Term coined by Harvard University academic Joseph Nye Sr. to describe the intangible values and moral currency a country possesses that allows it to influence others on the world stage, and add legitimacy to its actions. It what makes a country a model for emulation, and/or a target of hate. Hard Power conversely is a calculus of the military and economic might a country has at its disposal to coerce other actors.

People may confuse 'soft power' with 'cultural influence'. It does not have anything to do with the number of Oscar winning films or software patents a country produces because it possesses a favourable cultural and political environment, but rather how the country is regarded by the rest of the world on the basis of its actions and omissions. However, by writing and disseminating your cultural products to other lands, you are also exporting your values, which may serve as a yardstick to measure moral superiority to your advantage. Look at German propaganda in World War Two, and notice how clumsy they were at demonising the arsenel of democracy, jazz and Mickey Mouse.

Nye cited Canada, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries as states with considerable soft power clout - their foreign aid and immigration programmes are probably the major factors for their kudos. Yet soft power is also evident in non-Western, developing countries - India for its democratic and humanistic values and the East Asian tiger economies for their track record in achievement.

Soft power has been criticised for attempting to measure a subjective and fickle concept, which ultimately is highly relative to the values of your focus group. Japan is a major foreign aid donor but the Japanese eat whales. Cuba is chic but has a dismal human rights record. The Arab world loved France for standing up against Israel and the United States, until Muslim schoolgirls were barred from attending school in hijabs.

Nye first used the phrase in the March 1990 edition of the The Atlantic to refute the notion that the United States was in decline. Remember the cover picture on Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers of a podium, once occupied by John Bull, but which now is being occupied by a Japanese sarariman at the expense of a downcast Uncle Sam ? How quaintly anachronistic.