Soft power is a term used in
international relations theory to describe the
ability of a
political body, such as a
state, to indirectly influence the behavior or
interests of other political bodies through
ideological means. The term was first coined by
While its usefulness as a descriptive theory has not gone unchallenged, soft power has since entered popular political discourse as a way of distinguishing the subtle effects of cultural influence on others' behavior from more direct coercive measures, such as military action or economic incentives.
The basic concept of power is the ability to influence others to get them to do what you want. There are three major ways to do that: one is to threaten them with sticks; the second is to pay them with carrots; the third is to attract them or co-opt them, so that they want what you want. If you can get others to be attracted, to want what you want, it costs you much less in carrots and sticks.
Soft power, then, represents the third way of getting others to "want what you want". Soft power is contrasted with hard power, which has historically been the predominant realist measure of national power, through quantitative metrics such as population size, concrete military assets, or a nation's Gross Domestic Product. One of the key determinants of the difference between hard and soft power is the method of diplomacy. Soft power is instead a qualitative assessment of the degree to which a nation (or individual)'s perceived values or culture inspire affinity on the part of others. Nye argues that soft power is more than influence, since
influence can also rest on the hard power of threats or payments. And soft power is more than just persuasion or the ability to move people by argument, though that is an important part of it. It is also the ability to attract, and attraction often leads to acquiescence. ...
If I am persuaded to go along with your purposes without any explicit threat or exchange taking place—in short, if my behavior is determined by an observable but intangible attraction—soft power is at work. Soft power uses a different type of currency—not force, not money—to engender cooperation. It uses an attraction to shared values, and the justness and duty of contributing to the achievement of those values.
The success of soft power heavily depends on the actor’s reputation within the international community, as well as the flow of information between actors. Thus, soft power is often associated with the rise of globalization and neoliberal international relations theory. Popular culture and media is regularly identified as a source of soft power, as is the spread of a national language, or a particular set of normative structures; a nation with a large amount of soft power and the good will that that engenders may inspire others to acculturate, avoiding the need for expensive hard power expenditures.