The use and

effectiveness of types of power

Power, in its broadest sense, is the ability to influence the outcome of events, in the sense of having the ‘power to’ do something. In global politics, this includes the ability of a country to conduct its own affairs without the interference of other countries, bringing power very close to autonomy. However, power is usually thought of as a relationship: that is, as the ability to influence the behaviour of others in a manner not of their choosing, or ‘power over’ others. Power can therefore be said to be exercised whenever A gets B to do something that B would not otherwise have done. Distinctions have nevertheless been drawn between potential/actual power, relational/ structural power and ‘hard/soft’ power.

Power as the ability to achieve a desired outcome, through whatever means , was neatly summed up in the title of Harold Lasswell’s book Politics: Who Gets What, When, How? (1936). But this merely raises another question: what, exactly, is power? How can power, particularly in global politics, best be understood? Power is a complex and multidimensional phenomenon. Joseph Nye (2004) likened power to love – ‘easier to experience than to define or measure, but no less real for that’. The problem with power is that it is an essentially contested concept: there is no settled or agreed concept of power, only a series of rival concepts. Power can be understood in terms of capability; that is, as an attribute, something that states or other actors ‘possess’. Power can be understood as a relationship; that is, as the exercise of influence over other actors. And power can be understood as a property of a structure; that is, as the ability to control the political agenda and shape how things are done. To add to the confusion, there are also debates about the changing nature of power, and in particular about the key factors through which one actor may influence another.

The idea to distinguish between hard power and soft power was first introduced by Joseph Nye (1990). He defined power as the “ability to affect others to get the outcomes one wants” and command or hard power as coercive power wielded through inducements or threats . Hard power is based on military intervention, coercive diplomacy and economic sanctions and relies on tangible power resources such as armed forces or economic means. Thus, the German invasion into Poland in 1939 and the UN economic sanctions against Iraq in 1991 following the first Gulf War are examples for the use of hard power. According to Nye, persuasive power is based on attraction and emulation and “associated with intangible power resources such as culture, ideology, and institutions”

Hard power: is command or coercive power: the ability to make others do what you want, or to use some form of incentive to get what you want. Hard power encompasses military and economic ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’. Realists tend to conceive of power in these terms. Military power is the capacity of a state to commit an aggressive act against another state, up to and including full-scale conflict.

Case Study US Hard Power: Assassinations

Recent examples of expansion in or demonstrations of military power include the following.

• As China’s economic power has grown (it is now the second- richest state in the world) it has been building up its military capability. In 2009, military spend was about $70 billion; by 2016, it was $150 billion.

• Russia used its six-day invasion of Georgia in 2008 to retaliate against Georgia’s suppression of Russian nationalist separatists in South Ossetia.

• The Iraq War of 2003 was fought to achieve a number of foreign-policy objectives for the USA, but principally its intention was to subdue America’s enemies in the Middle East and in other parts of the world.

Economic power, on the other hand, involves inducements or incentives to a state to act according to the wishes of another state. For example, economic sanctions are commercial and financial penalties applied by one or more countries against a targeted country, including trade barriers, tariffs and restrictions on financial transactions. Trade agreements, which give countries privileged access to each other’s markets, can also be used. Recent examples of the exercising of economic power illustrate the varied nature of this means of hard power.

• There were long-running sanctions against South Africa (1986–94) by the USA, Japan and the European Economic Community (EEC) in an attempt to end the racist apartheid regime. This prevented trade in certain commodities and financial services.

• Since 2014, the EU has imposed sanctions against Russia over its military support for Russian nationalist separatists in Ukraine. This includes the freezing of assets held in the EU by individuals and entities associated with Putin and his government, and a ban on certain exports to Russia.

• The USA and the EU were the first to insert clauses into their trade agreements protecting human rights and workers’ conditions. More and more countries are using trade agreements to further their political objectives.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It calculated that it could get Ukraine to ‘behave’ through military intervention. Russia has been willing to use this kind of hard power before. It has recently used hard power in Syria, to destroy opposition to Assad and has of course been fighting a ‘grey zone’ war in the eastern Ukraine since 2014.

The United States and Europe have also used their hard power, apart from arming the Ukrainian government, there has been an array of economic and cultural sanctions levied against Russia. Governments around the world have taken coordinated action, using sanctions to target Russia’s banking system, state-controlled companies and powerful oligarchs.

There are many facets to hard power, but its effectiveness can be questioned. China may have increased its military capability, but it has not been able to assert its legal claims over the South China Sea or establish military superiority in the region. US bases in Japan, South Korea, Guam, Philippines, Australia and the Malacca Straits effectively encircle China. Russia’s intervention over South Ossetia has leſt the area in limbo, but Georgia has not been able to suppress the Russian nationalist movement there.

Sanctions have been unsuccessful in bringing about a withdrawal of Russian support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. The consensus over the impact of the Iraq War for the USA is that it reduced its power in the Middle East and has even given rise to more terrorism and instability in the region. Sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa may have contributed to the emergence of black majority rule in the country, but the sanctions were not enforced by many important trading countries, such as the UK, and domestic factors were probably more important. The threat of sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine did not prevent the war or bring it to an end.

Whether the ‘carrot’ of trade agreements really works in promoting human rights is debatable, for two reasons.

• Countries seeking to make trade agreements are usually already on a path to democratisation, the adoption of rule of law and the protection of rights.

• Western states promote human rights but turn a blind eye when important trading partners have lower standards than they would like.

China is a good example of such double standards. Every Western leader who meets Chinese representatives lectures them about China’s human-rights record, but concrete action is lacking even when the treatment of political prisoners and critics of the regime does not improve.

Military power is declining as a method of pursuing a state’s interests. Inter-state conflict is decreasing and economic interdependence is on the rise. States are more likely to resort to economic sanctions or trade agreements to extend their influence. In Ukraine in 2016, although NATO increased its presence in Eastern European states bordering Russia, European states chose to use economic sanctions as their main tool in persuading Russia to withdraw its support for the Russian separatists. There was no immediate prospect of military intervention on behalf of Ukraine against its hostile neighbour.

While hard power involves threats, punishments or incentives and rewards, soſt power is based on attraction and identification, sharing common values and ideas – or ‘cultural power’. In politics, soft power is the ability to co-opt rather than coerce. In other words, soft power involves shaping the preferences of others through appeal and attraction. A defining feature of soft power is that it is non-coercive; the currency of soft power includes culture, political values, and foreign policies. The UK and the EU are widely recognised as leading ‘soſt powers’ in the international system.

Soft Power

Power Relationships

The UK has topped recent league tables of soft-power states. One reason is that English is the most common second-language in the world, spoken by an estimated 1 billion people – about a seventh of the world’s population. This is a product of both British imperialism in the 19th century and the global influence of the US in the 20th and 21st centuries. Familiarity with, and admiration for, British culture wins it friends across the world. Britain has also taken a leading role in the formation of international organisations. Britain helped to establish the Council of Europe in 1948, which produced the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights, and is a member of the UN Security Council. Britain is also a leading member of the International Olympic Committee, with London the only city to have hosted the Olympic Games three times. The “soft power superpower” of U.K has been well known globally. As a reserve of soft power with centuries of culture and chronicles, the nation has unquestionably performed strongly. Since the colonial era, soft power has connected Britain to the world through the English language that has continued to enhance its influence through literature, music, films, BBC and British council, maintaining trade and prosperity promotion, helping developing countries reach their potential, offering scholarships to foreign students, making U.K attractive to other countries and their citizens, driving global action through its memberships of international organizations like the UN, the Commonwealth, NATO and so on. For nearly a centenary the British Council has showcased the English language internationally and guided cultural performances, artworks carnivals and libraries across the world magnifying itself as a tangible soft power enlargement of the U.K foreign policy. The achievement of Britain’s mighty soft power massively extends to television such as Game of Thrones, Sherlock Holmes, Peaky Blinders, Shakespeare and Jane Austen series, Harry Potter and so on that has expanded its light to many corners of the earth.

Smart power

Smart power is a combination of hard and soſt power. Liberal international-relations theorist Joseph Nye coined the term in his 2004 book Soſt Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. Drawing on his experience as assistant secretary of defense during Bill Clinton’s presidency, Nye argues that the most effective foreign policy employs a combination of hard- and soſt-power strategies. Relying on hard or soſt power alone in a given situation will usually prove inadequate.

Nye uses the example of the Taliban government in Afghanistan, which aided and supported the terrorist group Al-Qaeda that perpetrated the 9/11 attacks. Simply employing soſt-power resources to change the hearts and minds of members of the regime would have been ineffective. Force was required to remove the regime and isolate Al-Qaeda. However, in developing relationships with the mainstream Muslim world, such as Saudi Arabia and Libya, the use of hard power would alienate them. In these cases, soſt power would be a more fruitful strategy.