National Newswatch
National Opinion Centre

With “hard” power clearly in a resurgent mode, it’s time to focus more on “soft” power and the advantages it holds in balancing off some of the more frightening aspects of human nature.

Fortunately, there are lots of resources to assist us, chief of which is the recently released The Soft Power 30 – an intriguing global ranking of Soft Power and those nations that attempt to use it. The rankings aren’t as vital to the research that went into them but they nevertheless are important, even ironic. Here are the top 10: France (1), United Kingdom (2), United States (3), Germany (4), Canada (5), Japan (6), Switzerland (7), Australia (8), Sweden (9) and the Netherlands (10).

Canada’s position in the top 5 shouldn’t be construed as some love affair with the Trudeau government. The ranking is based on exceptionally strong research that not only comprehends the stability and dexterity of our nation but its greater impact on the world at large.

The ironic component is the inclusion in the top 10 of countries like the United Kingdom and, especially, the U.S. – both are usually viewed primarily for their military might and global reach. It was 27 years ago that Professor Joseph Nye coined the phrase “soft power” and it has remained in the global lexicon ever since. Nye continually attested to the need for America to enhance its “soft” advantage in order to compensate for the overemphasis on its military capabilities and unmatched influence over global affairs. Indeed, when we peer deeper into America’s potential for soft power, we see that it is massive in scope and well resourced for a positive approach to international relations in terms of both economics and culture. The same holds true for the UK, so it’s only proper that they continue to matter when we speak of soft power.

America will never be able to escape its image of global dominance regardless of how much of its soft power it chooses to enhance. But with sabre rattling currently escalating around the globe, we are entering a new shadowed and troubling era somewhat reminiscent of the early Cold War period in the 1950s and 1960s. It is indeed alarming to witness exertion of raw political and military power in places like Russia, the U.S., China, North Korea, Syria, numerous African nations, and even Venezuela. The hard days are back and with them a rise in insecurity among the collective peoples of the earth.

All of which makes an emphasis on soft power all the more necessary and welcome. In future posts, we’ll look into how soft power works, especially its diplomatic and cultural elements. But before that, we have to consider what has happened to power itself – how it has changed and how it might affect the international community.

For those of us in the West, it’s becoming increasingly clear that traditional power, as we have known it, doesn’t carry the cachet it used to. Power and money are shifting from West to East, from governments to citizens, from corporate titans to agile start-ups, from men to women, from state to non-state actors, from government incentives to NGOs, and from military machines to off-the-grid terrorist and paramilitary organizations.

All this means that power is slipping away from those that once prided themselves on their secure hold of it. In a word, it is being “democratized” – from the few to the many. At the same time, it is being redefined, and this is where Canada’s importance comes in. As militarily and economically mighty as nations like America or the UK may be, it is becoming clear that they are nations divided – over Brexit, immigration, refugees, isolationism, free trade, even political brands.

As these nations are distracted by change at every level, other players, who have achieved a certain amount of domestic sustainability, economic vitality, and global influence, are watching their credibility rise. Canada is clearly one of those nations, and stands ready to fill in some of the vacuum created by the preoccupations of the larger military and economic players. We’re not talking about merely capturing media attention or even a Security Council seat here; this is about cultural, economic, civic, diplomatic, tech savvy, gender and diversity advantages that have obvious credence in a world desperate for such things at street level.

This country’s importance is on the rise, not through wishful thinking or global celebrity. Instead, it is the clear actions of Canadian citizens, companies, and communities and our diverse culture that will transcend our politics and provide us our way forward.

Glen Pearson was a career professional firefighter and is a former Member of Parliament from southwestern Ontario.  He and his wife adopted three children from South Sudan and reside in London, Ontario.  He has been the co-director of the London Food Bank for 29 years.  He writes regularly for the London Free Press and also shares his views on a blog entitled “The Parallel Parliament“.   Follow him on twitter @GlenPearson.
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