Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Beacon No. 5: Hard Power and Soft Power (I)


Several people have asked for sharper definitions of hard and soft power.

Hard power is easy: Do what we want. If you don't, we will inflict unacceptable damage on your person, citizenry, economy, security forces, crops, well water, et cetera.

Soft power is much trickier, so defining it and delineating how it differs from hard power can occupy hours of conversation. Joseph Nye's definition in 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.

When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced. … When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction. Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.

But this definition raises other questions:

—How do you get others to admire your ideals when they likely view their own as normal and admirable?

—How do you deal with the parts of your culture that aren't admirable, or even offend cultures you'd like to influence (the MTV-in-Mecca problem)?

—How does attraction translate to influence; in other words, how do you measure soft power, and if you can't, how do you know it exists?

—What part does soft power play in a balanced foreign-policy portfolio that includes diplomacy, trade and armed force?

—Should soft power be used actively (propaganda) or passively (people who drink Coke and read about our elections are more likely to like us)?

—How do corporations, non-governmental organizations and other non-state actors promote their own soft power?

—What happens when a country you're trying to influence experiences a crisis? Does soft power have any applicability during a civil war, famine or other emergency?

I'll be addressing how hard and soft power are defined, and how they interact along the continuum of foreign policy, in the weeks ahead—thus the Roman numeral in the title of this post.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Beacon No. 4: Habits of Democracy


Decades after Nasser's death, the only thing that's truly pan-Arab is Super Star, a Middle Eastern celebrity-search show sponsored by Lebanon's al-Mustaqbal ("the future") satellite channel. Super Star bears a strong resemblance to the hit American show American Idol.

Super Star 2 began in February and took six months to narrow 83 competitors down to just two: In the August finale, singers Ammar Hassan of the West Bank and Atmar al-Atar of Libya jousted to be named the Middle East's best male singer. Passions ran high among both Palestinians, who could use a non-violent hero, and Libyans, recently in from the cold following Col. Qaddafi's settlements of the Lockerbie bombing and WMD issues.

Votes were cast entirely by cell phone but, even though Yasir Arafat made the contest a point of national pride and at least one Palestinian cell-phone company offered cut-rate calls for voting purposes, Libya's al-Atmar pulled out a convincing victory, 54 to 46 percent.

Reality-TV singing contests are shallow and probably don't represent the hopes and aspirations of all but a relatively small, wired minority in the Middle East; but for all the complaints about reality TV, Super Star is one of the only examples—if not the example—of Arab participatory democracy in the region. So if Middle Eastern democracy starts growing with a remote in one hand and a Nokia in the other, so be it.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Va.-Based, U.S.-Financed Arabic Channel Finds Its Voice (washingtonpost.com)

This morning the Washington Post took a nice long look at Al-Hurra in comparison with Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya in Ellen McCarthy's "Va.-Based, U.S.-Financed Arabic Channel Finds Its Voice." Senator Biden is calling for a dramatic increase in the Broadcasting Board of Governors' budget in order to set up Farsi, Kurdish and Uzbek TV stations, but critics—including Voice of America staffers—are grumbling that Al-Hurra is already draining scarce resources from its operations. Worth the read.

The Post has also bundled a trio of two-minute video reports related to the story here, and although they only show the surface of Al-Hurra's operations in Springfield, Va., they're also worth a look.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Beacon No. 3: Just Like a Good Neighbor, China Is There


China is hungry.

The People's Republic needs ever-greater infusions of raw materials that it can turn into televisions, CDs, automobiles and more for export and domestic use. While it could just quietly import oil, natural gas, iron, alumina and the other commodities it needs, China recently began a "charm offensive" that highlights the positive role it's playing regionally and globally—and helps cement its access to "hard" goods.

Since Hu Jintao's ascendance to the presidency in March 2003, China has begun what may be a years-long drive to promote its diplomatic, peacekeeping, entertainment and technological prowess. Both Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao have worked to improve relations with the U.S. and nearly every East Asian state, including close U.S. allies Thailand and Australia (a major PRC supplier of liquid natural gas, iron and alumina ).

The PRC's vigorous new leader, who turns 62 in December, has engaged in a worldwide round of handshaking, tea-drinking and ribbon-cutting that puts frequent-flier-mile gods Kofi Annan and Pope John Paul II to shame. As the Asia Times put it in December 2003:

"Since President Hu Jintao and company took the reins of Chinese Communist Party leadership, the Middle Kingdom has put on its most engaging face. From the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bali and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum in Bangkok to Hu's triumphant visit to Australia, China's new leadership has forged the image of a responsible regional partner."

Premier Wen stayed busy signing agreements at that October 2003 ASEAN meeting, committing the PRC to several regional business deals and cultural exchanges. It should be noted that the U.S., although it isn't an ASEAN member, didn't even send a diplomat to ASEAN as an observer.

In contrast, Wen visited the U.S. in 2003 with trade delegations in tow, hoping to smooth any feathers ruffled by the PRC's astounding $120 billion annual trade surplus with the U.S. Essentially, as the middleman between U.S. buyers and Asian raw-materials suppliers, China gets the credit among its neighbors for providing cash and jobs that in reality are paid for by U.S. consumers.

Soft power works best when states' interests converge, and right now China is building a world in which its trading partners have every interest in seeing the PRC succeed.

Also, the friendliness and relative humility that China's leaders display plays in the region as a refreshing change from Japan's 1980s arrogance. While Tokyo's decade-long economic woes have severely damaged its soft and hard power, Beijing has handily picked up the slack as regional leader—particularly since it has no imperial past to live down (besides the low-intensity occupation of Tibet).

China has even turned its long support for North Korea into a plus, positioning itself as the indispensable player in the six-party talks to help disarm North Korea without destabilizing the Korean Peninsula.


Unable to project power over water, this nation of 1.3 billion could still be East Asia's next military bully—a position it hasn't sought for roughly a thousand years. But around the region, Beijing has toned down any military threats except about Taiwan, where it sticks to its position that the island nation is merely a renegade province destined to rejoin the fold.

Otherwise China has avoided interfering in other countries' affairs as long as their governments support the PRC's ever-increasing appetite for raw materials. It has finally agreed to a cooperative settlement regarding disputes over the strategically located, mineral-rich Spratly Islands, and it even steers clear of situations where Chinese-descended citizens are threatened, as they frequently are in Indonesia. (Many Indonesian Chinese are well-to-do merchants and subject to envy, not to say riots, by other ethnic groups.)

However, the PRC is sending a 125-man riot-control and police contingent to hurricane-stricken Haiti , marking the first time a fully integrated Chinese unit will participate in a U.N. peacekeeping mission.

This deployment wins it goodwill among U.N. members, which have long sought a bigger Chinese peacekeeping role. Some observers also note that this move helps the PRC compete with Taiwan for Haitian public opinion. This seemingly odd concern springs from Haiti's diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and not the PRC. If even tiny Haiti switches recognitions, the PRC reaps both immediate and long-term prestige benefits—all for 125 peacekeepers and some kind words.

After a low point surrounding the spring 2001 downing of a U.S. spy plane on Hainan Island, the PRC has shunned conflict with the U.S., the only power that could check it militarily. For instance, the PRC seems content to let the U.S. play sheriff in the Persian Gulf, seeing that America's need for stability there serves its own growing interest in cheap, plentiful oil.


China's soft-power offensive isn't just about feeding raw goods to its manufacturers; the country's other soft-power assets are also cranking up.

Witness Hero, a recent East-meets-Western flick about assassins who oppose ancient China's unification under a single emperor. Through balletic swordplay, buckets of blood and much horseback riding through gorgeous deserts, viewers get a parable of the Qin dynasty's need to subdue and unite the country, despite the many lives that will cost.

Hero apparently didn't pack 'em in at home, given how its ends-justify-the-means philosophy could be seen as trivializing civil rights. But it marks the export of a Chinese national creation myth that could be every bit as potent in East Asia as Paul Revere's ride and the Boston Tea Party are in the U.S. It is believable, beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and professionally choreographed. Its production values are extremely high, thanks to both native talent and post-production work in Sydney and Hong Kong.

On the whole, Hero is as good as anything Hollywood is now making, and along with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon it sets a new standard for movies worldwide—not just semi-historical epics or Chinese action films. Significantly, Hero debuted as the most popular movie in the United States.

In addition, top video-game maker Electronic Arts announced on October 5 that it would open a studio in China to tap into the growing Asian market for online games; it may employ up to 500 people by the end of the decade. China's soft power will be further enhanced when it is the producer of Asian-customized versions of popular massively multiplayer online games like Medal of Honor and Ultima Online.

China is also promoting its prowess in more old-fashioned technologies—like space travel. It entered an era of manned spaceflight when Yang Liwei rode his Shanzhou 5 space capsule into orbit in October 2003. He then immediately went on a morale-building tour to places like Hong Kong, where a newly minted hero might help shore up the mainland government's sagging popularity.


China is moving to increase its soft power in a comprehensive fashion that's hard to ignore, but the U.S. government hasn't done much to signal it understands what's happening. Today the U.S. film industry has real competition from the PRC's for worldwide hearts and minds. The American manned space program is on life support despite the Bush administration's clear, aggressive goals of returning to the Moon and continuing to Mars. The U.S. doesn't show up at important regional conferences in countries where its diplomats are already drawing paychecks.

Some might question whether the U.S. even needs to involve itself in an East Asian "charms race," but the PRC is clearly moving onto soft-power turf that the U.S. has long taken for granted: technological prowess, a unique and well-packaged national creation myth, friendly diplomacy and free trade. If the U.S. doesn't make efforts to show up on East Asia's soft-power radar it could one day find itself boxed out of the region by a friendly—but firm—economic Monroe Doctrine.

Beacon No. 2: Radio Rides Out of the West


Fact: Literacy and income in the countries that spawned the 9/11 terrorists are both low.

Fact: People who can't read don't use the Internet, and likely can't afford a TV.

Fact: While Middle East TV penetration is low, radios are everywhere.

The U.S. could be doing more, and getting more bang for its soft-power buck, by sharply expanding its radio broadcasting in the Middle East and around the world, increasing its current reach from 100 million listeners to 2 billion. It should also avoid large investments in TV broadcasting.

Here's why:

U.S. international broadcasting is cost-effective, reaching 100 million listeners in 2003 for just over $503 million , or about $5 a head.

There's just one problem with reaching 100 million people: The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), which oversees the federal government's non-military international broadcasting outlets like Radio Free Europe and the Voice of America, should target something closer to 2 billion listeners. That's how many people Thomas P.M. Barnett identifies as part of the "non-integrating Gap" in his The Pentagon's New Map (Putnam, 2004), and Barnett says those 2 billion—disconnected from a rapidly growing web of global institutions and information, poor and increasingly desperate—are the key to the next century's conflicts.

Reaching them with the messages that BBG stations excel at projecting—broadcasts that strive to be comprehensive, fair and free, showcasing the most important democratic values—is vital to any hope of integration with the rest of the world (ROW) and its institutions, and to lowering the odds that those billions will aid or abet al-Qa'ida's successors.

Reaching those 2 billion will be expensive. Simply multiplying the $503 million it took to reach 100 million listeners by 20 gives a rough idea of the cost: $10 billion or more, considering that any economies of scale might be wiped out by the added cost of serving large, low-density countries like Kazakhstan and the central African nations. It's a necessary expense, though, with such large swaths of the Middle East and ROW uncovered and cut off from the larger world of ideas and information.

If the money was found, how quickly could the BBG's broadcasters expand their operations? Take the example of Radio Sawa, which didn't even exist on paper on 9/11; it now broadcasts in FM in the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai); Morocco (Agadir, Casablanca, Fes, Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat, Tangier); Jordan and the Palestinian territories (Amman and the West Bank, Northern Jordan, Bethlehem/Ramallah); Iraq (Baghdad, Basra, Erbil, Mosul, Sulimaniyah), Djibouti; Qatar; Kuwait; and Bahrain. It's also heard on longer-range medium-wave frequencies in Egypt and the Levant, Iraq and the Gulf, and the Sudan and Yemen.

Many have argued that Radio Sawa's mix of programming—heavy on Arab and (occasionally racy) American pop, plus concentrated news blasts and some innovative cultural programming—isn't capturing Middle Eastern attention spans fast enough, but ACNielsen disagrees, reporting that Sawa's average 2003 listenership in Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, Qatar and the U.A.E. was 32 percent. More importantly, it's "regarded as a reliable source of news."

In the rest of the world, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty already broadcasts in 28 languages, Voice of America in 40 and Radio Free Asia in seven, while Radio Farda and Radio Martí focus on Farsi and Cuban Spanish, respectively. These operations' range of language skills and broadcasting sites offer a base from which the BBG could aggressively expand.


The BBG has lately begun to expand its TV and Internet programming, including efforts like the Arabic-language TV station Al-Hurra ("the free one"). The Governors reason that this is where populations are heading for news and entertainment as connectivity, income and technological levels slowly rise.

But this strategy is a mistake—at least in the Middle East. Where radio is ubiquitous among the region's 223 million people , there are only about 16.63 million TV households, or roughly one per 13 persons.

Besides low penetration, TV sets are tremendously more expensive, transmitters are fewer and TV signals more easily jammed than radio.

Middle Easterners who do have a TV already have access to satellite broadcasts including CNN, the BBC and others, so it makes less sense for the U.S. to spend a lot entering TV markets already served by a range of news sources.

Radio, as personified by the BBG's stations, seems like the fastest, most cost-effective way to reach vast populations in the regions least-served by reliable news sources—and the U.S. has an opportunity to become their trusted partner, as it was for Eastern Europe during the Cold War. Even if the total cost of doing so seems large, it's worth the investment to move an ever-larger share of those disconnected billions toward the mainstream of global civilization.

Beacon No. 1: British Council on the Rocks

How would Americans feel if one of the federal government's top spokesmen—the White House's Scott McClellan or the State Department's Richard Boucher—was caught penning anonymous op-eds against Hispanics in his spare time, painting them as some kind of threat to Western Civilization?

It would be a disaster for already-touchy American relations with Latin America and Spain, not to mention angering millions of U.S. Latinos. The op-eds would fan post-9/11 fears that the U.S. is no longer the place for huddled masses yearning to breathe free. After all, a high government official said so!

Investigations would begin, ambassadors would scurry to smooth ruffled feathers, and the U.S. would practically be forced to make some highly conspicuous pro-Hispanic moves domestically.

Thank goodness it didn't actually occur—in the U.S., anyway. But this imaginary scenario is almost exactly what did happen to the British Council this summer.

A series of four op-ed articles appeared in the London Sunday Telegraph that were highly unfavorable to Muslims, comparing them with dogs and Nazis and denouncing "the black heart of Islam." The op-eds offered some of the ominous, we're-being-swamped-by-aliens rhetoric normally seen only in white-supremacist pamphlets—and yet there they were in one of Britain's most respected newspapers. They were bylined "Will Cummins," which the Telegraph later admitted was a pseudonym; and the big game became figuring out who the previously unknown Cummins was.

Enter the Manchester Guardian, which on July 29 said that "Will Cummins" was most likely Harry Cummins, a press officer at … the British Council!

To understand the shock waves this caused in the U.K., note that the government-funded Council's whole reason for being is to "build mutually beneficial relationships between people in the U.K. and other countries and to increase appreciation of the U.K.’s creative ideas and achievements." This means teaching English and generally spreading the good word about the U.K. and its culture at a worldwide network of centers—in 110 countries at last count.

In other words, take a little bit of Peace Corps, a dash of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a pinch of national pride, and you've got the tremendously successful British Council.

Cummins denied that he was the author, but was nonetheless suspended pending an investigation. Then Council director general David Greene tried to stem the storm of outrage that broke over his head, quickly assuring the Muslim Council of Britain (and anyone else who would listen) that "there is no place in the British Council for people who utter such hateful utterances."

The Cummins affair is a case study in how "soft power" can be earned and lost.

Harvard's Joseph Nye coined the phrase to describe "the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments." It involves using popular or favorable institutions and ideals to convince other countries to cooperate with your nation's goals, rather than compelling them via "hard" military or economic power.

Soft power is something that accumulates slowly over time and is notoriously hard to measure, leading some to dismiss it. But when the U.S. sends Peace Corps volunteers to Paraguay to build fish ponds, or broadcasts objective reporting to other nations through the Voice of America, or funds a symphony's trip abroad, it is slowly making deposits in a soft-power account. These deposits eventually yield interest in the form of favorable public opinions of the U.S., or even cooperation from a prime minister who still recalls the first time he saw an American—playing the violin during some long-ago goodwill tour.

Soft power is not just propaganda, but relies heavily on matching reality to rhetoric. If a country like Britain preaches multiculturalism—and it does—its soft power suffers when racial or religious discrimination appear at home, particularly when it comes from someone funded by the government.

Damage to the beloved British Council, a premier soft-power asset celebrating its 70th year, and to larger U.K. interests has already been done. A week after Cummins' July 29 suspension, articles on the controversy had already appeared in Pakistan and Canada, in Asian Age magazine, on the BBC, and on Muslim and jihadi sites worldwide.

At this point, regardless of whether "Will Cummins" is actually Harry Cummins, the British Council has to regain some credibility in the Muslim world. Standard public-relations tools include apologies, diversity training for Council staff, prominent hires of Muslims (particularly to replace Cummins, if guilty), and sponsoring Muslim-oriented events at home and abroad.

In the long term, though, British Council officials abroad will have to find creative ways to shore up relations with host countries and their citizens. The drill now involves patience and consistency: Show over time that "Will Cummins," whoever he may be, has nothing to do with the Council's drive to teach English and to, in its Web site's words, "present the very best of [the] modern, diverse U.K."

I plan to use this space for frequent discussions of soft-power topics both foreign and domestic. It's an exciting time to be commenting on it because just behind the headlines, nations seem to be building or using their influence everywhere:

—China is mounting a long-term "charm offensive" to counter decades of bad press over its human-rights records and regional bullying, frequently dispatching president Hu Jintao and other top-drawer officials on high-visibility, highly successful diplomatic and trade missions. Much more than just PR, Beijing is pouring time and money into assuaging fears about its coming Pacific pre-eminence. (Believe me, you want Hu's frequent-flier miles.)

—As of September 1, France was calling in years' worth of friendships across the Muslim world in an attempt to save the lives of two of its journalists, kidnapped by Iraqis who oppose the French ban on headscarves in public schools. At press time both Hamas and Hizb'allah had signed on to call for the journalists' release, despite their opposition to the French ban.

—In January 2002, President Bush called for a doubling of the size of the Peace Corps at exactly the moment when the U.S. needed to start promoting its non-military nation-building efforts.

In the future I plan to talk about how these and other countries build up soft power over time and then reap the benefits—or allow it to dissipate in a series of bad moves. I'll also be venturing into hard-power territory from time to time in an effort to illustrate how hard and soft power work together in policymaking.

So please stay tuned, and thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

In the beginning ...

... There was Beacon.
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