Soft or Hard Power – A Realistic Alternative?

Posted in Other | 01-May-06 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Military - one tool of hard power.
Military - one tool of hard power.
The American academic and political expert, Joseph S. Nye, Dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government is said to have brought the term “soft and hard power” into the political debate already in the early nineties. In one of his numerous publications he defines soft power as follows:

“Soft power is the ability to get what you want by attracting and persuading others to adopt your goals. It differs from hard power, the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will. Both hard and soft power are important in the war on terrorism, but attraction is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished…Now that we Americans have a big stick, we should learn to speak softly.” (Article “Propaganda Isn’t the Way: Soft Power” – International Herald Tribune January 10, 2003)

In his article “Ignoring Soft Power Carries a High Cost”(Chicago Tribune May 16, 2004) Nye comes to the following conclusion:

“We need to adopt policies that appeal to moderates and to use public diplomacy more effectively to explain our common interests. We need to stop squandering our soft power, and learn better to combine it with our hard power if we are to meet our current challenges.”

In some European countries – especially in France and Germany – the term soft power is often used in public discussions and talk shows as the key word in foreign and security policy. People like to talk about soft power – sitting on their moral high ground. Soft power is good, hard power is evil. They neglect intentionally the substance of Joseph S. Nye’s idea: Soft and hard power are like the two sides of a coin, with security being on the one side and stability on the other.

Crisis Prevention

Crisis prevention is one of the most important missions in foreign and security policy. It is the political art to recognize that a “sleeping” problem can emerge into a crisis and conflict. That’s easier said than done, as we learn almost every month and year.

There is a chain of deficits that often leads to crises and conflicts before the world becomes aware of them: Missing political early warning systems, bad handling of information, political decision makers getting involved too late and delayed decisions and reaction.

To defuse a crisis at an early stage, individual countries and alliances have to use a very sensitive and orchestrated crisis management. To convince a potential “misbehaver” to give up his idea of turning a crisis into a conflict through the use of military means, he must be convinced that he will certainly lose more than he will win.

This strategy worked very well during the Cold War between NATO and the Warsaw Pact. It was the double strategy of détente and deterrence that let the West win the Cold War. The credible resolve and capability to defend and defeat any attacker made deterrence – and denial – successful.

There is one important lesson to be learned: The success of soft power depends on the quality and credibility of hard power as well as on the political resolve to use military options as a last resort.

WSN Editor-in-Chief Dieter Farwick: "With the nuclear bomb Iran will become untouchable."
WSN Editor-in-Chief Dieter Farwick: "With the nuclear bomb Iran will become untouchable."
A forgotten lesson

After the end of the Cold War with the demise of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, many people had the feeling: Peace forever. They asked for the promised “peace dividend” and got it. Many defense budgets and many national military forces have been drastically reduced – especially in Germany. Once the greatest force provider for NATO in Europe, the German defense budget as part of the GDP and the German military forces were cut by half. The German land forces, once the centerpiece of “forward defense” no longer have the capability to fight in a major conflict with brigades or divisions at the level of “high intensity.” The hard power factor is no longer available.

“Peace support operations” with about 8,000 soldiers permanently stationed in different theatres push the German armed forces to their limits. There is no political resolve to win back a credible hard power – not to mention the resources. For these politicians, soft power is the king’s way. They like a division of labor: The US and UK win the wars and Germany and France win the peace. That is good for the morale of a “civil society.” The US and UK have to deal with body bags and France and Germany deal with sand bags.

Such a division of labor will destroy NATO.

In an alliance, it is not right that the member countries must shoulder different burdens. It is not right that some member countries have to do the “dirty work” and pay with losses and casualties and in addition must take the blame, whilst other member nations try to earn their laurels in state and nation building.

Litmus Test Iran

The conflict over whether the West is able to deliver an orchestrated soft and hard power strategy is in Iran. The common interest and common goal is to avoid that Iran will and can produce nuclear weapons.

For almost 3 1/2 years, the “E3” – France, Germany and the UK - in combination with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna negotiated with Tehran. As an incentive for Iran to stop the program, economic measures of support were offered as well as support for civilian usage of nuclear energy by the EU. In the meantime, Iran has stopped these negotiations.

After lengthy discussions, the “Iran case” was brought up to the UNSC that delivered a soft resolution telling Iran to stop the program until the end of April. Tehran ignored this deadline, even sharpened its rhetoric and kicked the ball back to the UNSC.

In the meantime, Tehran claims to have joined the “nuclear club.” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s harsh verbal attacks against Israel – “Israel has to be wiped off the map” – and his repeated denial of the Holocaust have increased the tensions.

Israel feels a fundamental threat because of Iran’s capabilities and its aggressive intentions.

Education - one tool of soft power.
Education - one tool of soft power.
It seems that the soft power approach of the E3 has failed. Two - China and Russia - of the five permanent veto members of the UNSC are very reluctant to go beyond soft sanctions because of Iran’s strong position as an energy supplier. In fact, Iran has misused the period of negotiations to develop a civilian nuclear program that can easily cross the threshold to a nuclear weapons program. It goes without saying that Tehran would gain new political clout in the volatile region of the Broader Middle East being a nuclear weapons power.

European politicians exclude military options from their thinking. They blame the US and Israel for thinking about military options – as a last resort. Many Europeans would prefer to live with an Iranian nuclear bomb that might become operational within the next years to come.

This public renunciation of any military option plays into the hands of Tehran. It is the end of an orchestrated strategy – a combination of soft and hard power.

There is one lesson learned from dealing with dictators like Hitler, Stalin, Milosevic and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: Without sticks the carrots will be eaten. Period.

Do we have to expect another gamble with or without the UNSC ? Are the Europeans in this worst case scenario willing to fight side by side within NATO or in another “Coalition of the Willing?” What will Israel's reaction be and what actions will it take if and when the UN “stick” is not used ?

Iran – A Lost Chance for the West?

When and if Iran acquires the nuclear bomb, the “great game” in the Broader Middle East will get a new quality and dimension. Iran will become “untouchable” – a “good” precondition for politics of blackmail and regional aggressiveness. A new arms race in the region might be one of many consequences.

The US and the Europeans will not get too many chances to come to an orchestrated policy of soft and hard power. Most of the European governments are not willing and capable of gaining a credible hard power.

The European Union is no longer a reliable partner in serious crises and conflicts. They might win the peace when other nations have won the war. That’s not the kind of burden sharing and division of labor that is the basis for a mutual beneficial partnership.