The news that HRH Prince George of Cambridge has been born is on the one hand an unlikely subject for a defence related blog. But, to Humphrey this happy news is perhaps more telling as a sign of the importance of ‘soft power’ and the extent to which the UK and its Royal Family can still exert a surprising level of influence to this day.
Soft power is something which is extremely difficult to understand or perhaps place a value on – an ORBAT can easily show what a nation can do militarily, while a GDP statistic shows a nations theoretical economic power. Soft power on the other hand is intangible – it is something which helps a nation, influences on behalf of a nation, but perhaps cannot be quantified.
It is very difficult to imagine the birth of the first born son of the first born son of the heir to the throne of many nations occupying much column space – similarly, replace throne with President and even less attention is likely to be paid. At best a short paragraph in a couple of newspapers or maybe a PA / Reuters feed may occur. The nation itself may briefly celebrate, but it is unlikely to register on the world stage.
By contrast, the birth of Prince George dominated much of the worlds media – Humphrey is writing this article in an international airport, surrounded by papers from across the world from the last few days. Almost without exception, the picture of a tiny baby is plastered on the front page, and backed up by several pages of news on this event. For all we knock the UK, for all we want to be downbeat and pessimistic about how we’re just a minor nation with little influence on the world, for some reason the birth of a Royal Heir has monopolised global media coverage for several days – an astounding thing to consider in an era of 24/7 news coverage.
What does this tell us about the UK and its impact on the world? To the author, it tells us that facets of the UK hold global imagination and interest in a manner we cannot comprehend. The near fairy tale story of the Prince meeting his princess, and marrying them is something which has resonated globally. The message beneath it though is one which is actually terribly helpful to the UK – it tells a story of a nation with proud history and traditions, but one unfettered by them to the extent that a Prince can marry a commoner. It tells something of the UK values, its heritage and culture, and perhaps helps show off a democratic system which works very well for the UK.
In terms of influence, this single birth has probably generated more column inches, documentaries and coverage of the UK, London and British life than a decade of ‘visit Britain’ campaigns or Parliamentary fact finding missions to promote UK investment and economic prowess. The economic benefit to the UK is clear, and in due course the wider diplomatic benefit will be too.
One has to consider the visits of members of the Royal Family overseas are seen as very desirable to foreign nations – they want to host these visits and show their countries off. The diplomatic benefit of offering up (or conversely threatening the withdrawal of) a Royal visit can be enormous. Doors will be opened, enabling our diplomats to meet with Government officials in far off nations who may otherwise be unobtainable. Presidents and Ministers will wish to meet them, enabling both the Royals and their entourage to lobby for UK interests, encourage UK investment and help push the case for things that matter to HM Government. In due course, the diplomatic value of the first visit by the Duke & Duchess with the young Prince will be an opportunity for a diplomatic coup.
This is perhaps the real hidden story of the Royal birth – as a nation we have a wonderful Royal Family who are an incredibly potent and powerful tool of influence for the UK as a whole. No other birth in the world would have occupied the same level of attention of the worlds media, and it highlights the fact that as a tool of influence, as a tool of highlighting British values, culture and views, the Royal Family is a world class asset without comparison. This is the lesson of soft power – no matter how many tanks you possess, or aircraft you can fly – these will still have less ability to open hugely diverse doors around the world than one young baby boy.
(A longer more defence related post is already lined up to follow this weekend once some final bits have been written, at which point normal service resumes!)