- Interconnectedness and conflict coexist in the current international context. The traditional power of coercion – hard power – seems to be sweeping us away into a return to the rigid oppositions of the past, undermining the international community’s ability to meet those global challenges that are the inevitable result of interconnectedness. Today more than ever, a renewed commitment of thought and action is needed to build a future made of cooperation, security, and development.
- In this context, a paradigm shift is needed in the very idea of soft power. Traditionally referring to cultural influence, we think that soft power should today be brought back, in a broader sense, to a value dimension. This is to link, whenever possible, a nation’s power of influence to its ability to contribute effectively to building an international consensus on responses to global challenges.
- The foundation of this new concept is the U.N. Charter, which already in the Preamble calls on all members of the international community, with no distinction, to a shared effortto “save future generations from the scourge of war; reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights; create conditions in which justice and respect for obligations under international law can be maintained; and promote social progress and a higher standard of living in greater freedom“. Article 55 then includes these objectives in the Organization’s mandate: “the United Nations shall promote conditions for economic and social development and progress; the solution of international economic, social, health and similar problems, and international cultural and educational collaboration; and universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.“
- The more a country is able to contribute to the realization of the purposes enshrined in the Charter, the more its power of influence is enhanced. Toward a soft power based on responsibility, then, whereby being a key player in developing responses to global challenges results not only in a positive reputational payoff, but also in a net gain from the standpoint of power of influence.
- Multilateral fora are the most suitable context for measuring nations’ efforts to provide responses to global challenges and thus their next-generation soft power capital. In today’s UN system, the already evident stalemate in the Security Council tends to enhance the role of the General Assembly by making it a privileged context in which countries -regardless of their size-will be able to champion solutions to global challenges, nurturing their capital of persuasion and attraction. This is consistent with Article 13 of the Charter, according to which the Assembly“shall undertake studies and make recommendations to develop international cooperation in the political, economic, social, cultural and public health fields, and promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.”
A new vision of soft power encourages a rethinking of the role of non-state actors and civil society: nongovernmental organizations, think tanks, cities, the private sector. Not just implementers of decisions, but actual laboratories of thought and solutions. A new role that needs to be included in the international organizations’ system thanks to new rules and working methods: building new meeting platforms, making them part of the multilateral decision-making process to relaunch the search for shared solutions to common challenges. It is a paradigm shift all countries – but also all of us (!) – are called upon to support in the international organizations and fora they are part of, so that a renewed bottom-up approach becomes one of the cornerstones of the new soft power based on responsibility.