Perspectives on soft power

Editor: Professor Nick Anguelov (Department of Public Policy, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, USA)

Scope: In the late 1980s American political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term ‘soft power’ to describe the ability of states to obtain preferred outcomes by attraction rather than coercion or payment. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the West in a position of dominance has made much of its capacity for ‘soft power’, even seemingly attempting to package it as a saleable commodity. Against the backdrop of a widespread perceived loss of confidence in ‘Western Civilisation’, the resurgence of Russia on the world stage, and proliferation of non-state actors in the Middle East, the concept has taken on renewed significance.

While proponents highlight the successful applications of soft power in confronting critical regional or global issues, others point to its limitations in contrast to those of ‘hard power’ approaches, such as military intervention, coercive diplomacy and economic sanctions. This article series explores all aspects of soft power, from approaches to framing foreign-policy agendas, to the strategies that countries use to persuade and elicit positive attraction in order to obtain preferred outcomes.

Read Joseph Nye's reflections on "Soft Power" since its conception.