Friday, May 15, 2009

Indian Soft Power

If you have the time check out this thoughtful article on India's soft power by Sashi Tharoor, a candidate for India's Parliament. Tharoor has a good analysis of some of the sources of India's soft power, namely its multicultural traditions that are popular both regionally and worldwide. He describes India as not a melting pot like the United States but a collection of small dishes on a table, each with individual flavors and appeals.
In the information age, Joseph Nye has argued, it is often the side which has the better story that wins. India must remain the ‘land of the better story.’ 
Like any good politician, Tharoor helps his case by telling a good story about India's soft power. But for an article of this length he ignores other visions of soft power, like Josh Kurlantzick's book on China, Charm Offensive (or the chapter in my own thesis on India's soft power). He has no description of things Indian policymakers can do to either help build or utilize soft power.
To counter the terrorist threat, there is no substitute for hard power. Hard power without soft power stirs up resentments and enmities; soft power without hard power is a confession of weakness. Where soft power works is in attracting enough goodwill from ordinary people to reduce the sources of support and succour that the terrorists enjoy, and without which they cannot function.
Here Tharoor's vision of the utility of soft power is a little lacking. For the true hardened terrorist of course soft power will have no influence, but the attraction to a society or culture is one of the strongest tools for preventing potential terrorists from crossing over or being recruited. Furthermore, the indiscriminate and careless use of hard power can ultimately create more terrorists than it kills and be counterproductive, as demonstrated by some American air strikes along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. 

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