THE FIRST “VENICE SOFT POWER CONFERENCE”
(AUGUST 30th – SEPTEMBER 1st, 2020)
The Soft Power Club brings together people interested in collaborating for an integrated and open world.
It will meet every year, between late August and early September, in a Conference featuring original content and objectives.
The chosen venue is Venice, “for the universal characteristics of the city, home to meetings and exchanges for many millennia, and a recognized platform for the international dialogue”, in the words the Mayor of Venice – who agreed to become Honorary President of the Club – wrote to the promoters.
This choice will allow a free exchange of ideas – as well as the elaboration of proposals – on major issues that Venice represents to the world (climate, the future of seas and oceans, and that of the most precious cultural and urban Heritage).
- The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated some key features of the international scenario; especially for the potential decline in the effectiveness of the multilateral instruments.
These are substantial changes, compared to the historical moment in which 30 years ago, for the first time – thanks to Joseph R. Nye (1) – the concept of soft power was codified: once the US-USSR bipolar system ended, a single global power remained in play, while a globalization led by western liberal economies was gaining ground.
We live in new and uncertain times, in which we propose to identify and promote a widespread soft power, with shared objectives. Ideas, plans and tools of action must concern citizens, businesses, associations, communities – not only sovereign States – as well as multilateral and supranational bodies.
- In the international public space, the pluralism of powers will increase and make more explicit the promotion and protection of national interests, with very significant strategic and geopolitical effects. This trend might be dramatically accelerated by the effect of the pandemic, based on the re-shoring of productive assets into national boundaries and the nationalization of science and research activities (as shown by the current race to a potential vaccine).
In the last twenty years, incessant innovations have been developed in terms of knowledge, services for all and experiences for billions of people, thanks to digital transformations, technologies and immediate and interconnected communications. In the coming years, the power and the impact of big-tech subjects will be even more important for the economy, finance, work, logistics, and for the strategic balances themselves.
Critical judgments are spreading that attribute the emergence of new inequalities to the globalization processes. And this judgements will find new steam, and potentially new aggressive tones, after the acute phase of the Covid pandemic globally.
If on the one hand insecurities, inequalities, new poverties manifest themselves in different societies – and, with significant impacts, in different Western Countries – on the other it is wrong not to recognize the significant positive changes generated in these decades, which have brought large populations out of poverty, and the world population’s average life expectancy at birth to 72 years.
In parallel, the attention-seeking of civil subjects and general public determined to exercise the power of opinions, influences and interests will grow; not infrequently, focusing on radical factors which polarize, rather than foster, dialogue, mutual understanding and common ways.
We believe that, in this context, a renewed role of soft power would be useful, and that it is possible contribute to creating authentic and effective encounters between cultures, open to the global citizenship of the 21st century.
- One of the strategic tasks of the Club will be to deal with soft power as the power of ideas, widespread and with shared objectives, and with the articulated opportunities for actions, initiatives, projects, aggregations and local, national, transnational, international or global campaigns.
Activities that, although not directly related to politics or government candidacies, are increasingly influential, if not decisive, for the short, medium and long-term orientations of large communities of interests, as well as for international public opinion; and, therefore, also for public decision makers.
Among the major issues to be considered today are: the environmental sustainability of economic development; the authentic respect for cultural diversity; the widespread awareness of the importance of research and scientific progress for the good of humanity; and the right balance between pluralism, stability and social cohesion.
No action can be undertaken disregarding the sharing of a humanistic approach (not closed, nor elitist). It will be essential to monitor the correct use of digital interactions, which must not be subjected to false news and narratives that corrode the credibility of any public speech, affecting the reputation of institutions, companies and people.
- The Club will aim to define shared messages, and concrete objectives every year, placing itself as a forum for maximum inclusiveness, with an international and intercultural scope; not as a bearer of particular categories of values (for example, “European”, or “Western”); nor of any “partisan” political-cultural physiognomy. The subjects involved – both in the Steering Committee, which ensures the proper functioning of the Club, and among the members of the Club itself – ensure a pluralistic profile, and adhere to an approach of openness to dialogue and debate between different orientations.
- The Culture factor will be decisive; in particular, because it represents a recognized and appreciated character of the highest traditions and the vibrant innovations of Italy, which hosts the Soft Power Club; and in general terms, due to the awareness that in the coming years new and risky conflicts between cultures and identities will arise – and not only according to national dividing lines.
Among the objectives of the Soft Power Club, there is therefore the enhancement of the role of Culture; of the wealth and plurality of knowledge; of mutual listening and understanding between populations, animated by a respect for diversity; of a solid and sustainable economic development; of the creation and growth of creative enterprises; of the development of good jobs related to cultural heritage and creative industries all over the world.
- The recent, serious health crisis puts Italy at the core of the emergency management practices and as a laboratory for a fresh start, a quick and effective recovery based exactly on the re-launch of the country’s soft power. But at the same time, Italy and Venice, before the Covid-19 outbreak, were already on the headlines for the heavy consequences of the aqua granda (“large water”) of November 13, 2019, suggests that the 2020 Conference agenda should include a debate on the problems of Venice, as a case study on the sea-level rise, and on the proposals for the protection of fragile urban civilizations and coastal cultural heritage in the face of foreseeable trends linked to climate change. Flooding and erosion, in particular threatening and damaging UNESCO World Heritage sites located in coastal areas, will be important issues for the next decades.
By meeting in highly symbolic places in Venice, we will have the opportunity to hear and evaluate concrete measures, together with the Civic Administration, the competent Italian and European institutions and the major public and private international institutions mobilized for the salvation and the future of the City.
- Some proposals have already been received for topics to be addressed, which must be evaluated by the members of the Club, in order to be better defined and possibly shared:
- The role of public and private investments in science and health, with a vision and in a perspective of human progress, also in order to counter the widespread anti-scientific falsification campaigns.
- The orientations to be proposed to companies, researchers, decision-makers and regulators, to guide the strategic developments of Artificial Intelligence. In particular, in order to think about the relationships between growing engineering and humanistic factors; the implications for safety; the managing changes and the employment challenges.
- A debate on global companies and soft power: by selling experiences and emotions, not only products, companies can interact with the citizen-consumer within the context of ethical values and important goals, such as the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Club could analyze the most advanced methods and the effectiveness of soft power actions promoted by international companies.
- The opening of a dialogue on History, the concept and the contemporary definition of the Universal Museum, with reference to the possibility of creating a Universal Digital Museum – which can also be integrated with physical installations in different parts of the world – as a tool to rethink the characters of museography and for the effective opening of the use of Culture to an audience “without borders”.
- The role of major sporting events, of the rediscovery of the Olympic spirit, of the creative industries linked to the organization and enjoyment of major events.
(1) About soft power and other concepts.
Joseph Nye Jr.’s first codification of soft power defined the tools available to sovereign States (alongside those of hard power, projection of military and economic power): “Soft power, getting others to want the outcomes that you want, co-opts people rather than coerces them”. Persuasion, therefore, versus coercion.
This codification must be distinguished from other important and different concepts, such as public diplomacy (to be referred, in its broad articulations, to the policies of public decision makers); cultural diplomacy (a major component of public diplomacy, for the international projection of the interests of nations through the affirmation of Heritage, traditions, and cultural industries). Smart power (which combines forms of hard power, namely coercive tools, together with elements of soft power to push an actor to adopt a specific behavior and achieve a pre-specified outcome). Sharp power (which involves the use of manipulation or intimidation to impose a specific point of view; also with the use of fake news and the limitation of freedoms, in order to impose a change of perception).
In these cases, the question regards the actions of a State, for which soft power is a medium – just like hard power is. For a military power, the “military” element is at the service of the “power” factor. If soft power is used by a State subject (as an instrument of persuasion, rather than coercion), the problem of its purposes, and therefore of the “values” for which it is used, also arises; as is the case for hard power (for which, for example, the boundary lines regarding the use of force are traced by the United Nations Charter).
The Soft Power Club will deal with the updates of the soft power “codification” (in particular in light of the complexities deriving from the expansion of digital technology). And it will deal especially with the definition of the characters and purposes of soft power beyond the domain and the tasks of the States.