All You Need to Know About Soft PowerSoft power is a term that was coined in the late 1980s by Joseph S. Nye Jr., an American political scientist. As Foreign Affairs states, soft power refers to the ability of a country to influence and persuade others to do what it wants without the use of force or coercion. It’s the opposite of hard power, in which a country uses coercion and military strength in order to influence other countries. It relies on economic or cultural influences rather than military strength.

Soft power is an indirect way to exercise power and control. A country with a lot of it can convince other countries to adopt some of its morals, values and prominent institutions. Essentially, a country exerting a large amount of soft power can persuade other countries to want the same things it wants and therefore use their influence to advance its own political agenda. It is getting the outcome one wants through persuasion rather than coercion.

Origens of Soft Fower

Power is the ability to get others to do what you want, and soft power is an essential form of power. Nye states that it can come from three resources:

  1. A country’s culture (where it’s attractive to others)
  2. A country’s political values (where it lives up to them at home and abroad)
  3. A country’s foreign policies (where they are seen as legitimate and having moral authority)

Its Importance

Soft power is important because, according to Foreign Affairs, it can be used to gain supporters and partners. For example, United States companies, institutions, churches, foundations and other institutions of civil society all play a part in projecting it, and the cultures and values that the United States have are a form of soft power that allows the U.S. to gain allies. Even things that one may not view as important, like Hollywood movies and American pop culture, are forms of it that can help shape other countries attitudes’ and choices in the long-run.

BBC discusses how soft power can be exerted in one of their articles, in which they talk about a woman named Iryna Olova who grew up in Kiev in the Soviet Union. Olova talks about how fascinated she was with movies such as the Wizard of Oz as a child and states that movies made her feel that America was a happy and sunny place. She eventually left Ukraine and moved her family to America. Even though parts of American culture, like movies, may seem inconsequential to International Relations, according to Nye and the theory of soft power, they are anything but. Some political scientists even say that it helped the United States win the Cold War.


According to Nye, the limitations of soft power are that it is not easily channeled toward a specific outcome and that it can have diffuse effects on the outside world.

Other Examples

In his book, “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics,” Nye gives some examples of it, including the high number of foreign students enrolled at United States Universities and the prominent consumption of American media products worldwide.

– Ashrita Rau

Sources: Foreign Policy 1, Foreign Policy 2 BBC, Diplomacy Education Oxford Dictionary 1, Oxford Dictionary 2 Foreign Affairs
Photo: Flickr

MAG America
People know that war leaves scars, on bodies, minds, families and homes. Those affected live with the destruction, adapting to the best of their ability, and attempt to go on with their lives. While international support in the wake of conflict is great, little thought is given to the scars left behind in war zones.

When peace is brokered, troops leave behind bullets, elaborately packaged, carefully hidden explosives and yet-to-be-detonated fireworks of the military grade variety. Farmers fear working their fields. The building of roads, schools and water lines is halted indefinitely. Economic recovery is nearly impossible, at least until the threats are eliminated.

The Mines Advisory Group, or the MAG, has tasked itself with removing such lingering threats. Since 1989, MAG America employees have provided extensive training to volunteers living in post-war zones. Teams clear landmines and explosive weapons that did not go off when fired, and remove abandoned weapons, strategizing to prevent their proliferation.

To protect communities where mine contamination and weapons surpluses remain, the MAG offers programs that teach people how to recognize threats, what areas to avoid and emergency procedures. The MAG employs 2,400 people in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The 2,400 individuals make up about 90 percent of the MAG staff. Most are from severely underprivileged communities. Not only do these individuals benefit from the steady salary, they additionally receive professional training as mine destruction specialists, educators, community liaison specialists and medics.

The MAG is currently working to secure military storage in El Salvador, where access to small arms has fueled the second highest homicide rate in the world. Land clearing operations in Lebanon are ongoing, as they are in Iraq. The organization is aiding seven nations in Africa and four nations in Southeast Asia.

Manchester is home to the MAG’s international operations, while MAG America is based in Washington, D.C. More volunteers and staffers are needed, but the MAG recommends three ways to join its cause: become a “team driver” by building your own awareness, a “medic” by raising awareness in your community or a “virtual deminer” by fundraising or donating.

– Olivia Kostreva

Sources: MAG 1, MAG 2, MAG 3, MAG 4, Idealist
Sources: MAG

Center for Civilians in Conflict
From the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan to the lawlessness in Somalia, many of the world’s regions experience violence and warfare. Countless civilians struggle to survive in war zones while terrorist groups, warlords and corrupt governments fight. The Center for Civilians in Conflict, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., seeks to be an ally to the innocent people surrounded by enemies. By helping to establish legal rights for conflict victims, the center holds warring groups responsible for their actions.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict’s founder, Marla Ruzicka, began her efforts to help victims of violence in 2001, when she traveled to Afghanistan after the war began. She found that neither side kept counts of civilian deaths or helped injured noncombatants and formed the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict in response. Ten years later, her organization, now called the Center for Civilians in Conflict, works to get justice for people in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and other locations around the world.

Today’s conflicts have severe human and economic costs. The wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq have caused the deaths of at least 174,000 noncombatants, and several times more have died because of destroyed hospitals and infrastructure, according to the Costs of War Project. Marla Ruzicka herself died in a suicide bombing in Iraq in 2005; her colleagues continued her work.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict uses multiple strategies to ensure human rights for those affected by violence. One way the organization helps is by working with U.S. legislators to design aid policies that protect and provide critical resources to conflict victims. The Marla Ruzicka fund, a USAID branch modeled and named after the founder, has given more than $7 million to help Iraqi families affected by conflict.

The U.S. government is not the only one that receives legislative advice from the Center for Civilians in Conflict. The nonprofit also works with foreign governments to create legal frameworks for giving civilians protection and the right to reparations. Recommendations that the center made to the Pakistani government to improve assistance funding to individual provinces have already been implemented.

Along with advocacy and legislation in the U.S. and abroad, the Center for Civilians in Conflict also works within combat zones to assess civilian damage and better create policies to help those affected. One of the nonprofit’s first actions was to take surveys of victims of the Iraq war in 2003. The center continues these surveys in Syria and Somalia, and it was the first group to publish reports on civilian casualties in Somalia.

To make it easier for governments to track civilian deaths, the Center for Civilians in Conflict trains local military and police forces to record and respond to civilian casualties. The government of Afghanistan is working to implement these strategies and has already created an office to measure civilian harm.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict consistently works to help violence victims get assistance funding from their own governments and from abroad to make up for the damage they suffer in wars. It also make sure governments can properly track civilian casualties and establish legal frameworks that give them rights to protection and reparation.

The damage from war is difficult to undo, but the Center for Civilians in Conflict makes sure innocent people can get the justice they deserve.

– Ted Rappleye

Sources: Civilians in Conflict, Civilians in Conflict 2, Costs of War, Global Communities
Photo: Civilians in Conflict

aid and security
Since the end of World War II, foreign aid and national security have evolved in close proximity. Indeed, in the decade that followed, United States foreign assistance would range between 1.5 percent and 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP.)

Since then, foreign aid has played an important role in advancing national security through several of its components: “bilateral development aid, economic assistance supporting U.S. political and security goals, humanitarian aid, multilateral economic contributions and military aid and assistance.”

However, during the Cold War, this relation began to change. As the U.S. refocused its foreign policy toward containing the Soviet Union, foreign assistance began to drop as a percentage of GDP. But still many development programs remained in place, working toward bringing about political reform and democratization. The dominant logic that political reform and development would create stable and open regimes that could resist communist ideology.

The purpose of many programs did not changed since then: expanding access to healthcare services and education, reducing infant mortality rates, reducing hunger and even protecting the environment. Following the end of the Cold War, the main purpose was refracted; by then, the main target was no longer to contain the Soviet Union but to foment development and economic growth in poor countries.

This also meant that the share of military assistance versus aid also changed. During the Cold War, almost 50 percent of the foreign aid’s budget was allocated to military assistance. By 2001, it had dropped to 24 percent. While the humanitarian and development aid budget increased from 33 percent to 46 percent. The period between the end of the Cold War and the September 11 attacks is characterized by a shift toward prioritizing economic development and opening access to healthcare and education in poor countries. Although no imminent threat existed at the time, national security consideration always remained at the heart of foreign aid.

After the attacks of September 11, this relation between national security and foreign aid changed once more. By 2005, the war on terror had the U.S. engaged in providing foreign assistance to almost 150 countries. Once more the shift was toward containment, but this time of jihadists and extremist activities. Since September 11, the region that has received the bulk of U.S. aid is the Middle East.

Despite the many ups and downs in the road of U.S. foreign aid, the world still looks to U.S. to provide leadership in response to erupting crises around the world. If we are to take a few lessons from this close relationship between aid and security, they are that no matter what the threats are, a key component of national security is a stable world and the best way to achieve is by bringing people out poverty and giving them access to healthcare and education.

Responding to crisis world wide does not have to entail military might. While development and economic aid results can be longer term than military intervention, the long history of the U.S. as a major aid contributor shows that it certainly pays off.

Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Foreign Aid and Foreign Policy: Lessons for the Next Half-Century, The Foreign Policy Initiative
Photo: ForeignPolicy

The region of West Papua does not make the news often; in fact, it rarely merits a news blurb in most Western headlines. However, West Papua is arguably one of the most under-reported cases of exploitation an indigenous groups in the 21st century.

Since 1969, the people of West Papua have been in conflict with the government of Indonesia in one way or another. The University of Sydney’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies put out a report stating that for the better part of 40 years, the people of West Papua have been under the boot heel of the Indonesian Security forces.

The report goes on to state that due to wide scale incursions by Indonesia’s armed forces, West Papua has seen over 100,000 of its citizens die and much of its national resources depleted.

A report by The Guardian also notes the devastating effect that Indonesian resource extraction is having on the people of West Papua. It notes the case of the Mooi people, who are one of the 250 indigenous tribes that are having their way of life destroyed due to the deforestation of their lands by timber and palm oil companies.

The oceans off the coasts of West Papua are also being devastated due to nickel mining in the area, which is flooding the bountiful coral reefs with polluted sediment.

It is not only the eco-system of West Papua that is being destroyed. Even though it has been close to 45 years, the Indonesian military is still cracking down severely on people who are part of the Free Western Papua Movement.

Last year, the Free Western Papua Movement’s Facebook published the photo of a dead Papuan named Edward Apaseray, who was reportedly tortured and killed by the Indonesian Special Police Forces for being a “separatist.” The Diplomat, a current affairs magazine for the Asian-Pacific region, published a report in which a recent study noted that in West Papua, an incident of torture occurred every six weeks for the past half-century.

The human rights organization Tapol that monitors human rights abuses in West Papua published the story of Yawan Wayeni. He was a tribal leader and formal political prisoner who was tortured and killed by Indonesian security forces in brutal fashion.

The media have long overlooked the plight of the people of West Papua. It has only recently begun to receive real traction in Western media. The International Parliamentarians for West Papua (IPWP) is a group of politicians around the world who support the right self-determination for the people of West Papua.

One of its members, Benny Wenda, an exile from West Papua, recently had an article published in which he decried the recent statement of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot, who stated that things in West Papua are “better and not worse.”

West Papua is one of the forgotten atrocities of the 21st century; the responsibility making sure that it does not continue to be rests with us and our elected officials. The Arab Spring occurred with the help of Facebook and a determined populace. The plight of West Papua needs the same type of support from those who have the ability to stand up to the Indonesian government.

– Arthur Fuller

Sources: Amnesty International, The Guardian, Tapol,  The Diplomat, The University Of Sydney, Tapol,  CNN, The Guardian, Tempo, Australia News Network
Photo: London Mining Network

By the end of 2014, the United States is expected to have all of its troops withdrawn from Afghanistan after 13 years of occupation. Public opinion in the U.S. heavily favors troops leaving Afghanistan before the proposed deadline. A majority of Americans now believe that the initial occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 was a mistake.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has stressed the importance of pulling out of Afghanistan for years, but now Obama is trying to land a deal with the Afghan Government that will allow several thousand military personnel, Special Forces troops, and CIA members to stay in the country through 2024. Why would the U.S. effectively ‘end the occupation of Afghanistan’ while leaving behind thousands of workers for the next 10 years? There are two possible explanations that could explain why the U.S. is opting to remain in the region and not just let the Afghan government completely take over.

First, the U.S. government fears that if they leave Afghanistan in the same way they left Iraq, the country could lose ground to al-Qaeda. The Iraqi government has already lost two cities that were considered major wins for the U.S. troops during the fighting in 2004, Fallujah and Ramadi. The U.S. pulled out of Iraq before reaching an agreement between both governments that was similar to what they are working on in Afghanistan. Not securing an agreement meant the U.S. had no control over the political development in Iraq. Al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda have since begun gaining more ground in the western Anbar province.

Another reason that could be compelling the U.S. to maintain a presence in the region is because the only Middle Eastern Pentagon base is in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a strategic geopolitical asset for the U.S. It borders Iran, China and Pakistan, so it sits in the center of an area of the world that the U.S has many vested interests. Maintaining top officials in the country can help influence U.S. interests throughout the region.

If the U.S. does not pull all of their officials from the region, there is a possibility of continuing a smaller scale occupation until 2024. On the other hand, if the U.S. completely leaves and al-Qaeda and other military groups regain control of the region, more problems could be created for the U.S. and for citizens of Afghanistan.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: The Telegraph, Global Research
Photo: The Telegraph

Last week, USAID made a sweeping announcement: it has a new overarching development strategy based on human rights and democracy standards. The agency, according to its report, will realign its development priorities to emphasize participatory governance, socio-economic freedom, and the dignity of all people.

The new strategy reflects a broader shift in the global development community away from “symptomatic” metrics, like poverty and mortality rates, toward “radical” metrics, like rights violations and political corruption. Often, lack of freedom and governing power are the most crucial factors that lock people into poverty. Many world leaders, from World Bank chief Jim Yong Kim to US president Barack Obama, have begun turning the world’s attention to these problems as some of the underlying causes of global destitution.

In an effort to address these problems at their deepest, USAID plans to reorganize its efforts around empowering the world’s most marginalized: women, the disabled, ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT, and indigenous populations. The informing theory is that, by extending social, economic, and political inclusion all the way down the social ladder, injustice can be corrected at its root and positive developmental impact will ramify all the way up.

Yet perhaps the most important piece of USAID’s new strategy is not its social strategy, but its political one. Freedom House, in its annual report, calls for a reaction against the decline of global freedom that has continued for almost the past decade. In the wake of the Arab Spring and the dangerous tumult in Egypt, a key ally in the Middle East, the entire machine of US foreign policy has shifted to target the rise of autocracy overseas. USAID is part of a joint-agency effort to combat that movement and advocate for democracy in politically restrictive countries.

USAID’s contribution to that effort, from a development standpoint, is essential. Their report suggests that future projects will capitalize on mobile usage and expanding information networks to democratize public policy. US-led global initiatives, like Make All Voices Count and the Open Government Partnership, are important components of those efforts.

Obama, speaking about changing US policy in Cairo in 2009, made the path forward clear:

“I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas, they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere.”

– John Mahon 

Sources: All AfricaUSAIDFreedom House
Photo: USAID

world povertyThough information is now a button-click or Google search away, most citizens of first world countries tend not to concern themselves with facts and statistics about world poverty. Even the term ‘developing world’ implies that poverty stricken third world and transition countries are part of an entity somehow separate and removed from the ‘developed world’. Here are some poignant and eye-opening facts about world poverty that many first world citizens are not aware of:

1. Approximately 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is defined as living on less than $1.25 a day. In addition to this, around 3 billion people—almost half of the world’s population—live on less than $2.50 a day. While this is technically above the poverty line, it would be impossible an impossible task for most citizens of the developed world. To put this in perspective, poverty is defined in the United States as living on around $30 a day.

2. It would cost approximately $40 billion to offer basic education, clean water and sanitation, reproductive health for women, and basic health and nutrition to every person in every developing country, according to This is less than the U.S. Navy’s newest proposed aircraft carrier production program, which will produce three ships and cost $42 billion.

3. Out of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty. Children growing in poverty often end up stunted and malnourished. 22,000 children die every day due to poverty. The children that survive are forever hindered by their impoverished upbringing, whether from malnutrition, lack of medical treatment, lack of education, or countless other issues.

4. The biggest obstacle to ending world poverty is leadership from the White House and Congress. The US is the first country ever to have both the ability and political influence to end poverty and hunger; all that is needed is more action from the federal government in fighting poverty.

5. CEOs, economists, the business community, and the military all find ending world poverty to be a benefit to their agenda. As citizens of the developing world rise out of poverty and into the middle class, new markets open up for businesses, leading to greater profits. Poverty is also linked to instability and conflict. Military personnel see the importance in addressing world poverty to increase international security.

The developed world has the resources to end world poverty. In addition, it is in the interests of the first world to do so. Citizens of the developed world simply need to use these facts to pressure their government to address world poverty through aid and sustainable development.

– Martin Drake

Sources: Global Issues, The Borgen Project, Bloomberg, IRP
Photo: Needpix

The Military & Global Health

Kate Almquist Knopf, blogging for the Center for Global Development, notes several problems that could result from the Department of Defense (DoD) getting involved in global health. Her main argument states that the DoD’s priority should be to protect U.S. national security. She goes on to say, if providing humanitarian aid and promoting development is in the United States’ national interest, then it should be done by those best-suited to do the job — civilian development experts. She argues that the DoD should instead focus on the value its participation could add to development practice through providing security so that civilian practitioners can do their jobs.

While there is no single DoD “global health budget” line item, a 2012 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates the DoD budget for such activities was more than half a billion dollars in fiscal year (FY) 2012 – at least $579.7 million. In comparison, this estimated funding “floor” ranks higher than the global health budgets for either the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the National Institutes of Health in FY 2012. For FY 2014, the DoD requests $526.6 billion to protect and advance security interests at home and abroad.

Although this substantial amount of money is being funneled through the DoD towards global health efforts, Knopf argues that the DoD is not the ideal leader for global health initiatives. The DoD does its health projects like its military actions – only for the short-term. Additionally, the DoD health-related activities are often not evaluated for effectiveness, defying the accepted principles of development work. These principles understand that a long-term approach with regular evaluation is more sustainable and effective. Yet the agencies that follow these principles, like the USAID and the Department of State, get less funding for global health than does the DoD. In fact, only one percent of the federal budget goes to these two agencies.

When a military group is present, mixed messages are not uncommon. Knopf stresses that the delivery of health services to civilian populations is a civilian role, not a military one. The appropriate time for the military to step in is when there is an extreme emergency like a natural disaster.

Knopf also points out that more needs to be done to get the different agencies to collaborate. The DoD should not act in isolation from USAID and the State Department. Given the vast budget and influence of the DoD, improved coordination with U.S. government civilian partners in global health may promote more effective use of resources and ensure U.S. government efforts in national security and in global health are not contradicting one another. Given the nature of the organization, the DoD’s national security objectives will at times take precedent over the objectives of the global health and development community, hindering progress toward improving health.

– Maria Caluag

Source: Center for Global Development,U.S. Department of Defense,Kaiser Family Foundation
Photo: Weasel Zippers

US Troops Removal Affects Aid in AfghanistanLast week President Obama announced that he plans on bringing home 34,000 troops from Afghanistan within the next year. The presence of American troops in Afghanistan over the past 12 years has served more than just a military purpose, but also a humanitarian one as well.

Despite the corruption and backlash from the Taliban, U.S. soldiers have been successful in creating a much safer community for the Afghan population through constant patrolling on both lands and in the air. They have also provided the necessary institutions to provide health care and educate young girls. However, with the removal of most of the remaining troops, certain experts and members of Congress are worried that the $15 billion aid program for development and aid in Afghanistan will have been a wasted effort.

Because of the United States’ current economic standing, continuing to fund civilian-focused programs in Afghanistan is seen as creating a dependency on American assistance. In order to convince Congress and the President to at least gradually remove U.S. troops and continue to provide a small amount of monetary aid, Anthony H. Cordesman from the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that those in support of aid must quickly plan out their selling points and present a case to Congress that shows social and economic improvements in Afghanistan.

The argument against continuing aid is the belief that after all these years, the Karzai government still remains unaccountable and unable to keep corruption out of its administration. Those in support of aid believe that the Afghan people need more time to adapt if they are to begin independently managing their own affairs.

Over concern for the safety of Afghan women and girls from the Taliban, many senators, both Republican and Democrat, have come together to fully support the continuance of civilian assistance.

The main priority for all is to make sure that the billions of dollars that have been put into rebuilding Afghanistan and the American lives lost in doing so will not go wasted. All sides of the issue also understand that aid can no longer be given at the rate it has been for the past decade.

Reaching a middle ground that can guarantee the safety of Afghans but at the same time encourage them to actively build upwards from the foundations already set seems plausible and will hopefully remain an important concern while troops are being removed.

– Deena Dulgerian

Source: The New York Times