Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

The False Promise of India's Soft Power

Academic journal article Geopolitics, History and International Relations

The False Promise of India's Soft Power

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The concept of soft power is an artifact of the post-Cold War world, as is the rise of India. Both have grown in prominence during the same period, and observers have increasingly drawn a link between the two. Writing in 2003, Indian foreign policy analyst C. Raja Mohan argued:

The spiritualism of India has attracted people from all over the world, and its Gurus have travelled around the world selling yoga and mysticism. Bollywood has done more for Indian influence abroad than the bureaucratic efforts of the Government. From classical and popular music to its cuisine, from the growing impact of its writers and intellectuals, India now has begun to acquire many levers of soft power.

The growing consensus in the literature is that India possesses considerable soft power resources arising from its universalist culture, democratic political institutions and tradition of leadership among developing nations. Consequently, in the new millennium, Delhi began a concerted effort to channel these resources - including those of Indians living abroad - into generating soft power that might produce beneficial foreign policy outcomes (Hall 2012).

However, for a country almost destined to provide significant moral leadership in the post-Cold War world, India's soft power resources have frequently proved not up to the task (Blarel 2012). Various surveys and impressionistic reviews of India's cultural capital among publics around the world have shown that world opinion is still nowhere near as favorable as it should be given expectations (Hymans 2009). This basic fact presents an empirical puzzle: how is it that a nation such as India with a history of moral authority and leadership among developing nations, a tradition of statesmen highly regarded by interlocutors in the international sphere, and considerable cultural and domestic political resources to attract other nations to its cause could have failed to successfully wield soft power in order to achieve a favorable political environment for its foreign policy goals? Nowhere is this shortcoming more glaring than in India's own neighborhood, where perceptions in almost every state range from ambiguous to openly hostile toward India's regional hegemony (Gateway House 2012).

In this paper, I argue that India's shortcomings are due to three factors. First, India's soft power resources have been over-estimated by analysts, who pay insufficient attention to the manner in which a state's soft power resources might conflict with each other and send mixed messages to international audiences. Second, although increased emphasis on India's soft power has accompanied its rise along traditional hard power dimensions, the latter have not developed to a level sufficient for the former to have a noticeable impact on India's foreign policy. Finally, as with any state, the credibility of India's soft power lies in the coherence of its national identity, and India has not yet resolved the many contradictions in its self-image in a manner that might lend to the successful utilization of its latent soft power resources.

In the next section, I discuss existing work in the area of soft power, and India's soft power in particular. Section III develops the empirical puzzle of Indian soft power more fully. Section IV contains the main argument of this paper, and Section V concludes.

2. Soft Power and India

Soft power is, in essence, the power of attraction. It is defined as the ability of a state to get what it wants through attraction rather than coercion or payments (Nye 2004). Soft power is not the power to command others to obey one's orders, nor is it the power to bribe or buy the support of others through economic inducements. Therefore it grows neither out of military power nor economic weight in world affairs. Rather, it inheres in the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals and domestic and foreign policies. These assets are rightly called "intangible" (ibid. …

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