Culture in the Soft Power Policy

Culture is the lifeblood of a vibrant society and in addition to its intrinsic values, culture enhances the quality of life and increases overall well-being for both individuals and communities. Our creative expression helps define who we are, and helps us see the world through the eyes of others.

Soft power : the attractive and persuasive approach to international relations

„Power with others can be more effective than power over others“, Joseph Samuel Nye[1]. In contrast to the coercive nature of hard power, soft power describes the use of positive attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives. This non-violent power suggests that the power is ideological and cultural. Soft power seeks to achieve influence by building networks, communicating compelling narratives, establishing international rules and drawing on the resources that make a country naturally attractive to the world.

From cultural soft power towards cultural influence

As he developed the concept, Nye initially set out three primary sources of soft power: political values, culture and foreign policy. Therefore, culture would play an important role in shaping a nation’s internal and external behaviours in today’s world. The countries would bind their political and economic power with their cultural influence. Turning a classic policy of dissemination or cultural spreading into a logic of influence is the way to build a strategy of influence. By doing so, a country needs to have an aspirational and inclusive national story and to know how to tell it.

Cultural diplomacy: strategic lever at the heart of struggles for influence

Many countries realised the role culture can play in foreign policy strategy by increasing their level of influence. Therefore, building and spreading over their own cultural diplomacy is one of the best tool to widen their own interests. Certainly, the concept of cultural diplomacy is historically a French specificity, invented in the 19th century. It coincides with the use of the word francophonie and the creation of the Alliance Française in 1883. Taking the example of France and its cultural diplomacy, we can admit France’s cultural outreach policy is recognized as a benchmark and a source of inspiration by a number of countries[2]. Today, it appears a nation’s brand is most credible when carried by sportsmen, artists or businesses, and most importantly by people. As it is often easier to promote the power of Premiership football rather than a position on human rights, governments should encourage those that can best promote the cultural values.

The way to a new cultural diplomacy?

New countries have become aware of the need of developping a soft power policy in order to consolidate their power status on the international scene. Because they consider there is a direct link between cultural and linguistic investment and economic growth, countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, South-Africa (BRICS), Singapore decided to set up culture one of the pillars of their economic development. In this regard, the example of China, real cultural juggernaut which seeks to improve its image, is particularly striking. The Chinese strategy is certainly evoluting from economic power to global cultural influence. China has sought to capture the zeitgeist, establishing the National Office for Teaching Chinese and setting up several hundred Confucius Institutes all around the world whose overt goal is teaching Chinese but which also project soft power.

Towards a cultural confrontation?

As they are seeking to increase their influence in the international community, the cultural confrontation of the rising powers with the West is underway. These states are trying to protect their own culture by defending a non-interference and partnership approach in which cultural projects adapt to local demand, while in some other countries still exists this temptation to see oneself as the bearer of a universal civilizing mission. A way out would be to deepen the perception of each other’s cultures in increasing cross-cultural understanding. In today’s world, the winning posture is not unilateral influence, but rather openness to the influence of the other and the elaboration of cooperative strategies.

New tools giving new perspectives

A dynamic policy of influence is also based on the rise of civil societies and new telecommunications technologies. These two intrinsically linked phenomena are shaking up the states and culture is now considered a global issue. Priorities and instruments of influence differ from country to country, from public initiative to profitable private equity. The development of media for foreign audiences is also no less impressive. Finally, the digital tool which is internet has certainly taken on a fundamental role in the global order and is worldwide a good vector of linguistic and cultural influence.

Today, the peoples are facing a destructive globalization of meanings, cultures, traditions and values which has sparked a deep identity crisis. This leads us to put man back at the heart of the great global game. Change is possible if we collectively demand cultural diversity and pluralism as well as freedom of thought and speech, which are currently crushed by one-track thinking and mainstream culture.

Laure du Teilhet, MAS

Zur Person:
Laure du Teilhet ist 47 Jahre alt und eine erfahrene, mehrsprachige Managerin mit agiler Führungs- und erfahrener Vertretungskompetenz. Sie arbeitete in den Ländern Mexiko, Peru, Mauretanien, Indonesien, Kirgistan, Russland, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldawien und Kasachstan. Derzeit lebt sie in Villach.


[1] Joseph Samuel Nye Jr., born January 19, 1937, is an renowned American political scientist and former policymaker.

[2] According to the Soft Power 30 index published by Portland Communications and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy, France got the first place in 2019.