other forms of power.

Take Indonesia, for example, our nearest large neighbour. Australia has one of its largest diplomatic missions in Jakarta, a large part of which is devoted to public diplomacy. As it would be counterproductive to use military force against Indonesia, Australia must try to influence Indonesia's policies and values through other means.

"If hard power by definition is based on facts, soft power is based on values," writes Matthew Fraser in Weapons of Mass Distraction: Soft Power and American Empire (New York: St Martins, 2003). "Hard power threatens; soft power seduces. Hard power dissuades; soft power persuades." In other words, soft power spreads, validates and reinforces common values, beliefs and lifestyles.

Australia has been conscious of the utility of soft power for many years. One of our most effective "soft power" polices in Asia has been the Colombo Plan, under which future Asian leaders were invited to study in Australia. The plan is being discussed once more, and reviving it would be a very effective way of reaching out to Asian elites.

What about Iraq? According to Nye, "Winning the peace is harder than winning the war, and soft power is about winning the peace." Here, all the elements of soft power must come into play. The "coalition of the willing" must build on the soft power of culture and its attractiveness to others, live up to political values at home and abroad, and frame effective foreign policies.

But this is not to exclude hard power from the policy mix. According to Osama bin Laden, "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse."

China is using soft power very effectively to gain power and influence in the world. In an extension of its long-standing "panda diplomacy", China is wooing Taiwan with a goodwill gift of the cute black and white bears, while taking steps to dismantle some of the hundreds of missiles aimed at Taiwan's major population centres.

Clearly, the leadership in Beijing thinks that, in pursuing its stated aim of reunifying Taiwan with China, pandas are more effective than missiles — and they are likely to be correct.

But Taiwan is not the only target of China's "soft power" policies. As American author Joshua Kurlantzick explains in his book, Charm Offensive: How China's Soft Power is Transforming the World (Yale University Press, 2007), China is pursuing its "peaceful rise" agenda largely through the use of soft power, especially in prosperous democracies such as Australia.

The threat of force against Australia would be counter-productive; but the establishment of Confucius Institutes at Australian universities to promote Chinese language and culture achieves the same policy aims with a lot less aggravation.

Some universities, due to a combination of greed, hopes of ingratiating themselves with China and succumbing to Chinese flattery, have effectively become mouthpieces for the Communist regime in Beijing.

Beijing has become a lot more subtle in its dealings with the outside world since the days of Mao and The Little Red Book. China's navy is sending ships to the Middle East to help counter rampant piracy in the first such blue-water deployment since the voyages of Chinese admiral Cheng Ho in the Middle Ages.

This is a brilliant stroke. At the same time, it shows China as a good global citizen, illustrates its determination to defend its trade routes and proves its ability to make an extended deployment far from home waters. In other words, China is becoming a great power and is determined to be regarded as such.

The exercise of smart power requires similar sensitivity to the use of soft and hard power. Elephants can be very gentle creatures, but they are still very powerful animals.

— Jeffry Babb.

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