Tuesday, December 4, 2012
Paradox of plenty: Channeling soft power in the 21st century “Information Age”
In his contribution to the ANNALS, “Public Diplomacy and Soft Power,” Joseph Nye presents public diplomacy as a strategic tool in “the arsenal of smart power,” one that is capable of defeating “transnational terrorism[by] . . . . winning hearts and minds” (108).
The use of public diplomacy to promote a positive image of one’s country is not a new practice. As Nye notes: “The soft power of a country rests primarily on three resources: its culture (in places where it is attractive to others), its political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)” (97). These three criteria that support soft power have not changed; however, the global landscape and, to use Nye’s term, “conditions for projecting soft power,” have shifted dramatically since the end of the Cold War (99). In our current “Information Age,” Nye explains, the incredible about of information available at our fingertips has resulted in Simon’s “paradox of plenty,” an explosion of information and scarcity of attention to follow-up.
Therefore, nation-states today must grapple with the challenge of attracting people’s attention while maintaining absolute credibility, Nye argues. The pressure is high, for if a nation is perceived as jingoistic or propagandizing, it won’t be able to supplement its hard power to win hearts and minds. This is difficult to disagree with. Nye is, after all, the father of soft power.
In light of one particular point Nye makes ("Why pour money into VOA when CNN, MSNBC, or Fox can do the work for free? But such a conclusion is too facile. Market forces portray only the profitable mass dimensions of American culture, thus reinforcing foreign images of a one-dimensional country." Page 205), it would be interesting to see how he would contend with Shashi Tharoor’s arguments that private industries such as MTV, McDonald’s, and Bollywood have powerful and instrumental role in exporting culture and supporting a country’s soft power.