Propaganda dictionary: soft power


Soft power is a term that describes the state’s ability to influence other countries or individuals through attractiveness, thereby increasing their support or willingness to cooperate.

Soft power is the opposite of the term hard power, which is generally understood to be due to the effect of military or economic pressure, in other words instead of influencing through a carrot or stick method using attractiveness alternatively.

The US political scientist Joseph Nye first introduced the term in 1990. By its definition, soft power is formed based on three components namely cultural, political values and foreign policy activities. Nye’s vision of soft power was if someone’s support was achieved through diplomatic means, instead of using direct political or economic influence.

Since 2010, the British Institute for Government together with the Monocle Magazine have been developing a soft power index, ranking 26 countries based on a range of indicators on influencing. The index is based on five major categories of soft power, namely culture, diplomacy, education, business / innovation and governance. Among the 50 factors that are taken into account are for example, the brands of companies operating in the country as well as winners of the Olympic Games.

Apart from the Monocle’s open index there are also soft power ranking tables from other nations, with the United States being in first place with the largest amount of information. The second place position is shared between Germany and the United Kingdom

Russia, which seeks enormous influence in the world, is not ranked among the top fifteen, although for the Kremlin the importance of soft power and appreciation of its value has increased significantly over the years. Several foundations have been created to support this, such as the Russian compatriots living abroad rights and support fund, Russki Mir, Rossotrudnichestvo and many others. In addition to the foundations, Russian oligarchs and large enterprises also fund soft power.

The aim of the activity is to increase the influence and attractiveness of Russia in the world, which helps contribute to useful political decisions (for Russia) in other countries.

The activated topic of Russian compatriots, the raised influence of the Russian Orthodox Church in the world as well as all kinds of ongoing cultural activities, be it the organizing of the Olympic Games and the Football World Cup or participation in the Eurovision Song Contest is imperative.

For Russia, soft power is closely intertwined with national propaganda, so it is worthwhile taking care when approaching all types of initiatives of this kind. At the end of last year for example, in Estonia many controversial opinions came about due to the performances by conductor Kristjan Järvi with Russian violinist Mikhail Simonjan, who has publicly presented himself as a representative of Russia’s soft power.

Estonia’s soft power position in the world is rather modest due to the small size of the country, although we do have some soft power ambassadors in the form of musicians and athletes. Daniel Vaarik published a lengthy article in the publication Sirp in 2016 on Estonian soft power and its development.

According to the term’s godfather, Joseph Nye the term is too often misinterpreted, consequently he published a comprehensive article in 2006 with examples of what is and what is not soft power.

Also, read Propastop’s article on Russian-related networks.

Photo: Ethan M. Long / Flickr / CC