7 PM | Hard Power and Soft Power | 24 January, 2019

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Context: A nation’s hard power and soft power complement each other in helping a country achieve its growth targets.

Soft power and hard power are public diplomacy tools that communicate the nation’s competitive identity and advantage to the world.India’s global image is as much determined by its trade and geopolitical standing as by its ability to share its culture with the world through food, music, Bollywood films, technological prowess and tourism potential

Hard Power:

  • The term hard power describes a nation or political body’s ability to use economic incentives or military strength to influence other actors’ behaviors.
  • Hard power is linked with the possession of certain tangible resources, including population, territory, natural resources, economic and military strength, among others.
  • Hard power is time-effective and generating hard power requires much less time as its resources are tangible.

Examples of hard power:

  • Trade sanctions imposed by US on Iran’s economy in order to isolate and cripple Iranian economy portrays usage of economic hard power.
  • The US return to military action in Iraq and direct intervention in Syria.
  • Russia’s annexation of Crimea and destabilization of eastern Ukraine.
  • China’s assertion of its territorial claims in the East and South China.
  • India’s blockage of supply and fuel in 2015 during Nepal Blockade.

Limitations of hard power:

  • Doesn’t work during deadlocks: When there is deadlock between two nations usage of hard power further aggravates the problem.
  • Not possible for weak states:Hard power needs enough resources and financial capacity to generate, hence weak states doesn’t work for weak states.
  • Effects are momentary and usually backfire:Usually results of coercive hard power are limited and backfire in later stages for example use of coercive power in World War I acted as genesis of WWII and more recently US’ hard power in Afghanistan has failed to produce tangible results.

Soft Power:

  • Soft power is persuasive power deriving from attraction and emulation and grounded on intangible resources like tourism, culture, and heritage.
  • It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion, as used in hard power.
  • The importance and relevance of soft power is growing as more of humanity becomes connected. This dramatically enhanced presence everywhere on the globe has the potential to generate a surge of global opinion.
  • Soft power is useful in complex situations and helps a nation to achieve difficult outcomes. India received a nuclear waiver in 2008 despite not being a member of NSG because of its history of non-alignment and strong political ideals.

Examples of soft power:

  • Incredible India Campaign: It is an international tourism campaign initiated by the government to promote India as a popular tourist destination using India’s heritage like images of the Himalayas, the TajMahal, yoga and multiplicity of colorful religious and cultural traditions etc.
  • International Day of Yoga: Prime Minister Modi’s effort to have the United Nations declare the International Day of Yoga on June 21 each year is a major step in the right direction.
  • International meetings: The Prime Minister drove a common link between India and Central Asia by highlighting ideals of Islam- knowledge, piety, compassion and welfare, shared by both.
  • India’s volunteering efforts: India has often humanitarian rescue missions like Nepal floods, Sri Lanka floods recently to generate its soft power in the world.
  • European Union: EU has successfully used its soft power which derives from its readiness to offer a seat at the decision making table to all membersto attract new members. Thus, the EU’s soft power is beneficial for its member states as well as for the EU itself.

Limitations of soft power:

  • Weak power: Soft power resource as cultural influence does not equal political power, which is direct and more influencing.
  • Limited scope: Outcomes of soft power strategies depends on particular circumstances which cannot necessarily be influenced by states. For example, Budhist heritage as a soft power can be used in Southeast and East Asian states, but not beyond.
  • Long drawn and blurred process: Soft power as a diplomatic tool works very slowly. There is no concrete strategy used in soft power and the changes are usually very subtle.
  • Limited contemporary usage: Currently world is experiencing grave problems like non-state cross-border terrorism, direct belligerence like Chinese Doklam incursion which can be better dealth with hard power.

Way forward:

The demise of hard power is caused by changes in the world order, whereas the strength of soft power is transient in nature. Hence, it is worth considering the strength of smart power strategies.

  • Smart power is defined as the capacity of an actor to combine elements of hard power and soft power in ways that are mutually reinforcing such that the actor’s purposes are advanced effectively and efficiently.
  • Smart power draws from both hard and soft power resources. It is an approach that underscores the necessity of a strong military, but also invests heavily in alliances, partnerships, and institutions.
  • India’s current foreign policy is placed on the concept of smart power. For example,
  • India resisted Chinese incursion in Doklam by effective troop management at the border during the crisis to showcase its hard power but at the same time meetings like Wuhan Summit depict its soft power approach.
  • Similarly India and Pakistan maintain effective military presence in border areas but continue to find new ways of engagement through efforts like Kartarpur Corridor.
  • The launching of SAARC satellite by India and allowing free usage of its services to all neighboring countries is a perfect example of using economic strength to generate trust among neighbours.


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