The UN Sustainable Development Agenda and Its Relationship with Soft Power
Soft power, a phrase coined by Joseph Nye, is at the center of debates surrounding foreign aid and assistance. In Nye’s 1990 journal article titled “Soft Power,” Nye describes the strong shift in global powers.

The Shift to Soft Power

As the world grows more interdependent, there is a decline in the practicality of hard power — military might as a form of international governance and conquest. In our technologically advanced era, the strength of power no longer solely lies with resources, land and power of military, but rather in a nation’s soft power. Soft power can refer to a multitude of actions, and can be defined by multiple factors:

  • Technology
  • Education
  • Economic Growth
  • Cultural Ideology

The extent to which a nation can control the global political environment, the cultural standing and domestic relations with other nations, and identify common goals and standards, all work to strengthen soft power.

Soft power must be developed over years, and in many instances, may be like walking a tight rope as nations compromise and work to maintain positive diplomatic relations along the way.

In a technologically advanced time where we move toward a global economy, hard power is becoming more expensive as it works to decrease the legitimacy of a nation’s leadership and can undermine its control over other nations in the global sphere. If other countries admire the values, culture and prosperity of a powerful nation, that nation can use soft power to co-opt rather than coerce compliance.

The U.N.’s Response: 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda

The United Nations (U.N.) was formed in 1945 when 50 countries met in San Francisco to create the United Nations’ Charter. Since their first meeting, nearly 200 countries are now member states of this esteemed organization.

In late 2015, the U.N. convened at the General Assembly for the 70th session; here the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was introduced. The “Preamble to the Agenda” outlines the resolve to promote prosperity and peace across the planet, ending the “tyranny of poverty” with a desire to “heal” the planet.

Sustainable development is the idea of developing and progressing forward, without damaging the future potential for progress, prosperity and growth. With this agenda, the U.N. and its 193 member countries agreed to the three core elements of sustainable development:

  1. Economic growth
  2. Social Inclusion/Equality
  3. Environmental Protection

All three of these goals are interconnected with one another and cannot succeed without the other. These core elements contribute to the development of soft power as it works to strengthen the U.N.’s standing in the global sphere and promote global peace.

The Relationship to Soft Power

Furthermore, the eradication of poverty is stated as necessary for the growth and prosperity of nations and is ranked number one out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, there are five areas of critical importance on the U.N. Sustainable Development Agenda:

  1. People: desire to end world hunger and poverty with an emphasis on equality.
  2. Planet: sustainable management of resources supporting the needs of present and future generations.
  3. Prosperity: desire for all people to enjoy prosperous lives where progress can occur in harmony with the environment.
  4. Peace: hard power loses its place as the U.N. fosters peaceful societies. They make it clear: no peace, no sustainable development. No sustainable development, no peace.
  5. Partnership: highlights the importance of the interlinkages and solidarity between nations. Through common goals for peace and prosperity these goals can be reached.

The Fight for SDGs

The focus of the U.N. and its 193-member states to co-opt other nations into common goals is the epitome of soft power. This peaceful but necessary force will work in the U.N.’s favor to ensure the U.N. achieves its 2030 Agenda, pushing for a more prosperous and peaceful world where all of humanity is seen and treated as equals.

– Kelilani Johnson

Photo: Flickr

Hurdling Over Causes of Poverty in PalauPalau is an island country located in the west Pacific Ocean. The country has attempted to circumvent the common causes of poverty in Palau by bringing the United States on board with its economic policies.

In the immediate aftermath of World War II, the United Nations assigned the U.S. the task of administering authority in a few Pacific islands, including Palau. The U.S. helped Palau by building roads, hospitals and schools and eventually extending eligibility for U.S. federal programs. Palau flourished and obtained independence in 1994. As a sovereign nation, Palau makes its own decisions about its economy.

A Helping Hand
As of 2008, the U.S. hoped to influence Palau’s economy for the better, keeping economic-related causes of poverty in Palau at bay. The U.S. continued to give millions to Palau’s economy, especially through federal programs. The U.S. also made sure to assist private sector growth in Palau. The U.S. economic support in Palau is essential to ensure Palau’s financial system, labor and commercial sectors are thriving. If these vital sectors collapsed, the general population would face poverty because the country would experience a great drain of economic power.

Between 1995 and 2009, the U.S. gave approximately $852 million to Palau to help the island become a self-sufficient economy.

Does the Aid Help?
While Palau businesses’ financial coffers are seemingly robust due to U.S. aid, there are disproportionate sectors of the population that continue to face common causes of poverty. For example, since Palau is an island, some of its population earns a living through fishing.

Fishing is an accessible way to earn a living to keep poverty at bay. However, almost a third of the fish stocks in the world are overfished or overused. Trade barriers also prevent local fishermen and producers from meeting the high standards that international markets demand. Overfishing causes damage to nature and to the cycle of life. In turn, fishermen may be damaging their financial futures.

Fortunately, Palau noted that fishing would help erode poverty in its more remote areas. The government of Palau started a shark sanctuary. The idea behind the sanctuary was to encourage conversation about conservation and to draw a higher number of tourists to boost the local economy.

Tourism is a leading economic contributor to revenue in Palau. There was a dramatic increase in visitors from relatively nearby China. In 2016, Palau hosted over 138,000 tourists—not only from China, but around the world. Now, Palau plans on preserving its natural beauty, including its fisheries, to continue to benefit from this revenue.

By having the U.S. support its economic endeavors and establishing its own industries, Palau is ensuring that it has a sound plan to effectively combat any remaining causes of poverty in Palau.

Smriti Krishnan

Photo: Flickr

Foreign Aid

Foreign aid is a topic that stirs controversy, with each side maintaining significant weight in their argument.

“You know the excuses: We can’t afford foreign aid anymore, or we’re wasting money pouring it into these poor countries, or we can’t buy friends—other countries just take the money and dislike us for giving it. Well, all these excuses are just that, excuses—and they’re dead wrong,” Ronald Reagan said in 1987.

The United States’ stance on foreign aid changes with each administration. The phrase, “you are damned if you do, you are damned if you don’t” comes to mind.

Foreign aid has been categorized as “soft power” since the late 1980s. “Soft power” is the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. Joseph Nye coined the phrase, arguing that security relies on winning people as much as winning wars.

Since the 1980s, soft power has become central in U.S. foreign policy practices. Is foreign aid a tool in the soft power toolbox?

Nye believes aid is purchasing power, not soft power. Despite the nuances of whether aid is categorized as purchasing power or soft power, foreign aid is important for the United States to achieve interests abroad.

According to Phil Vernon, “currency of soft power is values, institutions, culture and policy, then soft power is exercised by the choices you make and the actions you take, not by what you say.” If this is true, aid should be accompanied by anti-corruption monitoring organizations, tools of economic sustainability and keys of independence. The goal is not to have a country depending on the United States, but to provide the tools for a state to become independent.

If the United States does not ensure and monitor the aid given, corruption will prevent the money from reaching the population in need. Monitoring programs are even more vital than aid itself. Corruption is the kryptonite to foreign aid.

According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the more corrupt the government is, the more aid the state receives. There is no evidence that an increase in foreign aid reduces corruption.

Currently, corruption is not being punished. This lack of acknowledgment is only encouraging governments to abuse international funds. If corruption is reflected in next year’s funding, people will suffer. If the population suffers on the government’s behalf, this is motivation for the population to vote in order to correct the situation. Thus, reducing corruption will be imminent.

Despite the controversies and arguments surrounding international aid, it is important to remember that giving aid to corrupt governments is not giving aid to the people. Corrupt governments must be punished in some way in order to reduce international corruption. Corruption is the kryptonite to U.S. foreign policy success. U.S. interests must be maintained, and aid is a tool in the toolbox for doing just that.

Danielle Preskitt

Photo: Flickr

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

What Homeland Security Is
Homeland Security is often misperceived as a constant battle with bad guys and making sure the enemy does not harm the nation. While Homeland Security does work to protect against terrorism, its goals are even broader.

As defined by the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, the department works to guarantee “a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards.” By ensuring security in all areas of life, resilience against harm and safety through customs and exchange, Homeland Security can protect the nation from various versions of injury.

The Department of Homeland Security describes its goals as follows:

  1. Prevent terrorism and enhance security
  2. Secure and manage our borders
  3. Enforce and administer our immigration laws
  4. Safeguard and secure cyberspace
  5. Ensure resilience to disaster

The branches of Homeland Security frequently work with the public to ensure safety from occupational hazards, disasters and threats to cyber-harm and terrorism.

One tactic used as an advantage in Homeland Security is “soft power.” Soft power is the ability to persuade others that they want the same end goal as yourself without the use of force or violence. The term can also mean altering the general public’s opinion, usually through non-transparent ways.

Most large nations have a strong Homeland Security department to protect their citizens. Though the U.S. official department was formally created in 2002, the presence of the United States in other countries had been felt long beforehand.

During World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt used a great deal of soft power with his Four Freedoms to convince Americans and those around the world to support his efforts. Although the Four Freedoms were morally high in stature, it allowed him to persuade others that they wanted the same as him and the United States.

Soft power has been used plenty of other times throughout American history, but it has also been seen around the world. For example, Pope John Paul II made a trip to Poland in 1979 and, according to Homeland Security Today, “influenced events against Poland’s Communist regime, the Soviet Empire, and ultimately Communism.”

The influence strong nations have through soft power on global issues, including poverty, can be life-changing. Supporting acts and initiatives to reduce poverty around the globe can create leverage over other countries that are less sure about helping the world’s poor.

Although these strong nations have the power to push efforts through, reasons to better their own positions are usually included. By reducing poverty around the world, threatening terrorist actions can be reduced.

A majority of terrorists resort to joining terrorist groups in order to provide for their families. When groups such as ISIS offer exceedingly high pensions, it is hard for struggling families in poverty-stricken countries to decline the offer.

By improving the widespread poverty situation around the world, the globe becomes a safer home for those living in all countries.

– Katherine Wyant

Sources: Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Today
Photo: Climate and Security

Many people view foreign aid programs as acts of charity. However, through “soft power” and preventative measures, international assistance can play an important role in national security as well.

Poverty Reduction as Soft Power

Influential political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term “soft power” in 1990 to describe the ability of one nation to influence another without resorting to force. It’s the alternative to “hard power,” which includes military force and economic sanctions.

Cultural influence and moral authority are important aspects of soft power. When a country is seen as being morally upstanding by the world community, it achieves greater influence. For instance, if a country is strongly democratic, it can influence others by promoting democracy abroad.

In a similar way, soft power can improve national security. In a world that is increasingly democratic and interconnected, national reputation has grown in importance. Through soft power, a country can seek to influence world opinion to prevent acts of aggression or terrorism.

Foreign assistance is an important tool to improve national reputation. When a country takes the lead in humanitarian relief or international development, it improves its standing and influence. It makes cooperation more likely and conflict less so.

Poverty Reduction as a Preventative Measure

It’s no secret that violent extremism tends to flourish in desperate places. Poverty grinds down civil society and weakens government institutions. Without strong governance, many people turn to armed rebel groups for services. For instance, during the civil wars in Afghanistan, many turned to extremist schools for education and to the Taliban for protection.

The U.S. Department of Defense has long recognized this reality. Robert Gates, former defense secretary, viewed international development as a way to prevent conflicts from starting.

“The way you do that is through development. Development creates stability, it contributes to better governance,” Gates said in 2010. “If you are able to do those things, if you are able to do it in a focused and sustainable way, then it may be unnecessary to send soldiers.”

Global poverty causes conflict and perpetuates it. While the United States has the strongest military in the world, it can only react to dangers as they arise. Increased spending for foreign assistance would improve national security by reducing the likelihood of conflict and unrest.

That’s a sentiment that President Obama agrees with as well. In a recent interview with, the president conveyed his view of foreign aid as a “tool in our national security portfolio, as opposed to charity.” The president proposed strategic investments in key countries to reduce the need to deploy the U.S. military abroad. “We would be in a better position,” he stated, “to work with other countries to stamp out violent extremism.”

– Kevin McLaughlin

Sources: Department of Defense, Foreign Affairs,
Photo: Flickr

United States Global Leadership Coalition
On the heels of President Obama’s trip to Africa, the United States Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC) gathered to unveil their 2013 campaign, “Innovations in Smart Power.” Composed of authorities from both the public and private sectors, the conference rested on one key theme: the idea that through mutual cooperation, smart policymaking, and dedication, we have the power to reduce global poverty to below 3% of the global population.

In doing so, the coalition argues, we can create a framework to yield an unprecedented return on investments. In turn, national security and peace will become more attainable than ever before. In essence, everyone wins.

The USGLC is a Washington D.C. based organization representing over 400 American businesses, NGOs, diplomats, government and military advisors, and policymakers. Through mutual cooperation, the USGLC hopes to foster an environment of American global leadership through “strategic investment in development and diplomacy.”

Over the course of the two-day conference, a vibrant spectrum of global leaders heralded the efficacy of government/public sector cooperation. Microsoft’s/USAID’s partnership, 4Afrika, aims to equip underprivileged Africans with mobile phones and provides a crucial communications service while simultaneously creating a foundation for an emerging market. Similarly, Merck’s partnership with Mectizan Donation Program is working to effectively rid the world of onchocerciasis, more commonly referred to as “river-blindness.”

Cooperation on such a level has been described by World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, as a shift in the global business ethos to “do good” while “doing well.” And with developing countries expected to grow at a rate of up to three times faster than developed nations, there is a clear indication that investment in the developing world could greatly benefit the private sector.

To this point, Unites States Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew argued the unique position we, as the United States, occupy in battling global poverty in a practical sense. Through engagement and utilization of “Smart power,” we can spearhead a culture of mutual cooperation between public, private, and NGO entities in the pursuit of global development and poverty reduction.

When Lew speaks of “Smart Power,” he is referencing what is commonly referred to by International Relations academics as “Soft Power.” Coined by Joseph Nye, Dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Soft Power is “the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion.” Rather than defeating the enemy through military might, he argues, we win their hearts and minds through building schools and hospitals.

As a nation with unparalleled economic and military power, Lew argues Smart Power is a vital yet underutilized arrow in our national quiver. “It can’t just be about doing good. It is about doing good to help end poverty and improve the quality of life, but it is also very practical.” Lew continues, “from the government perspective, it is about security because we are safer in a world where we have stability and they aren’t starving.”

“The two [smart and hard power] together,” Lew says, “give us an enormously enhanced ability to make the world a safer and better place.” Bearing this in mind, it is important to emphasize that the percentage of our national budget allocated to International and Foreign Affairs, is roughly 1%. At the same time, however, defense spending eats up roughly 15% of the budget.

What the USGLC hopes to convey, in the end, is there rests far more opportunity in a world where there are peace and prosperity. Through encouraging peace through peaceful means, we are not only expressing goodwill, but we are also renovating the foundation on which society sits.

– Thomas van der List

Sources: Mectizan, USGLC, YouTube, UCLA, USGLC
Photo: US General Services Administration