Christian Long

Shashi Tharoor: Why Nations Should Pursue “Soft” Power

In TED Talks on May 10, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Reflection by MIKE N.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Shashi Tharoor:  Why Nations Should Pursue “Soft” Power

Shashi Tharoor is an Indian politician and government minister. He starts of his talk by stating that he has become concerned about the hype that he is hearing about his country – all the talk about India becoming a world leader, or even a superpower. He, however, doesn’t think that’s what India’s all about.

Tharoor goes on to define what world leadership is. He gives statistics of population, military strength, nuclear capacity, and economic size. All of these statistics show that India is growing, and fast.

What I personally like about Tharoor is that he is not bragging about these statistics. In fact, he says that none of these statistics, to him, add up to what India can really aim to contribute to the world.

He believes that all of these factors must be allied with something else – soft power. ‘Soft power’, Tharoor explains, is the power of example and the attraction of India’s culture. It is a concept invented by a friend of Tharoor, a Harvard academic, Joseph Nye. Nye defines soft power as the “ability of a country to attract others because of its culture, its political values, and its foreign policies.”

To me, this is probably up there with the top five ideas I have heard about from the TEDTalks. In the current state of the world, my interpretation of soft power almost seems a novel concept: to be powerful, countries have to peacefully compete with each other to attract others – instead of fighting and conquering.

Tharoor continues, giving examples of how different countries have used soft power. The most humorous, in my opinion, are the three companies/industries that he believes have done more for American soft power around the world than any government activity:

• Hollywood
• McDonalds

What I first read this, I laughed out loud. But then I began to think more about it, and I realized how true this actually is.

Hollywood produces television programs and films that represent our culture, and sometimes our political values, that are seen around the world. This is a huge use of soft power, for we are able to attract anyone in the world with a television.

McDonald’s also has a huge part in attracting others to American culture – however fattening it may be. According to, McDonald’s operates in more than 119 countries and six continents. I knew McDonald’s was worldwide, but this is far more than I expected. McDonald’s plays a part in spreading American culture throughout the entire world, but I would guess that whether or not this has a negative or positive result is up for debate….

Tharoor concludes by recognizing that while India has been pursuing ‘soft power’, it still has problems that is faces – mainly poverty. He understands that India cannot be both super poor and a super power. They still have to develop ports, roads, airports, huma capital, to ability for an ordinary person in indue to have enough meals each day, and to be able to send their children to a decent school. Indians need to aspire to work a job that will give them opportunities in their lives that can transform themselves.

Shashi Tharoor does not pretend these problems don’t exist – but they are conquering them. This is all taking place in an open society. India is determined to liberate and fulfill the creative energies of its people.

I believe that soft power will become the deciding factor of which nations will be super powers, and that in my generation’s lifetime lifetime, we will see soft power rise above the current means of gaining power – warfare and economic influence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: