“Leaders have to make crucial choices about the types of power that they use,” said Joseph Nye, former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.
One of the characteristics of leadership is having charisma and the power to attract followers. However, possessing the elements of power is not sufficient for a country to be influential, thus effective strategies must be embraced.
Looking back at the history of powerful countries, powerful military and economic forces used to prevail. However, a new, more attractive and smarter power has emerged lately in this globalization era of technology and information: Soft power, the ability to attract and co-opt, rather than coerce.
According to Nye, the father of soft power, the concept arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals and policies.
A country’s image is vital, affecting its external international relations and contributing to its global diplomacy. Nation branding is involved with image cultivation, promotion and management of soft power. It is about building and managing the reputation of a country in general; a vital instrument to achieve soft power as it reflects how a country forms international opinions. Public and cultural diplomacy, on the other hand, are subdivisions of nation branding; it concentrates on the political brand of a country. However, all contribute to the strength and effectiveness of its soft power.
Globalization has augmented the use of soft power and its tools. It motivated countries worldwide to compete and enhance their profiles to increase investments, tourism, trade, international relations, education, health, and all other factors that contribute to a country’s status and strength.
All the entities of a country should collaborate to improve its soft power and enhance the country’s profile among other countries, thus sending a vibrant message to the world about their history, unique heritage and tradition.
Saudi Arabia’s experience with its soft power and nation branding is highly successful due to its strategy represented by its Vision 2030 and its citizens, who are part of it and living it every day.
The Kingdom is considered the center of the Arab, Islamic and international energy world, with a rich history and culture. Over the years, the country has been using soft power as part of its foreign policy strategy.
Saudi Arabia has proved itself in recent years and used its resources competently. This can be seen with continuing reforms and the multidimensional change Saudi citizens are experiencing at tremendous speed. This is encompassed by the diversified economy, international tourism, women and youth empowerment, entertainment and cultural activities, attracting international students, foreign trade and investment policies, and the list goes on.
To implement soft power in a systematic and harmonized manner, it is recommended that a soft power council or a cross-government committee be established to contribute to clear joint action and coordinates between government and non-government entities and relevant agencies linked directly to the Council of Ministers or the Council of Economic and Development Affairs.
Such a council or committee will help develop a unified strategy and a framework that will consider economy, art, humanities, tourism, media and science to enhance the Kingdom’s reputation and help spread its message to the world. It will also contribute to monitoring and supervising its soft power internationally, and help advance its ranking among other countries.
Ultimately, soft power, represented by nation branding, will draw special attention and accentuate Saudi Arabia’s distinctive culture, traditions and its contributions globally.
The Kingdom already has experience of world-class government branding with the Vision 2030 program. The creation of the Saudi Vision with its three key themes — a vibrant society, thriving economy and an ambitious nation — is a rebranding of its own accord. It is a message to the world to notice this hidden, sparkling jewel that is being rediscovered with its rich geographical location and history, ancient civilization, picturesque scenery, cultural diversity and resources that surpass its reputation as the world’s largest oil reserve.
Truly, Saudi Arabia’s soft power sets a prominent example for other countries to follow.
Dr. May Alobaidy is a strategic expert. She is the first Saudi woman to be appointed an adviser to a minister. She has worked as a senior adviser to three ministers in addition to her role as CEO of the Strategic and International Partnerships and Initiatives Center.