Soft power strategy in India's Foreign Policy
Dr Uma Shankar*
The concept of soft power developed by Joseph Nye in 1990 Joseph Nye coined the term in a 1990 book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. In this book, he wrote: “when one country gets other countries to want what it wants-might be called co-optive or soft power in contrast with the hard or command the power of ordering others to do what it wants.” He further developed the concept in his 2004 book, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. The term is now widely used in International affairs by analysts and statesmen. It emphasizes the non-coercive or persuasive role of some of the elements of national power. It believes in using non-military and non-economic instruments as a chosen foreign policy strategy to influence the foreign policy behavior of other nations. A nation’s soft power is generated from the utilization of its resources which include broadly as the culture, political values, and foreign policy.
Nations including India have always proclaimed to pursue certain moral and normative goals and tried to define their foreign policy in the moral and normative vocabulary. But in reality, most of the nation's most of the times have followed realise notions of national Interest in which they often had to face the criticisms of double speak and were charged with deviations from ideological and normative principles. This contradiction between moral idealist and realist national interest has been sought to be removed by introducing the concepts of hard and soft power. Nations should feel free and capable to use hard or soft Instruments as per their capability and its effectiveness in changing situations. India has demonstrated tremendous resilience in using hard and soft power in different situations.
States' reliance on the hard power Instruments is not going to disappear as the very structure of international relations leaves the job of their security on themselves though international community has evolved regimes and institutions for the regulation and control of the use of force by states. When states resort to using international laws and institutions they are invoking their soft power and when they show their military muscle by use or threat of use of force they are using their hard power. Again India while sincerely trying to strengthen international institutions and conventions has not shied away from using force or threatening the use of force whenever it has found convenient to do so and fulfill its objectives.
Regarding much talked about Nehru's aversion to hard power and his over reliance on soft power Instruments like moral normative norms, laws, and institutions like the United Nations it is to be noted about deeper realize awareness of Nehru about India's military weakness and his priority of building a modem democratic post colonial nation. Non-alignment policy through a soft power strategy had deeper security angle by non-military means. Both Vietnam and India have been able to defeat Western imperialism and win the independence by the soft power of their nationalism over the hard power. This could be possible by the United struggle of their peoples.
But Nehru was not shy of using the military in Kashmir in 1948 and in Goa in 1961. He had foreign policy sense of how to use soft power where India had no hard power to be used.Yes, he did not do much to build India's hard power as his priority was nation building and laying the foundation of development but he did not hesitate using hard power where it was realistically possible. Nehru's reluctance to use or threat of use of force against China on Tibet was both due to his awareness of India's lack of hard power at that time and his attempt to use soft power of diplomacy through India China friendship. India has provided refugee status to Tibetans in India and has viewed Tibetans in India as a soft power leverage to embarrass China.
His failure on China front removed the ambiguity and India since then has made building it's hard to power as the core tenet of its security policy. Building India's armed forces, weaponization particularly nuclear and missile programs and using coercive diplomacy show India's willingness and preparedness for using hard power. However, with the hard power at the back Indian leaderships have believed in a multilateral approach to security issues. A judicious and calculated use of hard and soft power has been the ‘bedrock of India's foreign policy. Current military standoff on Dokaram is a fit example of the use of both soft and hard power strategy. Soft power helps in winning international good will while hard power helps in defending one's core interests. India's external affairs ministry has achieved the sophistication and expertise to combine both what is these days called smart power.
The tools of soft power are diplomacy, diaspora, cultural resources, education, political values of democracy, pluralism and spiritual resources. There is a difference between soft power resources, capacity, capability, and strategy. A vast diverse plural country with a very old civilization has multiple resources which give us the potential of soft power. It is the task of political leadership to transform capacity or potential resources into capability on which India has a lot to do. It involves domestic political debate and politics to convert soft power capacity into capability and a strategy further how to use it as means to achieve foreign policy goals. India has not done much in this regard and its soft power is mainly for image building rather as a foreign policy effective strategy capable to influence the foreign policy behavior of adversaries.
In India a political debate is on regarding its cultural heritage. Its policy is vertically divided on the matter of its plural religious diversity, on treatment and status of its minorities and a growing sense of constructed insecurity among its majority. Breakdown of national consensus on such a core issue is the weakest link of any foreign policy project of using its cultural resources as a foreign policy soft power strategy. The more the policy is divided the greater urge for the demonstration of hard power and its use for electoral purposes.
The rise of aggressive nationalism with majoritarian hegemony has found its ally in rising militarism whose symptoms can be found in Street glorification of armed forces soldiers. The posturing of hard power is being used as domestic political means and its echo is seen on borders also. Soft power tools of negotiations and accommodation can not go along with masculine Hindutva. Previous regimes had adopted hard power whenever possible but were shy of demonstrating it and often sought justification of the use of force in moral normative considerations. India justified military intervention in Bangladesh in the name of humanitarian intervention and not nationalism
India has reasonable military and economic clout to defend itself. What it requires is intelligent use of a combination of hard and soft power. In the absence of national consensus on core domestic issues its potential to transform its soft power capacity into capability and a foreign Policy effective strategy may not be realizable. A United nation with cohesive social fabric with rich cultural plural heritage can convert its soft power cultural and economic resources into national capability and use it as foreign policy strategy if it can preserve its liberal egalitarian values and plural democracy. Soft power has more prospects in the era of globalization and India can seize the opportunity provided its policy shows inclusiveness and as the most powerful country in South Asia it wins the goodwill of its neighbors by shedding their fears of hegemony. Hard power may not defeat terrorism. It can be defeated by its soft power without undermining democratic rights and liberties of its people.
* The University of Delhi, India