A concept developed by Joseph Nye in his 1990 book: Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, “Soft Power” was revived in his 2004 book, Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics . The idea of soft power is to influence the behavior of individuals or policy makers in order to achieve desirable outcomes. Soft power has, in large, replaced the traditional form of exerting power (i.e. using the hard form: coercion). In such, governments use attraction to make citizens “want what they want”. Soft power is not only associated with national governments and their citizens but also with the international system, institutions and NGO’s. It is regarded as the “Second Face” of power that indirectly allows policy makers to achieve acquiescence. Political communication is an emerging sub-field of communication to analyse how information flows and influences politics in “informative societies” with the presence of the Internet. The field is mostly concerned with electoral campaigns and government bodies, those in charge of information, communication and their legislations such as: Ministries of Information. The field of political communication studies the interactions between media and political systems, locally, nationally, and internationally. In such, political communication analyses the politics of Medias, the agents involved in the political content of the media, its effect on the recipients and the impact of the political system on the media system.
Soft Power has often been associated with the common saying “An Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove”. It includes the notion of attracting rather than coercing, i.e. using force or materially tempting citizens. This form of power relies on untouchable resources; related to human beliefs and cannot be controlled by governments. In such, seduction is used to influence these beliefs as Nye reveals:”Seduction is more effective than coercion, many values such as democracy, human rights and individual opportunities are deeply seductive”. Nye further argues that soft power is difficult to exercise; hard power includes direct coercive actions, soft power requires patience and persistence in order to achieve long lasting aims. Hard power has proven to be non-desirable as it leads to more violence; especially in this globalised era where the media plays a crucial role in all aspects of life. Following his concept of vehicle fallacy, Peter Morris argues that not all non-military actions are to be seen as soft power; economic sanctions for instance are meant to coerce thus they are a form of hard power. Military, on the other hand, can be seen to contribute to soft power. In such, military capability can be seen as a form of attraction; for instance, in transnational networks such as the war on terror. Thus, it is relevant to affirm that soft and hard powers are interconnected and lead to one another in most cases.
Soft power, according to Nye, falls under three categories: culture, political values and policies. It requires “Primary Currencies” in order to attract or repel the recipient. This includes: one’s values, policies and institutions in order to make others “want what you want” . Power, as such, is seen as a mutual relationship; one being the agent (the transmitter) and the other being the subject of power (the recipient). The outcome may be positive or negative, depending on the internal environment of the recipient audience. Unlikely, some soft power transmitters do not receive the desirable aim; this is probably because the highlighted target has already been subjected to another soft power influence, internally. In this concept, Nye reveals that Soft Power varies between cultures and populations and can be paralysed in some societies due to their policies, culture, values and religious beliefs. However, the Arab Spring , for instance, has proven that regardless of the belief that Islam is incompatible with democracy, the Western idea of democracy and rule of law was seen to be implemented within the Arab world .
Soft power is seen as an integral element of governance in the 21st century, any lack or inexistence of soft power prevents governments from achieving desirable aims. The role of communication in the political process is becoming increasingly important and the use of modern technology facilitated the spread and fruitful outcomes of soft power. If politics , according to Laswell, is about “Who gets what when and how” then communication is about “Who says What to Whom in What Channel with What Effect”. In this concept, the study of political communication will analyse the intention of soft power and its effects on the recipient environment. The crucial factor that makes communication ‘political’ is not the source of a message, but its content and purpose. Soft power is both seen at the international level (i.e. foreign policy of countries) as well as internal level “The Powers to Lead” (i.e. decision makers in individual states and public diplomacy).
Soft power is not only about influence and persuasion; it is the ability to attract. Charisma, political identity and image, beliefs, values and achievements play an important role in making attraction inevitable. Political communication is seen as a strategic instrument to influence public perceptions and stands on different political issues. The effect of soft power has enlarged with communications and Medias. Traditional broadcast tools (i.e. Television channels and Newspapers) are being challenged with a new model of dissemination: the internet which emerged as a “political participatory tool” (i.e. Blogging, Tagging, and Wikis). Soft power is closely interconnected with the study of political communication; massages aiming to influence specific targets are being transmitted by policy makers in order to achieve what they desire during electoral campaigns. The extent of attraction can only be revealed by case studies, public opinion polls and elite interviews. Soft power works on two dimensions; foreign and internal policies to ensure the legitimacy and authority of the ruling system, with the help of the media which frames scenarios in order to induce and motivate opinions to adapt the new agenda. In this concept, soft or hard power can be judged based on the intentions of the agent. For instance, US involvement in the humanitarian mission following 2005 Tsunami in South Asia earthquake helped construct its image. Yet, its involvement in the Middle East discredited its legitimacy. The media has been often criticised in democratic states of misleading public opinion such as: in the Iraq War and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.
The United States, regardless of its intentions, has long been seen an example of great soft power influence. For example with Roosevelt’s four freedoms in Europe after WWII (freedom of speech, worship, want and fear) , for launching a radio station “Free Europe” against the Iron Curtain that divided Europe following the war, for its assistance to modernise Taliban, for launching war on terror. The American dream is touching the very authoritative states of the Middle East including Iran, US soft power in the region is illustrated in broadcast channels , radios and culture such as: Alhurra TV, the Arab Radio Sawa, the Persian Radio Farada, music and Hollywood.
China, on the other hand, is seen as a new rival in the use of soft power by presenting itself as a defender of national sovereignty, after the intervention in Libya. Several remaining dictatorships in the Middle East adopted the same measure to preserve their rule under the name of nationalism, western conspiracy and preserving national sovereignty against imperialism (i.e. Algeria, Syria and Iran). In such, clerics are being used to exert a sort of soft power since they are able to influence public opinion with the use of religion such as: Al Azhar. In this regard, China is becoming the perfect model of a hybrid dictatorship for Middle Eastern authoritarianism, especially from close allies in the region: Algeria and Syria. China’s soft power has been illustrated in becoming an economic model remarkably in Africa. The country is engaging in economic projects and exploiting the continent. Africans appraise China as Dambisa Moyo, an economic analyst, argued: “China, unlike the West, respects mutual cooperation and considers Africa a business partner not an uncivilised continent”.