Not long ago, it was traditional hard power based on military and economic might that ruled the day. But a global rebalancing – one which has seen power become more diffuse, moving from West to East and from state to non-state actors – means we are living in an increasingly multi-dimensional and interdependent world.
Such rebalancing requires leaders, diplomats, and foreign policy makers to reassess how they achieve their foreign policy objectives. This is especially critical given current uncertainty and geopolitical instability. Many have found that it is now the ability to attract and persuade – rather than coerce – that is most effective.
In other words, soft power.
The term soft power was coined by political scientist Joseph S. Nye Jr. in the late 1980s. Nye describes power as the ability to influence the behaviour of others to achieve desired outcomes. He outlines three ways power can be wielded: coercing with threats, inducing with payments, or attracting and persuading. Soft power rejects the first two approaches. Instead, influence is achieved by building networks, communicating compelling narratives, and establishing international rules.
Nye originally identified three core pillars of soft power: political values, foreign policy and culture. The first two pillars are arguably more difficult to get right, but most nations have a wealth of cultural resources already at their disposal. The challenge is deploying these resources effectively.
France has shown us how to translate culture into impact through its cuisine, cinema, museums and art. The U.S. has for decades asserted global influence through Hollywood. K-culture diplomacy helped transform South Korea from an aid recipient to a major aid donor. Now, having made significant strides in political reform, economic stability and a multi-vector foreign policy, Kazakhstan can focus on highlighting its own cultural assets.
Earlier this year, President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed “Modern Kazakh Culture in the Global World” – a project that is part of the Modernisation of Kazakhstan’s Identity programme and that is aimed at promoting Kazakhstan’s cultural achievements on the world stage. It acknowledges the potential of Kazakhstan’s vast cultural reserves, from popular Kazakh artists like conductor Alan Buribayev and singer Dimash Kudaibergen, to the “Kyz Zhibek” and “Birzhan Sara” national operas.
“Modern Kazakh Culture in the Global World” is another string to Kazakhstan’s bow. The nation seeks to be recognised not only for its oil reserves and conflict mediation skills, but for its cultural successes as well. This will be achieved through a more targeted approach in promoting culture abroad; increased state investment in encouraging the creation of cultural assets; and greater use of innovative and technological platforms and channels.
Kazakhstan has set itself an ambitious goal of becoming a top 30 global economy by 2050. The value of “Modern Kazakh Culture in the Global World” in meeting this goal shouldn’t be underestimated. It is with an understanding of soft power – and how to deploy it effectively – that Kazakhstan will continue to achieve its objectives, both at home and abroad.