Soft power is a country´s ability to persuade others to do what it wants without relying on force or coercion in achieving its strategic policy goals. The topic has risen significantly in importance in recent years, yet it remains understudied empirically and is rarely monitored systematically across countries. Whereas hard power refers to a country´s military capacity, and sharp power to distracting and manipulating others, soft power is based on attraction and allegiance created by a country’s values, policies, and performance. However, boundaries are fuzzy, and the three types of power offer a wide spectrum of options and tools -- ranging from military arsenals and economic sanctions to cultural diplomacy – for yielding a strategic and skilful combination of various forms of diplomacy with projections of coercive capacities.

What is the role of soft power given changing geopolitics among major powers and the divergent global scenarios emerging? What are the limitations and potentials of soft power, especially in combination with hard and sharp power options? The Centre for International Security will monitor and analyse soft power approaches in terms of narratives, strategies, goals, programs, and activities across a wide range of countries. It will focus on the main policy field of soft power diplomacy, including arts and culture, language, education, science and research, and media and communication.

Research Area I: ECP Monitor

The increasing number of countries with explicit soft power approaches, together with a more competitive geopolitical climate, introduces a greater need for more comprehensive, systematic, and up-to-date information on soft power. Unfortunately, current data systems have not kept up with these needs. There are major gaps in coverage across fields and countries, and serious issues of comparability remain. As a result, policymakers, analysts, and practitioners alike face an incomplete evidence base, which limits the understanding of soft power’s potential and limitations and hinders effective policymaking.

The purpose of the ECP (External Cultural Policy) Monitor is to fill these glaring data gaps. The Monitor, once fully developed, will support policymakers in the conception, planning, implementation, and evaluation of soft power strategies, while all the while keeping comparative and long-term perspectives in mind. It will also serve the data needs of researchers interested in the comparative analysis of soft power, its relationship with other forms of power, and its role in international affairs more broadly. 

Research Area II: Soft Power Scenarios for an Unsettled World

This foresight project focuses on a key question for future German foreign policy: Given changing geopolitics among major powers and divergent global scenarios for foreign affairs, what are possible future soft power approaches in terms of narratives, strategies, goals, programs, and activities? To address this question, the project puts Germany in a comparative international relations framework that considers the geopolitics, soft power approaches, and external cultural policies of the European Union, the United States of America, the United Kingdom, the Russian Federation, the People´s Republic of China, and the Republic of India. The time frame for these future scenarios is the year 2030, covering actual and potential developments as well as events from 2022 onward.

Launch event: Germany's soft power 2030: Scenarios for an unsettled world