Soft Power | The New Diplomatic Way: Soft Power


A closer look at the subject of ‘soft power’, it’s role in British foreign relations and the British Council’s latest report, ‘Influence and Attraction: Culture and the race for soft power in the 21st century’


The concept of soft power was first introduced in 1990 by Joseph Nye when he coined the term in his book Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. He pointed out that the U.S. was not only the strongest nation in military and economic terms, but also in what he called soft power. Defining soft power as “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than through coercion.” He also noted that soft power “could be developed through relations with allies, economic assistance, and cultural exchanges.” He argued that this would result in “a more favourable public opinion and credibility abroad.”

This concept has further developed over time; with Nye now considered the go-to expert on this topic. With a number of articles, books and interviews he has become the godfather of soft power. His TED Talk gives great insight to Global Power Shifts and states that soft power has 3 main sources:

  • One is the culture of a country — in the case of America, that ranges from Harvard to Hollywood.
  • Secondly, political values can be very attractive for other countries, from democracy to freedom of speech to opportunity.
  • Finally, he discusses the legitimacy of a country’s foreign policy — meaning that if your foreign policy is considered to be legitimate by other nations, you are more persuasive. Conversely, a foreign policy that is seen as illegitimate, as was the case under George W. Bush, destroys the power of values and culture.

The British Council and Demos have created a report ‘Influence and Attraction: Culture and the race for soft power in the 21st century’, chronicling the rise and rise of soft power and UK.
The rt Hon. William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs states in his opening foreword, “Britain remains a modern day cultural superpower. Staying competitive in ‘soft power’ for decades to come means nurturing these assets and valuing them as much as our military, economic and diplomatic advantages.”
This report highlights not only the importance of soft power in foreign policy but emphasises the shift from government relations to ‘mass of connections between individuals, civil society, businesses, pressure groups and charitable organisations which are also part of the relations between nations.’
As a core area, for Curzon, we find this report a timely introduction to the interdependent relationship between culture and international politics. Many of our projects encompass principles of soft power and the important role culture can play in the reputation and influence of a country.
Our case studies on previous projects, including Festival Maslenitsa: Russian Week in London; Inaugural Ukrainian Biennale; Friends of Barisan Nasional, UK and Securing Asia 2012 give a great insight into how Curzon has utilised soft power strategies to achieve the best results for our clients.
Influence and Attraction: Culture and the race for soft power in the 21st century