Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Beacon No. 5: Hard Power and Soft Power (I)


Several people have asked for sharper definitions of hard and soft power.

Hard power is easy: Do what we want. If you don't, we will inflict unacceptable damage on your person, citizenry, economy, security forces, crops, well water, et cetera.

Soft power is much trickier, so defining it and delineating how it differs from hard power can occupy hours of conversation. Joseph Nye's definition in Soft Power is:

The ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country's culture, political ideals, and policies.

When our policies are seen as legitimate in the eyes of others, our soft power is enhanced. … When you can get others to admire your ideals and to want what you want, you do not have to spend as much on sticks and carrots to move them in your direction. Seduction is always more effective than coercion, and many values like democracy, human rights, and individual opportunities are deeply seductive.

But this definition raises other questions:

—How do you get others to admire your ideals when they likely view their own as normal and admirable?

—How do you deal with the parts of your culture that aren't admirable, or even offend cultures you'd like to influence (the MTV-in-Mecca problem)?

—How does attraction translate to influence; in other words, how do you measure soft power, and if you can't, how do you know it exists?

—What part does soft power play in a balanced foreign-policy portfolio that includes diplomacy, trade and armed force?

—Should soft power be used actively (propaganda) or passively (people who drink Coke and read about our elections are more likely to like us)?

—How do corporations, non-governmental organizations and other non-state actors promote their own soft power?

—What happens when a country you're trying to influence experiences a crisis? Does soft power have any applicability during a civil war, famine or other emergency?

I'll be addressing how hard and soft power are defined, and how they interact along the continuum of foreign policy, in the weeks ahead—thus the Roman numeral in the title of this post.

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