Heads or Tails: The Two-Sided Perspective of Soft Power


The international landscape is the chess table that witnesses how every nation pursues its personal and collective interests. Global relationships are fostered and taken advantage of by every nation making strategic moves with the available means. The means to reach their ends are heavily reliant on the ability to influence the behavior of others for one’s gain, Power. The discussion of Power is a convoluted one. Threats of violence or monetary incentives are most typically associated with Power, military and economic Power for personal reward. This is known as Hard Power, using coercive channels in international political relations. 

However, an alternative does not use concrete nor direct avenues to get what one desires—reaching aspired consequences through being perceived as admirable, an example, a leader, or a point of reference by other nations. The co-opting approach to reaching goals in the international playing field is known as Soft Power. This less-known variant of the ability to influence others’ decisions and actions has birthed convoluted discourse around what Soft Power actually means and what are its assets and liabilities. 

Social sciences tend to continually reach the same conclusions to endless questions, ‘it depends.’ Regarding the uses of different variations of Power, there are situations where brute force is the necessary course of action in the name of national interest. An armed invasion from rival nations warrants no other response than the use of force for at least defensive purposes. 

However, there are distinct situations where Soft Power is the only possible alternative to reach the desired ends. A pivotal example is the spread and application of democracy. Failure after failure of the United States’ manifest destiny of expanding democracy by means of brute force proves this sentiment. The ramifications of setting an example for democracy are the most a nation can do in this situation. A culture of democracy must rise within the people of the nation. The imitation that results from Soft Power is how a state such as the US can reach its desires; history has shown us how, in this case, force is bound for failure. 

An obvious but extremely important asset of Soft Power is its pacifist expression. For millennia, our species has relied on violence and war as means of reaping our desired fruits. Countless have died in the name of some agenda. Soft Power’s nonviolent essence avoids such tragedies that took too many, too young for too long. It is pivotal to highlight this fact as it is truly a strength of this concept and the well-being of the international community and all of us who live on this planet.

The traditional conceptualization of Power leads to specific criticisms of the notion of Soft Power. While coercion, military potential, economic prowess, commands, and explicit acts of control are evident and sensory, Soft Power seems to be implemented by employing mimicry or appeal. While both of these are forms of influence, they are not Power in themselves. The consequences of status and reputation are not sufficiently grandiose to be considered real Power. Soft Power does not and cannot guarantee the desired outcomes.

Furthermore, Soft Power is exerted in a dispersed fashion. Instead of streamlined and tangible intentions, actions, and effects, Soft Power is a generalized influence. At best, there is a hope of eventual alignment in reciprocal altruism. Although generalized influence is attainable, there is no efficient, palpable, nor guaranteed outcome that pales in comparison to prompt implementation of any kind. Therefore, this form of influence cannot address and tackle more refined issues, limiting how much Power this variation actually possesses. A nation with an abundance of Soft Power can influence another in pursuit of their policies. However, there is not enough coercive power that would make another nation put their own agenda as secondary. 

Moreover, the exercise of Soft Power may lead to antonymic conclusions to those intended. As the effects of Soft Power are based on perception, the implications and interpretations of the exerted influence vary greatly by point of view. For instance, the connotations of the monstrous Soft Power that Hollywood provides for the United States can be very different. For European countries, positive influence is achieved through blockbuster action movies depicting heroic protagonists that save the world from peril. However, Islamic countries see the stereotypization and vilification of their identity. While some may solidify relations, others might foster disdain. 

While Soft Power is a necessary and pivotal form of Power, especially in contemporary international relations, the lack of versatility, dominance, and results limits Soft Power to be an reliant chess tactic in the international political playing field. We witness the implications of this concept on a daily basis. The music we listen to, the clothes we wear, and the language we speak are fruits of Soft Power. As the people who are governed and immersed in the atmosphere of international influence, acknowledgment of this Power is essential. 

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