In the international arena a nation can exercise two forms of power to obtain its objectives. These are hard and soft power. Hard power is the use of force, both militarily and economically. Soft power is the exact opposite, the use of diplomatic processes to achieve a working relationship between two nations to achieve and end. Every nation uses both forms of power, however some have the resources to use one or both more frequently or effectively. The United States is a nation that has immense military power and an enormous economy, allowing the United States to exert its will on other nations through the use of hard power policies. However sometimes this is not enough.
Especially in modern times, with the economy in a relative state of ruins, the majority of the world bearing some form of ill will towards us and a U.S. desire to sculpt the world into our image, the use of hard power is becoming a tool that works far less often or less effectively, often backfiring in spectacular ways. Such as in the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At the outset of the invasion our forces were greeted with a welcome by the Iraqi people, but as time went on the welcome dried up and was replaced by a general dislike of the united States.
Soft power is a form of power that often times will allow the United States to achieve its goals while also helping to keep a good will between our nation and the nations we are dealing with. Take the current situation in Libya. Through the use of soft power when dealing with the Middle eastern states the United States was able to gain their, albeit shaky, support for the efforts to enforce the no fly zone. Because of the use of diplomatic measures in the area the United states was able to help the people of a repressive dictatorship work to overthrow their crazy, incoherent leader. Rather than going in with guns blazing and possibly earning even more hatred for yet another ill advised military action in the Middle East we gained their support in the action for the time being.
Soft power is an effective tool that should be used more frequently; diplomatic measures have a much greater chance at ending the Iran nuclear situation. If we were to invade Iran as well because of their search to produce nuclear technology any and all goodwill that we have currently amassed from those Middle Eastern states would vanish. Even economic sanction may not be effective, it is hard to gauge whether the sanctions would actually affect the people we are trying to reach rather than just the people and even if it did China is sure to swoop in and begin trading with them. However through diplomatic talks and economic bargaining we may be able to dissolve the situation and achieve a tenuous state of peace in the region.
Another situation that would benefit from the application of more soft power is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If both sides can be persuaded to calm down enough to sit and discuss the situation than perhaps a feasible solution can be produced. While both sides, or either side, will be entirely happy with any agreement something may be produced that will satisfy them both enough to end the hostilities. The real trouble is from the hard line groups on either side of the conflict, combined with the United States sympathies for Israel and Middle Eastern sympathies for Palestine as well as the Palestinian connection to Hamas. Both groups are thoroughly set on the elimination of the other, and both groups have a margin of support for that course of action abroad. The careful application of soft power by allies and supporters of both Israel and Palestine to bring about discussions of the conflict is required, a discussion that is actually real as opposed to the previous results of such efforts.
The use of soft and multilateral power as opposed to the use of hard or unilateral power is more effective if only for the reason that if things go wrong than it is that much harder for other nations to lay the blame at the feet of the United States. Working with other nations gives us the opportunity to produce a fall guy. With all of the mishandled or failed foreign policy situations in recent years being initiated and subsequently blamed on the United States such a thing would be invaluable.
The most effective use of soft power in foreign policy in recent times is the current handling of the Libya situation. All most all of North Africa erupted in riots and protests against the dictators in power in the region. The United States, namely the President, made the decision to stay out of the conflict escalated. When Gaddafi’s men began to massacre his own people and the international community began to consider establishing a no fly zone the United States joined the efforts to establish the zone. The United States also gained the marginal support of the oil producing states of the Middle East, which Libya is a member of. And the United States agreed to surrender the command of the operation to NATO after operation was in effect. The U.S. effectively limited our involvement in the matter, keeping it to a minimum.
Hook, Steven W. U.S. Foreign Policy: the Paradox of World Power. Washington, D.C.: CQ, 2011. Print.
Nye, Joseph S. The Future of Power. 1st ed. Vol. 1. PublicAffairs. Print.