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Soft power: Power of attraction or confusion?

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Despite its popularity, soft power remains power of confusion. This paper examines the concept, with a special focus on the nature and sources of soft power. Nye's notion of soft power is largely ethnocentric and based on the assumption that there is a link between attractiveness and the ability to influence others in international relations. This poses two problems: First, a country has many different actors. Some of them like the attraction and others do not. Whether the attraction will lead to the ability to influence the policy of the target country depends on which groups in that country find it attractive and how much control they have on policy making. Secondly, policy making at the state level is far more complicated than at the personal level, and has different dynamics that emphasise the rational considerations. This leaves little room for emotional elements, thus significantly reducing the effect of soft power. Given the nature of soft power being uncontrollable and unpredictable, it would be impossible to wield soft power in any organised and coordinated fashion, as Nye suggested. Furthermore, the relationship between two countries is shaped by many complex factors. It is ultimately decided by the geopolitics and strategic interests of nations, in which soft power may play only a limited role. The paper also discusses the link between soft power and nation branding, as both concepts are concerned with a nation's influence on the world stage. Public diplomacy is a subset of nation branding that focuses on the political brand of a nation, whereas nation branding is about how a nation as whole reshapes international opinions. A successful nation branding campaign will help create a more favourable and lasting image among the international audience, thus further enhancing a country's soft power.

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Fan, Y. Soft power: Power of attraction or confusion?. Place Brand Public Dipl 4, 147–158 (2008).

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