Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
in collaboration with
Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi
Soft power as a concept has attracted a fair share of international attention among both theorists of power and practitioners of foreign policy ever since 1990, when it was expounded within the lexicon of International Relations (IR) by Joseph Nye. Simply stated, soft power is often distinguished from its ‘other’, hard power which is the conventional metric most IR realists have in mind when they think about enhancing a nation’s standing globally. While hard power is often equated with brute material resources possessed by states both in military and economic terms, soft power is a function of persuasive power, moral influence and politics by other means. As Nye states ‘[a] country’s soft power can come from 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 (where they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority).’ Quite evidently, most states do not rely entirely on hard power or entirely on soft power but a combination, which Nye refers to as ‘smart power’.
While his initial thesis on soft power was published in 1990, Nye advanced well over a decade after its coinage (in the Yale Global Online Magazine) a series of propositions that might be worth revisiting in the light of the specific empirical case of India. Six of these propositions could be listed here, not as settled final statements but as plausible hypotheses about the nature and modalities of the exercise of soft power. These propositions are worth mulling over during the course of the conference:
‘Soft Power is Cultural Power’
‘Economic Strength is Soft Power’
‘Soft Power is More Humane than Hard Power’
‘Hard Power Can be measured, and Soft Power Cannot’
‘Soft Power is Difficult to Use’
‘Soft Power is Irrelevant to the Current Terrorist Threat’
The conference at the IIAS would seek to proceed along two planks drawing on a diverse community of both eminent academics and practitioners invested in prising open the category and examining threadbare its implications and limitations for the manner in which we can understand India’s engagements in the world, circa 2015.
The first task remains a conceptual audit of the term. What does the state of play in relation to the category of soft power globally today suggest? Did soft power have other names prior to Nye’s employment of the term to discuss US decline in the world and the strategic options it could exercise in the light of its decline? Does the concept conceal or camouflage a deeper politics of knowledge that privileges certain forms of power to the detriment of others, to distract attention from the main game, old style statism or traditional geopolitics? Do we assume a misplaced benignness when we think about soft power? What explains this widespread tendency? Can we think of soft power in registers not envisaged in the original Nye formulation and its subsequent revision? These are some questions worth probing theoretically at the outset.
The second task is to turn our attention to the specific empirical case study of India. How has India brought to bear the three dimensions of culture, political values and foreign policy to leverage its own construct of ‘soft power’? Is the grammar of soft power different in India or in other words, is there an exceptionalism to the manner in which older civilisations (China is an obvious instance here) read and operationalise notions of soft power? Are the competing notions of soft power embedded in the deeper intellectual traditions in India and how does this manifest in the grime of quotidian politics in the real world? Do civilisations come to treat soft power differently from Westphalian states?
With regard to culture, it would be fair to ask how India has positioned itself internationally in this realm? How does the Indian Council of Cultural Relations interpret culture from India and what are the vehicles it has chosen to project this diversity to the external world? One could also ask in this context with what success have envisaged outcomes in this domain been realised. How does this pan out both in terms of ‘the idea of India’ as well as the accompanying instrumentalities to successfully convey the cultural life worlds of India? What are the inclusions and exclusions that have marked this process and is there an alternative vantage point for an audit of these exercises in public diplomacy?
With regard to political values as well, a similar set of questions are in order in the Indian instance. What are the political values that we subscribe to and which of these are pre-eminent in our scheme of things? To what extent can India successfully communicate to the world its reasonably successful instantiation of democracy and its abiding faith in secularism as constitutional credo? Is there a middle path in terms of our political commitments globally; is our commitment to non-intervention in other states in the international system steadfast or subject to some reconsideration and where do our hopes for the future lie?
A third but equally crucial dimension relates to foreign policy. If the proof of the pudding is in the eating, foreign policy is the site which needs to be most closely scrutinised to gauge the efficacy of both our instrumentalities of soft power communication to the world and the extent of its influence in relation to desired outcomes. While thinking about soft power, foreign policy considerations are pervasive and inescapable. What we would merely like to acknowledge at this stage is that foreign policy is dynamic and evolving and to treat our notions of soft power as static would be misleading. Where do we stand in relation to these facets today? It would be of particular interest here to give thought to our soft power projections within South Asia and our immediate neighbourhood to begin with. A panel on science diplomacy as an element of India’s soft power projection could well illustrate the relevant dynamics in this domain.
Practitioners of foreign policy have much to contribute to our discussion here as also in all the other proposed modules in our proposed conference.
The conference would seek to put appropriate emphasis on cultural pluralism as India’s unique claim to global influence. Discussions could focus on particular aspects, such as:
how do we package and portray culture (experiences from the “festivals of India” conducted during the Indira-Rajiv Gandhi years; how the ICCR has been going about its mandate; recent exercises in curating Indian art abroad);
the global dominion of Bollywood – facts and fantasies about India;
the power of sport (cricket in particular and the recently acquired image of villainy as the bully of international cricket ever willing to gang up with the old club of England and Australia);
the power of border communities and the pull of cross-border affinities;
India as source of services such as health and education: aside from being the destination that people from other countries travel to for these services, there is also the aura acquired from providing these in other countries: as with the rebuilding of the Habibia High School in Kabul and the continuing services provided by the Indira Gandhi paediatric hospital in Kabul.
India as an example of cultural accommodation: where we could look at the aspects of official policy that earned strong commendations from the UNDP’s Human Development Report of 2004, focused around the theme of “cultural liberty”.
Channelling the power of the Indian media – a discussion which would inevitably touch upon the far from edifying spectacle of how the Indian media made itself most unwelcome in Nepal with its coverage of the human tragedy of the April 25 earthquake.
Participants could include officials currently in charge of the public diplomacy function in the Ministry of External Affairs, current and former heads of overseas cultural centres (such as the Nehru Centre in London, the Indira Gandhi centres in Mauritius and Dhaka, academics and resource persons who have worked on the festivals of India, media practitioners with expertise in international relations, international relations specialists.
Joseph Nye, ‘Soft Power’, Foreign Policy, No.80, Twentieth Anniversary (Autumn, 1990), pp.153-171
Joseph Nye, ‘Think Again: Soft Power’, Yale Global Online, foreignpolicy.com/2006/02/ 23/think-again-soft-power. Last downloaded on 25 April, 2015.
Christian Wagner, ‘From Hard Power to Soft Power? Ideas, Interaction, Institutions and Images in India’s South Asia Policy’, South Asia Institute, Department of Political Science, University of Heidelberg, Working Paper No.26, March 2005, <http://archiv.ub.uni heidelberg.de/volltextserver/5436/
Kadira Pethiyagoda, ‘India’s Soft Power Advantage’, The Diplomat, September 17, 2014. <http://thediplomat.com/2014/09/indias-soft-power-advanatage/ Last downloaded on 25 April, 2015.
Sukumar Muralidharan, ‘We’ve got the (soft) power’, 10 April, 2015 http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/features/blink/know/weve-got-the-soft power/article7085583.ece
Last downloaded on 25 April, 2015
Siddharth Mallavarapu, ‘Globalization and the Cultural Grammar of ‘Great Power’ Aspiration, International Studies, vol.44, no.2, 2007, pp.87-102.
A limited number of participants will be invited for the Conference. Those interested in participating should send title and a synopsis (500-700 words) of the proposed paper along with their C.V. to:-
Shri Sukumar Muralidharan,
Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla- 171005
Tel: 0177-2832930 (Extn. 230): +91-9810518009 (Mobile)
Dr. Siddharth Mallavarapu
Department of International Relations,
South Asian University,
Chanakyapuri, New Delhi
Mobile + 91-9310444674
Shri Kamal Sharma
Academic Resource Officer,
Indian Institute of Advanced Study,
Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla- 171005
Tel: 0177-2831385; +91-9418450024 (Mobile)
The last date of submission of title/synopsis of paper alongwith abstract is 30 June 2015. Participants will be shortlisted and invitation letters will be sent by 05 July 2015. It is the policy of the Institute to publish the proceedings of the seminars it organizes. Therefore, all invited participants will be expected to submit complete papers to the Academic Resource Officer, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla – 171005 by 04 September 2015
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