Thursday, 25 July 2013

A son is born...

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!)


  1. There is some truth to this but I dare say that Britannia as a world power AND having at its apex royal family is more newsworthy than the Belgian or Dutch monarchies. This is because we like to punch above our weight - and only economics will allow us to continue to do this. We must, as a consequence, continue to rebalance our economy to make ourselves relevant again in the world. Otherwise its more cuts to come because we sure as hell can't keep borrowing to prop up our image abroad.

  2. I agree that " the Royal Family is a world class asset without comparison."
    But somehow I can't quite see the bad guys around the world being influenced by the birth of an addition to our royal family.
    I can just about grasp the concept of "soft power" but not its relevance to the conflicts which we now have.
    Syria - Iran - North Korea - Pakistan - Afghanistan - Iraq - to name a few.
    How will these places be influenced by the birth of a future king?

  3. I would say the UK efforts in improving global development is a far stronger representation of British soft power than one small Prince.

  4. George is a better choice of name than Zippy or Bungle. HRH Prince Zippy/Bungle of Cambridge just does not sound right.

  5. Can't think of a better argument for a Republican form of government in the UK.

    Hope those brave souls in the forces are happy to lay down their lives for the Royals and all they stand for.They certainly had other thoughts after the last war, the reason the Labour party did so well with the demobbed veterans.

    1. I fail to see how this is an argument for a Republican form of Government. All you are really saying is that you are a Republican! Fine and you are entitled to that view. The fact is though the Royal Family are very popular at the moment, not just in the UK but many parts of the world and as pointed out, being a constitutional monarchy is much admired as a good way of having continuity in a head of state in a democratic form of government. I think you will also find that the brave souls of our armed forces lay down their lives for any number of personal reasons, the monarch does not send them to war, the democratically elected government does!

  6. "One has to consider the visits of members of the Royal Family overseas are seen as very desirable to foreign nations"

    In fact that's the one bit of the monarchy that isn't really working at the moment, thanks to the Queen (Gawblesser) clinging on way beyond retirement age. As the Papacy and many of the northern monarchies have acknowledged, the concept of doing a job until you die just doesn't really work in the context of modern medicine. We need to be sweating these prime assets more, and an 87-year old just isn't up to the job. Sending number 2 just doesn't have the same effect - nor does it make much sense to confine number 3, who at least has youth and "glamour" on his side, to fishing people out of the Irish Sea. It's time to acknowledge that being head of state is a demanding, proper job, which means that you retire from it at say 75.