Persuasion and Power in the Modern World - Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK's Influence Contents


Immense changes are taking place in the international landscape. The conditions under which international relations are conducted have undergone, and are continuing to undergo, major shifts which will accelerate and be compounded in the years immediately ahead. Unprecedented international access to state information, the digital empowerment of individuals and groups, the growing role of global protest networks and NGOs, the complexity of modern trade supply chains and multinational corporate operations, accelerated urbanisation, the increasing asymmetry of modern warfare, and transnational challenges are diffusing and fragmenting traditional state power, and enabling the world's peoples and countries to be increasingly interconnected and interdependent. At the same time, the rising power, economic and political, of non-Western countries (the so-called 'rise of the rest') is altering the international balance of power and influence.

The UK, like other nations, is directly affected by these new conditions. They create a demand for new approaches in the exercise and deployment of our influence. These new methods involve generating international power through influencing other countries to want the same things as the UK, by building positive international relationships and coalitions which defend our interests and security, uphold our national reputation and promote our trade and prosperity. This has been described as the exercise of 'soft power', as distinct from the use of force and coercion for a nation to assert itself, labelled as 'hard power'.

We emphasise at the outset that we do not see the use of 'hard' and 'soft' methods in the projection of a nation's power as alternatives, but as mutually reinforcing. The coercive or 'hard power' use of military resources remains a key component in a nation's armoury. But all our evidence confirms that new and more subtle combinations of both 'hard' and 'soft' methods of power deployment are now necessary for national effectiveness and advancement on the global stage. These combinations have been christened as 'smart power': the use of both traditional and modern instruments of power to project and gain influence in a fast-changing world. Nor is 'soft power' merely a new name for traditional diplomacy: on the contrary, it is an important new dimension in the conduct of international affairs.

We believe these powerful streams of change are converging to reshape global politics: they require a commensurate response from those who guide the UK's foreign policy. The UK cannot simply proceed as before. It must change fundamentally the way it interacts with other nations and communities if the country is still effectively to protect and promote its interests.

In this hugely changed international context, soft power has become vital for modern nations' security and prosperity. We have concluded that successfully communicating the attributes, values and outputs that gain for the UK both attractiveness and respect in the eyes of people abroad will be vital in maintaining the UK in positions of influence. The mindset of those who shape the UK's foreign policy must reflect this. Many other nations are rapidly grasping this agenda: the UK's traditional rivals are enhancing their foreign policy capabilities and styles on every front, including strengthening their cultural diplomacy institutions. China, Russia and other nations are also investing vast sums in supporting their strategies of power and influence assertion through softer and newer methods.

We urge those who shape and administer the UK's foreign policy in all Departments of Government and beyond to acquire a much deeper understanding of how others see the UK, and how the very most can be made of our undoubtedly unique assets. While the US is the UK's close ally, and while the UK is a European power by history, geography and interests, there can be real soft power gains for the UK if it is seen to have a role and direction which is distinct—at least in some respects—from the broad American-led sphere of influence, and distinct from collective European Union endeavours. It is also vital that the Government communicate confidently with the British public about how some of their actions and spending in support of soft power can only deliver tangible and measurable results over time, and with patience and dedication.

The UK finds itself with a tremendous range of institutions and relationships in politics, economics, science and culture, often amassed over generations, which give it a great deal of internationally recognised soft power. The UK could be said to have acquired a great many of these soft power assets 'in a fit of absence of mind', but we feel that the Government have moved from absent-mindedness to neglect of certain aspects of British soft power. The Government must not only defend and preserve the UK's accumulated estate of soft power. They must build on the UK's strengths, support the already evident success of soft power projection in many fields, avoid the false economies of short-termism in areas where results take time to mature—and capitalise on the gains which soft power generates in order to fulfil the UK's aims and purposes. We make a number of recommendations about actions that the Government should take, including:

·  Recognising that the UK's Embassy network around the entire globe needs to be supported more than ever. Embassy resourcing should be strengthened.

·  Reviewing how well DFID, the MOD and the FCO cooperated in Afghanistan, with a view to providing lessons for any future post-conflict reconstruction efforts: they should publish the results of their review as a Command Paper within a year of the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

·  More fully grasping the importance of hard power in knitting together with soft power to create 'smart power': the Armed Forces, as they face the demands of a still faster-changing role, should be properly resourced to meet these challenges. The Government should undertake a thorough analysis of the contribution that soft and smart power might make to the UK's security as part of the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review.

·  Aiming for the UK to be the best-networked state in the world. The UK must engage more actively and flexibly with the networks of the future that represent key emerging powers. The Government also need to put greater focus on the important potential in the Commonwealth: the Minister of State with responsibility for Commonwealth matters should have that task as his or her main role, and should be seen to do so.

·  Taking positive steps to link soft power deployment and support for the country's exports, its enterprise, and its innovative capacities.

·  Accepting that while managing immigration represents a highly complex challenge for any government, they must make every effort to ensure that legitimate visitors can access UK visas quickly, easily and cheaply; they should remove students from net migration targets. The Government must present and communicate their visa and immigration policies with a level of balance and in a tone that do not discourage those who would add to the UK's prosperity from coming to the UK and supporting its businesses; we do not believe that this is always the case at present.

To ensure that the UK's attractiveness and influence can be used by the Government and other British bodies to promote the country's interests, the Government and foreign policy community must develop new approaches. These approaches involve communicating openly and actively both with old allies and new partners; offering the UK's soft and hard power to the pursuit of solutions to common concerns; and avoiding false choices between international institutions, and working to nudge these institutions towards global arrangements from which the UK stands to gain. It also means allowing British Embassies to flourish as dynamic centres of commercial, diplomatic, and cultural activities.

To continue playing a responsible and progressive role in building global peace and stability, the UK needs to widen its diplomacy, understand that it is dealing with empowered and e-enabled publics everywhere and in every country, and accept through its tone and policies that power has in some degree shifted East, South and into the world's networks. Such an approach would enhance the UK's soft power, work with the grain of the changing nature of international relations, and further the country's security and prosperity.

Foreign policy development should no longer be shaped entirely by Western models of modernisation and political development: the UK must appreciate that nations such as China are following other paths, and working together outside traditional multilateral structures such as the UN Security Council. The UK should find this shift of perception manageable as a nation uniquely equipped to understand, respect and work with the new mélange of Eastern, Western and Southern powers, cultures and values now rapidly taking shape. The UK has to slip its twentieth-century moorings and look to Asia, Africa and other regions, countries and communities. This does not necessarily mean striking out alone: all nations are now intensely interdependent.

In a now almost totally transformed international scene, it is vital that the UK maintain its sense of purpose and direction: the British need to feel confident in knowing who we are and what our role is in a transformed and turbulent world.

We consider that better deployment of the UK's soft power will only achieve real momentum if the UK maintains this sense of purpose. There needs to be a long-term strategic narrative about the international role of the UK, promulgated from the centre of Government. Innovative and imaginative Departments would interpret this narrative, with the freedom to use their initiative but with a clear understanding of how their responses fitted into the broader theme. There must also be greater coherence across Government on issues affecting the UK's standing. We propose that there should be a small unit at the centre of Government specifically to assist the Prime Minister in reinforcing the consistency of the soft power story throughout Whitehall, and help him or her to counteract swiftly any developments that might undermine the UK's reputation. By putting into telling words all aspects of the UK's strategic story and direction, it would help Departments to understand the UK's place on the international stage, and how their actions might affect this.

A new approach to international power becomes more urgent by the day. The UK must remain a top-rank performer in the global network and it finds itself in the fortunate position of having every opportunity to do so. However, while celebrating the UK's situation, we also warn that if the Government do not face the facts of the transformed international order, the UK will risk finding itself outwitted, out-competed, and increasingly insecure.

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