On a recent Saturday, 12th of March to be exact, at 22:30, while I was having dinner with some friends at one of London’s central hotels, a revealing insight hit me: Kuwait is one of the masters of soft power in the Middle East. As I was having dinner with two Emiratis, two non- Kuwaiti Arabs were having dinner at a table beside ours; the two non-Kuwaiti Arabs were stuck to one phone watching the second episode of “Swar Shuaib,” Kuwait’s Shuaib Rashed’s popular talk show. Later that night, after returning back to the apartment, I rethought my insight – and will elaborate on it further throughout the article. What is soft power? Where does Kuwait stand on the global soft power scale? Are we really long-term influencers or just temporary masters of that persuasive instrument? Those are the central questions that this article will deal with; the article will, after examining those central questions, conclude with emphasizing a need to develop a new foreign policy strategy.
Professor Joseph S Nye of Harvard University, the scholar who termed not only “soft power” but also, in 2004, “smart power,” the latter refers to the simultaneous usage of both forms of power, “soft” and “hard,” defines the former form of power as the power of nonviolent, unforceful persuasion. That is, the power to persuade through being attractive – and being attractive on a personal level, former American Secretary of State Henry A Kissinger played this pretty well, as well as on a state level is beneficial. Now, it is important for us to answer two essential questions: How does one state become attractive and why is being attractive beneficial?
The second question, though I perhaps will not elaborate on the two questions as deep as I would want, is more straightforward than the first. Being attractive increases the likelihood of one state to win the “hearts and minds” of certain peoples. Simply put, states could better pursue certain policies in – socially, at least – acceptable environments. To answer the first question, I will propose a series of questions: Why did the people of the Occident, or the West, have a preconceived understanding of how the Orient, or the East, the non-West, act and interact? How do people in the Middle East today view America – why do some Kuwaitis like the United States while other Syrians, or Saudis, or Yemenis dislike America that hosts Hollywood, Silicon Valley, ‘the American dream’ and Donald Trump? Why did Indian foreign minister Jaswant Singh, unprecedented before, according to the Times of India in 2005, distribute vast amounts of Bollywood films and music tapes to innumerable Afghanis in Kabul after the downfall of the Taliban in 2001? Why is China well respected in certain parts of Africa? Answering those questions will help you answer the primary question set above. Power, as Professor Nye defines it, is the ability to affect others to get what you want.
While doing secondary research on Bahrain’s respectful Kanoo family, I came across a talk by Mishal Kanoo that took place at the Centre for Leadership Performance in April 2012. Good power, Mishal Kanoo noted, is “leadership through persuasion without force.” Proponents of “soft power” could not agree more. Kuwait should develop a new foreign policy strategy that takes advantage of the vibrancy of the Kuwaiti civil society to tactically compliment the shifting Middle Eastern region while gradually and smartly strengthening its regional role.
By Bader Al-Dehani