Home Commentaries & Articles “Softness” of Soft Power and its Conquest for Hard Power

“Softness” of Soft Power and its Conquest for Hard Power

“Diplomacy is the art of restraining power” — Henry Kissinger

With the growing rivalries and all-time high trade and geopolitical tensions, states are realizing that hard power alone can’t solve complex issues, on this account they are starting to understand the significance of soft power and its role in solving the present-day problems with the present-time solutions.

Apart from Joseph Nye’s explanation of power and its ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion, Robert Dahl of Yale University, one of the great political theorists in political science, defined power as “A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do”.

Given the current state of foreign policies around the world, the sharp use of soft power assets is required now more than ever, it is quite fundamental to set the agenda as per the preferences of countries and for the global stage as well, not just force them to change by using the traditional hard power methods such as military force or economic sanctions. 

In the current geopolitical scenario, the states are using different means and tools of soft power in the conquest of political, military, and economic hard power. In particular, the influence operations of superpowers like the US and most Western nations show that soft power is intimately connected to hard power.  With the ongoing power tussle in the global arena, the US, India, China, Russia, and the UK are spending a significant sum of money for their soft power promotions.

In this regard, particularly India is adopting various policies to become a leading power or so-called ‘great power’ — emphasizing especially on diaspora diplomacy to be a key tenet of its global mandate, and in keeping with India’s stately geopolitical ambitions, the Government of India seeks a more direct engagement with the diaspora. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has called it a “forte” and “unique aspect” of Indian foreign policy.  

Now coming back to the usage of power or a slight mix; a skillful combination of soft power and hard power constitutes ‘smart power’, is the most relevant strategy in today’s times, the difference lies only in the nature of the behaviour and in the tangibility of the resources – However, the main agenda on the table has always been the hard power. Hillary Clinton who served as the 67th US Secretary of State adopted ‘smart power’ strategy and called for to look “beyond the traditional work of negotiating treaties and attending diplomatic conferences” and use “technology, public-private partnerships, energy, economics, and other areas… to complement more traditional diplomatic tools and priorities, not replace them.”

In this 21st century, championing the smart power which is quite debated and sometimes called a revolutionary modus operandi, more often exercised by the countries like the UK in mainland Asia and the US in the Middle Eastern region have helped secure the interests of these countries. The full potential of smart power can only be unlocked with the right combination of tools — diplomatic, military, economic, political, legal, and cultural together with choosing the right tool or combination of tools for varied situations. Smart power could prove to be a driving force for the foreign policy of any nation. This practice is neither radical nor primitive. Chinese President Hu Jintao favoured smart power as he believed that China needs to keep a balance between hard power and soft power to avoid other countries create a coalition against China.

Besides, Professor Nye also defined smart power as “effective strategies in the real world with a mix of hard and soft power”. It is quite prudent to note that India characterizes herself as smart power and continues to solidify that stance. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his visit to Ladakh mentioned how Indians can admire a Krishna playing the divine flute as well as a Krishna who uses the famed Sudarshan chakra, his prime weapon, to end his powerful enemies. After all, India has never been obsessed with power, be it hard or soft power, neither used any coercive or expansionist strategy like its immediate neighbours, China and Pakistan. If anything, India has succeeded in giving world peace and tranquillity. India believes in co-existence and lives by the expression of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam which means, ‘the world is one family’.

India has a great deal of soft power embodied in its culture and its values. Although according to many researchers, India will have its course of action when it comes to implementation and usage of any form of power, whether it would be hard or smart power.

Given the prevailing Covid scourge around the world, the states are adopting the newest methods for global political influence. During the precipitous emergence of the Novel Coronavirus in Wuhan, China had gone for ‘charm offensive’ to divert the global attention from its misdeeds and has provided coronavirus-related aid to hundreds of countries including its partner countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project. 

On the other hand, despite the export restrictions on essential drugs, India has sent essential drugs like Remdesivir and Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to friendly nations like the US, Israel among 53 other countries. India also dispatched teams of Indian military doctors to countries like Nepal, the Maldives, and Kuwait.

At this moment in time when countries have already started the mass vaccination of their citizens, the term ‘vaccine diplomacy’ and ‘medical diplomacy’ seems more familiar than ever. Outsmarting the Chinese efforts to captivate South Asian nations with pandemic diplomacy, India has already provided free vaccines under its flagship initiative vaccine maitrito its SAARC partners except for Pakistan. India has also supplied 40.64 million vaccine doses to 47 countries and UN health workers.

These goodwill gestures could prove to be a great asset for smart power, bolstering the mutual interests of like-minded countries. In general, it consolidates that smart power is the future of foreign policies around the world — with the need for greater investments in partnerships, alliances, and institutions at all levels for extended influence and legitimacy. More importantly, it also requires all the stakeholders of power i.e government agencies and ministries to complement each other in the process. However, it too underscores that strong defence; firm political system, and stable economy is also a prerequisite to unlock the full potential of smart power. 

Disclaimer – The views reflected in the article are the opinions of the author in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of his employers.