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

Persuasion and Power in the Modern World

Chapter 1: Introduction

1.  The Committee on Soft Power and the UK's Influence was appointed on 16 May 2013 to examine the use of what has come to be called 'soft power' in furthering the UK's global influence and interests.[1] The Committee held 24 meetings and took evidence from 60 witnesses listed in Appendix 2, as well as receiving 146 detailed written submissions.[2] We are grateful to all those who gave evidence, and also acknowledge the assistance of our specialist adviser, Ben O'Loughlin, Professor at Royal Holloway University of London.

2.  Soft power, a term originally coined by the US political scientist Professor Joseph Nye in 1990, has been defined as "the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment".[3] We must preface our examination of this concept by acknowledging that the phrase 'soft power' can mislead. It is in no way an alternative or soft option in place of strong defences and effective military forces, as we explore in paragraphs 61 to 70. Nor is it merely a new name for traditional diplomacy and the exercise of diplomatic skills. It does, however, add an important new dimension to the conduct of international affairs, posing new challenges which our inquiry sought to explore.

3.  Why inquire into soft power? The body of evidence received by this Committee indicated that the conditions under which international relations are conducted have undergone, and are continuing to undergo, major shifts, which are making the concept of soft power increasingly relevant.[4] The so-called 'rise of the rest' (the rising power and influence of the non-Western world), and in particular the rapid escalation in the might of Asia are coinciding with an unprecedented explosion in instant cross-border connectivity between citizens. These parallel phenomena are resulting in major alterations in the distribution of global power, and real changes in the very nature of power. In our inquiry, we explored what these shifts mean for the UK's position in the world and its ability to maintain its prosperity and security. Should the UK seek to protect its standing on the international stage by supplementing its traditional military and economic strengths (its 'hard power') with other ways of gaining meaningful influence: with soft power, or with novel combinations of hard and soft power? We also took note of how disillusionment with the outcomes of 'hard' military deployment in various theatres in recent decades—with no apparent solutions or 'victories' being obtained—has spread, especially in the United States.

4.  In Chapters two and three of this Report we examine the ways in which international power balances are changing against this background. We consider the role of soft power in the international affairs of a country that wishes to maintain its position as a global leader in economic and political terms. In Chapter four, we analyse the practical strengths that could allow the UK to gain substantially from its soft power, and make recommendations to the UK Government about how to support those strengths. In Chapter five, we make recommendations about how the Government must act to ensure that the UK is able to seize the opportunities presented by those soft power strengths, in order to turn them into the real competitive advantages that we believe can help to maintain and if possible enhance the UK's world position and deliver its interests. We see profound implications for the UK in addressing these new, but now central issues.

1   The members of the Committee are listed in Appendix 1, with their declared interests. Back

2   All the evidence received by the Committee is published in the Evidence Volume at and References in this Report that read "Jonathan McClory" refer to the written evidence submitted by that author; references that read "Jonathan McClory, Q200" refer to the oral evidence at that question number. 

3   Nye J. S. Jr. (2008) 'Public Diplomacy and Soft Power', The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 616 no. 1 pp94-109. Back

4   Richard Norton-Taylor; National Museum Directors' Council. Nye J. S. Jr. (1990). 'Soft power', Foreign policy, No.80, pp153-171;Nye J. S. Jr. (1990). The changing nature of world power. Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 105 no. 2, pp177-192. Back

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