How can Egypt revive its power?
Egypt's erstwhile regional influence was based on its culture: soft power that in the 21st century may be as important as military strength, writes El-Sayed Amin El-Shalabi
Joseph Nye is a prominent strategic thinker whose expertise rests on both academic credentials and diplomatic experience. For the last 10 years, he has been concerned with the history, dimensions and components of power, an interest that led him to coin the term "soft power," which fleshed out in Soft Power: The means to success in world politics. The book, essentially an appeal to promote soft power as a chief component of American foreign policy, appeared following the Bush administration's recourse to "hard power" (military force) in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a more recent work, The Future of Power, Nye continues his exploration of the subject in light of modern technological advances he believes will prove instrumental in shaping international relations in the 21st century. Again, he advocates the need for a country to diversify its sources of strength, rather than relying solely on military might, homing in on the power of information and information technology. Whereas once governments had control of information not generally available to the public, unimaginable quantities of information are now accessible to the public via the Internet. And whereas governments once held a monopoly on secrecy, computer technology has made it possible for persons outside government to hack into the most highly secured computer systems from their laptops at home, and even launch cyber attacks that can have potentially grave repercussions on national security.
Information is crucial to persuasion, which is an instrument of soft power. Citing an example from his own experience as a diplomat, Nye was able to persuade France to change its mind about furnishing Pakistan with nuclear reactors that could have assisted that country in producing nuclear weapons. This success was not achieved by any coercive means but rather by the force of argument substantiated by evidence and facts.
But it is not just that soft power offers certain advantages; hard power can sometimes backfire. Nye draws vivid comparison between China's use of the Olympic games to enhance its international image and influence, and Russia's use of military force in Georgia that severely tarnished its image.
Through these and other examples, Nye affirms the need for a clearer understanding of the concept and use of power in light of the new circumstances generated by the IT revolution and globalisation. He develops the concept of "smart power," which he describes as a blend of coercive power and soft power, or the ability to attract and persuade. Soft power is not a solution to every problem, he writes. Soft power did not succeed in convincing the Taliban government to stop supporting Al-Qaeda.
Conversely, Nye observes that although the Pentagon is the best trained and resourced arm of the US government, there are limits to what military force can perform alone. "Promoting democracy, human rights and the development of civil society are not best handled with the barrel of a gun. It is true that the Pentagon has an impressive operational capacity, but the practice of turning to the Pentagon because it can get things done leads to an image of an over-militarised foreign policy." Nye adds that top military officials understand this, and quotes Admiral Mike Mullen as saying, "Should we choose to exert American influence solely through our troops, we should expect to see that influence diminish over time."
It was the limitations of both that inspired Nye to develop the notion of "smart power". "Smart power" is the ability to combine sources of hard and soft power into effective strategies. "Unlike soft power, smart power is an evaluative as well as a descriptive concept. Soft power can be good or bad from a normative perspective, depending on how it is used. Smart power is the evaluative built into the definition." Smart power is available to all states, not just the US. Nye cites contrasting examples of relatively sparsely populated Norway, which has developed peace-making and development assistance as soft power resources to enhance its attractiveness, and highly populated China, which has invested in soft power resources in order to make its hard power resources look less threatening to its neighbours.
With regard to China, to which Nye devotes considerable attention, this was a very conscious decision. In October 2007, President Hu Jintao stated that the Communist Party of China must "enhance culture as part of the soft power of our country‚ê¶ and as a factor of growing significance in the competition in overall national strength." Nye observes that China has always had an attractive traditional culture but now it was entering the realm of global popular culture as well.
Nye stresses that China adjusted its diplomacy accordingly. "In the early 1990s it was wary of multilateral arrangements and was at cross-purposes with many of its neighbours. Subsequently it joined the World Trade Organisation, contributed more than 3,000 troops to serve in UN peacekeeping operations, became more helpful in non-proliferation diplomacy (including hosting the six-power talks on North Korea), settled territorial disputes with neighbours, and joined a variety of regional organisations of which the East Asian Summit is only the latest example." This new diplomacy helped to alleviate fears and to reduce the likelihood that other countries would align to offset China's rising power, Nye observes.
One of the most rewarding experiences for any political scientist or strategist must be to see a concept or doctrine that he developed receive practical recognition by becoming incorporated into the policies of his country. Three examples come to mind. One is the historian George F Kennan whose seminal work on The Sources of Soviet Conduct (1947) attempted to analyse what motivated the Soviet regime and its leaders and their domestic and foreign policies. The analysis gave rise to the theory of "containment" which became the major instrument that shaped US policy towards the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War period. The second example is Henry Kissinger who devoted his graduate studies to the development of the theory of the balance of power, which he elucidated in The World Restored (1957), a study of the European experience in handling the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars and the rise of a system of power balances that enabled Europe to enjoy peace for nearly 100 years. When Kissinger became Washington's chief foreign policy architect, he sought to put his theory into practice in the conduct of US relations with the Soviet Union and China in particular.
Nye is the third example. Although he formulated his theory of "smart power" in 2004, it was not until the Obama administration came to power that it received recognition and was adopted into US foreign policy design. In his inaugural address in January 2009, Obama stated that "our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint." In a similar spirit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: "America can not solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world can not solve them without America. We must use what has been called 'smart power', the full range of tools at our disposal."
What bearing does this discussion have on us in Egypt? Egypt's regional status and influence had long been built on its soft power, which derived from its armies of intellectuals, professors and teachers, and from its robust culture as manifested in its theatre, music, cinema and other arts. If today we are to revive Egypt's regional role and status, one of the major components of this drive must be to revive our soft power. This responsibility falls on intellectuals and artists, who should strive to enhance the quality and quantity of their artistic and intellectual production, and it falls on Egyptian universities to produce new generations of graduates endowed with the skills and capacities to revive confidence in Egyptian intellectual and scientific talents which, in the past, built universities in other Arab countries, drafted constitutions, and helped develop the minds and talents of the generations that today occupy leading positions in their societies.
The writer is managing director of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.