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Hard Power

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Introduction

The term hard power describes a nation or political body’s ability to use economic incentives or military strength to influence other actors’ behaviors. It relies on a measure of power propounded by the realist school in international relations theory. In the realist school, power is linked with the possession of certain tangible resources, including population, territory, natural resources, economic and military strength, among others. Hard power is defined by the use of such resources to spur the behavior of other entities.

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History

The term “hard power” has a long history. It is often measured in terms of military capacity, as described by Machiavelli in The Prince: "I judge those princes self-sufficient who, either through abundance of troops or money, are able to gather together a suitable army and fight a good battle against whoever should attack them; and I consider those who always need the protection of others to be those who cannot meet the enemy in the field[.]"[1]

Machiavelli goes on to state that,” [T]he principal foundations of all states…are good laws and good armies,”[2] and that “[a] prince, therefore, must not have any other object nor any other thought…but war, its institutions, and its discipline[.]”[3]

Hobbes in the Leviathanexpands the measures of power by adding the ability to control not just armed forces, but also economic and financial forces: "[N]ot only the whole militia, or forces of the commonwealth; but also the judicature of all controversies, is annexed to the sovereignty….These are the rights, which make the essence of sovereignty; and which are the marks, whereby a man may discern in what man, or assembly of men, the sovereign power is placed, and resideth….The power to coin money; to dispose of the estate and person of infant heirs, to have praeemption in markets[.]"[4]

More recent thinkers in the realist school also offer descriptions of state power in terms of hard power. Hans Morgenthau emphasizes the use of coercive force in enumerating political power: "In international politics in particular, armed strength as a threat or a potentiality is the most important material factor making for the political power of a nation."[5]

Henry Kissinger suggests that “what is possible [for a state] depends on its resources, geographic position and determination, and on the resources, determination and domestic structure of other states.”[6]

Definition

The power to which these thinkers are alluding is hard power. The term is defined more explicitly by contemporary scholars in the fields of international relations and public diplomacy. Joseph Nye, for example, identifies hard power as “the ability to use the carrots and sticks of economic and military might to make others follow your will.”[7] Ernest Wilson—author, professor, and Dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication—describes it as the capacity to coerce “another to act in ways in which that entity would not have acted otherwise.”[8] Kurt Campbell and Michael O’Hanlon, authors of “Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security,” define hard power as “the application of military power to meet national ends—that is, the deployment of ground troops, naval assets, and precision munitions to secure a vital national objective.”[9]

Hard power strategies include a wide range of measures geared toward coercing or threatening other entities into compliance. These measures might include the use of “sticks,” such as the threat of military assault or the implementation of an economic embargo; they might also include the use of “carrots,” such as the promise of military protection or the reduction of trade barriers. However, critics have objected that it is the former which is often stressed; in other words, the “stick” is preferred over the “carrot.” Thus, according to Campbell and O’Hanlon, hard power tactics tend to overemphasize military intervention, economic sanctions, and coercive diplomacy.[10]

One of the most obvious exercises of hard power is the use of military intervention. It entails, quite simply, the use of military might to obtain one’s objectives. The twentieth century alone has a plethora of such examples: the 1900 invasion of China by the 8 Country Alliance in order to quell the Boxer Rebellion; the 1939 invasion of Poland by Germany that triggered the second World War; the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, an attempt to prop up Afghanistan’s Marxist government; the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. over concerns about Iraq’s weapons capabilities.[11] These are but a few of the innumerable examples of the use of the military to achieve a state’s goals.

Military force, however, is not the only coercive measure in a state’s arsenal. The application of economic pressure can be deployed for similar ends. U.S. trade embargos on countries such as Cuba, Iran, and Iraq in the latter half of the 20th century provide prime examples of such exercise of hard power. The 1995 Iran Sanctions Act, for instance, was implemented in response to Iran’s nuclear program and its alleged funding of organizations such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The sanctions were designed to limit investment in Iran’s oil fields and infrastructure. Thus, by impeding the development of a key sector of Iran’s economy—petroleum—the U.S. hoped to discourage Iran from engaging in any unfriendly activity.[12]

The threat of either military or economic force also functions as an exercise of hard power. This strategy—as described by Alexander George, who refers to it as “coercive diplomacy”—involves backing one’s demands of an adversary “with a threat of punishment for noncompliance that he will consider credible and potent enough to persuade him to comply with the demand.”[13] Thus, the threat of military or economic force—whether explicitly stated or implicitly acknowledged—serves as a method of compelling behavior. Illustrations of coercive diplomacy in action can be seen in Kosovo in 1998 and between China and the U.S. in the early 1990’s. In the former, President Milosevic’s consent to UN Security Council Resolution 1199 in the Milosevic-Holbrooke agreement[14] may have been decided, according to some, by NATO’s “activation orders”: the threat of an air campaign in Kosovo.[15] Similarly, the Memorandums of Understanding between the U.S. and China in the early 1990’s regarding IP rights were produced only after each simultaneously threatened trade sanctions.[16]

Limitations of Hard Power

While the use of hard power may serve to induce compliance, it also presents some glaring shortcomings with regard to its wielder’s legitimacy and credibility. Hard power strategies that do not take into account a country’s international image may have serious consequences. If a country’s credibility abroad deteriorates, attitudes of mistrust tend to grow while international cooperation diminishes, such that the country’s capacity to obtain its objectives is damaged.[17] The consequences of American reliance on hard power in removing Saddam Hussein from power and the handling of the subsequent crisis in Iraq provide an unfortunate example. Polling data reveal growing anti-Americanism and disillusionment with American foreign policy. Worldwide opinion has mobilized against the United States and its exercise of hard power in Iraq and Afghanistan,[18] which has in turn inhibited the U.S.’s capacity to attain its policy goals on many fronts.

Some have suggested that what the U.S. and other political bodies need is an interlacing of hard power with the skillful use of diplomacy.[19] This would entail a more nuanced approach in which a state attempts to legitimate its power. Rather than relying solely on the coercive use of military and economic might, a state would attempt to garner acquiescence through the attractiveness of its culture and ideology or through the proliferation of its norms and values. It is this ability to set the agenda in world politics, to offer a sought-after example in terms of values or institutions on the international stage, that Joseph Nye calls indirect or soft power.[20]

Ultimately, however, Nye and other scholars suggest that a state’s success at achieving its goals rests not on the exclusive use of either hard or soft power. For these thinkers, success depends upon a combination of both—what has been deemed “smart power.”[21]

References

  1. Cahn, Steven. Classics of Modern Political Theory: Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 22.
  2. Cahn, Steven. Classics of Modern Political Theory: Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 24.
  3. Cahn, Steven. Classics of Modern Political Theory: Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 28.
  4. Cahn, Steven. Classics of Modern Political Theory: Machiavelli to Mill. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 141.
  5. Morgenthau, Hans J. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: Alfred A. Knopf: 1950.
  6. Kaplan, Robert D. “Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism.” The Atlantic Monthly. (June 1999). Volume 283, No. 6; page 73-82. <http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/99jun/9906kissinger.htm>
  7. Nye, Joseph S. Power in the Global Information Age: From Realism to Globalization. London, New York: Routledge, 2004.
  8. Wilson, Ernest J. "Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power." The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616 (2008): 110-124. Sage Publications. L.A. Mar. 2008.
  9. Campbell, Kurt M. and O’Hanlon, Michael E. Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security. New York: Basic Books, 2006. 7.
  10. Wilson, Ernest J. "Hard Power, Soft Power, Smart Power." The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 616 (2008): 110-124. Sage Publications. L.A. Mar. 2008 <http://ann.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/616/1/110>.
  11. Bush, George W. "Remarks by President Upon Return From Camp David." White House Press Release. White House, Washington, DC. 23 Mar. 2003. Mar. 2008 <http://web.archive.org/web/20030417182355/http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/18934.htm>.
  12. Katzman, Kenneth. The Iran Sanctions Act (ISA). CRS Report for Congress. 2007. Feb.-Mar. 2008 <http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS20871.pdf>.
  13. George, Alexander L. "Coercive Diplomacy." The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics. Ed. Rpbert J. Art and Kenneth Waltz. U.S.A.: Roman & Littlefield, Inc., 2004. 70.
  14. The official text of the “agreement” was never published.
  15. Leurdijk, Dick A. "Kosovo: a Case of Coercive Diplomacy." The Helsinki Monitor (1999): 8-17. Mar. 2008 <http://www.nhc.nl/hm/1999/vol2/leurdijk.pdf>.
  16. Baum, Charles. "Trade Sanctions and the Rule of Law: Lessons From China." Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs 1 (2001): 46-72. Feb.-Mar. 2008 <http://www.stanford.edu/group/sjeaa/journal1/china4.pdf>.
  17. Nye, Joseph S. “The Decline of America’s Soft Power.” Foreign Affairs. (May/June 2004). Mar. 2008. < http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20040501facomment83303/joseph-s-nye-jr/the-decline-of-america-s-soft-power.html>
  18. "Global Unease with Major World Powers." Pewglobal.Org. 27 June 2007. Pew Research Center. Mar. 2008 <http://pewglobal.org/reports/display.php?ReportID=256>.
  19. Campbell, Kurt M. and O’Hanlon, Michael E. Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security. New York: Basic Books, 2006. 9.
  20. Nye, Joseph S. Power in the Global Information Age: From Realism to Globalization. London, New York: Routledge, 2004.
  21. Nye, Joseph. “Think Again: Soft Power.” Foreign Policy. (1 Mar. 2006) Mar. 2008. <http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/display.article?id=7059>.
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