Thursday, September 28, 2006

Soft power, kinda squishy

Another limitation of soft power, while yesterday's presentation is still relatively fresh. First of all, how does the recent announcement of US-imposed sanctions on Thailand relate to the topic of soft power? Does anyone really feel threatened by instability in Thailand - a strong US ally against both Communist North Vietnam and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge? If the concern here is that Thailand's military coup will increase the likelihood of military-led coups in other nations, are soft power sanctions an effective deterrent? Then again the United States cannot really afford to threaten a country like Thailand with "big stick" consequences. Is soft power then simply the least bad decision among two insufficient options?

Another concern - should soft power be considered more or less susceptible to the limitations of international cooperation? What happens when nation A seeks to influence nation B through soft power - such as sanctions or criticism - but nations C, D and E fail to support or even exert soft power in another direction - by increasing trade with nation B or simply promising to continue business as usual? Nation A's soft power actually loses potency. Is it possible that soft power is only effective with the threat of "big stick" action subtly in the background or prominently displayed? Conversely, it seems that the greater the potential for "big stick" behavior, the greater the appeal and strength of "soft power". Can one then conclude that while soft power can have a negative effect on the efficiency of hard power, hard power can enhance the abilities of soft power?

Also, just a side note. NASA is to begin limited cooperation with China's Space Flight program. Why limited? Because of the close relation between China's space programs and the Chinese military. China is the third nation after the United States and Russia to successfully complete a manned space flight. Russia is no longer pursuing as aggressive a space program as they once did during the "space race" with the US, but China certainly has the technological capital to give NASA a run for it's money. Now, realpolitik science-fiction aside, can NASA's "limited cooperation" be seen as an example of "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" in action? Right now, the "space race" has considerably cooled. Technological and budget limitations helped slow things down, but neither Russia, China nor the US ever really shelved their space programs - nor has anyone completely discounted space's military potential for attack or defence. Privately-funded space exploration and craft design in the US and sustained space-research conducted by the Chinese military may be giving the space race a second wind. Right now space exploration is just a hobby for rich eccentrics or a pet project for the military researcher, but things are moving forward and eventually we really will have to deal with international relations above the atmosphere. If space colonization and travel becomes increasingly likely, will this greatly impact the way nations interact on earth?

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