1. Soft power plays an important and growing role in global security.

2. Upstream prevention is essential to reducing the risks of extremism. 

3. Soft Power in a multipolar world.

Soft power and global security

  • The certainties of the Cold War era have given way to a world that today is in many ways more unpredictable and complex. The rise of violent extremism; the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Ukraine; the mass migrations in the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean, all are tragic expressions of this changing world.
  • Solutions to ongoing conflicts and the urgent task of finding a lasting peace in fragile and post-conflict societies requires a combination of military, diplomatic, development aid and soft power interventions by international actors and action by national and regional governments.
  • Soft power is crucial to countering extremist ideologies; building bridges across sectarian and racial divides; strengthening state institutions and civil society; and providing opportunities for personal development to build the collective prosperity on which stability depends.

Upstream prevention is essential to reducing the risks of extremism

  • Soft power is critical to countering extremism. Academic research has indicated that the drivers of extremism are complex and differ for individuals, but may include the failure of states to provide basic services such as education; deprivation, unemployment and under-employment; rapid social change that impacts upon social identities; civil society that fails to achieve positive social change; ineffective or blocked political participation; and groups with a shared sense of discrimination and the growth of religious and ethnic identities (particularly if these compete with loyalties to the state); and binary ways of seeing the world and a lack of critical thinking skills.
  • To reduce the risk of radicalisation and extremism among people who are disenfranchised and unable to build a secure future for their families in their own communities, or those fleeing from fragile states or conflict zones, economic, institutional and educational interventions are needed to provide opportunities and build resilience.

A multipolar world

  • Across the world a number of state and regional geopolitical tensions and conflicts create risks to the UK’s international interests. Against this backdrop the British Council is building the UK’s reputation and influence around the world, increasing the trust that underpins economic and diplomatic co-operation.
  • The rise of new powers offers both challenges and opportunities to the UK. A multipolar world is seeing changing geopolitical relationships around the globe. Soft power has an integral role to play in building strong, mutually beneficial relations with those countries that will be the leading international economic and diplomatic powers of the 21st century –states like India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa.

The British Council’s work countering violent extremism

The British Council has developed a comprehensive package of programmes that address core drivers of extremism issues through education, good governance and civil society in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as other strategically important countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria and Kenya. This work: 

Provides opportunity, resilience and positive pathways for young people – reducing the likelihood that they will turn to extremism; 

Enables young people to gain alternative views on the world and an appreciation of difference; 

Helps to develop skills, critical thinking abilities, and behaviours and international connections that increase their economic prosperity; 

Supports young people to take a more active role in their societies; 

Supports institution building and reform; 

Builds a positive relationships and reputation for the UK and shares UK values; and

Generates respect for the rule of law and the rules-based international system. 

– all of which have a crucial impact on the resilience of individuals and communities.


  • Supporting moderate Islam – Through the British Council’s eight-year partnership with Al Azhar University in Egypt, almost 1000 Islamic Studies students have learned English, helping them take the teaching of moderate Islam to non-Arabic speaking audiences internationally. Al Azhar is the world’s oldest and leading institution of Sunni Islamic scholarship – its vision is to spread the real values of Islam and counter the violent rhetoric of extremism.
  • Providing voice and opportunity for young people in the Arab world – Young Arab Voices is a major programme run by the British Council with support from the FCO. Launched in 2011, as the result of consultation which identified the need to increase young people’s skills for public debate and to provide platforms for young people from diverse backgrounds to meet and exchange views, Young Arab Voices has led to the establishment of successful debating clubs in schools, universities, NGOs and youth centres. It has engaged more than 90,000 young women and men from across Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Young Arab Voices provides the opportunities, tools, and capacity building for young people to run and manage effective debates which support the move towards peaceful and moderate democratic dialogue in the Middle East and North Africa.
  • Promoting safe and inclusive communities through sport – Premier Skills is the British Council’s international partnership with the Premier League operating in 25 countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas (and including Tunisia, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan and Afghanistan). Since the programme began in 2007, 6,301 coaches and referees have been trained, who in turn have reached a further 946,386 young people. Premier Skills uses football as a neutral space in which to develop skills, promote inclusion, build relationships and a positive image of the UK, enable women’s empowerment, and create safer, stronger and more respectful communities.
  • Strengthening relationships with Ukraine – The British Council is scaling up its work in Ukraine to develop stronger relationships between the UK and Ukraine and to support security and prosperity for both countries. In 2014 – 2015, we engaged with 4.5 million people in the country, and over 800,000 Ukrainians use the British Council’s free online English resources every year. The British Council teaches English to up to 3,000 students each year face to face, and we administer 10,000 UK examinations across Ukraine annually. We are significantly increasing our programmes in Ukraine, in partnership with other UK institutions and organisations.
  • Strengthening relationships with Russia – The UK-Russia Year of Culture 2014, engaged over 6 million Russians, with almost 1 million attending events and exhibitions. The aim of the festival was to foster cultural exchange and increase the flow of ideas between the two countries, particularly at a time of political tension - strengthening relationships between people, institutions and governments, and helping to ensure a positive image of the UK with the next generation of Russian leaders and influencers.
  • Developing the Rule of Law in Nigeria – The justice system is a critical meeting point between the state and its citizens that, when it works well, gives citizens confidence, shows that they are valued by government and supports opportunities for prosperity, e.g. business creation. The British Council’s Justice for All (J4A) programme, funded by DFID, supports Nigerian-led reform of the justice sector and is DFID’s largest security and justice programme, receiving the highest level of performance rating. To deliver this at scale in Nigeria we work alongside counterparts from the justice community: the courts, the police, anti-corruption agencies, traditional leaders and civil society, to help develop the capacity, accountability and responsiveness of the sector, thereby reducing tensions and promoting security, development and prosperity.


  • Promoting Active Citizenship – Active Citizens is a global network of community leaders led by the British Council in partnership with local civil society actors in participating countries. For example in Pakistan, in partnership with Peace Direct (UK), the College of Youth Activism and Development (Pakistan) and the School of Leadership (Pakistan), we have adapted our programme to provide specialised support for young people and community facilitators in developing skills in capacity building and conflict resolution. We have already engaged more than 40,000 young people through the programme, resulting in over 100 social action projects focusing on building peace, human rights, resolving conflict, valuing diversity and connecting police with communities.
  • Strengthening skills in Afghanistan – Tawanmandi is the UK’s major programme to strengthen Afghan civil society organisations and support citizens to demand better governance and accountability. A total of 78 project grants have been awarded through the programme, directly benefiting close to 150,000 Afghan citizens in 29 provinces and 187 districts across the country. We have supported over 400 peace councils at a local level in nine provinces to address and resolve local conflicts relating to land, irrigation, inheritance and family-based issues.