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

Chapter 6: Conclusion

311.  In an era in which the distribution and very nature of power, influence and engagement are undergoing radical change, 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. To parody the old saw about how it came to rule an empire, the UK could be said to have acquired a great many of these soft power assets 'in a fit of absence of mind'.[836] We feel that the Government have moved from absent-mindedness to neglect of certain aspects of British soft power potential, particularly the UK's relations with the Commonwealth. The Government's imperative now must be to defend and preserve the UK's accumulated estate of soft power—and capitalise on the gains which soft power generates in order to fulfil the UK's aims and purposes.

312.  To make sure 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 to international relations. 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 means allowing British Embassies to flourish as dynamic centres of commercial, diplomatic, and cultural activities, and ensuring that all of these activities are underpinned by a positive vision or narrative about the UK and about its role in shaping how the world will look in the future.

313.  The Government should employ the UK's soft power advantages to ensure and protect national security by employing a judicious and 'smart' mixture of hard and soft power, and through opening and safeguarding the access routes that its various industries need to ensure the UK's continuing prosperity. To play 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. The Committee submits that 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.

314.  A huge change of mindset is required among those who shape the UK's international role and placing in the world. This mindset should not only recognise the fundamental ways in which international power balances are changing and the crucial role played by soft power in adapting to those shifts, but come to see the UK in the 21st century no longer solely as a 'Western' power—tied to Western models of modernisation and political development—but 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 must appreciate that nations such as China are following other paths, and working together outside traditional multilateral structures such as the UN Security Council.

315.  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. But the UK can exploit its singular position and its uniquely strong networks to put it in a very influential position in the changing international scene. The Government should be clear about what the UK wishes to achieve as an interdependent, networked power. This will include fulfilling its international roles and responsibilities and encouraging others to do the same in a way that spreads the load of international policing, and building the UK's prosperity, not least to enable it to perform those roles and meet those responsibilities effectively. The Government must work to restore the UK's reputation, and show up outdated perceptions of the UK as an outdated power. The UK can, and should, act as a serious force for good as the world continues to change.

316.  This new approach becomes more urgent by the day. The UK 'must remain a top-rank performer in the global network and it finds itself in the fortuitous position of having every opportunity to do so. However, while celebrating the UK's fortune, 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.

836   Seeley J. R. (1883) The Expansion of England, ed. J. Gross, 1971.  Back

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