Soft Power UK Style


The video clip above is well worth the time — focused on thinking through what “soft power” really means in today’s world and how British and American efforts are similar and/or diverge.
I co-moderated the meeting, hosted by the New America Foundation, from Berlin over video skype, and the featured guest was British Council CEO Martin Davidson.
Thanks to Amjad Atallah, Co-Director of the New America Foundation Middle East Task Force, for moderating from Washington.
Andrew Kneale, writes more about the event.
— Steve Clemons


2 comments on “Soft Power UK Style

  1. Pahlavan says:

    What’s striking is how little emphasis is put on the financial modeling or the run away train in the staggering executive compensation among multi nationals that grip and control the top of our food chain.
    Take our collapsed financial system as just one example. Our banks were in total free fall and needed billions of dollars from the tax payers, but the moment TARP recipients were forced to limit their executive compensation to $500K, suddenly everything was OK they paid back billion (with interest) in just a few weeks. All this happened faster than the time it takes for the phone company to credit back a consumer for overcharges, or a bank processing an application for a borrower to qualify for a lower interest rate!
    How do you protect the US national interest so long as it is harboring individual and special interests greed? A special operations assault in that area may be one of the better places to start. Until then it seems the battle between us and poverty will continue to rage both at home and abroad, while fancy programs will only serve as good stahling tactics.


  2. questions says:

    Some random thoughts….
    The whole idea of dialogue or conversation is clearly a crucial issue here. If conversation exists only so that you can convince others you’re right, if it exists only so that you can “express” yourself, if it exists only among the like-minded so there’s no convincing, then conversation is likely to be fairly threatening to many potential interlocutors. (I’m drawing, of course, on THE conversation — Plato’s Republic — which is as much about how to have a conversation as it is about how to structure a state.) If engaging threatens your sense of the world, you aren’t likely to engage. If engaging doesn’t help you understand anything, you haven’t really engaged. If engaging comes about only because you already agree, you haven’t gotten anywhere. And if engaging merely firms up what you already suspect, then you’ve made some progress, but only in a small way.
    The history of political development theory also seems to have a range of useful points. First, the whole question of whether or not “they” all want to be like us arises. Is the US or US-ness the goal? Is some sort of syncretism preferable? Or is there concern for internal “authentic” cultural formations? Clearly there will be variations across places, peoples and institutions, and so the whole project comes with a foundational problem.
    If we assume that “they” want to be like us, that we are the telos, then we are not likely to be loved, respected, trusted, wanted. People seem to have a desire for something like authenticity even if it’s an incoherent notion. Hegemonic pressure, even the guise of setting up clinics and training doctors is hegemony nonetheless.
    The US needs to practice some version of Kantian thinking. We must have real respect for the goals and aspirations of people who exist for themselves, who are not here merely to serve American interests. We’re pretty weak on this one. Why be interested in the political “development” of another nation unless that development supports AMERICAN INTERESTS? Well, indeed we’re not interested unless it supports us. So already, our interest in another nation’s “development” is part and parcel of our hegemonic goals.
    It is only through disinterested support of that which we dislike that we can clearly see that we are not merely using them to serve us. Any other scenario leads straight to hegemony, oligarchy, mere use of the other who exists only for us and not for itself.
    In the end, the whole issue of public diplomacy, soft power, smart power, propaganda, clinics and schools and like is so tainted by our conceptions of US national interests that I can’t imagine its working at all. It would only be though selfless good action that we could possibly intervene well rather than badly. And we’re not likely to be selfless.


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