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By Francesco Rutelli – Corriere della Sera 14/1/2024

How valuable is Soft Power at a historic moment where war is once again high on the global agenda? According to Joe Nye, Soft Power lies precisely in the ability to “shape an agenda that can attract and persuade”. The inventor of this concept, who is a permanent participant to the Club we set up five years ago (and which keeps attracting new authoritative International Members) has always clearly stated that Soft Power does not mean disarmament nor does it weaken national interests.

Two strategic elements need to be faced. The first is the fragmentation of the political and economic powers that compete at the global level. After the “American century”, in the second quarter of the 21st century we will have to endure the effects of the gap between the need for effective multilateralism (the tools that the international community has at its disposal to regulate common interests and limit the aggressive unilateral initiatives of various Nations) and competitive multipolarities that run the risk of becoming unmanageable.

The second underlying problem is that we are facing many open transitions, namely processes of change which in some cases are “disruptive” and which could evolve in directions that the political ruling classes may find difficult to govern. Reference is being made to the use of generative Artificial Intelligence, to the increase in military spending (estimated to be 2,240 billion worldwide in 2023), to the return of pandemic crises (COVID has demonstrated that disastrous impacts on humanity can be avoided only where systems capable of rapid detection and intervention are in place), to the growing militarization of cyberspace (while there is a stalemate on the ground between Russia and Ukraine, cyber war is more active than ever), and, obviously, to the two “sister” transitions: the Digital transition (with massive disparities, aggravated by the manipulative uses of communication and information technologies); and the Green transition, which sees promising developments but also dangerous recklessness, and which does not appear capable of achieving the objectives of reducing emissions and hence of avoiding the rise in mean temperatures, with ensuing catastrophic consequences.

There are many circumstances, however, in which the “power of persuasion” can achieve unexpected results.

For example, the recent Climate Conference (COP 28) held in Dubai which leaves the world in the midst of serious contradictions started out with concerns about the leadership of Sultan Al-Jaber, head of one of the largest oil companies in the world. But in the end, the statement was made, for the first time, that there needs to be a “transition away from fossil fuels”. Why? Because Dubai and the Emirates were unwilling to pay the price of the Climate Conference being a historic failure in the eyes of the world. The Emirates are a country that relies on oil, but it also relies on other economic sectors – tourism, investments, and real estate development. For markets, for tourism, for trade and cultural activities, reputation is a crucial asset.

The Soft Power Club is set to contribute to the achievement of concrete results through the unpaid services of its members: at the next annual conference scheduled for the end of August in Venice, Charles Rivkin (leader of the MPA which represents the major film studios in Hollywood) proposed that in the run-up to the Venice Film Festival, the focus of audiovisual creators and companies on climate challenges be examined: climate issues are the heart of the action of our Members amongst whom there is the Prince of Jordan el Hassan bin Al Talal, Faith Birol (head of the International Energy Agency), and Fatou Jeng (brilliant Gambian environmental activist). And I am pleased to announce that in mid-February Amitabh Kant (President Modi’s Sherpa for the G20) will be holding the 1st Conference on India’s Soft Power under the aegis of our Club, with an ambitious program and high-level participants.

The most populous nation in the world, whose role is growing in all the areas of interest of the international community, will be able to offer innovative contributions to face the troubled and transformative times we are experiencing. We believe that Soft Power is an effective way for Italy to affirm its strategic values and interests. And dialogue and cooperation with India, encouraged by the government, will effectively contribute also to the growth of our Country.

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