28 October 2006

Soft power or as dead as a dodo?

By Jacqui McCarney

Was Darwin right? Do the most intelligent, the most responsive to environmental change survive through thousands of years of painstaking adaptation and change? If you fail to adapt, then are you as dead as a dodo?

The human race has prided itself on being the species at the forefront of the race for survival – our bigger brains and superior intelligence have apparently placed us ahead of the pack. But when it comes to the knock-about world of politics, our biggest asset – brains - can be forgotten in favour of chest beating, tough talking brawn.

The overwhelming use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan, the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and now threats to Iran along with the so called war on terror have led to de-stabilisation and danger for all of us. North Korea is the latest country to flex its muscle but provocative as this is, it will benefit nobody to escalate tensions. Locking the world into a cycle of war and violence looks like a less-than-clever idea. While the Alpha males on all sides are puffing out their chests at one another, the horrific threat of runaway climate change that will threaten all life on the planet is largely being sidelined.

If Darwin was right, then humans, supposedly the most intelligent species on earth, might be realising in some hurry that current behaviour is not helping their survival chances and that something different is needed - perhaps as advocated by the political analyst Joseph Nye, who sees the use of 'Soft Power' as an alternative to the 'Hard Power' of US foreign policy.

Nye says Soft Power is "the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals". Although this is a move in the right direction, Nye seriously underestimates his enemies. How long would it be before we all see US 'soft' tactics as a cynical ploy to ensure the long-term goal of US imperialism?

Nevertheless, Nye's term 'Soft Power' is useful and it has been taken up in a more honest way by Lu Hsiu-lien, vice-president of Taiwan. She has travelled the world to talk about soft power with international leaders. In Taiwan she has demonstrated to the world the achievements in human rights, democracy, pacifism and humanitarism.

She has responded to the US-led war on terrorism by initiating the "Fight Global Terrorism - Provide Humanitarian Aid" campaign to bring aid to refugees in Afghanistan. She has launched numerous charities such as "Sending Love to India" and "Send Love To Tibet" to convey Taiwanese values to the rest of the world. A string of honours have come her way including the 2001 World Peace Prize.

Lu Hsiu-lien's ideas have not had a big impact in Washington and London; nevertheless there are plenty of similar ideas around just waiting to be taken up. One good example is a book by Scilla Elworthy and Gabrielle Rifkind, Making Terrorism History. They point to the overwhelming military power of the US, Britain, Russia and Israel alongside their persistent failure to subdue opponents and bring about peace.

Their book argues that such strategies will never be successful unless they address the full range of factors that fuel cycles of violence. The most important is the psychological and emotional effects of violence and humiliation – factors often missing from current approaches. This book offers numerous suggestions for breaking the cycle of violence but most important is the need to understand the roots of violence while avoiding actions that make violence worse. Soft power is not vague or escapist, it is not an opting out or appeasement, it is disciplined, insightful, and capable of considering our long term needs - "Preventing war works on the same principle as inoculation for small pox -it has to be done methodically, with proven vaccines, and a properly funded policy" - Scilla Elworthy.

'Soft Power' makes use of emotional intelligence, psychological intelligence and empathy, qualities often seen as more female than the mechanical, goal orientated qualities readily seen as male. Indeed Scilla Elworthy claims "tackling terrorism is women's work" and that the "future is female". We must not forget the men who have championed soft power - Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Kofi Annan and all those involved in diplomacy and conflict resolution. It is the quality of emotional intelligence and wisdom that should be valued and not gender.

One thing is certain, for the human race to survive we must change, these changes can’t evolve slowly; there simply isn't the time. We need Soft Power now and whether that comes from women or men is immaterial. 'Tough' talking politicians who favour force must be seen as the anachronisms they are.