The Importance of Soft Power:
May 3rd marked World Press Freedom Day, during which high ranking UN officials recognized the important roles that freedom of expression, press, and access to information play in the development process:
The United Nations is marking World Press Freedom Day today with an appeal to all States, societies and individuals to actively defend press freedom as a fundamental right and as a critical contribution to achieving and sustaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
This call was made in a joint message by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Irina Bokova, Director-General of UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who said UN bodies are already working together and with other partners under UNESCO’s leadership to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers around the world.
Their message goes on to stress that this year, the international community has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prepare a long-term agenda for sustainable development to succeed the MDGs when they end in 2015.
“Successfully implementing that agenda will require that all populations enjoy the fundamental rights of freedom of opinion and expression, the officials said, underscoring that those rights are essential to democracy, transparency, accountability and the rule of law. “They are vital for human dignity, social progress and inclusive development.”
Also marking the Day, 31 specialists from the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system called on all Governments to promote and protect the rights to freedom of expression and information, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association and public participation.
Protection of these fundamental freedoms is essential for full realization of all human rights for all and for the achievement of related development goals. “States must develop more inclusive political processes and allow the media to play a key role in guaranteeing the right of everyone…to freely access information and engage in meaningful development related discourse.”
The experts, known as Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, comprise the Organization’s largest body of independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
“Without free media to advocate for and monitor the implementation of the new set of post-2015 targets, there can be no real development for all marginalized, vulnerable or discriminated against. Not now, not ever,” declared the experts.
Mr. Ban said that every day of the year, the fundamental freedom to receive and impart ideas through any media is under assault, “to the detriment of us all.” Indeed, journalists are being singled out for speaking or writing uncomfortable truths – kidnapped, detained, beaten and sometimes murdered.
“Such treatment is completely unacceptable in a world ever more reliant on global news outlets and the journalists who serve them,” said the UN chief.
He told the briefing that last year, 70 journalists were killed; many caught in the cross-fire of armed hostilities. Fourteen more have suffered the same fate this year. Also last year, 211 journalists were being held in prison. Some 456 journalist have been forced into exile since 2008. And since 1992, well over 1,000 journalists have been killed – nearly one per week.
As for the post-2015 agenda, he said free media, traditional and new, are indispensable for development. They can promote transparency about the new goals that Member States will adopt – progress as well as shortfalls. “Social media and mobile technologies offer new tools for accelerating citizen participation and economic and social progress,” he said, adding that the media’s watchdog function is essential for holding Governments, businesses and others to account.
Echoing those sentiments, John Ashe, President of the UN General Assembly, said freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental rights that form an essential pillar of democratic societies. “When journalists are able to report freely, they support informed citizen participation in political and social processes and promote civic engagement,” he added.
The Limits of Soft Power:
Access to information can combat corruption, fuel populism, and give a voice to the voiceless; the role press freedom in sustainable human development cannot be understated.
However, as much as it pains me to admit it, there are limitations to what “soft power” can achieve. A free press essentially acts as a “spotlight” on abuses of power and social injustices. There are forces that are directly opposed to “Westernization” or “Modernization”; against such forces, shining a “spotlight” is almost entirely ineffective.
An example of such targeted violence is currently playing out in Nigeria, where Boko Haram terrorists (loosely translated to “Western education is a sin”) last month kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls:
These girls, ages 15 to 18 and Christians and Muslims alike, knew the risks of seeking an education, and schools in the area had closed in March for fear of terror attacks. But this school had reopened so that the girls — the stars of their families and villages — could take their final exams. They were expected to move on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers.
Instead, they reportedly are being auctioned off for $12 each to become “wives” of militants. About 50 girls escaped, but the police say that 276 are still missing — and the Nigerian government has done next to nothing to recover the girls.
“We are now asking for world power countries to intervene,” the desperate father of a missing 18-year-old girl, Ayesha, told me by phone. He said that the parents had given up on Nigerian government officials — “they are just saying lies” — and pleaded for international pressure on Nigeria to rescue the girls.
If the girls aren’t rescued, “no parent will allow their female child to go to school,” Hadiza Bala Usman, who has led protests in Nigeria on behalf of the missing girls, warned in a telephone interview.
The best tool to fight extremism is education, especially of girls — and that means ensuring that it is safe to study. The greatest threat to militancy in the long run comes not from drones but from girls with schoolbooks.
More than 200 teenage girls have just been enslaved because they had the brains and guts to seek to become teachers or doctors. They deserve a serious international effort to rescue them.
According to Modernization theory, democratization and other rights based movements are the result of civil society initiatives, which occur when large portions of society become empowered via human capital investment. If people believe they will become targets for embracing “Western” ideals, and that they will not be protected, they will be less inclined to invest in their futures, stymieing modernization efforts.
To be clear, the sort of security that enables human capital investment comes from police forces, peacekeepers, and armies that are accountable to their people, not by international forces dropping bombs / drone strikes, which actually fuels radical sentiments.
Synergy Between Soft and Hard Power:
In the field of poverty reduction / economic development, it has long been recognized that peace and security are necessary preconditions for sustainable human development. As advances in information and communication technology and improvements in good governance theories shift the focus towards “soft power”, we must not forget the important role that basic security plays in sustainable human development. This is not an either or issue, but a question of finding the right balance between these two synergistic forms of assistance.
While national governments are the primary human rights duty bearers, in the developing world many governments lack the capacity to provide even basic security / public goods. The international community must compliment “good governance” via both “hard” and “soft” support.
Third World Injustices Result In First World Problems:
When discussing injustices in the developing world, people often say (with varying degrees of indifference) “why should I care?”. If the moral / ethical reasons do not get you, there are “selfish” reasons to promote sustainable human development.
Essentially, sustainable human development it is the only way to reverse trade imbalances and the flow of jobs being outsourced to the developing world. Maybe you do not care about people in other countries, but you probably care about having a job and the general state of your countries economy.
If the “Great Recession” has tough us anything, its that we cannot financially innovate our way to prosperity in an increasingly divergent global economy–it does not work for 99% of us even in the developed world! Only through partial global economic convergence can the majority of people in the developed world hope for “a better future”.
In a blog a few months ago, I ran into an interesting study called “I’m The Guy You Pay Later“; written by law enforcement officials, it argues that money not invested in early childhood education ends up being spent on the back-end on criminal justice expenditures. I can’t help but recognize similarities in the debate over official development assistance (ODA); we can support “good governance” now, or pay the prices later (unsustainable levels of military spending / related underinvestment in other aspects of our economy, the decline of living-wage jobs / high unemployment, etc.).
Another argument against ODA is that it is never effective–this is simply not true. ODA (both “soft” and “hard”), when complimenting “good governance” domestic resource mobilization in the developing world (natural resource revenue accountability, stemming illicit financial outflows, tax system reforms) can help finance the various programs (at all levels; global, regional, national, state, local) the vast majority of people in both the developed and developing worlds need.