Shaping Futures

Information Warfare Versus Soft Power

By Professor Joseph S. Nye, Member of BGF’s Board of Thinkers.

CAMBRIDGE – Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election, and its suspected hacking of French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign servers, should surprise no one, given President Vladimir Putin’s (mis)understanding of soft power. Before his re-election in 2012, Putin told a Moscow newspaper that “soft power is a complex of tools and methods to achieve foreign policy goals without the use of force, through information and other means of influence.”

From the Kremlin’s perspective, color revolutions in neighboring countries and the Arab Spring uprisings were examples of the United States using soft power as a new form of hybrid warfare. The concept of soft power was incorporated into Russia’s 2013 Foreign Policy Concept, and in March 2016, Russian Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov stated that responding to such foreign threats “using conventional troops is impossible; they can be counteracted only with the same hybrid methods.”

What is soft power? Some think it means any action other than military force, but this is wrong. Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction and persuasion rather than threats of coercion or offers of payment.

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