Soft power: the arts of diplomacy (from the archives)

Cultural diplomacy helps advance Australian influence and fund global arts engagement but also puts political pressure on artists.

In the late 1980s, and in a series of subsequent publications, US political scientist Joseph Nye articulated the ability of nation-states to win allies and gain influence by non-violent means instead of through military force and economic might. What he called ‘soft power’ – the ability to co-opt people rather than coerce them – has today become the common practice of governments everywhere, as well as NGOs and other organisations.

To quote Nye’s 2011 book The Future of Power, a nation’s ‘political values (when it lives up to them at home and abroad), and its foreign policies (when others see them as legitimate and having moral authority)’ are two of the three main platforms through which soft power is expressed. The third – and perhaps the most insidious – is through art and culture.

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Richard Watts is ArtsHub's National Performing Arts Editor; he also presents the weekly program SmartArts on Three Triple R FM, and serves as the Chair of La Mama Theatre's volunteer Committee of Management. Richard is a life member of the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, and was awarded the status of Melbourne Fringe Living Legend in 2017. In 2020 he was awarded the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards' Facilitator's Prize. Most recently, Richard was presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Green Room Awards Association in June 2021. Follow him on Twitter: @richardthewatts