Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Soft Kind of Power

Sometimes, obviously, the United States can piss me off. It’s a great country, don’t get me wrong, but it makes mistakes. One of its biggest fallacies is its desire to transform states into democracies. The Democratic Peace Theory states that democracies do not go to war with each other. If every state was a liberal democracy, war could be abolished and, ideally, peace would reign. Of course, there are many factors that try to define if a state is a democracy, if other states perceive it as democratic, and what exactly the definition of war is. Nevertheless, empirical evidence has shown that liberal democracies tend to live peacefully. (Unless, of course, you count World War II, in which Hitler was elected democratically, but it can be argued that immediately afterwards, it’s liberal values were completely demolished)
That was a little off topic, but what I’m trying to get at is that in order to promote peace, the United States supports liberal values, especially free markets. In order to create such democracies in typically non-democratic regimes, however, the United States has had to use force at times. If you look at the War in Iraq (I’ll try to be objective) the US has used force to stop Saddam Hussein’s regime and establish a democracy within a previous dictatorship. Regardless of the horrors that Hussein committed, and the fact that we originally lied about our intent, it needs to be questioned whether or not it was a democratic to try and enforce democracy. The force that was used to establish a pseudo-democracy in Iraq was hard power, and though it had its benefits, mainly quick action, it also involves the death of US soldiers and innocent Iraqis. Furthermore, the war continues with no end in sight.
Soft power is a lot more appealing to me. It gives people the resources and the information to choose their own destiny. Rather than directly interfering with the affairs of a foreign state, you can provide information and education, which may end in peaceful regime changes from the bottom up. RadioFreeEurope RadioLiberty, or RFE/RL, is one such organization that uses soft power to give societies the ability to embrace liberal values. RFE originally was established during the Cold War to provide states within the Soviet Bloc objective information about not only domestic affairs, but also international news. Broadcasting from Germany, it acted as a way to allow individuals who would like to hear equal and fair news the ability to find information that they could trust was not being filtered by the government. Although success of such soft power is hard to determine, it could have had an effect on the dissolution of the Soviet Bloc.
After 1989 and the transition to democracy in the ex-Soviet countries, RFE needed to find a new purpose; funded by the United States, some Senators wanted to use tax dollars elsewhere while others looked to extend its purpose to other arenas. RadioLiberty was created, and it continues to be broadcast in states that suffer from totalitarian regimes. To save money, the station was moved to Prague, and we were lucky to tour the site on Tuesday. The organization completely fascinates me. I’ve always had somewhat distrust in enforcing one’s ideologies upon another, but providing factual information, particularly domestic news, can create a bottom up change in repressive institutions. Of course, it has its difficulties. It can be hard to get a radio signal into a country whose dictator does not necessarily want such information being broadcasted. It does seem to have some success. I know I sound kind of like a poster boy, but if you want to read more about the organization, its website is Maybe I can get an internship there...

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