Context: Soft power and how India is using its soft power in the changing geopolitics.
Soft Power: The term was coined by Joseph Nye as, ‘the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion”. Soft power is viewed as the non-material capabilities such as reputation, culture, and value appeal that can aid the attainment of a state’s objectives. It is more than the ability to influence other actors in international relations, but rather, it is the ability to attract, and attraction leads to acquiescence. Some of the examples are:
- Egypt under the rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser trained and dispatched thousands of teachers across the Arab world in an effort to spread ideas of anti-colonialism and anti-Zionism.
- International Solar Alliance (ISA): Rising energy demand from all over the world has led to increase in pollution levels across nations. India along with France, established ISA and persuaded all tropical and sub-tropical nations to come forward and harness solar energy for sustainable future and growth of nations.
Hard Power: Hard power on the other hand can be defined as “the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will.” One of the most obvious exercises of hard power is the use of military intervention. It entails, quite simply, the use of military might to obtain one’s objectives. 20th century has many such examples:
- the 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany that triggered the second World War
- the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, an attempt to prop up Afghanistan’s Marxist government
- 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. over concerns about Iraq’s weapons capabilities.
Geopolitics of 21st Century:
- Two major forces dominate the geopolitics since the beginning of 21st century- China and technology. China became the second largest economy in the world with its GDP going from $1 trillion to $10 trillion in 15 years. At the same time, the growth of technology in 15 years, made technological power and cyber capabilities as superpower compulsions.
- Now power needs to be evaluated on four levels- military, economic, cyber and soft power.
- Militarily, USA and Russia are still fore-running.
- In cyber domain, 5 countries hold the position- US, China, Russia, Israel and Iran.
- Economically, China competing head to head with US.
- In soft power, USA leads but China and Russia don’t really feature. In fact, India has a big role to play.
India’s Soft Power Potential and related issues: As the world’s largest democracy, India is variously described as a model of soft power but at the same time makes remarkably poor use of it. There are several reasons that may explain why India fares worse on objective metrics of soft power than it perhaps should, like,
- India has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than all but five other countries and more public policy think tanks than any country outside the United States, China and the United Kingdom, but still fares poorly on tourism and education on a per capita basis.
- Buddhism has hundreds of millions of adherents around the world but very few in its birthplace in India. While Buddhism has become indigenized in such places as Japan, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Mongolia, India has only recently made efforts at appealing to these countries as the fount of Buddhism, by facilitating pilgrimages and sponsoring religious renovations, in China and Myanmar.
- India is home to more top 30 unicorns (billion dollar start-ups) than any country other than the United States and China, but its digital penetration remains low, primarily because of electricity in-accessibility. Added to this the widespread reputation of corruption, endemic poverty and hostilities in business, pulls back the investors from investing in Indian companies.
- Indian popular films may not be rewarded at the Academy Awards or at Cannes but have massive followings in China, Central Asia and the Middle East. The Indian entertainment and media industry was worth $29 billion in 2013.
Setbacks to India as a soft power:
- India made huge efforts in Sri Lanka to bring peace and stability on the request of its lawful government, but eventually it cost the life of a former prime minister of India.
- India had made several peace talks with Pakistan but all remains in vain.
Way Forward: The metrics of soft power, particularly those that capture state-led efforts, high-end cultural exports or per capita capabilities may understate India’s record of utilising its soft power for national objectives. India has found soft power to be a necessary but insufficient ingredient in its engagement with the world. As a democracy with a rich culture and a modicum of principle in its international engagement, it has often benefited in real, tangible ways from its soft power. Clearly though, it has its work cut out in better projecting its culture and values to international audiences. As India builds upon a range of ongoing political and diplomatic efforts from improving its ease of doing business rankings, unveiling its Incredible India tourism campaign, getting International Yoga Day recognized by the United Nations or investing in Buddhist diplomacy, we can expect its soft power to gradually grow.