The renowned international relations theorist Joseph Nye defines “soft power” as the ability to persuade by means of attraction or cooption rather than coercion.


The term itself has come into vogue, with the UK parliament assembling a Select Committee on the issue, and issuing a report on “Persuasion and Power” in early 2014. Even countries whose capacity to project military power is substantial, such as the UK, must rely on soft power to shape their foreign relations. For others, soft power is all the more essential, as it is the only card they can play.

In the context of developing a relatively young and emergent industry, such as that of nanotechnology (even apart from the specific benefits to life standard and economic performance such technologies can afford) a country or region may gain a positive reputation as technologically competent and forward thinking. Further, to the degree that nanotechnology does not operate to displace diverse economic actors (the way industrial technology did in the nineteenth century, suppressing workshops and centralizing production into factories), it allows for a dynamic, more creative, economy able to find a wide array of applications for the new technology.

Thus, a region can become internationally known not only for its technological ability but also for the specific, culturally unique uses that it makes of this technology. In the twenty-first century mass-production is likely not to be the primary index for measuring economic success, and in any case, regions such as those of the Interreg Spain-Portugal cooperation area are not capable of competing in terms of bulk of exports with other actors. Their emphasis, therefore, should be on quality and uniqueness, on building a brand, on soft power.

The Spanish government has recognized the importance of such, publishing a report on the issue in 2016. This document recommends improving the country’s international image as concerns technological prowess, and, more practically, increasing its high value-added exports, by participating in existing global initiatives (for example related to the “Sustainable Development Agenda 2030”) and promoting scientific advisors from the level of embassies to that of the head of government.

In the same vein, the “Small Advanced Economies Initiative”, which includes New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland, among others, represents a platform for these to pool resources, utilizing economies of scale, and invest in projects and technologies to improve the performance of sectors on which their economies already rely, while also allowing the benefits of such advances to be reaped more widely. This latter represents the principle of “enlightened self interest”, according to which foreign policy should be conducted in such a way as to benefit a country and the international community in tandem. This is a clear example of cultivating soft power. There is no reason why the eight POCTEP regions cannot hope to constitute and benefit from similar initiatives. In fact, nanoGateway can be conceived of as a counterpart to the Small Advanced Economies Initiative, albeit one that also attempts to bring about technological advancement in the first place, and one that operates at the regional level, in close coordination with national and European policy.

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