India’s Soft Power Comes in Part from its Ancient Culture, but also From Modern Culture: Joseph Nye

Joseph S. Nye, Jr. is best known for coining the term Soft Power and has been one of the most influential voices in American foreign policy having served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and a Deputy Under Secretary of State, and won distinguished service awards from all three agencies. In a survey of international relations scholars, he was ranked as the most influential scholar on American foreign policy around the time he started articulating the term Soft Power and in 2011, Foreign Policy named him one of the top 100 Global Thinkers.

In his article on Wielding Soft Power (joe_nye_wielding_soft_power) Nye writes: “Promoting positive images of one’s country is not new, but the conditions for projecting soft power have transformed dramatically in recent years. For one thing, nearly half the countries in the world are now democracies.” He quotes RAND Corporation experts on politics and information who say Politics in an information age “may ultimately be about whose story wins.

In this interview, Mr Nye talks about the changing notions of Soft Power with respect to India.

You were the first to coin the term Soft Power,  conceptualize it and state the parameters that made it possible to research how cultures hold influence.  Have you fine tuned these concepts as the world continues to face unprecedented challenges in enhancing their soft power.

My definition has remained the same: soft power if the ability to affect others to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payment. I have come to realize that concepts such as soft power are like children. As an academic or a public intellectual, you can discipline them when they are young, but as they grow they wander off and make new company, both good and bad. There is not much you can do about it, even though I gave the concept birth in 1990. However,  at least three aspects of my soft power concept have remained stable over the time it has  spread to use by others:  it functions through directly or indirectly transforming the attitudes of target audiences in foreign countries; it has a longer operational time horizon compared to hard power and is more suited to the attainment of general rather than specific goals; it does not lie exclusively within the control of a country’s government, but is shared with civil society

India believes in the concept of Vasudaiva Kutumbhakam or the World is Family.  Its soft power has grown organically and not through government actions. This is most evident in the spread of Yoga. What are your thoughts on this approach.  Is it less effective than the mechanisms used by China, France, US, Germany and the UK, all of which have state agencies of soft power. 

Yes, the largest part of a country’s soft power is produced by its civil society rather than its government. For example, America remained attractive to many because of its foundations, films and educational institutions in the 1960s even while people were protesting its government’s war in Vietnam.

You have stated in an interview to a Japanese publication that "The Future is Not Asian", in response to a book titled "The Future is Asian" by an Indian origin American observer. The reason you state is that Asia is not a single identity and there are schisms within. Despite strong growing economies, do you predict Asian nations to ever rise in Soft Power rankings.  Why/Why not.

Asia will be the largest of the world economy and in that sense it is future, but there are many Asias and it has its own balance of power.  India and Japan do not want to be dominated by China. And each of these centers will have its own soft power as well as hard power. Japan, Korea and India already enjoy impressive soft power.

 India's soft power is that of an ancient civilization which has contributed to the areas of science,  arts, medicine, Spirituality and Mathematics. However modern notions and rankings are based on current influence and do not take into account that many world cultures have adapted, modified Indian influence to an extent that they are no longer acknowledged as having an Indian source. How do you think India should position this influence of antiquity?

India’s soft power comes in part from its ancient culture, but also from modern culture such as Bollywood and its democratic political culture.

Many Indian academics do not like the term 'power' as it suggests force or dominance. Can we ever move away from the politics of force even in Soft Power. 5 points are relevant here 1) India has never been an aggressor 2) India is a spiritual democracy 3) India is a Knowledge society 4) The relationship between individual and society is unique 5) Our relationship with nature is unique.  How do we reconcile this ethos with power (https://www.softpowermag.com/india-is-the-super-soft-power-of-the-world-iccr-president-vinay-sahasrabuddhe/)

Power is ubiquitous in human behavior. Our species is a social one, and we must cooperate to get things done. Leaders cannot lead without power. The important questions are not how to avoid power, but what types of power to use and how to control and civilize it. That is where the ethical conditions come in and I have tried to describe it in my new book Do Morals Matter? The answer is yes!

(Joseph S. Nye, Jr is University Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. His books include The Future of Power,  The Power Game: A Washington Novel, andDo Morals Matter? He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the British Academy, and the American Academy of Diplomacy).