Hard power vs. soft power
In international relations, there are two main types of power: hard power and soft power. Hard power is related to the traditional image people have when they hear the word “power.” The definition of hard power is “power deployed in the form of coercion;” this can be using force, threatening the use of force, and putting in place economic sanctions or inducements of payment. Soft power, meanwhile, refers to the “use of positive attraction and persuasion to achieve foreign policy objectives.” This means that the main aim of a “soft power” foreign policy is to become influential rather than using any form of “real” (or hard) power.
The origin of soft power
The concept of soft power was first proposed by Joseph Nye in the late 1980s. Joseph Nye originally described three sources of soft power, namely political values, culture, and foreign policy. After World War II ended, the basis of U.S. soft power was the spread of ideas and values like democracy, a free-market economy, and human rights. People and countries looked up to the United States of America as a role model and wanted to be like them. Therefore, these people and countries were more willing to put these ideas like a democratic government and a free-market economy into place in their own countries as they had seen how well these worked for the USA. In the period immediately after the end of the Cold War, the concept of “soft power” caught fire among politicians, with some even claiming that soft power “defined” the period immediately after the Cold War.
Soft power today
Although hard power has been used more frequently again by countries again nowadays — an example is North Korea building nuclear weapons — China has increasingly been using soft power. In Joseph Nye’s original article on soft power, China was hardly mentioned. Nowadays, China is the world’ biggest trading country. Examples such as China’s Belt and Road Initiative — through which the Chinese government aims to encourage economic growth in other countries by providing the necessary infrastructure — serve as evidence of China’s new approach to international relations.