Soft power is redefining conflict in the 21st century
There is a need to redefine conflict and its dimensions. Today we cannot frame conflict within the ambit of two armies fighting for geopolitical goals. The battle has reached to virtual, social, economic, political and cultural spheres of national life. In this new model, hard power is not enough to achieve desired national objectives. Cultural, social, political and economic influence of a state combined with technology shall be the crucial tool for –
- Avoiding conflict
- Resolving conflict
- Creating conflict
This new information technology aided conflict is far more crucial when flash-points are rooted deep into socio-cultural, historical and ideological outlook. In this case, use of military force for conflict resolution becomes difficult due to uncertainty in achieving desired goal, cost of collateral damage and engagement time. This new paradigm creates an urgent need for security of a very different kind – protection of culture, political system, values, information system (technology) and economic system from external forces. This security need must be evolved into implementable strategy and policy framework to build national soft power with offensive and defensive capabilities to pursue, prevent or protect.
Offensive & defensive soft power
The strategic shift from military offensive to use of tactical offensive and defensive soft power to shape the opinion of the thinking class of countries with the aim of political and ideological alignment or to create a conflict can not be ignored.
Offensive soft power
Offensive soft power can be ideological, cultural, political power or economic power of a country which can be effectively used to destabilise a state or to change the internal thought process of a country or countries without using direct military force. Maoist ideology in China’s case is its offensive soft power. In case of Pakistan or ISIS, Islamic doctrine is an offensive soft power weapon to use against their adversary.
One of the critical goals of offensive soft power strategy is to keep countries engaged in internal conflicts/strife, by creating ideological fault lines within society which shall lead to civil war like situation, aggressive information and propaganda will further fuel such situation.
Offensive soft power – objectives
- Hindering an adversary from gaining significant international anchorage
• Destabilize internal development and progress goals
• Weakening country internally and externally without waging a war
• Changing political ideology, realigning national thought process
• Changing political leadership or a regime
• Changing the geopolitical map
Defensive soft power
Defensive soft power is a useful tool for creating sympathy, trust, attraction and support which can be used for strategic bargains and beyond. This goal can be achieved by various mediums like the development of institutional and human assets, electronic media, social media, news outlets, think tank producing positive reports and various other sources of information targeted towards a specific audience.
China’s soft power pursuit – examples
China’s CCTV produces content in around 12 languages such as English, Arabic, Russian, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Tibetan, Kazak, Uyghur and Mongolian. CCTV intends to cover the entire spectrum of strategic class or global thinkers. China is building information empire to project its culture, political thinking with various such investments. The overall soft power investment by China is in trillion dollars. These investments consist of economic initiatives, China-centric research centres, think tanks, institutions within and outside of China, a scholarship to international students, media creation and management. China is building soft power capacities with long-term goals.
China’s national goal
China’s national goal of “Build China into a Socialist Cultural Superpower” requires greater analysis. It is important to understand challenges associated with execution of this national goal on geopolitical, socio-economic front, to analyse security implications for China’s neighbours (such as India – with freedom and democracy). To achieve and sustain this goal China needs ideological partners and supporters in other countries. China’s Confucius Institutes is playing an instrumental role in creating such partners for future. Within a decade China established 480 Confucius Institutes all around the world. With the aim of establishing 1000 such institutes by 2020, China is rapidly developing its soft power infrastructure to achieve strategic, cultural and political influence globally. Such initiatives can’t be seen merely as a cultural outreach without any strategic significance. Furthermore, it is rare to have cultural ministry with detailed policy and strategic agenda. The aim of Cultural Ministry is not just propagation of Chinese Culture & Values. China places great emphasis on “cultural security” from external forces. This aspect of China’s Cultural Ministry must not be ignored.
These examples are the glimpse of China’s soft power strategy. Think Together will discuss more on this.
India’s soft power – opportunities & challenges
Undeniably, India has excellent soft power assets in terms of culture, spirituality, democracy and freedom of speech. Though, India did not make any systematic efforts to use soft power for strategic gains until recently. This aspect of our national life remains without policy and strategy. Either political establishment of the country has taken national soft power for granted or ignored it for long instead of augmenting soft power capabilities as a strategic investment. India must seize this national investment opportunity provided by a unique combination of geography, culture, spirituality, economy and democracy. At the same time, fault lines within need paramount attention to make India secure internally and externally from offensive and defensive soft power.
India should not become a soft power battleground for US & China. It can only be avoided by investing in India-centric soft power, rooted into Indian value system. There is a greater need for well-coordinated strategic efforts by the government as well as other stakeholders such as think tanks, media, industry and academia to meet national soft power objectives.