Analysing The Differences Between Soft And Hard Power Politics Essay

Soft power was a term first coined by Joseph Nye in 1990 to recognise that nations had power resources other than the more readily conceived hard power of economic and military power. In his 2004 book Soft Power Nye attempts to expand upon the term and provide a tighter definition of soft power. His definition “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments” [1] is general and needs substantial qualification and explanation to provide utility to statesmen and academics alike. Soft power has therefore generated significant debate as to its existence and utility. It has been argued that soft power is merely an argument for the merits of public diplomacy. [2] Nye himself argues that soft power is a resource that is underappreciated. [3] Increasingly the term soft power is being used by politicians and academics alike to portray a warmer less aggressive approach to international relations in the contemporary connected world. Emerging powers such as China and India have been applauded for their use of soft power to attract outcomes they desire. [4] The US under Obama has distanced itself from President Bush’s unilateral approach and has re-emphasised the utility and power of soft power to influence the world. [5]

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Despite the increased use of the term soft power, questions still remain as to the validity of soft power as an actual usable form of political power. Criticisms of soft power abound and include recognition that soft power is too fickle and generated from factors many of which are outside the direct control of a government. Soft power can have a positive effect on one group but have a polar opposite effect on another group within the same nation. Realist thinking in particular finds it difficult to reconcile so called soft power against a much more tangible hard power such as military might. But images such as a lone protester standing in front of a column of Chinese tanks in Tiananmen Square do have a tangible affect on how the world reacts to situations. The protester certainly had less hard power, yet world opinion was certainly not ‘attracted’ to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on that day. If not hard power, what sort of power is that then?

The world today is increasingly connected. Images and opinions on crises and conflict can quickly be dispersed throughout the global community. The privilege of information superiority enjoyed by the leaders of nations in the past is increasingly threatened today. The governed can now get access to events and information much quicker and much more accurately than at any other time in human history. Measures of national power have to therefore take account of how a nation is perceived by the emerging global consciousness enabled by the information age. International relations is an ever changing tapestry of competition, cooperation and conflict but increasingly the interactions between states is becoming much more personal, much more deeper and much more diverse. While interactions between states remain dominant no state, particularly democratic states, can ignore the views of its citizens and their values. Much as violence is seen as distasteful within societies, there is now a greater threshold for justification of violence between states in the mind of the global community. Actions perceived as aggressive and without sufficient justification suffer a backlash of public opinion that undermines the ability of a regime to pursue a policy.


The aim of this paper is to better define the concept of soft power as a tool of international relations and establish the critical importance of soft power within the contemporary world. The research question as such, is as follows: What is soft power and why is it important in the world today? This will be answered by firmly establishing that the foundation of all political power, international or domestic, is the will of people and that power is becoming more dissipated throughout a globalised world.

To aid in the understanding of soft power a number of questions need to be addressed. First and foremost is the question of where power comes from. To understand from where political power is derived we need to investigate power from its base form in human society. By understanding the basis of political power we can begin to understand why or how the nature of power may begin to manifest itself in different ways.

Soft power is different from hard power. How and why this is the case is necessary to better understand what soft power actually is. Yet power is power and therefore at some, if not all, levels hard and soft power must interact and effect each other. The question of the relationship between hard and soft power must be addressed to gain greater insight into what soft power is and how to employ it. Hard power is the more easily recognisable and traditional manifestation of national power such as armed might and economic capability. Next is the question of how do we measure soft power. National power has always been perceived within a context of raw power potential shaped and melded into international effect by a nation’s leaders to achieve their international objectives. Does a nation therefore have a raw soft power potential and if so how can it best be cultivated and employed? Hard power can often be perceived as finite and expendable. Once you expend a resource you no longer have it. Is this true of soft power also? Or can soft power be re-used over and over?

Finally an understanding of the trends and phenomenon of the world today is fundamental to determining the importance of soft power today and into the future. The importance and relevance of soft power is growing as more of humanity becomes connected. As people become more connected so the complexity of human interaction increases. This dramatically enhanced presence everywhere on the globe has the potential to generate a surge of global opinion. Increased connectivity however does not only provide presence everywhere for opinions to form on significant world events. People can now connect with a more diverse and more numerous audience throughout the world. The international relations implications are profound. As the complexity of human interaction increases so too does the complexity of international relations and politics.


This paper is on soft power. However to properly ground this concept in International relations this paper will cover a number of interrelated topics. Therefore, a variety of writings, including some on International relations, International relations theory and globalisation will be used to define what soft power is. Contemporary articles and media will update current discussions on soft power and aid in determining its relevance and utility.

Joseph Nyes 2004 book Soft Power is dedicated to the subject of soft power and attempts to establish firmly through contemporary examples and discussion what soft power is and how it is generated and used. Nye defines soft power as “It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments.” [6] Nye has attempted to expand upon the concept after first coining the term in 1990. In many regards he has not adequately achieved this and has in many regards muddied the waters and propogated confusion about what soft power is. Nye has not anchored this concept in any theoretical framework.

Hans Morganthau book Politics Among Nations, first published in 1948 and then updated with eleven further editions up to 2005 will provide a basis for analysis of what national power is. Morganthau’s chapters on political power, the struggle for power and the essence of power all provide insights into the enduring nature of power and a framework for determining what the basis of power is and therefore how relevant soft power is as a concept.

Kenneth Waltz’s book Realism and International Politics was published in 2008 and is a compilation of Waltz’s earlier works. Waltz’s works span six decades from 1959 until 2002 and will be used to provide a more contemporary understanding of international relations and a barometer to show how international relations, and more specifically political power, are evolving as the world changes.

The theme of globalisation and issues associated with it is fundamental to the rising awareness and importance of soft power. Thomas Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree published in 2000 provides an excellent discussion of globalisation and its effects on the world. Friedman’s early chapters provide a good description of what globalization is and how it has arisen. Friedman also touches upon the impact of globalisation on how power is employed in the emerging world.

Friedman has expanded on his previous work on globalisation with his 2006 book The World is Flat. Now in its third expanded and updated edition within three years, the publishing history of this book is testament to the increasing speed of globalisation within the world today. In this book Friedman highlights three phases of gloablisation that he terms Globilisation 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. The idea that in Globalisation 1.0 nations gloablised, Globalisation 2.0 organisations globalised and in Globalisation 3.0 that we are seeing every individual globalised is central to understanding the importance of soft power in the contemporary world. If Friedman is to be even half believed, soft power is only going to become even more critical in coming years.

The relationship between globalization and international politics is further enhanced with The Globalization of World Politics, An Introduction to International Relations by John Baylis and Steve Smith, first published in 2001 and updated in 2005. While providing a comprehensive and detailed understanding of contemporary international relations overall it is striking to note that this work offers only the barest mention of the concept of soft power.

Likewise Charles Kegley’s 12th edition of World Politics: Trend and Transformation, published in 2009 is a comprehensive text that charts the evolution of international relations from a theoretical perspective but mentions soft power only as an aside.

Malcom Gladwell’s now famous The Tipping Point, first published in 2000 and now in its fifteenth reprint, provides a discussion on how the little things can make a big difference in a globalised connected world. Gladwell’s work does not specifically deal with international politics or power but his central concept provides food for thought on why soft power is now so critical.


The 2003 US invasion of Iraq has highlighted both the unstoppable military might of the world’s only superpower and the limitations of operating solely in a hard power domain of international relations. While it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the merits or not of the decision to invade Iraq, it is clear that the US found that it suffered a significant backlash from the way in which it did approach this issue on the global stage. Understanding soft power is more critical with every passing day as the world continues to connect. The concept of soft power is fuzzy and ambiguous. Skeptics will always be found for any subject. Proponents of the concept have varying interpretations of what it actually is. Many use the term from a simplistic point of view that helps undermine the importance of soft power. Nye has done well in articulating the concept but confusion and misunderstanding persists. This paper endeavors to contribute in even the smallest measure to a better understanding of soft power and why it is critical in the world today and into the future.


This research paper will focus on a theory review from the library resources available at the Maktab Turus Angkatan Tentura (MTAT), Malaysian Armed Forces Ministry of Defence, the University of Malaya, Malaysian and New Zealand Bookshops. In addition to this various journals and articles sourced from on-line databases will also be used. The intention of this paper is to bring together theoretical international power and globalisation concepts with Nye’s concept of soft power, in order to provide a better understanding of soft power, its relationship to other elements of national power and its growing importance.

Due to time constraints and resource limitations, research for this paper is based on a limited number of secondary sources. Some books obtained are not the most recent editions however internet resources have been used where possible to ensure ideas gained from older editions have not been superseded.


This paper is divided into five chapters. Chapter one provides an introduction to the study to be undertaken including background information and a review of the literature available in compiling this research. Chapter one also outlines the methodology undertaken in order to obtain the required information.

Chapter two focuses on the theoretical concept of power. The chapter discusses power from its fundamental principles recognising that in todays world that .

Chapter three introduces the concept of soft power as defined by Joeseph Nye and the transnational crime threats and regional security mechanisms within the South Pacific, describes the current security environment and a summary of transnational crime and security issues. The chapter will then discuss the factors contributing towards transnational crime in the South Pacific within the framework of political, military, societal, economic and environmental security concerns. Chapter three then discusses the regional security mechanisms by outlining the Pacific Islands Forum, The Pacific Plan, the Forum Regional Security Committee, and then concludes.

Chapter four introduces the responses to threats in the South Pacific and discusses the approach being taken by regional and global governments, non government organisations and law enforcement agencies to combat transnational crime within the South Pacific region.

Chapter five concludes the paper by drawing together the concepts of transnational crime and security, the transnational crime and security threats in the South Pacific and the responses to them, and concludes that in order to overcome the threats of transnational crime to a state’s national security, non government organisations and law enforcement agencies must understand the complexity of transnational crime, the contributing factors, the challenges associated with combating it and focus their efforts in a joint approach to address the threats to the benefit of the state, it’s population and the global community.