The House of Lords Debates Soft Power

July 2, 2011

I’m beginning to find that whenever I see anything written on soft power my brain switches off.   I’m really not sure whether it’s worth the effort to try and process the information into something  that makes any sense.  I think that the basic problem I have with the idea is that leads to endless debates about categories: is that soft power or is it something else?  Is soft power really hard power or is hard power really soft power? (I’m also fed up with the influence vs power discussion).   I will eventually get around to posting my argument that we’re better off thinking in terms of influence.

BUT….because soft power is so well entrenched in policy circles it looks like I’m going to have to carry on  jabbing myself in the leg with a fork to make myself pay attention.. what triggered this is that I’ve just noticed that the House of Lords actually had a debate on the coordination of UK soft power at the beginning of May. It’s all quite sensible.   There’s a link to the transcript and a briefing note here.*

There’s actually been a review of UK soft power strategy which has apparently now been completed but I’ve yet to see anything published about it.  The monthly updates on the FCO business plan reports that the development of a soft power strategy for Afghanistan is running behind schedule.

*One pedantic academic point: Lord Howell claims credit for introducing ‘cultural diplomacy’ into UK discourse when he was  on the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in the mid 1980s.  From looking at the records of parliamentary debates and parliamentary papers – which include budgetary issues you can see  that cultural diplomacy has never been that common a term in the UK.  There was a flurry of usage in the late 197os (it was very rare before this) and at the time of the FAC Cultural Diplomacy report in 1986 but because the FCO talks about information work or public diplomacy and the British Council does cultural relations cultural diplomacy has never really caught on as an idea in the UK


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