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