What is soft power?
Soft power refers to the degree and the type of global mind space countries come to occupy and the influence it gives to them. Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye
is often credited for popularizing this construct of countries having soft power. Hard power is the use of military and economic means to influence the behavior or interests of other political bodies. Nye says countries who possess soft power use less coercion and other direct persuasive tactics like force and money to influence other countries. Instead soft power is a a passive form of power whereby others gladly do what you want, without your having to twist their arm.
Different from hard power
Soft power differs from hard power in many aspects. A country cannot hope to gain soft power by throwing money at it(hard power can be gained by military expansion). Soft power does not involve coercion to make other countries do what you want them to do.
Hard power is a degree, either you have it or you do not eg. China has more hard power(military and strategic) than India. Soft power on the other hand apart from the degree of power, could be negative or positive. i..e extent to which countries are liked or disliked. Hence many argue that India has more soft power than China.
Hard power is gained by direct government involvement by investing and making strategic alliances and maneuvers. Nye says that direct government involvement to increase soft power could be seen as propaganda which reduces credibility and so it may actually negatively affect the country’s image. Soft power is gained by the country’s achievements in arts, sports, science, engineering etc. However governments can certainly facilitate and create environment for its civil society to increase its soft power. In other words the best propaganda is no propaganda.
Hard power seeks to kill, capture, or defeat an enemy. Soft power seeks to influence through understanding and the identification of common ground.
The values they are based on are also different. Hard power is macho, absolute, and zero sum. Soft power is supple, subtle, and win/win.
Hard power engenders fear, anguish, and suspicion. Soft power flourishes in an atmosphere of confidence, trust, and respect.
According to the 2013 Monocle Soft Power Survey, Germany holds the top spot in soft power. How did a country partly if not wholly responsible for the most brutal genocide in the history of the world during world war 2(WW2) come to wield such soft power?
Since the Blood and Iron policy of Otto Von Bismarck, the architect of the German Unification in 1871, till the end of WW2 in 1945, Germany followed an aggressive policy. It viewed foreign policy in terms of survival of the fittest where states use hard power to win the struggle for power. This is in contrast with what Great Britain did. A small island country north west of Europe could not hope to conquer and administer countries many times its size in all continents of the world with using only hard power. Apart from its industrial might which provided hard power(army and wealth) it used its art, its culture and ideas of enlightenment to have hegemony over people’s minds. People in these countries accepted the British empire as something beneficial to them.
Since 1945 the Germans eschewed their aggressive and coercive foreign policy. They began relying on multilateral institutions to strengthen relations with allies and create new partnerships. It had no thought of colonies nor it participated in neocolonialism like USA, UK and France. This approach was practical too, it reduced conflicts with other countries. Also, in a cooperative and stable multilateral and rule based economic system, its manufacturing base flourished.
What Germany did that made them a giant soft power?
- Military: Did not develop military that could reach beyond Europe nor it developed nuclear bombs, though it certainly can if it wishes to
- European Union: It had made many compromises to forge a common economic union and common currency which included giving up its prized Mark
- International conflicts: It did not get too involved in US’s global war on terror post 9/11
- It’s manufacturing goods especially the automobile companies like BMW and Audi are immensely respected all over the world. Efficiency has become synonymous with Germany
- It excels in sports, in 2014 Foot ball world cup in Brazil, Germany won.
- Above all the German government recognized the importance of soft power and consciously supported the image building sectors of the economy and adopting a benign foreign policy
Germany is the undisputed leader of Europe now. Angela Merkel’s credibility is high in many countries, she seems to the only western leader whom Russia’s leader Putin admires and listens to.