Tuesday, October 19, 2010

“Winning” in the Realm of World Politics: The Importance of Balancing Hard and Soft Power

Although winning a game of Diplomatic Risk is an unequivocal occurrence due to definitively outlined state objectives, “winning” in the genuine world political system is not a clearly defined or common phenomenon because the goals of a state can be ambiguous. Additionally, it is impossible for a state to “win” at the game of international relations because political dealings between states never cease, meaning there is no prospect for victory, but rather a simple goal of success. This success (winning) on the world stage can be most simply boiled down to having the ability to exert hard and soft power to promote a foreign policy agenda that helps to maintain state sovereignty. However, there are many directions a state can take its foreign policy agenda, all of which help maintain sovereignty. Therefore, the ability of a state to use both hard and soft power when it deems necessary is the constant in “winning” at the game of world politics.

States need the ability to both shape the long-term preferences and attitudes of other states, as well as coerce them when necessary to be a successful player, and therefore winning, in the international system. Projecting soft power is a necessity for any influential world player because soft power allows a state to work towards long-term goals without using an exorbitant amount of resources to achieve them. Additionally, soft power is a far less aggressive political tool that can be used to further a policy agenda. For example, although United States and the majority of the Western World have the ability to dominate others, they also excel in projecting soft power through enterprises, churches, universities, and other institutions integrated into civil society. These organizations of civil society project elements of democratic philosophy and when integrated into other cultures through globalization, promote these components of liberal democracy, a goal clearly outlined in the current United States policy agenda. Additionally, the United States' cunning use of soft power is also what helped swing the Cold War in its favor. However, soft power is limited by its tendency to have diffuse effects and cannot be easily wielded to achieve specific outcomes, which is why hard power is the second required asset for a successful state. Although maintaining hard power capabilities is costly, it is significantly more durable than soft power. Military strength will always be a useful commodity in the world system, from maintaining and even expanding state borders to protecting and obtaining valuable resources. For example, the lofty military spending of the United States has given it control over various elements of world politics from the free flow of oil by protecting the Straight of Hormuz, one the most important energy bottlenecks, to the use of NATO resources, as NATO still depends on the leadership and muscle of the United States. Therefore, to be successful and winning in the international system, a state must be able to wield both soft and hard power in a significant amount in order to promote a foreign policy agenda efficiently.


  1. I agree with the general thesis of this post and I think you isolate numerous important factors that contribute to hard and soft power.

    It seems that the U.S. the largest and strongest amount of hard and soft power in the world. Given that, do you think that the U.S. is the true and only "winner" in the international system?

  2. I think there are multiple "winners" in the international system including both individual states and state coalitions. The European Union for example, has a significant amount of soft power potential as well as military strength. China, as well, has a very strong military presence, in addition to its as soft power capabilities made possible through significant influence in the world market. Finally, there are other states that are well on their way to becoming successful (winners) in the international system. India, for example, is a state that is beginning to develop the potential to wield strong soft power and is becoming prosperous enough to foster a strong military.

  3. Soft power is a necessity, eh? It's a noble cause, there is no doubt about that, but so was Wilsonian Internationalism - and, we saw how well the League of Nations played out. In the true spirit of reason and logic, we must realize that soft power, which relies heavily on foreign aid(a large portion of which is gobbled up by corrupt tyrannts in the nations receiving the aid), is a heavy financial burden on the Free World. Should we spend billions on foreign aid, when those dollars could be spend to pay of the budget deficit and cure problems on the homefront? Should we shall out cash (very little of which we have left) to numerous international causes when we can't even afford to fund Social Security anymore?

    Quite a noble post, but stack high with indealism.