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Text of Keynote Address titled Cultural Diplomacy and Soft Power- Sustainable Smart Power by Jayantha Dhanapala at the Opening Plenary of the South and Central Asia Fulbright Regional Workshop, Colombo, 26 January, 2011.

I think it is necessary for us to look beyond the current headlines, particularly with controversial Wiki leaks and all the issues that they raise. in order to identify the trends that are taking place in international relations and to try to forecast how those trends will develop. I see a confluence of three trends at the moment. The first is the end of American empire – the end of the uni-polar world and the move towards a multi-polar world which coincides with an eclipse of hard military power. Secondly, in terms of the world economy, I see the end of hard economic power – the end of the “Washington Consensus” which from 1980-2008 placed great faith in free market policies in a sort of creed of “market fundamentalism”. If it needed the final nail in its coffin, it was the international financial crisis that has engulfed the world and, as Ban Ki-moon has said, “While recently we have heard much in this country about how problems on Wall Street are affecting innocent people on Main Street, we need to think more about those people around the world with no streets. Wall Street, Main Street, no street – the solutions devised must be for all.” The Washington Consensus has been replaced, perhaps, by what the G-20 call the Seoul Development Goals with a recognition of the need for state intervention and for the Millennium Development Goals of the UN to be achieved. But we have still to see how things evolve. Certainly what we are seeing again is the move towards a multi-polar system. Thirdly, of course, is the impact of climate change – inexorable and irrefutable. The four reports of the IPCC all of them convey the vital importance of the world cooperating in order to find a response to this huge challenge to the survival of the planet.

Now in talking about soft power, I of course owe a great debt of gratitude to Joe Nye who I have had the privilege of knowing both in his academic capacity and also in his Pentagon avatar. His two books on the subject (published in 1990 and in 2004), have contributed enormously to the theory of international relations although I do not agree with all he says in them. And again, we owe a tribute to Senator Fulbright, whom I also had the pleasure of meeting when I was First Secretary in the Embassy of Sri Lanka, and whose great vision, as I said, has made the Fulbright programme inaugurated in 1946 into a very important element of the soft power of the United States.

So the plan of my presentation is to talk about the eclipse of hard power. I ought to then talk about a few of the declinist theories and the tectonic shifts of global power. I would like then to move on to identifying some of the elements of what I think is the soft power of the United States which can be converted into smart, sustainable power and discuss the existing programs which are being used and which can be developed in the future. And, finally, to bring the different skeins of my argument together in some, hopefully, coherent conclusions.

The Eclipse of Hard Power

The eclipse of hard power is not going to be a smooth one. It is going to be a rocky road. Nobody likes to be displaced. We know that there is also behind hard military power, the military industrial complex, not only of the United States but of all the countries around the world. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) which has in its annual year book, its flagship publication, estimated that in 2009 the total military expenditure of the world was US $1,531 billion – a staggering figure far in excess of what the world spent during the height of the cold war. And of that figure 43% is spent by the United States alone. The next 20 countries on the list do not add up to that 43%. And so we have, therefore, this enormity of a misallocation of expenditure despite the US deficit, despite the international financial crisis and despite the enormous problems that we have internationally with over one billion people living on less than $2 a day while a cow in Europe is paid $3 a day to continue with the agricultural subsidies that are there for the European Union. We also have huge arms sales with the U.S., Russia, Germany, France and U.K. accounting for 76% of the arms sales globally. Now, 50 years ago, in a very perceptive comment on the part of Eisenhower in his farewell address as President – and he was a military man who completed 8 years as the U.S. president- he said, “In the councils of government we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper machine of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Fifty years later, the message of President Eisenhower is still valid. But by the yard stick of hard military power the U.S., of course, ranks supreme. And yet, we find the United States embroiled in two unwinnable wars, extricating itself with difficulty from Iraq leaving that country in shambles, and also trying very hard to extricate itself from the war in Afghanistan. So hard power clearly has limitations and we also see the same limitations with regard to hard economic power which as I said is represented by the Washington Consensus. Now Paul Kennedy, the British historian at Yale, published a book in 1987 about “the Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” and talked about the importance of economic power underpinning hard military power. Vietnam and Afghanistan for the two super powers were lessons that we have still not learnt – the lesson of “imperial overstretch”.

Perhaps, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the last of the exercises in “gunboat diplomacy”. Now, we have also got to learn lessons from the international financial crisis. But it is still not clear that we have learnt what is in fact the holistic definition of security today. That came about during the time when Kofi Annan was UN Secretary General when he said very clearly that there can be no security without development; no development without security; and there can be neither without human rights. There was also a distinction made during that period between national security, which is the defense of territorial integrity and sovereignty of the nation-state, and human security which is the ensuring of the security of the individual. And it is not always that we have the coincidence of both national security and human security which would be the ideal.

So as I said, Joe Nye’s concept which he first announced in his book “Bound to Lead: the Changing Nature of American Power” and followed later with “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics” was essentially an identification of what Fulbright said in many ways which was that “In the long course of history having people who understand your thought is much greater security than another submarine.”

Declinist Theories and Tectonic Shifts of Power

I want to move from there to talk about the decline of empires and the rise and fall of empires. A long time ago, in 1918, we had Oswald Spengler talking about the ‘decline of the west’ and it was very fashionable then to discuss the decline of the west between the two world wars. What we saw unfortunately was the rise of fascism instead and then, thereafter, we had World War II and the cold war. But perhaps, more accurate than Spengler, is the vision of Arnold Toynbee who talks about “challenge and response” in his masterly monumental volumes on the history of the world. Or even more recently, the American geographer, Jarred Diamond who talks in “Collapse” of the way in which in the past the various civilizations had responded to the environmental challenges of their times and some went under because they didn’t have an answer but some were able to survive. And all these examples are there for us as we face the current challenges we have.

But I think what is happening particularly in the evolution of the world economy is an important pointer for us. There is an emergence of the global south. As Deepak Nair, Emeritus Professor of the Delhi School of Economics has pointed out, in 1000 AD Asia, Africa and Latin America together accounted for 82% of the world population and 83% of global income. This continued for eight centuries. In 1820, the three continents still claimed three fourths of the world population and two thirds of its income. Then, came the industrial revolution and colonialism, a revolution in transport and communication and the rise of Western Europe and the decline of Asia. Between 1870 and 1950 per capita incomes in Asia fell to one tenths of Western Europe. So also did the incomes in Africa and Latin America. But from 1950 Nayyar identifies a resurgence of developing countries and with it, of course, came decolonization. From 1951 to 1980 there was rapid economic growth in the developing world. And in 2005 we were back to the same statistics as in 1870. This catch up has been limited to a few countries in the global south, particularly, India, Brazil, China and of course, the south East Asian countries but the 21st century is going to be the turning point. It is going to be a turning point where we are going to see an economic and political impact in the rise of the global south. There are, of course, very clearly demographic factors at work. I like to quote Deepak Nair in some detail. He writes, “History does not repeat itself but it would be wise to learn from history. The early 19th century was a turning point in the world economy. It was the beginning of the end of Asia’s dominance in the world. And it was the beginning of the rise of Europe, in particular to Britain, to dominance in the world. The early 20th century was the next turning point. It was the beginning of the end of Britain’s dominance in the world and it was the beginning of the rise of the U.S.A. to dominance in the world. The catch up and the transformation spanned half a century. The early 21st century, perhaps, represents a similar turning point. It could be the beginning of the end of the dominant status of the U.S.A. in the world. The emergence of countries outside North America and Western Europe, particularly, the power house economies in Asia which began with the East Asian success stories is now manifest in the rise of China and India, represents a striking transformation. In addition there are emerging economies in other continents of the developing world among which Brazil and South Africa deserve mention. Of course, in the decades to come the continued rise of these countries, or the developing world as a whole, is not quite predictable and by no means certain. It would depend, in large part, on whether developing countries can transform themselves into inclusive societies where economic growth, human development and social progress move in tandem. This catch up and transformation, if it materializes, could also span a half century or longer. Yet the beginnings of a shift in the balance of power are discernible and the past could be a pointer to the future.” (Developing Countries in the World Economy – The Future in the Past?” WIDER annual Lecture, February 2009)

That in many ways echoes what T.S. Elliot said in Four Quartets – “Time present and time past, are both perhaps present in time future.”

Elements of US Soft Power

And so we move from this situation of a tectonic shift in global power – in the locus of power, both political and economic, but more in soft power terms, to the global south. And if we are going to have the United States still wielding an important influence, as it should with the enormous soft power at its hand, we must see that the program such as the one we have here, the Fulbright  that it should be nurtured and developed. I think, absent the use of soft power, you are going to see a hastening of the transfer of power to other centers. So my message is that the elements of U.S. smart power have got to be valued. And these elements begin, of course, with the constitution of the United States. The 1776 achievement, democracy, the separation of powers, the civil liberties and the rule of law which used 1776 as a foundation and built on it with the achievement of successive presidents, with the achievement of Martin Luther King and several others, the generosity of the foundations such as the McCarthur Foundation which identifies, for example, individuals both in the United States and elsewhere for genius awards, which identifies effective institutions for support. There are also the great educational institutions of the United States. In a recent survey of world university rankings by the London Times, the first five universities are U.S. universities and in the first 200 universities, over 75 are from the United States. And they attract, like magnets, students of high calibre from all over the world and not only the United States. And if you retain this element of soft power you will retain the influence that will be a beneficial influence both, globally and domestically. There are also the arts, the music, the theatre, the ballet, the literature which has been an important vehicle transmitting U.S. culture abroad. There is the enormous innovation that has taken place in environment and energy, the technologies that are being invented all the time. And here again, the issue of the edge that the United States has in Science and Technology. The money that has been spent for research and development still is very high in the United States but it is falling. It fell from 40 % of the global expenditure in 1996 to 35% in 2007. Whereas Asia’s component of global expenditure on research and development is rising and it is today 31%. So, of the $ 1.1 trillion that is being spent globally you will find that the United States is not spending as much as what it should be spending in order to retain its position of supremacy in this field. Likewise, with patent applications which are a very useful guide to how innovative your industry is, how innovative your R&D is, here again, you have a catch up on the part of Asia, with China, the Republic of Korea and Japan leading the way.

But finally, of course, your wealth lies in the American people. The enormous diversity of the American population and the way which America continues to attract immigrants from a wide variety of countries. I think this must remain one of the important elements of the soft power of the United States which has to be used wisely and well. And the existing programs, of course, include the Fulbright program. In many ways you in this workshop, participating in the administration of the Fulbright program are the harbingers of a shift to smart power. The exchange programs also include the international visitors program, the Eisenhower Fellowship Program and so many others. There are, of course, American Colleges setting up campuses in different parts of the world and this is in many ways a way in which the more pessimistic concept of a “clash among civilization” which Samuel Huntington talked of is being converted especially with the UN program for an alliance among civilizations. And one of the earliest alliances among civilizations is the Fulbright Program. Because it was conceived as a bi-national program in all humility accepting the fact that the United States can also learn from other cultures and from other civilizations. So we have, therefore, in this new global context, inter- dependence which is so important. We have the concept of the United States as a great power leading the world in the transition – in the transition from hard power to soft power rather than dominating the world with its hard power. We have an effort to make the entire global system more transparent and more equitable as well.


Let me conclude by talking about the importance of the human development concept as an alternative to hard economic power, because in the latest Human Development Report of the UNDP, about two decades after the concept was first introduced by the late Mahbub Ul Haq, we have the United Stated still being ranked as number four. And I think that is a very important aspect. China ranks 89, Russia ranks 65, France 14, U.K. 26, Sri Lanka, of course 91, but nevertheless a very respectable ranking for a developing country. But what is important is that the developed countries also bear in mind the importance of human development and not free market policies alone. And if I may quote from the Human Development Report giving a definition of what human development is and what we should be aiming at in the exercise of our soft power – “Human development is the expansion of people’s freedoms to live long, healthy and creative lives; to advance other goals they have reason to value; and to engage actively in shaping development equitably and sustainably on a shared planet. People are both the beneficiaries and the drivers of human development as individuals and in groups.”

Fulbright warned us a long time ago about the arrogance of power. All nations, of course, are liable to the hubris of power. I think the propensity for arrogance will be much less if we exercise soft power and not hard power. And here again, we have heard many quotations from Senator Fulbright but if I may leave one more quotation with you. He said once, “There are two Americas. One is the America of Lincoln and Adlai Stevenson; the other is the America of Teddy Roosevelt and modern super -patriots. (He might have added George Bush and Sarah Palin here had he been alive today!) One is generous and humane, the other narrowly egotistical; one is self-critical, the other self-righteous; one is sensible, the other romantic; one is good-humored, the other solemn; one is inquiring, the other pontificating; one is moderate, the other filled with passionate intensity; one is judicious and the other arrogant in the use of great power.”

What Fulbright said of his own country is applicable, of course, to other countries as well including to my own country. We have to acknowledge that, as Winston Churchill once said, “The United States invariably does the right thing – after having exhausted every other alternative”! And so, after having exhausted hard power, my hope and my plea is that the United States will now make the transition to soft power because that is the smart and sustainable thing to do in order to continue to wield its very beneficial influence on the world as we now know it and as we face so many challenges together.

(Thank you.)